Mavs Edge Pistons, Dirk Scores Sweet 42

With 9.4 seconds remaining and the Mavs clinging to a slim edge over visiting Detroit on Tuesday, Dirk Nowitzki toed the free-throw line, looked to receive the ball from the ref, and heard a familiar whisper in his ear. "What did I say?' Jason Terry told me later in response to my nosiness. "I said, ‘You'd better make this. ... They were words of wisdom. And words of encouragement.''

The Mavs couldn't afford to miss an opportunity for a Dirk score or for a victory over a have-not. So the 88-84 topping of the Pistons was completed thanks to Nowitzki's season-high 42 points (along with 12 rebounds).

The nail-biting nature of the game itself is revealed in the fact that Dallas (now 9-4) actually trailed by 12 in the third quarter and by five entering the final period.

But big picture? The rest of the week for the Mavs includes a Wednesday visit to Oklahoma City, a Friday visit to San Antonio and a Saturday challenge back home against Miami.

Said Dirk, acknowledging the four-games-in-five-nights task: "We would have loved to get an easy win tonight and get some rest, but sometimes you have to grind it out. We're going to have an unbelievable challenge tomorrow night at Oklahoma City."

And the next night … and the next night. …

Terry stepped up with Nowitzki by scoring nine of his 16 points in the final quarter. Caron Butler did the same, busting out of an early-season funk with an effective 11 points.

"I thought a big key to the game was the way Caron started the fourth quarter,'' said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. "He got a short rest and went in there, hit a shot and had a couple of really aggressive plays. His points to start the fourth quarter really got us going. … He had been struggling. He had some opportunities that didn't go down, but he just stayed in there and kept at it.''

Additionally, Jason Kidd dished out 10 assists … and a smart postgame analysis.

"We're not conceding anything in these other games (coming up),'' Kidd told me. "But you've got to get the ones you are supposed to get, you know?''

Meaning, Dallas is supposed to down a Detroit team that is now 5-9, a Detroit team that it has beaten seven of the last eight times and four straight times at the AAC.

Offensively, obviously, this was largely about Nowitzki, who made those two late free throws, battled inside and was also 3-for-3 from behind the arc – marksmanship that including a huge trey with 6:09 remaining that pushed the Mavericks permanently into the lead at 73-70.

On the plus side, the Mavericks can say Dirk helped them score a season-high 32 fourth-quarter points, and that such a performance is the sign of overall clutch. On the negative side, those 32 points are the same amount Dallas scored in the second and third periods combined, a dismal effort that once again calls up visions of "Nowitzki and the Dirkettes'' – as the non-Dirks on this team shot 31 percent, dragging the Mavs as a whole down to a season-low 38.5 percent.

However, there is a way to win while shooting poorly and scoring under 100 … if you hold opponents to under 100, as Dallas just did for the eighth straight time.

"You've got to play championship defense,'' Terry said.

If the Mavs are serious about being able to more-than-occasionally allow the other team 84-or-so points … while also protecting the ball (Dallas had just eight turnovers). ... and while solving the early-hole bugaboo (no longer a concern around here as the Mavs once again led early, this time by 16-2) …

Maybe this is a winning formula – especially if Dirk Nowitzki is inspired to score 42 points when needed.

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