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Nets-Mavericks Preview

AP - Sports

Defense has helped the Dallas Mavericks maintain a spot in the top half of the Western Conference playoff picture near the midway point of the season.

Shutting down the New Jersey Nets' offense may not be too difficult, which Dallas will try to do as seeks its 12th straight home victory in the series Tuesday night.

The Mavericks (21-13) won the NBA championship last season with a defensive focus, and their title defense has been built the same way. They are tied for fourth in the league with 90.8 points allowed per game and rank first in field-goal percentage defense at 41.6.

Dallas has held 12 of 13 opponents to fewer than 100 points.

''We sell (defense),'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "Our emphasis is the defensive end, because we feel our flow game offense is good enough to where we can create shots. But that doesn't happen if we don't get the stops.''

Owner Mark Cuban has been pleased with the team's effort despite losing Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and Caron Butler during the offseason.

''We've got a better record than I thought we would at this point, but we haven't played great basketball yet,'' Cuban said. "A lot to like, a lot to look forward to.''

The Mavericks, winners of seven of nine, went into the All-Star break in fourth place in the West, one game ahead of Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers. Dallas, though, fell 96-91 to the Lakers on Wednesday despite 25 points and 12 rebounds from Dirk Nowitzki.

''I'm disappointed, I'm not dismayed,'' Carlisle said. ''Our effort was there, we just didn't make enough plays at both ends. ... The break's coming at a good time.''

The four days off should help Dallas as it begins a stretch of nine games in 12 days against New Jersey, one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league.

The Nets (10-25) rank 24th with 92.5 points per game and are 28th with a 42.2 field-goal percentage. They lost 108-91 to Orlando on Wednesday, falling for the 10th time in 12 games.

New Jersey used its 17th different starting lineup because Kris Humphries sat out with a calf injury, though he's expected to return against Dallas.

Brook Lopez scored 15 points in his second game after breaking his foot just before the start of the season. He played Feb. 19 against Milwaukee but sat out the following night in a win over New York.

MarShon Brooks scored a career-high 24 points and Deron Williams added 23, though the Nets' bench was outscored 42-21 by the Magic's reserves.

Williams has averaged 26.1 points and 8.6 assists in his last seven games at Dallas, where the Nets haven't won since a 103-102 victory March 2, 2000. They haven't beaten the Mavericks in the last five meetings overall.

Nowitzki scored 23 points and hit a jumper with 6 seconds remaining to give Dallas an 87-86 win in the most recent matchup Jan. 22, 2011.

The Mavericks have won 19 of the last 22 meetings, with the Nets' last victory in the series coming by a 121-97 score Dec. 19, 2008. Current Mavericks guard Vince Carter scored 34 points for New Jersey in that contest.

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