DALLAS (AP) - Dirk Nowitzki should have been tired after playing 96 minutes in consecutive overtime losses.
Instead, Nowitzki was at his best late when the Dallas Mavericks needed him most.
``The first half I was a step slow. Then I got going. The guys kept us in it,' Nowitzki said. ``The second half, guys were looking for me. I got some good looks and got into the game.'
Nowitzki scored 31 of his 35 points in the second half, and 21 in the fourth quarter Wednesday night when the Mavericks rallied for a 117-110 victory over the Houston Rockets, whose playoff hopes took another blow with their fifth consecutive loss.
Jason Terry put Dallas ahead to stay with a 3-pointer that made it 93-92 with 7:37 left.
By the time Nowitzki completed a three-point play 3 1/2 minutes later, the Mavs led 102-94. That wrapped up a 20-6 go-ahead run their 11-time All-Star forward started with consecutive 3-pointers. Then he made 10 free throws in a row over the final 2 1/2 minutes of the game.
``Dirk put the team on his back,' Delonte West said. ``It's not how you start, it's how you finish. Dirk was a prime example of that.'
Two nights after playing 53 minutes and scoring 40 points in a triple-overtime loss at Utah, Nowitzki was only 2-of-7 shooting with four points in the first half against the Rockets. He made eight of 11 shots after that.
Houston matched its longest losing streak of the season, and slipped to ninth place in the Western Conference with Phoenix, a half-game behind Utah for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with four games left.
``We could use some help,' Chandler Parsons said. ``We have to stay together, we can't get our heads down. As crazy as it sounds, it's not over yet.'
Vince Carter added 23 points and Terry 19 for the defending NBA champion Mavericks, who can clinch a playoff berth with a win over Golden State in their regular-season home finale Friday night.
``This game was really pivotal in so many ways because it's a double-count game on the whole magic number thing, and it effectively takes one team out of it, which is big,' Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.
Goran Dragic had 20 points to lead seven Rockets in double-figure scoring. Dragic also had 10 assists, and Marcus Camby had a double-double with 11 points and 17 rebounds after missing the previous game because of his back. Luis Scola had 18 points for Houston, Courtney Lee 16, Chase Budinger 14, and Parsons 12.
Jason Kidd has 12 points on four 3s for Dallas while West had 11 points after finding out earlier Wednesday he had been fined $25,000 by the NBA for jabbing his finger in the ear of Utah swingman Gordon Haywood in Monday night's game.
Houston was up 71-62, its largest lead, when Scola made a short bank shot midway through the third quarter to wrap up an 11-0 run.
The Rockets still led by eight after Scola made two free throws in the closing seconds of the third. But when Carter missed a 3-pointer, Brandan Wright grabbed the rebound and beat the buzzer with a 10-foot jumper.
Budinger's pull-up jumper with 10 minutes remaining had Houston up 88-82 before Nowitzki hit the first of his consecutive 3s.
``Dirk got on fire and got to the line a lot in the fourth,' Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. ``They executed better than we did in the fourth and we couldn't get stops.'
After Terry's go-ahead 3, Carter followed with a 3 of his own at the 7-minute mark.
Soon after that Terry was fouled and went hard to the ground while driving for a dunk attempt. After staying down for several minutes and Carlisle calling timeout, Terry got up and walked away smiling and urging the crowd they get loud.
After the Friday home finale, the Mavericks close the regular season at Chicago and Atlanta.
Houston, trying to get back into the last playoff spot, plays at New Orleans on Thursday. The Rockets have home games left against Golden State and the Hornets with a trip to Miami in between.
Phoenix lost to Oklahoma City later Wednesday night, but owns the tiebreaker against Houston since the Suns won two of three this season, including a 112-105 victory at Houston last Friday. Utah beat Portland to move into eighth place.
``We still believe in our chances,' Dragic said. ``Ten days ago, we were really confident, but we've been playing bad. Four games left, win those, we have a chance.'
NOTES: Kidd made three 3s in a 90-second span late in the first half before Scola made two free throws for a 55-all halftime tie. ... The game was tied 27-all after the first quarter, when Carter scored the last 10 Mavericks points including consecutive slam dunks in a 20-second span. ... Terry broke a tie with Chauncey Billups (1,783) for No. 4 on the NBA career 3-pointers list with his first one Wednesday night. He had three pushing his total to 1,786. At No. 3 on the list is Kidd, who has 1,874 after his latest four.
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