D holds tight until offense turns corner

DALLAS -- The beauty of Dirk Nowitzki is he can score 42 points, grab 12 rebounds, practically single-handedly rip his team a victory and then dial it down and tell it like he saw it.

And the Dallas Mavericks' 88-84 escape from the Detroit Pistons Tuesday night at American Airlines Center was, well ...

"Definitely not the way we wanted to start this tough week with four games in five nights," Nowitzki said. "To grind it out all the way to the last minute against Detroit, it's definitely not the way we wanted to start this week."

But ...

"At this point we’ll take the win however we can get it," Nowitzki said. "We just lost that one to Chicago last week. At this point we’ll take the win and move on. Especially in this tough week, you don’t want to start off with a loss. We can’t really be happy with this win, but it’s definitely a win."

The Mavs continue to make life tough on themselves with an alleged free-flow offense that grinds and grinds, especially on their home floor where a fourth-quarter flurry was needed to keep the home record above .500 after eight games. They bolted to an 11-0 lead and then 16-2 before half of the first quarter had expired and it seemed as the though coach Rick Carlisle could keep his veterans' minutes down and cruise well-rested into Oklahoma City for Wednesday night's anticipated showdown.

But, that didn't happen. The Mavs fell behind by 12 in the third quarter, outscored 58-32 between the 6:09 mark of the first quarter and 3:43 of the third. Nowitzki had to go 40 minutes for his 16th career 40-point game, which also included the dozen rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season. Jason Kidd (seven points on 2-of-9 shooting, 10 assists) logged a season-high 39 minutes. Likely the only one happy about seeing heavy court time was Caron Butler (11 points on 4-of-11 shooting), who finally turned aggressive to give the Mavs some needed juice to start the fourth quarter. He finished with a season-high 38 minutes after recently seeing his playing time dwindle.

To understand just how standstill Dallas' offense became -- with Nowitzki feeling the burden to do it all -- the Pistons outscored the Mavs in fastbreak points, 19-9 through three quarters.

Still, the Mavs found a way to win when they were outrebounded -- including 16-5 in a 14-point second quarter) and shot just 38.5 percent overall and 30 percent from beyond the arc. The defense continues to play strong in man-to-man and in zone. Tuesday's game was the seventh in a row in which Dallas didn't allow 100 points and the third in that span to keep the score in the 80s. Detroit was just the lastest opponent to wallow in the 42-percent range from the field (42.5 percent).

"I haven’t been on a team that’s really consistently defensively that good," Nowitzki said. "So that’s a positive."

But, will defense alone be good enough against the league's hierarchy such as Oklahoma City and the San Antonio Spurs, who at 12-1 and averaging an un-Spurs-like 107.6 points a game, welcome Dallas to town for the first time on Friday night?

"There’s somewhat of a concern," Jason Terry (16 points on 7-of-17 shooting) said of the offense. "But, it’s still November. It’s still early and guys are still getting comfortable with their roles, knowing when they’re coming in the game and what not. It’s all about flow and rhythm. Do you want to have that flow right now in the first month? You’d like it, but does it mean anything? Not necessarily. So, it’s a work in progress."

Dallas hasn't scored 100 points in six consecutive games and twice in that stretch haven't reached 90. Three times in 13 games they've finished in the 80s, albeit twice in victory, another testament to the surprising strength of the defense. At home, the Mavs are averaging 88.8 points and they're 96.2 scoring average overall entering Tuesday's game will drop another notch, just as half the league is averaging triple digits.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what ails the Mavs' offense.

"We definitely need somebody who can consistently get in the paint and make stuff easier and I think that’s where we’re waiting on Roddy Beaubois to make some stuff happen because he’s that explosive guy that can get in the paint," Nowitzki said. "I think J-Kidd can’t do it anymore on a consistent basis. Jet’s a shooter. I’m a shooter. Caron’s more of a shooter, so we don’t really have a guy that consistently gets in the paint and makes stuff easy.

"Hopefully Roddy will come back and open our offense up a little bit."

Until then, the Mavs are looking as though they will have to grind out wins with -- of all things -- their defense.