Dallas 106, Seattle 75

SEATTLE, April 18 (AP) -- The Dallas Mavericks showed off the kind of defense they will need in the playoffs.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 20 points, and the Mavericks help the Seattle SuperSonics to their second-lowest point total of the season in a 106-75 victory Wednesday night.

"We really believe in what we do, in our system of helping each other defensively and sharing the ball offensively,'' Jerry Stackhouse said. "It's as simple as that.''

Seattle coach Bob Hill played all but one of his eligible 11 players - and had little production to show for it.

"The guys played hard all season long and it was pretty obvious tonight that they didn't have their legs and they weren't interested in getting hurt,'' Hill said.

Seattle (31-51) posted its worst record since also finishing the 1985-86 season at 31-51. The Sonics have dropped 10 straight games to Dallas, dating to Dec. 9, 2004.

Dallas coach Avery Johnson, one day after playing his "C'' team in a blowout loss to Golden State, played his normal starters during a final tuneup before the top-seeded Mavericks' first-round playoff series Sunday against Golden State. The Warriors are coached by former Dallas coach Don Nelson.

"They've been one of the hotter teams towards the end of the season,'' Stackhouse said. "And we've been a hot team for the course of the season.''

The Mavericks, who tied for the sixth-best record in NBA history at 67-15, clinched the Western Conference's top seed April 9.

"Yes, we are here to win in the playoffs,'' Johnson said. "Yes, we want to win a championship. Yes, yes, yes. But at the same time, the regular season does matter.''

The loss may have helped Seattle's draft chances. Seattle entered the night in sole possession of the fifth spot for the lottery with an 11 percent chance of obtaining the No. 1 pick.

Seattle majority owner Clay Bennett will decide soon - perhaps by week's end - whether Hill or general manager Rick Sund will return next season. Bennett has been in New York trying to find private investors for his proposed $500 million arena in the Seattle suburb of Renton, now that state lawmakers have declined to vote on a public financing plan. Bennett will attend an NBA Board of Governors meeting Thursday and Friday in New York.

"I can't imagine the NBA not having a team in Seattle - it's a world-class city,'' Hill said before the game.

Sund, who began his NBA management career in the mid-1970s with the Milwaukee Bucks, was hired under previous ownership in 2001 by Wally Walker. Walker left the franchise soon after Bennett agreed to purchase it last July from a group led by Starbucks Corp. chairman Howard Schultz.

Hill, a former coach in New York, Indiana and San Antonio, is finishing his first full season coaching the Sonics. The team picked up his one-year contract option at the end of last season, which began with Hill as an assistant to Bob Weiss. Hill replaced the fired Weiss on Jan. 3, 2006, and finished last season 22-30.

Nowitzki, who played 25 minutes, was 7-for-11 from the field with five rebounds and five assists.

Seattle's Rashard Lewis, expected to opt out of his contract and become a highly sought-after free agent, had 14 points. Lewis, who picked up a technical with 3:04 remaining in the second quarter for slamming the ball on the floor in frustration underneath Dallas' basket, averaged a career-high 22.4 points this season.

The lanky 6-foot-10 Lewis will turn 28 this summer and is entering his prime as an experienced, multitalented veteran with nine NBA seasons, all with Seattle.

"Seattle is my No. 1 option,'' said Lewis, who talked with a throng of reporters for nearly 10 minutes after the game. "Obviously I want to come back. (But) I'm at the point in my career that I have to treat it like a business.''

Dallas scored the first four points of the second quarter to open a 21-point lead. This was against a Seattle lineup that Sund, Hill and anyone else in the organization couldn't have envisioned at the start of the season: Damien Wilkins, second-year project Johan Petro, rookies Mickael Gelabale and Mouhamed Sene, and former Idaho Stampede star Randy Livingston - who was four games removed from leading the Development League in assists.

A 3-pointer from Jason Terry, who earlier this season had his jersey retired at Seattle's Franklin High School, put Dallas up 48-25 midway through the second.

"It is going to be disheartening to see this team leave and Seattle not to have a pro basketball team,'' Terry said. "It's pretty much unbelievable.''

Dallas, which led 61-37 at halftime, led by as many as 33.

Notes: When asked whether he thinks he'll be back as Sonics coach next season, Hill quipped: "That's not for me to say. That's for Clay Bennett and the powers that be.'' ... Sund declined comment prior to the game on the Sonics' state of affairs. ... Dallas C Erick Dampier returned after a four-game absence due to a strained right shoulder. He had four points in 15 minutes.

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