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Mavs entertain Nets in Big D

The reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks will open up the second half of their season tonight by shooting for their 12th straight home victory over the New Jersey Nets.

The Mavs enter tonight's contest as the fourth seed in the Western Conference and three games behind long-time rival San Antonio in the Southwest Division. They entered the All-Star break on a losing note, however, falling to the LA Lakers in North Texas last Wednesday.

All-Star Dirk Nowitzki scored 25 points to pace the Mavericks, who had won seven of eight coming in, in the 96-91 setback. Vince Carter, an ex-Net, added 20 points and Jason Terry had 16.

Former Laker Lamar Odom did not play due to family reasons as LA improved to 2-0 this season against Dallas, the team which swept it out of last year's Western Conference semifinals.

"This was a nail biter," said Mavericks forward Shawn Marion. "I think we had our chances to gain a lead and keep it, but we had a few mishaps there in the fourth. They still gave us a chance there, but we weren't able to pull it out."

Dallas returned to practice on Monday but Odom still was not with the team and will not play again tonight. No timetable has been set for the return of the struggling forward, who is reportedly dealing with his ill father.

Odom's absence has fueled rumors that the Mavs would consider buying the reigning Sixth Man of the Year out of his contract but owner Mark Cuban has denied that is an option.

"We haven't discussed a buyout and we wouldn't do a buyout," Cuban told ESPN Dallas. "No chance that happens at all. We want to help Lamar work through any personal issues and expect him to be a valuable contributor to the Mavs this season. Players go through challenges from time to time and we try to be (an) organization that fully supports our players when things are challenging for them. We will do the same for Lamar."

The Mavs are 13-6 at home on the season and will be finishing a three-game homestand tonight.

New Jersey, which is opening up a four-game road trip tonight that will also include stops in Boston, Charlotte and Miami, comes in with a dismal 10-25 mark, good for last in the Atlantic Division.

The Nets latest loss came against Orlando last Wednesday, a 108-91 rout at the hands of the Magic in Newark. Rookie MarShon Brooks scored 24 points to lead New Jersey, while All-Star Deron Williams added 23 points and eight assists.

Brook Lopez scored 15 points in his second game after returning from a broken foot. The 7-footer played on Feb. 19 against Milwaukee but then sat out the following night in a win over New York. Power forward Kris Humphries sat out with a calf injury against the Magic and is expected to return against Dallas.

Off the floor New Jersey bolstered itself a bit on Monday by signing forward Gerald Green to a 10-day contract. The athletic Green, who was the D-League All-Star MVP, was a former first round draft pick of the Boston Celtics in 2005. He was averaging 19.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game for the Los Angeles D-Fenders.

The Nets have lost 12 of their last 15 games overall and seven in a row at home.

The Mavs have won five straight and 19 of 22 overall vs. New Jersey.