DALLAS (TICKER) —On a day of heavy hearts in Dallas, the Mavericks simply took care of business.
After remembering the seven astronauts killed in the space shuttle Columbia earlier in the day, Dallas went out and routed the Denver Nuggets, 122-100.
Remnants of the shuttle were found in the Dallas area, and the Mavericks issued a release earlier in the day saying that Saturday’s game would be played.
During an emotional pregame ceremony, the voice of public address announcer Billy Hayes broke up as he asked fans to observe a moment of silence.
“I personally thought about it a lot during the course of the game and prior to the game because your heart really goes out to a lot of people,” Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “You know while we are standing here right now, there are a lot of people with very heavy hearts.”
“It’s pretty much all I watched today because those people are up there doing things for us,” Dallas guard Nick Van Exel said. “For that to happen and then you being so close to landing, so close to getting something accomplished, it is just terrible, a terrible feeling.”
When the game began, Dallas rolled to its 12th straight home win against Denver.
Van Exel, a former Nugget, came off the bench to score a season-high 30 and Michael Finley added 22 for the Mavericks, who shot 55 percent (48-of-87) from the field - including 60 percent (12-of-20) from 3-point range.
“I don’t really know what to say,” Van Exel said. “I guess I was just a spark for the team off the bench.”
“I thought Van Exel was in a zone that we’ve seen him in a few times here, but many times with other teams,” Mavericks coach Don Nelson said. “He proved what a great player he can be when the stars are in the right position and the shots are falling.”
Dallas, which has beaten Denver seven straight times overall, ran the league’s best record to 37-9. No other team has fewer than 14 losses.
The 122 points tied Dallas’ season high, set against the Los Angeles Clippers on December 10, and the Mavericks established a season-best with 48 field goals.
“They are just so explosive and they have so many weapons,” Bzdelik said. “It’s hard to stop one, two or three guys because they have so many guys.”
Reserve Rodney White led Denver with 17 points. Rookie Nikoloz Tskitshvili had a season-high 15 points as six Nuggets scored in double figures but the team dropped its seventh straight game overall.
Denver hung around for a half and was within 68-60 following two free throws by Juwan Howard with 8:06 left in the third quarter. But Van Exel buried a 3-pointer to ignite a 20-3 run that broke open the game.
Van Exel had a trio of 3-pointers in the spurt and Finley had a basket and 3-point play just over a minute apart.
Finley buried a jumper with 30 seconds left in the third quarter to give Dallas a 98-70 lead heading into the final period. The final 12 minutes were little more than garbage time as the Denver never got closer than 22 and trailed by as many as 32.
The Nuggets have lost nine in a row on the road and are winless in Dallas since April 19, 1997.