HOUSTON – Dirk Nowitzki scoffed at the notion that he’s playing as well now as he did when he led the Dallas Mavericks to a title in 2011.
He will, however, concede that at age 35 he’s having a pretty good season.
Nowitzki scored 31 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, to lead the Mavericks to a 111-104 win over the Houston Rockets on Monday night.
He joked that his big night was simply luck before getting serious and discussing the work he puts in off the court.
“Hopefully I can light it up a couple of more years and then slowly fade away,” he said, breaking into a huge smile.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle isn’t surprised at what Nowitzki, who is averaging 21.5 points a game, is doing for his team this season.
“He’s the great Dirk Nowitzki,” Carlisle said. “He’s one of the great players in the history of the game.”
Nowitzki missed the first 27 games of last season after knee surgery and the Mavericks missed the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. He feels like his game is good now and his injury is behind him, but he wants to do more.
“The driving the ball is what’s missing a little now,” he said. “I do a lot of one or two dribble and then up, but I want to get back to driving some more to the basket and get to the foul line. I don’t think I’m in ’11 shape, but compared to the last two years I feel a lot better. The right knee is great and I feel better.”
Nowitzki’s performance on Monday night gave him 25,629 career points, which moved him past Alex English for 13th place in scoring in NBA history.
Houston cut the lead to six after a 3-pointer by Aaron Brooks with about 3 ½ minutes left, but Nowitzki knocked down consecutive baskets to push the Mavericks lead to 107-97.
Houston coach Kevin McHale was frustrated that his team was unable to slow Nowitzki down.
“We tried a bunch of different stuff,” McHale said. “We tried showing and coming back. We tried staying on there. We tried running at him. Nothing seemed to work.”
Dwight Howard had 29 points and 15 rebounds for the Rockets, who were playing their second straight game without leading scorer James Harden, who was out with a sprained left ankle.
Dallas started the final period by using a 9-4 run powered by three 3-pointers, including two from Jae Crowder, to push the lead to 95-82.
Jeremy Lin, who has been out since Dec. 13 because of back spasms, scored 20 and Chandler Parsons had 21 for Houston.
Dallas outscored Houston 17-10 over the last five minutes of the third quarter to stretch a one-point lead into an 86-78 advantage entering the fourth quarter. Vince Carter scored seven points during that span and Crowder added five.
Monta Ellis had 18 points for Dallas, Carter had 16 and Jose Calderon added 15 points with five assists.
With the speedy Harden out, the Rockets relied on their inside game and outscored the Mavericks 60-32 in the paint. But the Mavericks had the advantage from 3-point range, where they made 11 to Houston’s seven 3-pointers.
“They hit a lot of tough shots tonight, especially in the second half,” Howard said. “They shot great the whole game. When a team is shooting that good they are tough to beat.”
A 15-1 spurt by Dallas to open that second half erased a seven-point halftime deficit and gave the Mavericks a 65-58 lead with eight minutes left in the third quarter. Nowitzki led the way in that stretch, making seven points including a 3-pointer. The Rockets came out flat to start the third, missing six shots and turning the ball over twice in the first few minutes of the quarter.
The Rockets finally snapped out of their offensive slump after that, using a 10-4 run to get within 69-68 with about 5 ½ minutes left in the quarter.