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NBA: Dallas 117, Houston 110

April 18, 2012 at 11:48 PM

DALLAS, April 18 (UPI) -- Dirk Nowitzki turned in a clutch second-half performance Wednesday that moved the Dallas Mavericks within reach of the playoffs with a 117-110 win over Houston.

The Mavericks, who began the night in seventh place in the Western Conference, opened a 2 1/2-game gap over the ninth spot. The defending NBA champions halted a two-game skid that had put their post-season chances in jeopardy.

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Nowitzki scored 31 of his 35 points in the second half while Vince Carter and Jason Terry had 23 and 19 points off the bench.

If Dallas does reach the playoffs, Houston, Phoenix and Utah will be left to contest the final post-season spot in the West.

Goran Dragic led Houston with 20 points and 10 assists. The Rockets have lost five in a row and squandered a six-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

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