DALLAS, March 21 (Ticker) -- Dirk Nowitzki made sure that the struggling Houston Rockets did not upset the Dallas Mavericks' drive to topple the San Antonio Spurs.

Nowitzki scored 28 points as the Mavericks rolled to their seventh win in their last eight games, an 88-72 victory over the Rockets.

NBA TV highlights from
Improving to 30-5 at home this season, Dallas (53-15) remained one-half game behind San Antonio (53-14) for the Southwest Division title and top spot in the Western Conference. The Spurs also won at home Tuesday, topping Golden State.

"Mentally, we are a very tough team right now," said Mavericks guard Jason Terry, who scored 12 points. "We don't let injuries or anything set us back. I credit (coach Avery Johnson) for that, keeping us strong mentally. We're always prepared."

Coming off Sunday's dispiriting loss at New Jersey, the Mavericks found themselves tied, 20-20, at the end of the first quarter. They shot just 7-of-22 in the opening 12 minutes.

Those struggles did not last long as rookie Josh Powell scored all six of his points and Jerry Stackhouse added five during a 16-6 burst to open up the second period.

"I just want to make sure that I follow through with the game plan and just bring energy off the bench," said Powell, who also grabbed five rebounds. "I just want to be aggressive and make sure I do what is asked of me."

Nowitzki, who made 10-of-21 shots, added seven points during a 13-4 spurt that ended the quarter, giving Dallas a 51-34 advantage. Stackhouse, who scored 16 points, capped the spurt with a buzzer-beating 29-footer.

"We wanted to get (Nowitzki) involved early," Terry said. "He definitely had a mismatch with whoever was guarding him. He did a great job of knocking down shots."

The Rockets pulled within 76-64 on a dunk by Stromile Swift with 7:57 remaining. Nowitzki answered with two free throws and added a running banker in transition to make it 80-64 just 42 seconds later.

Nowitzki scored his team's first 12 points in the fourth quarter, the 18th time this season the All-Star has reached double figures in the final period.

With Houston superstar Tracy McGrady missing his sixth straight game with a back injury, the Mavericks harassed Rockets All-Star Yao Ming into one of his worst games of the season. The 7-6 center scored 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting.

"We were not quick enough passing the ball or me re-posting the ball in the middle," Yao said. "Whatever they did, we did not act quickly enough to counter. Dallas had their whole team playing quickly on defense double-teaming and then getting back into position. We just need to act quicker, whether it's me re-posting or making a pass back out."

"That was the game plan," Terry said. "We put a lot of bodies around him. Every time he would catch the ball we had a double-team on him to get the ball out of his hands. He's been playing well of late and we definitely didn't want him to put up 30 like he did last week."

Yao added 13 rebounds but only one on the offensive end. Overall, the Mavericks held a 15-8 edge in offensive rebounds and 18-3 advantage in second-chance points.

Dallas swept the four-game series from Houston for the second straight season. The Rockets are 0-13 vs. the Southwest Division this season.

Failing to crack 80 points for the third time five games, the Rockets absorbed their sixth straight loss. They also dropped to 2-19 without McGrady this season.

"The back is going to bother him," said Rockets guard Rafer Alston, who scored 13 points. "He's got to find ways to play with the pain which is tough on anybody. The timing (of McGrady's injury) is bad, but we can still win games. We're competing. We're showing that we can stay in ballgames. We've got pride."

Rookie Luther Head scored 16 points and Juwan Howard 11 for Houston, which shot 41 percent (25-of-61) and committed 17 turnovers.