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The Dallas Mavericks almost conned the Utah Jazz out of a game.

Oh, they were clever, those Mavs. They came out firing 3-pointers Thursday night, no doubt having recognized that Utah is the NBA's second-worst team at 3-point defense, and in the process somehow seduced Utah into renouncing its strength - the inside game.It took the Jazz an entire half - and maybe one ejection - to realize what was going on and take over the paint, an area where Dallas is largely defenseless, finally posting a 106-103 victory over the Delta Center visitors. The victory moved the first-place Jazz a game and a half ahead of the Spurs, who lost to Houston, in the Midwest Division.

Six Mavericks combined to fire 31 3-pointers, making 14. Last week in Dallas, in their double-overtime victory, the Mavs attempted 32 treys - a record for a Jazz opponent.

Jazz forward Antoine Carr said that a 3-point attack like that can have a devastating psychological effect. "It's in the back of your mind, that even if you make a two they'll just come back with a three," he said.

The Jazz turned it around in the third quarter, and there are several possible explanations for that. Namely:

- The ejected-player theory. This states that when a key player from a team gets tossed, that team almost always goes on to win, perhaps because the other players realize they have to get serious, perhaps because the opponent lets down, thinking it's in the bag. Perhaps both. At any rate, it was Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek who got the heave-ho, with less than a second left before halftime, for arguing a call that wasn't even against him.

- The Jazz's recognition that they were in deep refuse. "We realized they were playing awfully well," said John Stockton. "We had to turn it up."

- Three-point defense. After allowing the Mavs to make nine of 16 3s in the first half, the Jazz limited them to two of seven in the third period. Bryon Russell, on the court because Hornacek departed, played 20 second-half minutes, holding Dallas' Jim Jackson to six points, after a 14-point first half. In the third quarter, Russell had three steals and a blocked shot.

- Dallas' flop defense. The Jazz were called for four offensive fouls in the first half, as Maverick defenders - chiefly Flopeye, er, Popeye Jones - flung themselves to the ground at every contact. It may have backfired, though, because it seemed to irritate the Jazz - and wake up Karl Malone.

All of which should not give the impression the Jazz dominated the second half. Indeed, they had to make two comebacks to subdue the youthful Mavs. Trailing by 12 at halftime, Utah started the third quarter with a 13-2 run, but Dallas closed with a 7-0 spurt to lead at the buzzer, 76-69.

The Jazz still trailed by nine at 86-77 with 7:56 left, then went on a 12-0 run to take a three-point lead. Of Utah's final 17 points, 16 were scored by Malone and Carr, pounding the ball inside.

"We come up real short when it comes to defending the (low) post," said Dallas coach Dick Motta.

Key plays:

- With the score tied, 97-all, and four seconds on the Jazz's shot clock, Dallas guard Jason Kidd kicked Malone's in-bounds pass, giving the ball, and a fresh 24-second clock, to the Jazz, who promptly scored. This was dumb.

- With the Jazz up 105-103 and 11 seconds left, Malone's in-bounds pass under the Dallas basket was tipped and almost recovered by the Mavs, but went out of bounds to Utah. This was lucky.

Kidd had one last chance to send the game into overtime with a 3, but missed. Which is ironic, since early in the game, Kidd glared at the Jazz bench after every made shot, which he explained thusly: "Somebody was saying it was short, and I just wanted to let them know it wasn't short. They tell me I can't shoot the ball." Kidd is shooting better, however. He made 10 of 21 for 34 points, with eight assists, five rebounds.

Malone made 10 of 13 second-half shots to finish with 30 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists - one assist shy of his second triple-double. Stockton totaled 21 points, 10 assists, two steals, leaving him two short of becoming the NBA's all-time steals leader.

The Jazz next play Tuesday against Boston at the Delta Center.