DALLAS -- As this marathon of an NBA season marches on, the Dallas Mavericks may one day look back to Nov. 20 as the turning point towards greater things to come.
On a very long Wednesday night at American Airlines Center -- thanks to a nationally ESPN telecast -- the Houston Rockets were spanking the Mavs all over the court. Embarrassing them in their own backyard and in front of their own bewildered fans.
For the better portion of the night, the Rockets were converting lob dunks almost as better as those original Lob City guys -- the Los Angeles Clippers. And they were coupling that by draining mind-boggling three-pointers like they were a dime a dozen.
"I feel like they could have subbed in their assistant trainer and he would have made a three,'' forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "They were amazingly hot.''
But while the Rockets were tap-dancing all over the Mavs, somehow the Mavs managed to dance their way back from the walking dead to eke out a pulsating 123-120 triumph and send the sellout crowd of 20,045 home on a happy note.
The victory kept the Mavs' home record flawless at 6-0 and moved their overall report card to 8-4. But more importantly, the Mavs showed they can go toe-to-toe with one of the giants of the NBA, when that giant shot 55.3 percent from the field and led by 18 late in the third quarter.
"It had to be a very entertaining game to watch,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "From a coaching/playing standpoint there's a lot of frustrating things that happened because both teams are good.
"Both teams are putting the other team in binds, there's a lot of complaining to officials out there, but our guys rose above it and got the win. Every game you can win is meaningful and it counts in the total at the end of the year.''
For the Mavs, Dirk Nowitzki scored a season-high 35 points and passed Reggie Miller along the way to become the NBA's No. 15 all-time leading scorer. And Monta Ellis shined again, popping in a season-high 37 points to go with eight assists and two steals.
Yet it was a pair of baskets by Shawn Marion -- both off feeds from Ellis -- that rocked this building and pushed the Mavs over the top.
Marion received a bounce pass from Ellis to score on a fastbreak layup which got the Mavs within 119-118 with 1:20 left. Then, as Ellis was flying past the basket amongt a forest of Rocket players, he somehow found Marion open in the left corner for a three-pointer which put the Mavs up 121-119 with 47.7 seconds to go.
"Marion hitting a three out of the corner, what a huge play,'' Carlisle said. "What a huge play.''
The Rockets could have tied it, but James Harden missed his second of two free throw attempts with nine seconds left, as the Rockets trailed 121-120.
Jose Calderon's two charity tosses increased the Mavs' lead to 123-120 with 6.7 seconds left, leaving the Rockets with another chance to tie it. However, Harden misfired on a three-point attempt and the Mavs joyously got off the court with their biggest win of the season.
Ellis said: "We just want to get better and let everything else fall into place.''
The game could have long-term ramifications considering the Mavs looked dead in the water against one of the NBA's best teams. Houston had powered its way to a 93-75 lead with 3:36 remaining in the third quarter and appeared as though it was going to cruise to the finish line with the scrubs doing mopup duty.
But the Mavs shifted to another gear, played some zone defense for awhile, got hot again, and started befuddling the Rockets.
"We stayed together as a team,'' said Ellis, who poured in 13-of-18 shots in 40 workmanlike minutes. "We got the defensive stops when we needed and came down and made shots on the other end.''
The Rockets (8-5) walked in the door and immediately led 40-29 after the first period and looked very comfortable while getting whatever they wanted offensively. But as has been the case all season, the Rockets were atrocious on defense.
"We never could get a handle on them,'' Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "All game long they were scoring.
"We just couldn't get them stopped the whole game. Dirk and Ellis got what they wanted.''
The Mavs shot 58.3 percent from the field in going 2-0 on this homestand which concudes Friday against the Utah Jazz. It was a night when Nowitzki and Ellis looked like tag-team partners who had been playing together for years.
Both of them put on a show, both of them took turns carrying the team, and both of them, afterwards, paid homeage to each other.
Meanwhile, the 72 points Nowitzki and Ellis combined for were the most by two Mavs since Jamal Mashburn (42 points) and Jason Kidd (38 points) combined for 80 points against Houston on Apr. 11, 1995.
"When you have it going like this, we still had to find ways to get some stops and get this win, and really we had to scramble in the last two minutes to even win this game,'' Nowitzki said. "It would have been obviously disappointing if we scored 70-points p'lus and end up with the L.
"So we really had to dig down deep there and finally get some stops and some run-outs to come back and win. But if we had it going like this we should be able to win the game and not scramble like this down the stretch to pull it out.''
That wild scramble, though, paid off handsomely for the Mavs.
"It was fun, it was a fun night,'' Nowitzki said. "Both teams played unbelievable.''
-- Dwain Price
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