12/26/2006 Mavericks vs.Charlotte

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Dallas, Dec. 26 (AP) -- Dirk Nowitzki is likely headed for his sixth straight All-Star appearance, and this season he could have Dallas Mavericks teammate Josh Howard along as a sidekick.

Howard scored 27 points and Nowitzki added 23 as the Mavericks stretched their winning streak to seven games with a 97-84 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday night.

Howard, last week's Western Conference player of the week, went 10-for-19 from the field and grabbed eight rebounds. Dallas is 9-1 this season when Howard scores 20 or more points.

The Mavericks have put on a publicity blitz to get Howard All-Star recognition, but if he continues to perform at the current level, he won't need much help.

"No doubt he's an All-Star, teammate Greg Buckner said. "He's doing everything, playing the best ball on our team. We know Dirk's an All-Star. We'd like to have two. We think we're the best team in the league.

Howard, averaging 20.8 points over the last 14 games, would like to be in Las Vegas for the All-Star game on Feb. 18. If he isn't chosen, he'll be happy for a few days off.

"That's a kid's dream always, Howard said. "If the fans and coaches want me, I'll want to play. But I'm not going to cry if I don't make it because there are a lot of good guys out there.

Howard credits better shot selection for much of his improvement.

"I was just out there taking the right shots, Howard said. "I try to be in the right position. It's timing, it's decisions. I know I can't chuck up everything. I've matured as a player.

Dallas seemed on the verge of a blowout, building a 57-45 lead early in the third quarter. But Charlotte responded with an 8-0 run to get within four with 5:55 left in the quarter.

Howard swung the momentum back to the Mavericks, scoring 11 points during the final 4:19 of the third quarter while Dallas was on a 21-11 run for a 78-65 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

"We lost our focus as a team the first few minutes of the third quarter and we just went out and started playing better basketball, Howard said.

Howard contributed a four-point play and a three-point play during the late third-quarter flurry. On the three-point play, Howard dunked after rebounding his own miss, bringing the sellout crowd to its feet.

"He threw it up there and went after it with intensity, Charlotte coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "He knew he could go get it if he missed it. He's just a terrific player.

Nowitzki, Dallas' top scorer who's been slowed by a sprained ankle over the past week, moved well enough to shoot 9-for-15 while contributing seven rebounds.

The Mavericks improved to 21-7, the best record in the league and a half-game ahead of the San Antonio Spurs (21-8) in the Southwest Division. San Antonio lost 114-107 at home to Milwaukee on Tuesday night.

Reserve Devean George had 12 points for Dallas.

Rookie Adam Morrison scored 17 points, Gerald Wallace had 16 and Matt Carroll 14 for the Bobcats, who've lost eight of 10.

Dallas coach Avery Johnson was concerned before the game with the Bobcats, who were competitive against the Mavericks on Nov. 20 in Charlotte before Dallas used a late surge for a 93-85 victory.

Five of Charlotte's seven victories are against teams with winning records.

Charlotte missed 11 of its first 12 field goal attempts in the second quarter as Dallas moved to a 49-41 halftime advantage. Howard and Nowitzki each had 14 points in the first half.

The Bobcats got off 78 shots, the same number as the Mavericks. But Charlotte made only 31, a shooting percentage of 41.

"Our problem is real simple, Bickerstaff said. "It's putting the ball in the basket.

Notes: Howard received the first player of the week award of his four-year career. He averaged 22.7 points during the three games last week. ... A player other than Nowitzki has paced Dallas in scoring six times during the current winning streak. ... Dallas F Jerry Stackhouse missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle. Stackhouse is expected to be ready by the weekend. ... Carroll started in the Charlotte backcourt in place of Derek Anderson, who came off the bench. ...Dallas has held its last six opponents to under 100 points. ...The Mavericks are 6-0 all-time against the Bobcats.