Daily Confidential

Dirk Nowitzkigave the Dallas Mavericks cause for concern in their last game, something he hadn't done during a winning streak that's tied for the third-longest in team history.

Nowitzki expects to be in the starting lineup when the Mavericks (11-4) seek a 12th straight victory Friday night in a matchup with the Sacramento Kings (8-5).

The star forward left Wednesday's 117-98 victory over Toronto late in the first quarter because of blurred vision. He has been cleared to play and indicated he'll be OK for Friday.

``We got him checked out and he's doing better,'' Dallas coach Avery Johnson said.

Nowitzki finished with only six points - the first time he failed to reach double figures since March 13, 2004, when he scored nine points at Phoenix.

The Mavericks made sure his absence after the first quarter didn't matter, as five players scored in double figures. Josh Howard had 26 points, Jerry Stackhouse added 23 and Erick Dampier notched his second straight double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds.

``We have a lot of guys who can step in,'' Nowitzki said. ``This team is deeper than last year's. When somebody is out, somebody else moves in.''

One of those players has been Dampier, who over the last nine games is averaging 11.4 points on just under 74 percent shooting to go with 10.3 rebounds. He leads the NBA in field-goal percentage at 69.0.

``We don't think about (the winning streak),'' Dampier said. ``We're just taking it one game at a time and coming out every night ready to play good basketball on both ends of the floor.''

The Mavericks are three wins shy of the longest run in team history, set in their 14-0 start in 2002.

Sacramento is beginning a rough four-game stretch that should serve as a barometer of how good it is. The Kings visit San Antonio on Saturday, host Eastern Conference-leading Orlando on Monday and travel to Phoenix on Tuesday.

``We have some tough teams coming up,'' Sacramento forward Ron Artest said. ``But we're up for the challenge. We're looking forward to seeing how we stack up against some of the teams we haven't played yet.''

The Kings completed a stretch in which they played eight of 10 games at home with a 93-80 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday. Artest had 28 points and eight rebounds, and keyed some strong late defensive work by Sacramento.

Los Angeles missed 18 of its final 19 shots and managed only 13 points in the fourth quarter. The 80 points were the fewest allowed by the Kings this season.

``Our defense in the fourth quarter was phenomenal,'' Kings coach Eric Musselman said. ``When a team takes 18 more (shots) than you do, and you win a game by 13 (points), that's a statistic that stands out at you.''

The Kings are still waiting for point guard Mike Bibby to regain his offensive touch. He's shooting a career-low 36 percent and averaging a career-high 3.2 turnovers per game.

Dallas won two of three games against Sacramento last season, and has won five straight over the Kings at home.

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