Dallas 103, Chicago 98

CHICAGO, Dec. 3 (AP) -- Josh Howard's onslaught began right after the opening tip and never really ended.

Dirk Nowitzki got in on it, too.

The Dallas Mavericks struck early, then sweated it out at the end, hanging on for a 103-98 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Monday night.

Howard matched a season-high with 27 points and Nowitzki added 25 for Dallas, which nearly blew a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter.

It was down to three when Andres Nocioni hit three free throws to pull Chicago within 101-98 with 11.6 seconds left.

Jason Terry answered with two free throws, and Chicago's Kirk Hinrich shot an airball on a 3-pointer from the corner, bringing the game to a wild conclusion.

"We've got to know what the coverages are, we've got to know when to switch, we've got to know who the shooters are, we've got to find the shooters,'' Nowitzki said. "We can't foul jump shooters. These are all mental errors that we've got to correct. We made some mistakes in November, but hopefully, we don't make those same mistakes when the season ends and the playoffs come around.''

The league's reigning MVP, Nowitzki perked up after shooting just 5-of-15 in each of the previous two games. He got going early on and was 9-of-17 against the Bulls.

Howard had 10 rebounds and six assists while containing Luol Deng. And when he got double-teamed in the second half, he found the open teammate.

"It was good for me,'' Howard said. "It gave me a whole lot more confidence, knowing they're open and ready to knock down the shot.''

After a performance like that, it was easy to see why coach Avery Johnson would say: "Josh can really be a star. ... He has the potential to do that every night. He was ready to go tonight.''

Erick Dampier added 10 rebounds and six blocks, and Terry scored 18 points as Dallas beat the Chicago for the 17th time in 19 games.

The Mavericks were leading 85-69 after Jerry Stackhouse's dunk with 8:16 left, but had to sweat this one out because of Nocioni and Hinrich.

Hinrich, who was benched in favor of Chris Duhon to start the second half, scored 14 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter.

Nocioni had 14 of his 30 points in the fourth, and his two free throws and jumper pulled Chicago within 93-87 with 1:29 left in the game.

"We didn't play well tonight,'' Hinrich said. "Give them all the credit.''

Terry's jumper made it 99-92 with 20 seconds left, but the Bulls weren't finished. Ben Gordon, benched for much of the period, buried a 3-pointer to make it a four-point game. Dallas' Brandon Bass hit two foul shots before fouling Nocioni.

The late charge aside, it was a rough night for a Bulls team that had won two straight following a 2-10 start. Particularly Gordon and Deng.

They were miserable after delivering their best performances of the season in Saturday's win over Charlotte.

Gordon followed a 34-point effort by scoring 10. Deng was 4-for-13 with 11 points.

"It's not like I was missing jump shots,'' Deng said. "I was missing shots close to the basket. I just have to do a better job finishing.''

Chicago went on winning binges after struggling early in two of the previous three seasons, but it won't be easy this time. Not with a trip to Detroit and a home game against Boston coming up after Wednesday's visit to Charlotte.

The Mavericks got a scare in the third quarter, when Devin Harris got knocked to the floor by Joakim Noah while going for an offensive rebound. He stayed down for a few minutes before walking away and heading to the locker room with a neck contusion. X-rays were negative.

"I felt his body come down and I tried to lift up,'' Harris said. "It's a little stiff right now. It's too early to tell.''

Notes: Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is interested in purchasing the Cubs, but there's been little movement on that front. "Nothing's changed. Right now we're waiting for the (economic) reports to come out in January,'' he said. Tribune Co. put the Cubs up for sale last season, but the process has moved slowly. ... Mavericks F Devean George will practice "unlimited, unrestricted'' on Tuesday, while F Eddie Jones will practice with "limited contact,'' Johnson said. George has been out all season with a stress reaction in his left foot. Johnson said he's a week ahead of Jones, who has been nursing a sore right leg and has appeared in just five games. ... Cubs OF Alfonso Soriano received a mixed reception when he was shown on the large scoreboard screen between the first and second quarters.

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