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- West loaded with teams eyeing playoffs
- Cavs, Bulls frontrunners for East crown
- Celtics' McCarty denies larceny charge
By BRETT HUSTON
(AP) -- The Dallas Mavericks haven't been playing consistently good basketball for a while now, but if Dirk Nowitzki can continue to play like he has on this homestand, there's plenty of potential for that to change.
The only thing the Cleveland Cavaliers have done consistently over the past two weeks is lose.
Nowitzki will look to crack 30 points in three straight games for the first time in nearly four years Monday night as the Mavericks try to hand the visiting Cavaliers a seventh loss in eight contests.
Nowitzki was left off the All-Star team for the first time since 2001 last season after missing the first 27 games, but the 35-year-old has responded with a season that will have him suiting up alongside the Western Conference's best for a 12th time.
His 21.8 points per game are 4.5 higher than his average last season, and he's been outstanding through the first three on a four-game homestand. Nowitzki scored 28 in a 116-106 win over Detroit on Feb. 26, 38 in Wednesday's 117-115 loss to Houston and 34 to help the Mavericks (27-21) rally from a 14-point deficit to beat Sacramento 107-103 on Friday.
"I've been in a good groove," said Nowitzki, who hasn't scored at least 30 in three straight regular-season games since late February 2010. "Before the last three, I didn't really have a good groove."
Monta Ellis hadn't been in any sort of groove over the Mavericks' previous three games, totaling 33 points, and he didn't have a point for most of the first half against the Kings. But he came alive after halftime, scoring 11 of his 20 in the final quarter.
"It was one of those nights where he could have easily gotten frustrated, but he didn't," coach Rick Carlisle said. "He just kept playing the whole game and it came around."
Ellis had 22 points and eight assists as the Mavericks held off Cleveland (16-31) on Jan. 20 after blowing a 24-point lead. He's averaged 27.7 points in his previous six games against the Cavaliers, five of which came while with Milwaukee.
The loss to Dallas came in Cleveland's first game back home after a 3-2 road trip, and the Cavaliers went just 1-4 on their five-game homestand. It hasn't gotten any better back on the road, as Cleveland shot 35.6 percent in a 117-86 loss in New York on Thursday and was outrebounded 44-32 while falling 106-92 at Houston on Saturday.
Still, with rumors of discord throughout the organization, recently acquired Luol Deng felt it was a small step in the right direction as the Cavaliers played without starting center Anderson Varejao (knee) for a third straight game.
"One thing I felt is that we were communicating better and we weren't just out there watching each other," Deng said. "I thought the guys did a better job of communicating and talking to each other. We gave ourselves a chance, we competed today. I don't think we did that in the other games. The biggest thing is just staying positive."
It's unclear if Varejao will return Monday, but the Cavs could certainly use him. He had a season high-tying 18 points and 21 rebounds in the loss to Dallas last month.
Kyrie Irving needed 27 shots to score 26 points in that game, though he did have nine assists. The Cavaliers are 8-20 this season when Irving takes 17 shots or more.
Nowitzki has averaged just 16.5 points in his last four against the Cavaliers and missed three others in the series since December 2009, but the Mavericks have won six of those seven.
Updated February 2, 2014