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Nets Challenge Mavs, Come Up Short in Final Sequence

January 22nd, 2011

NEWARK, N.J.Colder than the polar ice caps for most of the night and still recovering from a knee injury, Dirk Nowitzki (23 points, 7 rebounds, 7-24 from the floor) provided a simple reminder that hes still one of basketballs great shooters, as a friendly roll on a midrange jumper propelled the Mavericks over the Nets, 87-86. The Nets played hard in defeat and were led by Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez, who combined to provide solid frontcourt production (32 points, 21 rebounds).

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Nets Challenge Mavs, Come Up Short in Final Sequence
The Nets wanted this one, this potential third straight win at Prudential Center. You could tell from the tip, when they tipped it back before advancing it upcourt, and finding Derrick Favors in the post. The rookie backed in the Mavericks All-NBA forward, Dirk Nowitzki, and tossed in a hook.

But the Mavs, in a game-defining pattern, responded, scoring a layup of their own. A back-and-forth battle developed, and the Nets emerged leaders, by a single point, 35.2 seconds from the finish. Point guard Devin Harris penetrated and pulled up, but noticed Shawn Marion flying toward him, arm extended, causing him to arc his shot higher. It fell short of the basket.

At the other end, the Mavericks screened for the 7-foot Nowitzki, causing a defensive switch between 6-foot-9 Kris Humphries and 6-foot-6 Stephen Graham. Though the Nets swingman stayed with Nowitzki for most of a pivot-heavy up-and-under move at the elbow, the trademark one-legged fadeaway came off clean, and all eyes in the arena watched it bounce twice before falling through the net.

Left with just 6.0 seconds to make a play, the Nets arced a high lob to Harris, who couldnt find first option Brook Lopez, instead shuffling a sideways pass to Jordan Farmar, who rushed a contested three-pointer from the left wing that touched nothing but the ground beneath the basket.

Ive got to be better at executing late in the game and thats on me, Harris said. Its completely on me. The shot before that and the last play of the game, Ive got to be better getting us better shots to win the game at that point.

It was a rough final minute for Harris, who also missed a free throw that couldve put the Nets up three with 51.9 seconds remaining. But the team captain had been steady all night, posting 15 points and 11 assists, helping to carry the load during a game in which three of the four bigs (Favors, Lopez and Johan Petro) were benched for long stretches due to foul trouble. That marked a fourth straight strong performance, with Harris averaging 15.0 points and 9.0 assists during a 2-2 stretch.

Coach Avery Johnson praised Harris for playing outstanding defense yet again, one game after earning three hypothetical game balls for a fourth-quarter sequence that validated the coachs belief in his point guards defensive potential. Harris played several Mavericks tightly, helping to limit 2009 Sixth Man of the Year and former teammate Jason Terry to just 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting.

Overall, the Nets held the Mavericks to .347 from the field, the teams third straight game keeping an opponent well below Johnsons .440 target. Nowitzki (23 points, 7 rebounds), though he came through on the game-winning basket, shot only 7-of-24. The lone Maverick to hit more than half his attempts was center Tyson Chandler (19 points, 8 rebounds, 7-11 FGs).

We hung in there and battled back, Johnson said. (Im) just proud of our guys. This is three straight games where weve played some pretty good basketball. We turned it over 17 times, which is not good. Again, your down by one point against the Mavericks at home and you got the last possession on another possession before where we didnt come up with the loose ball, well take it.

The defeated-but-not-down attitude permeated the postgame locker room, where Lopez found himself sorting out a game in which he played only 28 minutes (he averages 34), but scored 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. The run helped flip a seven-point deficit into a one-point lead, bringing the crowd to its feet.

Chants of De-fense! echoed through the arena, and any exchanges had to be offered at full volume to sneak through the sound. And the celebrities were out on this Saturday, from owner Mikhail Prokhorov to recent regular Kim Kardashian and first-time attendees like actor John Amos and Jersey Shore star Nicole Snooki Polizzi.

Great atmosphere, Lopez said. It was a very fun game. These games are the reason you play in the league.

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