Mavericks hold off Denver for 104-96 win


AP Sports Writer

DENVER (AP) Drew Gooden scored 19 points and Dirk Nowitzki hit a clutch 3-pointer late in the game, lifting the Mavericks to a 104-96 win Sunday night over a Denver Nuggets squad missing All-Star guard Chauncey Billups.

Dallas handed the league’s best home team a rare loss as the Nuggets fell to 13-2 at the Pepsi Center.

The Mavericks also snapped a five-game regular season slide against Denver, a team that dispatched them in five games during the Western Conference semifinals last season.

Gooden was back in the lineup after missing a game with back spasms. The forward also had 10 rebounds. Nowitzki added 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Denver was led in scoring by Kenyon Martin with 18 points. He also had 11 rebounds.

Carmelo Anthony was held to 16 points, well below his league-leading average of 30.4 entering the game. Anthony also finished with a season-high 12 rebounds, before fouling out with 2:47 left.

Leading by 14 midway through the final quarter, the Mavericks saw their lead trimmed to four, 98-94, with 2:34 remaining.

But Gooden hit a free throw and a layup to give the Mavericks some breathing room. Nowitzki sealed the contest with a deep 3-pointer with less than a minute remaining.

The Nuggets will be without Billups for at least one more game as he gives his strained left groin time to heal.

Billups injured the groin on Dec. 16 against Houston and sat out three straight games. The All-Star point guard returned on Christmas Day at Portland, but didn’t play in the second half.

Ty Lawson received the starting nod in Billups’ absence, finishing with 16 points.

Denver trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half, but trimmed the deficit to 55-52 on a fast-break dunk by Arron Afflalo with 1.4 seconds remaining.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wasn’t on hand to watch his team play Sunday. But it wasn’t to duck Martin and the Nuggets crowd.

With his kids on winter break, he’s headed to his vacation home in the Cayman Islands.

Cuban helped fan the flames of a heated semifinals series between the two teams last season, yelling at Martin’s mother at a game, an incident for which he later apologized. The Nuggets won the series, advancing to their first conference finals in 24 years.

Denver rolled along in the playoffs last year with a defense-first philosophy and a physical style of play, something coach George Karl wouldn’t mind revisiting.

“We’re a cute, cool team a little too much, not a let’s-go-to-work, dig-and-grind team,” Karl said at the morning shootaround. “In the heat of the biggest, best battles, it’s usually the tougher teams that figure out how to win games.”

NOTES: For Dallas, this was the first of a four-game road trip that includes three playoff teams from a year ago. … Trapped by the Mavericks, Nuggets G J.R. Smith flung his elbows trying to escape the jam late in the third quarter. He was called for a flagrant-2 foul, which would’ve meant ejection. But the officials took a look on replay and reversed the decision.

Updated December 27, 2009