Dallas (51-21) at Phoenix (36-35)

By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO, STATS Writer Sunday, Mar 27, 2011 Tipoff: 10:30 pm EDT Sun Mar 27, 2011

Already assured of reaching the playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks have regained their momentum and are pointing to a matchup with the Lakers next week.

They may be overlooking a more immediate contest with the sputtering Phoenix Suns, though.

Dallas hopes to build on a dominant effort by continuing its success against the Suns on Sunday night.

The Mavericks (51-21) are battling for playoff position over their remaining 10 games, and they’re one game behind the Los Angeles Lakers, whom they’ll face Thursday, for second in the Western Conference.

Dallas has won three straight after dropping five of eight.

Strong defensive play has spurred the Mavericks during their win streak. They’re allowing 76.7 points per game in that stretch after opening this six-game road trip with a 94-77 win at Utah on Saturday, overpowering the Jazz by a 36-17 margin in the fourth quarter.

Forward Shawn Marion(notes), who had 13 points, seven rebounds, four steals and two blocks, feels Saturday’s performance wasn’t about making a statement.

“If we got a statement game, it’s probably when we play the Lakers,” Marion said of next week’s visit to Los Angeles. “We’re 1-2 against them right now. They’re the defending champions. That’s the statement game.”

Dallas may enter that meeting with the Lakers with a great deal of momentum, facing the Suns (36-35) before a meeting with the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.

The Mavericks have won six of seven meetings with the Suns, including both this season after a 112-106 victory at US Airways Center on Feb. 17.

Dirk Nowitzki(notes), who scored 19 points with six rebounds Saturday, connected on 13 of 18 field goals, including all three 3-pointers, to score 35 points in the latest win over the Suns. The All-Star is averaging 29.2 points over the last six visits to Phoenix.

The Suns, who are wrapping up a three-game homestand, have dropped six of nine following Friday’s 106-100 loss to New Orleans.

They’re 10th in the West, three games behind Memphis for the eighth and final playoff position.

“It doesn’t matter what Memphis or anybody else does,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “What we have to do is try to win games. For us to lose it hurts. It doesn’t matter what those teams are doing.”

A better performance from Steve Nash(notes) would certainly help. He made just 1 of 9 shots to finish with three points and eight assists Friday after averaging 18.8 points and 12.8 assists over the previous four games.

Nash scored 15 points and dished out 14 assists against the Mavs last month.

Phoenix might be without Marcin Gortat(notes), who had 18 points and 10 rebounds against the Hornets before leaving with a broken nose after he banged into Nash’s back during the fourth quarter. The center had his nose “manipulated” back into place by doctors Saturday and he’s questionable to play.

Gortat is averaging 18.4 points and 11.2 boards over the last five games, a significant increase from his career high averages of 9.4 points and 7.4 rebounds this season.

“That’s our man in the middle,” swingman Jared Dudley(notes) said. “He shuts it down. He gets blocks, rebounds, and loose balls.”

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Sunday, Mar 27