Mavs hold on to top Grizzlies 106-101

DALLAS — Dirk Nowitzki wanted more help. He sure got it — just when the Dallas Mavericks needed it, too.

In his first game since grumbling about his teammates deferring to him too much, Nowitzki scored 20 points over the first three quarters, then watched Jason Terry and Josh Howard carry the Mavericks the rest of the way in a 106-101 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.

Terry scored 12 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, and Howard had eight of his 11, to make sure the Mavericks got a split of their four-game homestand. Their contributions were especially important because Nowitzki failed to score in the final period, missing his only two shots.

“Josh was aggressive, making plays there in the fourth and Jet was on fire there late, so it was fun to watch,” Nowitzki said.

Dallas actually eased the load on Nowitzki the entire game, putting a total of seven players in double figures. The rest of the key contributors: Erick Dampier with 13 points and 10 rebounds, Jason Kidd with 10 points and 10 assists, J.J. Barea with 11 points and Shawn Marion with 10.

“That’s the way this team was built,” Terry said. “That hasn’t been there for us this season, but we know in the near future it’s going to be there and be consistent. … Hopefully this is the one we look back on and say, ‘Hey … that’s the blueprint.'”

If so, this was a good time to find it. Dallas is headed out for a four-game road trip that starts in Denver (against the team that ousted the Mavs from last year’s playoffs) and ends in Los Angeles against the Lakers.

Terry pointed out that for all the emphasis on Dallas’ scoring, the club’s biggest improvement this season is on defense. It sure didn’t look that way at the start of this game, with Zach Randolph facing little resistance around the basket.

Randolph made nine straight shots and scored 21 of Memphis’ first 39 points, helping the Grizzlies go ahead by 10. Finally, the Mavericks started double-teaming him and things began to change.

Randolph went without a field goal — and only took about three shots — from 9:42 of the second quarter to 9:43 of the fourth. By then, Dallas had taken control.

Nowitzki powered a 14-3 run early in the third quarter that lifted the Mavs from trailing by four to leading by seven. The Grizzlies never went back ahead, but they did get within 97-96 with 2:20 left.

Dallas answered with a layup by Dampier off a nice pass from Nowitzki. Terry made four free throws in the final 20.6 to polish off a win that avenged a 16-point loss in Memphis earlier this month. The Mavericks had lost to them three straight.

Randolph finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds, and Rudy Gay had 22 points and 10 rebounds. Memphis ended a three-game winning streak and Randolph ended a two-game run of scoring in the 30s.

“We stopped doing what we were doing that got us the lead,” Randolph said. “We needed to attack the basket more. It’s real frustrating. It was a tough game. We need to make smarter plays, move the ball, play a little more together at the end of the game. If we do that, we’ll be OK.”

O.J. Mayo scored 18 points, but was 4 of 14 and had four turnovers, including one shortly after Dampier’s basket that left Memphis down by three.

Marc Gasol added 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Sam Young scored 11 points.

Nowitzki, still playing with a huge bandage on his shooting elbow because of a gruesome injury last week, was 10 of 16 but wasn’t as aggressive as usual. For instance, he didn’t shoot a free throw for the first time since Dec. 8, 2007. He also had four turnovers.

“We know Dirk is our leader, but every night he’s not going to have it so other guys have to step up,” Dampier said. “We played together, shared the ball, had fun and were victorious.”

Notes: This was Dampier’s seventh double-double, more than he had all last season. … Memphis fell to 1-14 at American Airlines Center, having won here only in November 2005. … Kidd passed Tim Hardaway for the seventh-most career 3-pointers. … Dallas’ backup big man Drew Gooden didn’t dress because of back spasms. … Mavs owner Mark Cuban won’t be joining the team in Denver, but it has nothing to do with avoiding Kenyon Martin or Nuggets fans. His kids are on winter break so he’s headed to his vacation home in the Cayman Islands. He’ll miss the team’s games during spring break, too.

Jamie Aaron/The Associated Press