And, suddenly, the Detroit Pistons are streaking in the wrong direction.
OK, so it's only two losses in a row by the Pistons after their 102-86 loss Wednesday night in Dallas, but their consecutive losses follow an 11-game winning streak. And they had lost back-to-back games only one other time.
"Always when you're playing at a high level, you're always concerned at some point about a little let-up," coach Flip Saunders said. "You can have a let-up, you cannot play well, but it shouldn't affect your effort. I didn't think we gave a consistent effort."
Four nights after the Pistons' 92-85 loss to Boston when they blew a 12-point lead, this one wasn't even close. They led only 14 seconds against Dallas
-- after Chauncey Billups hit a short runner on their first shot of the game to lead 2-0.
"You're going to have nights like this sometimes," Rasheed Wallace said.
Dirk Nowitzki had 11 of his 23 points by the end of the first quarter, and led the Mavericks in scoring for the 10th straight game
-- the last five of them victories.
"We're starting to get better every month and that was our goal after we had a suspect month of November and December," said Nowitzki, who was 10-of-15 shooting.
Erick Dampier, who sat out the last two games because of a swollen left knee, was 3-of-3 shooting to extend his streak of consecutive made field goals to a Mavericks-record 14. He had a three-point play and a nifty save on a missed shot that he turned into an assist to Nowitzki during an early surge that put Dallas in control.
Dampier's last basket was a slam dunk with 4:45 left that made it 95-75, and the only real flaw in his game was the technical foul he got for hanging on the rim on that play. He finished with seven points and six rebounds.
"I'm trying to do things like rebound and present myself on offense and make free throws," said Dampier, who missed the first six games of the season after offseason shoulder surgery. "Every win is a confidence-builder for us. We're trying to build on this. We're working as a unit."
The 14 consecutive makes by Dampier have come over a three-game stretch. Since missing all three shots against Cleveland on Dec. 27, he has had games of 6-for-6, 5-for-5 and 4-for-4.
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Devin Harris had 19 points while reserves Jerry Stackhouse and Jason Terry both had 15 points with three 3-pointers each.
Richard Hamilton had 18 points to lead the Pistons, while Billups had 16.
After his save under the Dallas backboard midway through the first quarter, Dampier passed the ball to Nowitzki for a 14-foot jumper. That was the first of three straight baskets by Nowitzki in a 71-second span
-- part of a 21-10 surge when Dallas scored on nine straight possessions to take a double-figure lead.
"It's disappointing. We knew they were a first-quarter team, and we let them get in a comfort zone," Billups said. "They had some early looks, and they didn't miss."
The Pistons got within 48-43 by halftime, but Dampier swatted away a quick shot and Nowitzki hit a 15-foot floater. Harris then had a one-handed windmill dunk, before another basket by Nowitzki and a 3-pointer by Harris made it 57-47.
"Everybody contributed," Stackhouse said. "We came out with a lot of focus. We had good carry-over from practice, and good carry-over from the first half."
Terry had a pair of 3-pointers, sandwiching a 12-footer by Nowitzki, in an 8-0 run midway through the third quarter after Detroit had closed to within 57-51. And the Pistons never got closer.
Dallas (24-11) moved into a virtual tie for the Southwest Division lead with idle San Antonio, where the Pistons play on Thursday night.
Notes: The last consecutive losses for Detroit (26-9) were at the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento on Nov. 16 and 18. ... Dampier passed James Donaldson (April 1987) and Jay Vincent (February 1982), who had made 13 shots in a row for Dallas. ... Dallas has held 12 of their last 14 opponents under 100 points. ... The Mavs led 32-20 after the first quarter. They are 8-1 this season when scoring at least 30 points in the first quarter. ... Billups had three 3-pointers, giving him 792. He came in tied with inactive Lindsey Hunter for second on Detroit's career list.
[Associated Press; By STEPHEN HAWKINS]
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