12/18/2006 Mavericks @ Sacramento
SACRAMENTO, Calif., Dec. 18 (AP) -- Josh Howard slid into the lane, drew contact from Ron Artest and nimbly banked in his shot.
On Dallas' next possession, Dirk Nowitzki coolly drained a 17-foot fallaway jumper with Artest's hand squarely in his face.
Even the Kings' best defender had no clue how to stop the sharpshooting Mavericks, who turned their latest trip to Sacramento into a laugher with another stellar scoring show.
Nowitzki had 29 points and 13 rebounds, Howard scored 28 points and the Mavs beat the Kings 109-91 on Monday night for their fourth straight victory.
Jason Terry scored 22 points for the Mavericks, who have won 18 of 21 after starting the season 0-4. The defending Western Conference champions never trailed in their eighth win in 12 trips to ARCO Arena, turning it into a blowout with a 16-4 rally in the fourth quarter.
While the Kings falter with injuries and sketchy teamwork under new coach Eric Musselman's system, Dallas is humming with the experience of last season's playoff run and Avery Johnson's steady hand at the controls. Nowitzki has seen improvement in almost every game after the Mavericks' slow start.
``We've just been playing well together, and everybody is really shooting well, Nowitzki said. ``Josh is amazing, too. He's been getting off to hot starts like that one almost every night. It's been really fun to watch him growing up in this league.
Howard made nine of his first 10 shots - mostly against Artest's defense - and finished two points shy of his career high. Nowitzki made his final five shots and scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to finish off the Kings, hitting a jumper with 5:24 left that put Dallas up by 20.
Sacramento's 18 offensive rebounds were just about the only facet of the game Johnson didn't like - and he again heaped praise on Howard, who's getting attention as a possible All-Star in his third NBA season.
``That was just about me playing my game, and I think my guys feed off me, Howard said. ``(Artest) is a great defender, so I just try to maximize any opportunity he gives you.
Brad Miller scored 19 points and Kenny Thomas had 15 points and 15 rebounds for the Kings, who have lost eight of 10 to fall three games below .500. Playing without injured scoring leader Kevin Martin, Sacramento lost for the sixth time in nine games in what was once the NBA's most intimidating arena for road teams.
The clubs once had one of the West's liveliest rivalries, but Dallas has dominated recently, including a 19-point victory in Texas on Dec. 1.
``They're an excellent ballclub, Musselman said of the Mavs. ``They played well in Dallas against us in the first quarter, and they came out again and got us in the first quarter tonight. They're great athletes.
Martin, who averaged 21.3 points while starting each of the Kings' first 22 games, sprained his ankle in the third quarter of Saturday's loss to Phoenix. John Salmons struggled in Martin's spot in the starting lineup, while Artest finished with just 14 points in another poor shooting performance.
Without Martin's speed and athleticism, the Kings didn't have a lineup that could contend with the Mavericks. The effort was more of the same inconsistency from the Kings, who have followed up a surprising road victory over Utah with consecutive home losses.
``If we want to be an elite team and a competing playoff team, we need to win these games, Salmons said. ``Just because we've been playing good teams doesn't mean we can't win. Going 1-3 isn't a good stretch for us.
Dallas roared to a 17-point lead late in the first quarter by making 14 of its first 18 shots, including 14 points from Howard, while holding Sacramento to 6-of-24 shooting. Sacramento trimmed the lead to six points in the third quarter, but repeatedly failed to get closer.
Notes: A second-quarter promotion featuring two fans wearing sumo-wrestler suits left a fairly thick carpet of unidentifiable, spongy debris on the floor, delaying the game for several moments. ... Maurice Taylor returned to the Kings' lineup after missing five games under suspension for violating the NBA's substance abuse policy, playing in the final minutes. ... Sacramento never held a lead for the first time at home this season. ... Kings G Jason Hart left the game in the second quarter with a bruised shin.