Kidd, Mavs nearly snuff out Suns' playoff hopes
DALLAS (AP)About the only thing that went wrong for Jason Kidd on Sunday was failing to grab enough rebounds for a triple-double.
"Unfortunately," he said with a sly smile, "my teammates were making them."
Kidd had 19 points, a season-high 20 assists and a major career milestone - all in just three quarters - while leading Dallas to a 140-116 victory over Phoenix that virtually assures the Mavericks of a playoff spot and just as surely guarantees the Suns won't make the postseason.
Dallas owns a four-game lead with five games left. Because the Mavs hold the tiebreaker over the Suns, Phoenix must finish 5-0 and Dallas 0-5 for the teams to trade places in the standings.
Put another way, any Mavs win or Suns loss clinches a ninth straight postseason trip for Dallas and ends a streak of four straight for Phoenix.
"We're not holding our breath," Suns guard Steve Nash said.
Now Dallas can get on with what players have been saying is their primary goal: moving up to the seventh spot to avoid a first-round matchup against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. They'll get a great chance in their next game, when Utah, currently seeded seventh, visits Wednesday night, then face a stiff challenge with a home-and-home series against New Orleans.
"It should be a fun week," said Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 28 points.
Had the Suns won, the Mavs would've had only a two-game lead and a worrisome slump, while Phoenix would've been on a nice roll and had the advantage of an easier schedule the rest of the way. Now, the Suns might as well get started on offseason decisions like what to do with Amare Stoudemire and interim coach Alvin Gentry.
Managing partner Robert Sarver probably ran through a few scenarios after seeing his team get outscored 24-3 after getting within 46-45 midway through the second quarter.
With Kidd hitting outside shots, using his size to dominate Phoenix's smaller guards and, of course, setting up teammates for open jumpers, Dallas followed a 39-point first quarter with 42 points in the second for a whopping 81 by halftime. The Mavs capped it in style, too, with Josh Howard making a 71-footer as the second quarter ended. It was Dallas' 10th 3-pointer in 13 tries.
This crucial game was a laugher by halftime. Phoenix had no answer after the break, either, with its spirit broken by a possession that saw Nash have a shot blocked by Howard, then Grant Hill get a shot blocked by Nowitzki, followed by Nowitzki throwing a long outlet pass to the hardly mobile Erick Dampier for a breakaway dunk.
"I don't have any explanation," Gentry said. "I really don't. Not in a million years would I have thought we'd come out and play that way in a game of that significance."
Said Hill: "I thought it was going to be a hard-fought game. I thought we'd fight and compete. Boy, was I wrong."
Dallas came in having lost three of five, including an ugly performance in Memphis on Friday night. Instead of another clunker, the Mavs piled up their most points, assists, 3-pointers and all sorts of other statistical feats. Kidd set team records for first-half assists (16) and assists in a regulation game, plus passed Magic Johnson for No. 3 on the career assists list.
"Jason Kidd has an iron will," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "Some of the stuff that he was inventing out there offensively for us was just phenomenal. It kept giving our team more and more confidence and we rode the wave."
Kidd was a point shy of the second 20-20 game of his career, but begged out late in the third quarter. He also was five shy of his career-best assist total, set as a rookie with Dallas. And, to Kidd's chagrin, he only had four rebounds.
Nowitzki made 10 of 12 shots to crack 20 points for the 20th straight game. Howard had 24 points after missing the Memphis game with a flare-up of his pesky ankle problem. Having two days off before facing the Jazz should help him remain in the lineup.
"The lift he gives us just by being on the court, it's hard to quantify," Carlisle said. "It brings a bounce to our team and it juices up our fans."
Jason Terry hit his first four 3-point tries and scored 18 points. Brandon Bass added 14 points and J.J. Barea had 12.
Shaquille O'Neal dominated in the early minutes for Phoenix, scoring points and drawing fouls at will. But once it turned it a track race between jump shooters, his presence was muted. He finished with 14 points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes.
Hill and Leandro Barbosa propped up the Suns' offense when things were close, with Hill hitting his first six shots and Barbosa starting 5-of-6. Hill finished with 23 points and Barbosa 24. Nash had 12 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes.
Notes: The previous Sunday, Dallas scored only 74 the entire game against Cleveland. This time, the Mavs hit 100 with 4:55 left in the third quarter. ... Kidd is at 10,148 career assists. John Stockton is the record holder with 15,806. ... O'Neal's pregame warmup included pulling a cart that he estimated weighed 1,000 pounds, and doing deep knee-bends with a conditioning coach sitting on his shoulders. ... Dallas' great shooting even carried over to fans. Fisher Floyd came out of the stands and swished a free throw, a 3-pointer and a half-court shot to win $3,250 in gift cards to a furniture store and applause from the wide-eyed Mavs bench. He responded by blowing them kisses.