SAN ANTONIO, March 7 (Ticker) -- The Dallas Mavericks sent a message to the San Antonio Spurs behind a little bit of defense and a lot of Dirk Nowitzki.

Nowitzki scored 30 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and Josh Howard contributed 22 and 10 as the Mavericks posted an impressive 92-86 victory against the Spurs, who have lost two straight home games for the first time this season.

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Jason Terry added 14 points and Jerry Stackhouse 12 for Dallas (57-19), which moved within one game of San Antonio (58-18) for first place in the Southwest Division and the top overall seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

"Jason wasn't 100 percent for us tonight, but he played big and gave us some offensive punch," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said.

"All of these games are important," Stackhouse said. "We have to take each one individually and go out and give our best effort."

Offensively, the Mavericks continued to rely on Nowitzki, who made 11-of-24 shots from the field and 7-of-8 free throws in leading the team in scoring for the 16th straight game.

"It was a great competitive game," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "The difference was Dirk Nowitzki. He's an MVP player and we couldn't stop him. He did a great job in the second half. To his credit, he took it over. He was the difference."

Nowitzki scored only two points on 1-of-6 shooting in the first quarter, but that was where his struggles would end.

"They kept Dirk at bay in the first half but I thought he showed tremendous leadership in the second half," Johnson said. "You can see why he has a hard time scoring against this team, he was double- and triple-teamed a lot during the game."

The All-Star forward spearheaded a crisp 51 percent (36-of-70) shooting effort by Dallas, which had lost two of three meetings with San Antonio this season and had dropped six of the last eight encounters between the teams.

"They frustrated me a little in the first half and I couldn't find my rhythm," Nowitzki said. "But I trusted my teammates and made plays where they counted."

"That's why he's our MVP," Terry said. "The coaching staff has been asking him to step up a lot over the last few games and he did just that in a game we really needed."

Another difference with the current batch of Mavericks is a newfound commitment to defense. They forced the Spurs into 37 percent (31-of-82) shooting in this one and held All-Stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker to a combined 23 points on 10-of-30 shooting.

"We can't be satisfied with just tying up the series with this win," Stackhouse said. "We're going to probably see this team somewhere down the road in the playoffs."

Manu Ginobili scored 22 points to pace San Antonio, which did make 10-of-20 3-pointers but converted on only 14-of-21 free throws in losing consecutive games for the first time since February 13-15.

"The shots were there for us tonight, we just weren't able to knock them down," Duncan said. "Tony and I had an off-night."

Duncan did make a layup with 2:43 to play to bring San Antonio within 85-82, but Nowitzki responded with a jumper for an 87-82 lead. Ginobili knocked down a pair of free throws on the other end, but Nowitzki answered once again with a jumper with 1:49 remaining.

"(Nowitzki) was great tonight," Duncan said. "He made all the shots down the stretch and made some great moves. His play down the stretch was the difference tonight."