Nowitzki had 30 points and 14 rebounds and Nash added 21 points and 13 assists as the Mavericks wrapped up the first half of their season by rolling to a 107-94 victory over the 76ers.
Even at full strength, the 76ers would have had their hands full with the Mavericks, perhaps the NBA’s deepest team. With forwards Derrick Coleman and Kenny Thomas out with injuries and forward Brian Skinner joining them on the sidelines in the second quarter, Philadelphia had no chance.
“I thought everybody tried to do the right things, but I’ve been with teams before that have been shorthanded,” 76ers coach Larry Brown said. “We didn’t come out in the firt quarter and play the way we talked about playing.”
Working over the smallish Sixers, the 7-foot Nowitzki scored 13 points in the first quarter as the Mavs opened a 31-18 lead. Philadelphia pulled within three points early in the second half, but Nowitzki scored 11 points in the third quarter to help Dallas rebuild the lead to 79-67.
“I still think my post game is not where it should be,” said Nowitzki, who made 12-of-19 shots. “I try to take advantage more and more. I should be able to punish the little guys down there a little more. I just have to keep working at it.”
With only eight available players and two big men, Brown tried a five-guard lineup late in the third quarter. But the Mavs went to post-ups and made five 3-pointers in a four-minute span by simply passing out of double-teams.
“Larry was in between a rock and a hard place,” said Mavs coach Don Nelson, who has used a few funky lineups in his day. “He ran out of players, basically. He only had two big players on the floor. When he went small ball, I matched up with him. I thought that my small team could certainly match his. And it ended up a midget game. It was kind of fun, I think.”
“Our main focus was to get better for the playoffs,” Nowitzki said. “It will be good to get home-court advantage, especially in our division. The whole season doesn’t mean much if we don’t perform in the playoffs.”
“We’ve done a really good job,” Nash said. “But none of you guys will care if we win 60 games and we don’t win a championship. That’s the same with us. That’s the nature of this league. We can win 68 or 69 games, and if we don’t win a championship, it doesn’t mean that much.”
Two jumpers and a 3-pointer by Nowitzki helped the Mavs jump to a 14-4 lead just 3 1/2 minutes into the game. With Nowitzki on the bench at the start of the second quarter, Dallas extended the lead to 38-20 and brought out the boo-birds at the First Union Center.
The Sixers slowly climbed back into it, moving within six points before settling for a 48-40 halftime deficit. A three-point play and pretty reverse layup by Iverson made it 50-47 just over a minute into the second half.
Finley and Nash made jumpers and Nowitzki drilled a 3-pointer, quickly rebuilding the lead to 10 points.
“It’s hard to guard and it’s hard to help out teammates when you are concerned with shooters,” Van Horn said. “They are a very unique team.”
With two minutes left in the third quarter, Brown deployed a lineup of Iverson, Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, Greg Buckner and rookie John Salmons, at 6-6 the tallest of the group. The Sixers still were within 10 points until Van Exel and Nash hit 3-pointers. Van Exel hit two more 3-pointers around one by Finley. Two free throws by Nowitzki made it 90-69 with 8:50 to play and ended the five-guard experiment.
“We had mismatch problems all over the court,” Iverson said. “At times Aaron and Greg Buckner had to play the 4 position (power forward). Their natural positions are 2 (shooting guard) and 3 (small forward).”
Walt Williams scored 13 points for Dallas, which shot 49 percent (42-of-85), including 12-of-22 from the arc.
Snow scored 14 points and Todd MacCulloch added 10 for Philadelphia, which shot 45 percent (32-of-71) but made just one 3-pointer. Salmons had nine assists.