PHOENIX (AP) – The Dallas Mavericks won their 40th game of the season, 13 out of 14 in the last month.
And Dirk Nowitzki seems to be just getting warmed up.
Nowitzki, hitting his stride a month after returning from a knee injury, scored 35 points Thursday night to lead the Mavericks past the Phoenix Suns 112-106.
“Dirk’s back. He is all the way back,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said, “and it really is great.”
Nowitzki missed nine games with a right knee sprain before coming back on Jan. 14. His performance Thursday night was by far his best since his return.
“I felt good,” Nowitzki said. “I had a good rhythm early and made a couple of shots early, which usually helps. Over the last couple of weeks I haven’t really shot the ball well. I hit my first couple of shots and had a good rhythm out there and kept on attacking.”
Tyson Chandler had 12 points and 12 rebounds, including a tip-in with 19 seconds left. Jason Terry scored 16, capped by a pair of free throws with 14.1 seconds to play to give Dallas a 111-106 lead. Shawn Marion added 12 points as the Mavericks improved to 9-0 against Pacific Division foes, including 4-0 on the road.
Channing Frye scored 24 points and Steve Nash had 15 points and 14 assists in just the third loss for the Suns in their last 11 games.
“We can’t let Dirk get off to such a hot start, and that’s my fault,” Frye said. “It’s the first time I’ve gone up against him, and Coach gave me confidence. He just made some tough shots.”
Nowitzki was at his smooth-shooting best most of the night, sinking 8 of 10 in a 19-point first half. He finished the game 13 of 18 from the field and 6 of 6 at the foul line, including a nine-point fourth quarter.
The Suns, who take a .500 record into the All-Star break, stayed with the Mavericks through the night despite going 5 of 18 from 3-point range.
Dallas had just six offensive rebounds, but two by Chandler came at crucial points down the stretch. On the first, he dunked and was fouled from behind by Frye for a three-point play that put the Mavs up 101-94 with 3 1/2 minutes left.
The second, with just over 19 seconds left, gave Dallas a 109-103 advantage.
Frye banked in a 3-pointer to cut it to 109-106 with 17.3 seconds left, but Terry’s two free throws finally put the game out of reach.
“We have guys that are not quitters,” Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. “I believe in this team. We will come back after the All-Star break and we will play good basketball and we will find a way to make a run and get in the playoffs.”
Down by seven at halftime, the Suns led much of the third quarter, but never by more than four points. After Mickael Pietrus’ dunk gave Phoenix an 80-76 lead, Dallas scored the last nine of the third quarter on Nowitzki’s 22-footer, Marion’s reverse layup on a pass from Nowitzki, Jason Kidd’s 3-pointer and a dunk by Marion on another assist by Nowitzki.
Dallas led 85-80 entering the fourth quarter and never trailed again.
Nash’s driving layup cut it to 94-92 with 5:38 left, but Nowitzki sank a pair of free throws and a 5-foot jumper to boost it to 98-92 and Phoenix never got that close again.
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