HOUSTON -- It was an aberrant moment when Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki blocked Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard at the rim to close the second quarter, a play that inspired laughter from both yet set the tone for a more engaged defensive effort by the Mavericks in the second half.
While Dallas made Howard work a bit harder after the intermission, Nowitzki paced a scorching offensive performance, scoring a game-high 31 points, including 10 in a tense fourth quarter, as the Mavericks rallied for a 111-104 win over Houston Monday night at Toyota Center.
Nowitzki scored six consecutive points as Dallas (16-12) stifled the final Rockets run in the fourth, one that included Houston guard Aaron Brooks sinking a 3-pointer that cut the Rockets' deficit to 103-97 with 3:38 left. Two difficult Nowitzki jumpers later and Dallas led by 10.
"The game is not the same. A 7-foot-1 guy comes in the league and does what he does, it changed the power forward position forever and it reflects in the modern game now."
Guard Monta Ellis tallied 18 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Mavericks. Howard posted a double-double (29 points and 15 boards) while forward Chandler Parsons added 21 points for Houston (18-11).
After warming up in their 30-point second quarter, the Mavericks blitzed the Rockets with 36 points on 59.1 percent shooting in the third. The spurt that enabled Dallas to secure the lead for good was ripped from the Rockets' offensive textbook, with guard Jose Calderon, Nowitzki and Ellis draining 3s while Calderon and Nowitzki also scored in transition.
"We loosened them up and they had to go to a different scheme," Mavericks swingman Vince Carter said. "And it really wasn't feed Dirk and work through him, it was just move the ball and find an open guy, which in essence really opened things up for (Nowitzki) to operate in the fourth quarter."
That 13-0 run capped a 21-3 surge Dallas used to turn an 11-point deficit into a 65-58 lead. Parsons' daring forays to the rim, plus his alley-oop pass to Howard, lugged the Rockets to within 69-68 at the 5:20 mark of the third quarter, but Dallas' offense remained hot.
The Mavericks shot eight of 15 from behind the arc in the second half.
With Houston incapable of matching up with shooters in transition, the Mavericks opened the fourth quarter with a trio of treys that pushed their lead to 95-82. Forward Jae Crowder nailed a corner 3 after Ellis sank a 3 above the break on the previous possession. Dallas then exploited the Rockets' defensive switching, with Nowitzki punishing Rockets guard Jeremy Lin (20 points), who surrendered nine inches.
"We tried a bunch of different stuff," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said of defending Nowitzki. "We tried showing and coming back. We tried staying on there. We tried running at him. Nothing seemed to work."
Said Parsons: "When he gets going and he's making shots like that, he's tough to guard. So we tried to go small and start switching things and then we started double teaming and then guys like Ellis and Crowder stepped up and hit shots."
Howard was the Rockets' first-half linchpin and paired 16 points with six rebounds while dominating his matchup against feisty Mavericks center Samuel Dalembert. Howard shot four of eight after the intermission, but the Mavericks were more effective at running extra defenders his way.
NOTES: After missing 10 of the past 12 games due to knee and back ailments, Rockets G Jeremy Lin returned to action Monday and was immediately inserted into the starting lineup replacing Patrick Beverley, who will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a broken right hand. ... The Rockets recalled rookie G Isaiah Canaan from their NBA D-League partner Rio Grande Valley Monday. Canaan, the 34th overall selection in the 2013 NBA draft, averaged 21.7 points, 9.2 assists and 4.3 rebounds in 12 starts with the Vipers. He was second in the D-League in assists and ninth in scoring. ... With Houston C Dwight Howard fresh off a season-best 35-point performance against the Detroit Pistons, the Mavericks remained concerned about the Rockets' offense, even though Houston played without G James Harden (ankle). "The biggest thing is transition," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "With Harden out, the second biggest thing is the 3-point line off of transition and the Howard combination inside."