Nowitzki leads Mavs over Rockets 111-104

Dirk Nowitzki scoffed at the notion that he’s playing as well

now as he did when he led the Dallas Mavericks to a title in

2011.

He will, however, concede that at age 35 he’s having a pretty

good season.

Nowitzki scored 31 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter,

to lead the Mavericks to a 111-104 win over the Houston Rockets on

Monday night.

He joked that his big night was simply luck before getting

serious and discussing the work he puts in off the court.

”Hopefully I can light it up a couple of more years and then

slowly fade away,” he said, breaking into a huge smile.

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle isn’t surprised at what Nowitzki, who

is averaging 21.5 points a game, is doing for his team this

season.

”He’s the great Dirk Nowitzki,” Carlisle said. ”He’s one of

the great players in the history of the game.”

Nowitzki missed the first 27 games of last season after knee

surgery and the Mavericks missed the playoffs for the first time

since the 1999-2000 season. He feels like his game is good now and

his injury is behind him, but he wants to do more.

”The driving the ball is what’s missing a little now,” he

said. ”I do a lot of one or two dribble and then up, but I want to

get back to driving some more to the basket and get to the foul

line. I don’t think I’m in `11 shape, but compared to the last two

years I feel a lot better. The right knee is great and I feel

better.”

Nowitzki’s performance on Monday night gave him 25,629 career

points, which moved him past Alex English for 13th place in scoring

in NBA history.

Houston cut the lead to six after a 3-pointer by Aaron Brooks

with about 3 1/2 minutes left, but Nowitzki knocked down

consecutive baskets to push the Mavericks lead to 107-97.

Houston coach Kevin McHale was frustrated that his team was

unable to slow Nowitzki down.

”We tried a bunch of different stuff,” McHale said. ”We tried

showing and coming back. We tried staying on there. We tried

running at him. Nothing seemed to work.”

Dwight Howard had 29 points and 15 rebounds for the Rockets, who

were playing their second straight game without leading scorer

James Harden, who was out with a sprained left ankle.

Dallas started the final period by using a 9-4 run powered by

three 3-pointers, including two from Jae Crowder, to push the lead

to 95-82.

Jeremy Lin, who has been out since Dec. 13 because of back

spasms, scored 20 and Chandler Parsons had 21 for Houston.

Dallas outscored Houston 17-10 over the last five minutes of the

third quarter to stretch a one-point lead into an 86-78 advantage

entering the fourth quarter. Vince Carter scored seven points

during that time and Crowder added five.

Monta Ellis had 18 points for Dallas, Carter had 16 and Jose

Calderon added 15 points with five assists.

With the speedy Harden out, the Rockets relied on their inside

game and outscored the Mavericks 60-32 in the paint. But the

Mavericks had the advantage from 3-point range, where they made 11

to Houston’s seven 3-pointers.

”They hit a lot of tough shots tonight, especially in the

second half,” Howard said. ”They shot great the whole game. When

a team is shooting that good they are tough to beat.”

A 15-1 spurt by Dallas to open that second half erased a

seven-point halftime deficit and gave the Mavericks a 65-58 lead

with eight minutes left in the third quarter. Nowitzki led the way

in that stretch, making seven points including a 3-pointer. The

Rockets came out flat to start the third, missing six shots and

turning the ball over twice in the first few minutes of the

quarter.

The Rockets finally snapped out of their offensive slump after

that, using a 10-4 run to get within 69-68 with about 5 1/2 minutes

left in the quarter. Parsons made four quick points near the end of

it before Howard put an exclamation point on the run with a nifty

sideways alley-oop dunk.

Houston led by one point about six minutes before halftime and

used an 11-2 run over the next four minutes to extend its lead to

52-42. Howard got things going in that span by scoring six straight

points and capped the run with a free throw.

The Rockets led 57-50 at halftime.

NOTES: Houston announced during the game that guard Patrick

Beverley had surgery on Monday to repair a fracture in his right

hand and will be out 4-6 weeks. … Calderon has scored more than

10 points in 18 of his last 20 games. … Houston has scored at

least 60 points in the paint in three of its last four games.