LOS ANGELES, April 10 (Ticker) -- Despite their worst offensive performance of the season, the Dallas Mavericks still found a way to get it done in crunch time.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 20 points, including a jumper from the top of the key with seven-tenths of a second remaining, as the Mavericks escaped with a 75-73 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in a possible first-round playoff preview.

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With the game tied at 73-73, Nowitzki got the ball from Jason Terry and patiently waited for the clock to wind down before drilling the long jumper over the outstretched arm of Clippers center Chris Kaman.

"Down the stretch, you don't think of what happened before," Nowitzki said. "You just concentrate on the follow-through. I took my time and took my one dribble left and it felt good when the ball left my hand."

Dallas (59-19) moved within one-half game of idle San Antonio (59-18) for first place in the Southwest Division and the Western Conference's top overall record. The second-place team in the Southwest will be the fourth seed in the playoffs.

"If we're strong defensively, that is what will ultimately win it for us," Nowitzki said. "It has always been the key for us in the playoffs. If we rebound and defend are keys. We have a lot of weapons that we can use. We should be alright offensively."

Los Angeles (44-33) fell into a tie with idle Memphis (44-33) for the fifth seed. The Clippers might prefer to finish sixth, where they would face Denver (44-34) rather than Dallas or San Antonio.

The Clippers held a 26-17 lead after one quarter. But the Mavericks roared back to take a 50-40 halftime advantage.

"The second quarter is what killed us," Kaman said. "We didn't come out and play the way we needed to and we'll learn from it. Hopefully we'll get to play these guys in the playoffs because I think we match up well with them."

However, Dallas scored just 25 points in the second half - one shy of matching the franchise low - to allow Los Angeles back in the game.

Terry (15 points) and Marquis Daniels (13) were the only other Mavericks in double figures as Dallas handed Los Angeles its third straight loss.

"We just couldn't buy a basket in the second half," Terry said. "Defensively, we were getting stops and it worked out in the end. We think we can win games with our defense and that is what we were able to do tonight.

"You have to give the Clippers a little credit. They made us take tough shots, but at the same time I know 25 points by us in the second half just isn't going to happen."

Kaman collected 22 points and 12 rebounds. But it was reserve James Singleton who led the comeback charge in the fourth quarter, when he scored all eight of his points.

Elton Brand, the Clippers' leading scorer, was 4-of-15 from the floor and scored just 13 points as Los Angeles was held to a season low in points. However, the All-Star forward did not get discouraged about the loss.

"I'm very optimistic," Brand said. "We've lost three in a row but it's just so many intangibles. (Corey) Maggette is out with a back injury and Sam Cassell got a case of the flu right before the game. It's disappointing but we'll bounce back."

Dallas coach Avery Johnson felt the defense of both teams contributed to the low-scoring game.

"We are fortunate to get out of here with a victory," Johnson said. "Both teams played some really awesome defense and we just couldn't get our offense in gear in the second half. This is another game that we proved to ourselves that we can win basketball games with our defense. I don't know if we would have won this game in the past. Now we are a different team."