After having their three-game winning streak snapped, the Dallas Mavericks continue their battle for the top spot in the Western Conference when they face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the first time this season.
Dirk Nowitzki had 24 points and 13 rebounds, but the Mavs star had problems against the physical defense of Ron Artest and the Sacramento Kings in an 85-80 loss at Sacramento on Sunday night. The 80 points was Dallas’ lowest total since a 91-78 defeat to Minnesota on Jan. 4.
“It is a disappointing loss,” said Mavs coach Avery Johnson, ejected in the third quarter after charging onto the court to argue a call. “When we come to the games we try and give ourselves a chance to win. I wasn’t trying to rally the team by getting ejected; I think it was more a difference of opinion.”
Injuries also again took a toll on Dallas, which played without guards Adrian Griffin and Devin Harris. Forward Josh Howard returned to the starting lineup after missing four games with a strained hamstring, but sat out the second half when the injury flared up again.
The Mavericks also played without forward Keith Van Horn, who missed his fifth straight game with a sprained knee ligament.
Dallas shot 36 percent (32-of-88) from the field against the Kings.
“We had some good looks, and some of our shots were just going in and out,” said the Mavs’ Marquis Daniels, who had 19 points. “Some of their shots were bouncing around and just dropping.”
The Mavericks, who completed a three-game road trip and return home for one game before heading out on another three-game swing, are 21-2 in their last 23 games at the American Airlines Center. Tied with Detroit for the most home wins in the NBA with 28, the Mavs are also tied with San Antonio atop the West. The Spurs host New Orleans on Tuesday night.
While Dallas may benefit from playing on its home floor, it will have to contend with James, who’s coming off a 47-point performance in Cleveland’s 98-92 loss at Miami on Sunday.
Despite another huge effort from their superstar, the Cavs couldn’t overcome 35 points from Dwyane Wade and a strong performance from Miami backup center Alonzo Mourning, who finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and several shot-changing defensive plays in 23 minutes.
“His intensity hurt us more than anything,” Cleveland guard Damon Jones said of Mourning. “Not only did it energize the crowd, but it energized the other players on his team.”
Cleveland led by 15 in the first half and was up 51-46 at halftime, but lost even though Shaquille O’Neal had only 18 points and eight rebounds as well as five turnovers.
The defeat was the Cavs’ second straight since a four-game winning streak.
“They did a great job fighting us for three quarters,” James said. “Then they took over. … All in all, if we play like this every night, we’ll win a lot of games.”
James recorded his first 40-point game since scoring 44 and 43 in wins over San Antonio and Boston on Feb. 13 and 15.
Tuesday’s contest completes a four-game trip for Cleveland, which then plays six of its next seven games at Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavs are 22-10.