DALLAS (AP)—The Utah Jazz used a curious strategy to try keeping in the playoff chase: Hack-a-Dirk.
Dirk Nowitzki foiled Utah’s physical game plan by making all 14 of his free throw attempts, leading the Dallas Mavericks to a 111-95 victory Sunday night that eliminated the Jazz from the postseason chase.
“They’re an aggressive offensive team so we had to make a decision to either let them shoot or make them earn it,” Utah’s Carlos Boozer said. “We decided to put them on the free throw line.”
The Mavericks took 55 foul shots, easily a season high and three shy of the most in franchise history. They made 46, ending a two-game losing streak and picking up their 60th victory, tying their franchise record with one to play.
“We have big goals, but it’s no small feat,” said coach Avery Johnson, part of the 2002-03 team that was the first to win 60 games. “I don’t think anyone before the season thought we were a 60-win team.”
Dallas still has a slight chance to earn the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The Spurs must lose their last two games and the Mavericks must win their finale Wednesday night at home against the Los Angeles Clippers. If any of those games goes the other way, San Antonio will finish atop the conference and Dallas will be the fourth seed.
The best part of this one for the Mavericks was getting back to their regular starting lineup for the first time in several weeks. That meant Jerry Stackhouse and Erick Dampier were back in their reserve roles and each excelled — Stackhouse scoring 20 points and Dampier putting up 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Nowitzki led the way with 22 points, but he had to earn it.
After going 0-for-6 in the first half, he opened the second half with a drive past three defenders for a tough left-handed layup. He followed with a three-point play on the next possession.
Early in the fourth quarter, with the Mavericks up by 20 points, Utah’s Kris Humphries elbowed Nowitzki after a play had been whistled dead. Shoves led to technical fouls on both players, then another on Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, prompting fans to chant “M-V-P! M-V-P!” as Nowitzki went to the line.
Nowitzki was fouled the most because he gets the ball more than anyone else. However, the best reason for teams not to foul him is that he came in making 89.9 percent from the line, fifth-best in the league.
Sloan said he also was frustrated by the disparity in free throws; Utah took only 37. Yet Dallas wasn’t banging as hard.
“We made some mistakes, but we also had some situations where I think we could’ve hung in there a little better if we’d had a couple of things go our way,” Sloan said. “I’m not going to take anything away from them because they’re a great team, but it’s frustrating.”
Utah had won five straight to stave off elimination and get over .500 for the first time since late January. At 40-40, the Jazz can still finish with a winning record.
“We needed some luck to make the playoffs, but it was too late,” said Boozer, who continued his recent roll with 21 points and 11 rebounds. “We ran out of time. … If we would have been healthy by March and had the lineup we had tonight, we would have been OK.”
Stackhouse has been the Mavericks’ top reserve most of the season, but started the last few weeks while Adrian Griffin was out with a hamstring injury. Stackhouse sat out the last game to rest, so this was his first game back in what will be his postseason role. He got the offense going early with a 3-pointer that sparked a 14-0 first-quarter run that put Dallas ahead for good.
Josh Howard had been carrying the Mavericks until then, scoring eight of their first 10 points and 11 of 15. He finished with 18.
Jason Terry overcame a 1-of-7 start to score 16 points.
This was Utah’s seventh straight loss in Dallas. … The Mavs were without key reserve Devin Harris, who needed more time to rest his left quadriceps after playing his first game in a month on Friday night. Johnson said he expect Harris to play Wednesday. … Dallas G Marquis Daniels missed the second half with a sore left hamstring.