Mavs Conquer Kings, Advance to Conference Finals

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Dallas 112, Sacramento 99
Mavs Conquer Kings, Advance to Conference Finals

Nick Van Exel celebrated with fans after the Game 7 win.
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DALLAS, May 17 (Ticker) -- Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks are getting the hang of this Game Seven thing.

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Nowitzki had another clutch performance with 30 points and 19 rebounds to lift the Mavericks into the Western Conference finals for the first time in 15 years with a 112-99 victory over the Sacramento Kings.

The third-seeded Mavericks went the distance for the second straight series but were able to eliminate the second-seeded Kings and reach the conference finals for just the second time in franchise history. They will travel to San Antonio to face the top-seeded Spurs on Monday.

"The last two years, we kind of stopped in the second round, and if you want to develop, you always want to go further and reach different goals," Nowitzki said. "It's great to finally get out of the second round and now we'll see what happens."

In the first round, the Mavericks were pushed to the limit by Portland, which forced a Game Seven after losing the first three games. In that contest, Nowitzki scored 31 points, including seven in a row, as Dallas pulled away in the final minutes.

Nowitzki was just as assertive against the Kings. Receiving an emotional boost from the presence of his German coach, the All-Star forward made 12-of-20 shots while controlling the backboards.

"We're not a really experienced playoff team, so every chance we get, it's great," Nowitzki said. "For me, it was the first time playing in a Game Seven against Portland and I think that really helped us experience-wise because we knew what to expect."

"I think it was big," teammate Steve Nash added. "Anytime you get a chance to play in a Game Seven you really grow and you learn. We've won two now and we really learned a lot."

The Mavs got an expected boost from supersub Nick Van Exel, who scored 23 points in his usual bodacious fashion.

"I was just trying to be aggressive," said Van Exel, who averaged 25.3 points in the series. "I knew I had a lot of success against Sacramento before. I was always able to get into the paint and make my little flip shots, and throughout this series, I really worked on my 3-point shot."

"I think we owe the series to Nick Van Exel, who - when things were looking bleak - got us thinking the right way and taking the next step that we really needed to hear from a teammate and not a coach," Mavs coach Don Nelson said. "I always encourage the team to be the leaders. It's a sad state of affairs when the coach has to be the leader of the team."

Dallas also got an unexpected boost from Raja Bell, an afterthought in the Mavs' high-octane offense who scored 12 points. "We've got a lot of people - even when we were running the table, winning 60 games - (that) didn't give us any credit," Bell said. "Said we were soft. Said we couldn't play basketball in the playoffs. It feels kind of great going out there two tough series, two Game Sevens, and winning."

The Kings started slowly and never fully recovered as they shot just 42 percent (36-of-86). They led only briefly late in the second quarter and trailed by as many as 20 points in the final period.

"I was surprised we were as close as we were," Kings coach Rick Adelman said. "We couldn't make a shot. We had a lot of good looks, but we couldn't get anything down."

It was a disappointing finish for Sacramento, which won the opener here but lost All-Star forward Chris Webber to a knee injury in Game Two and could not compensate for his absence. The Kings were denied a return trip to the conference finals.

"I felt like screaming at the TV and yelling," Webber said. "I couldn't help. That's how I felt. I tried to do everything I could, but it was no help."

"You've got to feel bad for them a little bit because to have such a great team and then you miss a team leader in a very important series, it's tough," Nowitzki said.

After withstanding a 15-0 burst by the Kings, the Mavs took the lead for good late in the second quarter. Nowitzki scored seven points and Bell had six in the third period as Dallas took a 76-67 lead into the final 12 minutes.

Each time Sacramento surged, Nowitzki and Dallas had an answer. A 3-pointer by Bobby Jackson cut the deficit to 82-76 with just under 10 minutes to go, but Nowitzki sank a 3-pointer of his own.

A layup by Mike Bibby made it 87-82 with 8:36 left, but Nash responded with a three-point play and Michael Finley hit two free throws and a 3-pointer for a 95-82 bulge. Nash and Finley each scored 18 points.

"We still thought we could do it," Bibby said. "With six or seven minutes left, little things started happening. The loose balls and offensive rebounds, and when they get that, then they make a three."

After a 3-pointer by Peja Stojakovic pulled the Kings within 95-87 with 7:11 to play, Nowitzki made another 3-pointer to start a 14-2 spurt. Van Exel also struck twice from the arc as Dallas made five 3-pointers in the period.

The last four minutes were a celebration by the crowd of 20,595, the largest in American Airlines Center history.

"It was a great feeling," said Finley, the longest-tenured Maverick. "I was here in the dog days when 20 wins was considered a successful season. For us to come that far in such a short time is very gratifying for me."

The Mavericks shot 49.5 percent (45-of-91), including 11-of-20 from the arc. They held a 48-43 edge on the glass and handed out 27 assists, including a playoff career-high 13 by Nash, whose constant penetration created plenty of open shots for his teammates.

Bibby scored 25 points and Jimmy Jackson added a playoff career-high 24 for the Kings. Stojakovic scored 17 points, but Vlade Divac had just 11 on 3-of-12 shooting.

Sacramento made just 6-of-23 shots in the first quarter and its poor touch continued into the second period. Finley and Van Exel made 3-pointers to help Dallas open a 39-27 lead with 5 1/2 minutes before halftime.

The Kings came out of a timeout and ran off 15 straight points in less than three minutes, silencing the crowd. Jimmy Jackson made a 3-pointer, then scored the last six points for a 42-39 edge.

Van Exel tied it with a 3-pointer that sparked the Mavs to a 48-43 halftime lead.