DALLAS, May 5 (UPI) -- Detroit finished off a big comeback Sunday and Dallas saw to it that Portland did not finish off an even bigger one.
Dirk Nowitzki ignited a game-ending 14-2 run that allowed the Dallas Mavericks to avoid NBA infamy and move into the Western Conference semifinals with a 107-95 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Nowitzki scored 12 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter in the seventh game of the first-round series.
The Mavericks moved into the second round for the third straight year. For the second straight year, they will face the Sacramento Kings, who eliminated them in five games last year. Game 1 will be Tuesday night in Dallas.
It was a nerve-wracking series for the Mavericks, who were on the verge of a sweep after winning the first three games, then on the verge of the biggest collapse in NBA history after losing the next three.
Nowitzki had been the leading scorer in the playoffs until Game 6, when he scored just four points while making two of 11 shots in a 125-103 loss. The versatile 7-footer bounced back with a big game that cemented his status as a superstar.
In his first career Game 7, Nowitzki made 12 of 21 shots and grabbed 11 rebounds, helping Dallas to a 42-42 deadlock on the boards.
The game was tied at 93-93 when Nowitzki scored seven straight points for Dallas in a 90-second stretch, creating a 100-94 lead with 1:21 to go.
In Auburn Hills, Chauncey Billups scored 37 points as the Detroit Pistons built a 26-point lead in the third quarter and routed the Orlando Magic, 108-93, in the seventh game of their first-round series.
Rookie Tayshaun Prince came off the bench to spark a second-quarter surge and score 20 points for the Pistons, who became just the seventh team in NBA history to erase a 3-1 deficit and win a playoff series.
In the process, Detroit prevented Orlando from becoming only the third eighth seed to upset the top seed.
Richard Hamilton scored 22 points for the Pistons, who advanced to the conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers. Game 1 will be Tuesday night in Detroit.
The conference semifinals begin Monday night with New Jersey hosting Boston in the East and the Los Angeles visiting San Antonio in the West.
Duncan repeats as NBA Most Valuable Player
NEW YORK, May 5 (UPI) -- Tim Duncan was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player Sunday, making him the first back-to-back winner of the award in 11 years.
Duncan joined Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Moses Malone as the only players to win the MVP award in consecutive seasons. Jordan had been the last to do so.
Duncan received 60 first-place votes and 962 points from a panel of 119 writers and broadcasters who cover the NBA. He edged Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett, who had 43 first-place votes and 871 points.
The 7-foot Duncan averaged 23.3 points and recorded career highs with 12.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.9 blocks per game in leading the Spurs to a league-best 60-22 record. He had 58 double-doubles and shot 51 percent from the field.
Duncan was named Western Conference Player of the Week five times. On Feb. 1, he registered a league season-high 25 rebounds. On March 14, he had 24 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists for his second career triple-double.
Hornets fire Paul Silas
NEW ORLEANS, May 4 (UPI) -- New Orleans Hornets Coach Paul Silas and coaching staff were fired Sunday, two days after the team exited the playoffs.
The firing was unexpected. Silas, 59, was in the final year of his contract, but both he and his players expected him to return.
Silas guided the Hornets through serious adversity to the playoffs each of the last four years, but is now available to the Toronto Raptors, who have a coaching vacancy, or the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers or Los Angeles Clippers, who installed interim coaches during the season.
The Hornets went 47-35 this season, finishing third in the Central Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference despite a pair of injuries to star guard Baron Davis.
Zito gets the best of Clemens
It was a matchup of the reigning Cy Young Award winner (Zito) and the only pitcher to have earned the honor six times.
Zito (5-2) got offensive support from Scott Hatteberg, who homered in the first inning, and Miguel Tejada, who delivered a two-out RBI single in the third. But it was the Oakland defense that preserved his league-leading 45th win since the start of the 2001 season.
The 24-year-old lefthander, who already owns the best winning percentage (.732) ever among pitchers with 50 wins, got a couple of key defensive plays from catcher Mark Johnson and Gold Glove third baseman Eric Chavez.
Clemens (4-2) pitched well but failed to notch career win No. 298. The 40-year-old righthander allowed two runs and four hits in seven innings. The active leader in wins, innings, strikeouts and complete games walked two and struck out six but was hurt by an error by shortstop Erick Almonte in the third.
Other American League results: Cleveland 3, Texas 1; Detroit 7, Tampa Bay 3; Toronto 8, Anaheim 2; Kansas City 4, Baltimore 0; Minnesota 9, Boston 4; Seattle 5, Chicago 1 in a game halted by rain after 5 1/2 innings.
Fluke sacrifice fly helps Braves
PHOENIX, May 5 (UPI) -- Rafael Furcal drove in the go-ahead run with a fluke sacrifice fly in the 11th inning Sunday night, giving Atlanta a 7-4 win over Arizona.
Chris Capuano (0-1), who was called up from the minor leagues before the game and was making his major league debut, walked Darren Bragg and Vinny Castilla in the 11th before Henry Blanco sacrificed.
Furcal blooped a short pop fly in back of first base, where Mark Grace caught the ball before colliding with second baseman Junior Spivey and falling to the ground. An alert Bragg raced home with the go-ahead run and Castilla also scored when Grace threw wildly to the plate.
Marcus Giles capped the inning with an RBI single.
Trey Hodges (1-0), the fifth of six Atlanta pitchers, worked a scoreless 10th for the win. John Smoltz allowed a hit in the 11th and earned his 12th save.
The Braves tied the game in the sixth on a two-run homer by Andruw Jones and an RBI double by Henry Blanco.
Atlanta won for the seventh time in eight games.
Other National League results: Houston 5, Florida 2; New York 5, Milwaukee 3; St. Louis 6, Montreal 2; Chicago 5, Colorado 4 in 10 innings; Los Angeles 3, Pittsburgh 2; Philadelphia 3, San Diego 1; San Francisco 6, Cincinnati 1.
Flesch wins in playoff
NEW ORLEANS, May 5 (UPI) -- Steve Flesch holed a 30-foot birdie putt on the most difficult closing hole on the PGA Tour Sunday to defeat Bob Estes at the HP Classic.
It was Flesch's first win on the PGA Tour.
A two-time runner-up in New Orleans who was playing in his 174th PGA Tour event, Flesch earned the clubhouse lead at 21-under-par 267 with a bogey-free, 7-under 65 that included a six-foot par save at the 18th.
After waiting on the practice range while regulation finished, Flesch put his approach shot on the first hole of sudden death seven feet furhter from the cup than that of Estes, but he rolled in the birdie, one of only three on the day at the 18th hole.
Including three birdies and two pars at the 471-yard, par-4 18th, which has a narrow green guarded by water and engulfing bunkers, Flesch played his last 56 holes at the English Turn Golf and Country Club without a bogey.
When Estes missed his birdie try, Flesch had his first professional victory since he claimed the 1997 Nationwide Tour Championship. He became the only lefthander to win an event on both the PGA Tour and its minor league circuit.
Venus retires in Poland final
WARSAW, Poland, May 5 (UPI) -- France's Amelie Mauresmo rallied after losing the first set Sunday and then won the J&S Cup when Venus Williams was forced to retire.
The top-seeded Williams, playing in just her fourth tournament of the year, won the first set, 7-6 (8-6), but lost nine straight games before abandoning the match because of abdominal pain.
Williams then announced she would skip this week's German Open in Berlin.
Schmacher captures another Grand Prix
BARCELONA, Spain, May 5 (UPI) -- Michael Schumacher, driving his new Ferrari F2003-GA, Sunday won the Formula One Spanish Grand Prix for the third straight year.
He completed the 65-lap race in a time of 1 hour, 33 minutes, 46.933 seconds while averaging 121.905 miles per hour (196.620 kph).
The five-time World Champion from Germany shrugged off a fleeting first-lap collision with Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello to continue his domination of the Circuit de Catalunya. Starting from his sixth pole here, he claimed his fifth victory at the track.
Fernando Alonzo, a 21-year-old local who split the two Ferraris with his Renault at the start, recorded his best career F1 result in front of his home crowd by coming in second. It was only his third career podium finish.
Barrichello came in third, followed by Williams-BMW drivers Juan Montoya of Colombia and Germany's Ralf Schumacher. Cristiano da Matta of Brazil came in sixth in a Toyota to earn his first points of the year.
Scot David Coulthard's championship hopes took a blow as he crashed out after a collision with Englishman Jenson Button, who finished ninth for BAR-Honda.
Finn Kimi Raikkonen, forced to start from the back of the grid after messing up his qualifying lap Saturday, hit the back of Antonio Pizzonia's Jaguar as he sped away when the red lights went out.
Race officials sent out the safety car to clear the damaged McLaren and Jaguar off the grid by which time Raikkonen's teammate Coulthard had collided with Jarno Trulli, ending his Renault rival's race and forcing him into a first-lap pit stop for repairs.
Coulthard's hopes of cutting his 13-point deficit to Raikkonen were abruptly ended after just 19 laps when he was dumped in the sand by Button as the BAR driver attempted to pass.
Rain affects first day of Indy practice
INDIANAPOLIS, May 5 (UPI) -- A fast afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had a soggy ending Sunday.
Rain halted the Opening Day practice session for this year's 87th Indianapolis 500.
Before light rain began to fall, 29 cars had turned 697 laps. The practice session ended at 5:03 p.m. -- 1 hour, 57 minutes short of its scheduled length.
The 29 cars that took the track were the most for an Indy 500 Opening Day since 1999, when 39 cars turned laps. The last time Opening Day was affected by rain came in 1997, when the practice session was completely rained out.
Scott Sharp had the fastest time, clocking 229.764 miles per hour in a Dallara/Toyota.
Sharp was the most recent winner on the IRL circuit when he triumphed at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13.
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