How it happened: The New Jersey Nets hadn't won three in a row in two years and by gosh they weren't going to let this chance escape their grasp ... until Dirk Nowitkzi took it away with six seconds to play.
Nowitzki sized up Stephen Graham, took him into the paint, spun, juked and his short jumper rolled around the rim and dropped in for an 87-86 lead. Devin Harris and the Nets were a mess on their final play and Jordan Farmar got off an awkward 3-point attempt just as the buzzer sounded. It was nowhere close.
Well, when you're the Dallas Mavericks right now, you'll take it. It wasn't pretty. There were defensive lapses, especially in the first half. There were long scoring droughts in the first and third quarters. There were blown leads. But, they got the win to split this brief, two-game road trip after losing at Chicago on Thursday night.
A 10-2 run to start the fourth quarter put the Mavs in good shape: they led 78-71 with 7:28 to play and then 82-77 with 4;05 to go. But they couldn't hold as Brook Lopez (24 points) was key. The Nets took the lead a couple times but couldn't come up with the definitive stop.
The Mavs celebrated, jumping into each other, while the Nets just looked at each other with palms up.
The 109-point outburst against the Lakers on Wednesday continues to be the anamoly,with or without Nowitzki (23 points on 7-of-24 shohoting), as the Mavs just can't get their offense in gear with any regularity. In the first quarter, they went the final 4:18 without a field goal and needed two free throws from Brendan Haywood with 0.6 ticks on the clock to get within 26-22.
In the third quarter, after the Mavs built a 58-51 lead looking as fluid offensively as they have on this two-game roadie, the Nets promptly scored eight in a row to re-take the lead. Dallas would go without a field goal from the 7:18 mark until Shawn Marion's bucket from close range with 55 seconds left. Jason Terry would add another to salvage a 68-68 tie after leading 48-45 at the half.
Nowitzki, deciding to ditch the sleeve he had been wearing on his right knee since his return a week ago in Memphis, had another tough night but did hit some big ones. In the fourth quarter, he buried a corner 3 and then at the midway point he juked rookie Derrick Favors a couple of times at the wing and then splashed his patented step-back for an 80-75 lead with six minutes to go.
Tyson Chandler is the only Mavs player that can say he had solid offensive night. He scored 10 of his 19 points in the first quarter, specializing in two-handed slams and mostly off lobs from Jason Kidd. Chandler was 7-of-11 from the floor and grabbed eight rebounds. His late miss from the free throw line that allowed the Nets to hold onto a one-point lead didn't come back to haunt him.
While the Mavs will keep working on that offensive thing and wonder how they allowed the Nets to shoot better than 50 percent for much of the night, Dallas will get kudos from its coach in the "gnarly" department, as Rick Carlisle put it before the game, meaning aggressive, hard-nosed plays.
Dallas was good on the boards with 15 second-chance points compared to six for New Jersey. They were aggressive enough offensively to get to the free throw line 29 times, and they made 27 for a 10-point advantage.
Somehow, the Mavs went to halftime with a 48-45 lead. The score didn’t seem to add up considering Dallas shot 38.5 percent and New Jersey, in the bottom five of the league in shooting percentage, heated up to 54.3 percent and was much higher than that for a good stretch.
But the Nets went scoreless over the final 2:51 of the half while the Mavs together their most fluid minutes of the half for an 11-0 run.
What it means: The Mavs snapped their second negative streak of the week, dumping their five-game road skid to improve to 13-7 as they head home to face tantalizing rookie Blake Griffin and the revitalized Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night.
Play of the game: Nowitzki's shot won it, but this one was made for the highlight reel: On the possession after DeShawn Stevenson converted a four-point play to break a 49-49 tie, Jason Kidd wound up with the ball in the right corner. He made a move under the defender and lofted the ball just high enough for Chandler to grab it out of the air and throw it down with two-handed authority, one of several alley-oop slams he had in the game. This one put the Mavs up 55-51 and was part of a 9-2 run.