The Dallas Mavericks are coming off a win they desperately needed. Now they play a game they can't afford to lose.

The easiest game left on the schedule for the Mavericks, inching closer to securing a playoff berth, comes Tuesday night when they host the Seattle SuperSonics.

Dallas' only two remaining home games after this one are against division leaders Utah and New Orleans. In between those matchups, the Mavericks (48-29) play at Portland, where they lost their only visit this season, and in Seattle on Sunday.

They have won 12 in a row over the SuperSonics (18-59) since a 107-102 home loss on Dec. 9, 2004. Dallas has won its last five visits to Seattle by an average of 16.6 points, including a 111-96 victory on Jan. 19.

Besides owning the worst record in the Western Conference, the Sonics have been abysmal on the road, losing nine straight and 22 of 24.

The Mavericks, whose 17-22 road record is one of the league's worst among playoff contenders, had lost eight straight away from home against teams with winning records going into Sunday's game at Phoenix.

It appeared that skid would continue with Dallas trailing by 13 points in the fourth quarter. Instead, the Mavericks held the high-scoring Suns to nine points and 3-of-19 shooting in the final period to win 105-98.

"Every team we'd played so far we were right there, on the road or at home," said Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 12 of his 32 points in the fourth. "So it feels great to get finally over the hump. I think everybody in the locker room was pretty hyped up that we had finally pulled this one out. Hopefully this could build some momentum."

It was Nowitzki's third game back since missing four with a sprained left knee, and his scoring production has gone up in each one.

"I don't think if it was November I would have played this week," Nowitzki said. "There's no way. But the way the playoffs are shaping up right now, we need every healthy body."

The Mavericks can assure themselves of a playoff spot by winning at least three of their final five games. They are seventh in the West, two games ahead of Denver and Golden State.

The Sonics helped Dallas' cause on Sunday, pulling off a 151-147 double-overtime victory over the Nuggets. Seattle's two lottery picks both had the highest-scoring games of their brief careers, with Kevin Durant scoring 37 points and Jeff Green adding 35.

"Guys continued to compete, even though it was late in the season and we're not making the playoffs," said Durant, who shot a season-worst 2-for-17 and scored four points Friday as the Sonics were held to a season-low 66 points in a loss to Houston.

"It just shows that we're working hard and we want to get better."

Durant was held to a total of 21 points on 7-of-25 shooting in two meetings with Dallas this season.

Unless the Sonics win their final five games, they will finish with 60 losses for the first time in franchise history. Their previous worst record came when they finished 23-59 in their inaugural 1967-68 season.


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