Good, Bad of NBA: Mavs Win, Celtics Lose

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 22, 2007; 7:10 AM

-- The Dallas Mavericks left the Cleveland Cavaliers beaten _ and LeBron James beat up. The best game on the NBA schedule Wednesday night went to the team with the best record, as the Mavericks forced James into a painful night and topped the Cavaliers 98-90 in a matchup of title contenders.

At the other end of the NBA standings are the Boston Celtics, who are so bad that their coach opened his postgame remarks by saying that he wasn't trying to lose.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 23 points for the Mavs, who have the NBA's best record at 56-11, have won four straight and are 3-0 on a six-game road trip that started with a victory over Detroit, the other top team in the Eastern Conference.

"Tonight wasn't about West vs. East, it's about us getting better, getting ready for the playoffs," Nowitzki said.

No such concerns for the Celtics, who are headed to the draft lottery. But Doc Rivers said they weren't trying to improve their position Wednesday when he kept his starters on the bench while Boston blew an 18-point lead in a 92-84 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, the Celtics' closest pursuers in the Greg Oden and Kevin Durant sweepstakes.

"I was not throwing the game, or anything like that," Rivers said. "I've heard all those questions. Honestly, I got to the point early in the fourth quarter and I turned to the coaches and said to them, 'We are either going to win or lose with this group.'"

In other games, it was: Miami 91, Atlanta 83; Toronto 92, Orlando 85; San Antonio 90, Indiana 72; the Los Angeles Clippers 104, Milwaukee 103; Washington 108, Seattle 106; and Minnesota 95, Sacramento 89.

One night after overcoming a 10-point deficit to beat Cleveland in overtime, the Bobcats scored 18 straight points while Paul Pierce was out with an injury.

"(These are) some big wins, no question," said Raymond Felton, who had 19 points, five assists and three steals. "Now we got to keep it rolling, see what happens at the end of the season. Try to see if we can slide into that last spot."

Dallas and Cleveland have much bigger goals. And the Mavs look closer to achieving theirs, with a deeper team that can handle a poor shooting night from Nowitzki because of players like Josh Howard, Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse.

"This team is not going to win 50-plus games with just Josh Howard and Dirk Nowitzki," James said. "They have great players in Devin Harris, (Jerry) Stackhouse and J.T., and their bigs are very active."

James had a tough night shooting and got roughed up as well. He finished with 31 points but was 12-for-28 shooting as he singlehandedly tried to put his team back in it.

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