INDIANAPOLIS, Dec. 6 (Ticker) -- The Dallas Mavericks are doing it with old reliable Dirk Nowitzki and a newfound commitment to defense.

Nowitzki had 31 points and 11 rebounds and the Mavericks had their best defensive effort of the season in an 84-75 victory over the Indiana Pacers, their third straight win.

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Devin Harris scored 15 points for the Mavericks (13-5), who continue to thrive despite being shorthanded. Swingmen Jerry Stackhouse and Josh Howard remain sidelined, and Harris started in place of star guard Jason Terry, who sat out with a hamstring injury.

"Dirk got us off to a good start in the first half and we kind of rode him all the way in," Harris said. "We just tried to limit our mistakes and play smart basketball. We saw what they were trying to do early and we concentrated on taking that away in the second half. We've always been a team that has settled for jump shots and now we try to concentrate on the paint, both offensively and defensively."

Since Avery Johnson took over as coach last March, the Mavericks have been committed to playing better defense. The results are evident as Tuesday's win marked the eighth time this season Dallas has allowed 90 points or less.

"We will never get enough credit for our defense," Johnson said. "It's all about perception, no matter what we do. We could hold a team to three points and, in some circles, we're still a bad defensive team. We are trying to meet the challenge of playing it every night, like the Pacers, Pistons, and Spurs do. We're not there yet, but we're trying."

The Mavericks forced 19 turnovers and limited the deep and talented Pacers to three quarters of 20 points or less and a season-low 34 percent (23-of-67) shooting. Dallas never trailed and won here for the first time since February 5, 2002.

"I don't know about our offense or their defense. All I know is, until all 15 of us want to win, it won't happen," said Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal, who had 25 points and 13 rebounds bit did not get much help. "It's not an on-off switch, and we seem to think it is. It's not that easy in this league."

Nowitzki was his usual unstoppable self, making 11-of-19 shots and 8-of-9 free throws as he posted his third straight 30-10 game. The All-Star 7-footer began the game by having his way with Pacers forward Ron Artest, a former Defensive Player of the Year.

Nowitzki scored eight points in the first quarter as Dallas grabbed a 22-16 lead. The Mavericks led by 10 points in the second period and 12 in the third, with Nowitzki scoring nine in each period.

A 3-pointer by Darrell Armstrong gave the Mavericks their largest lead at 71-57 with 10:21 to play. The Pacers put together a 12-2 run to close to 73-69 midway through the final period, but Dallas' defense took over, allowing just one basket over the next four-plus minutes.

"(Defense) is starting to be one of the things we're known for," Mavericks forward Keith Van Horn said. "That's kind of our goal is to become a very strong defensive team. We've been working hard at it. Tonight, I think it showed."

Harris ended the run with a jumper. After a layup by O'Neal with 3:38 to play, Adrian Griffin and Nowitzki sank jumpers and Marquis Daniels drove for a layup and an 81-71 lead with 1:26 left. Nowitzki drained a dagger 3-pointer in the final minute.

"We were behind early and the entire game, which isn't a good situation," Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. "Dallas is one of the top three teams in the West and I thought this would be a good opportunity for us. We struggled and the performance is shared by everyone, coaches included."

Van Horn scored 11 points off the bench for Dallas, which shot 46 percent (32-of-69) but did not make a 3-pointer until the fourth quarter.

Artest scored 15 points for the Pacers, who returned home after a 3-2 road trip but lost for the third time in four games.

"Inconsistency has been a nemesis for us, but I don't believe in excuses," Carlisle said.