Dallas 95, Memphis 94

MEMPHIS, Tenn., Jan. 31 (AP) -- Down the stretch, the Dallas Mavericks showed why they are the NBA's best team, even if all they had to do was hold off the league's worst.

Dirk Nowitzki overcame a tough shooting night with 26 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter, to lead the Mavericks to a 95-94 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.

Nowitzki shot 8-of-20 from the field but hit all 10 of his free throws, including eight in the fourth period to hold off the Grizzlies, who lost for the third time in the last four games.

"I had a lot of shots that would bounce off the rim,'' Nowitzki said. "I don't think I've ever had so many good looks that sometimes were bouncing on the rim three or four times and still would find a way to roll out. I think in the fourth quarter, I got a couple of layups and got a couple of free throws to go down.''

Mike Miller led the Grizzlies with 32 points, including 20 in the fourth quarter. His 30-footer with 5.1 seconds left got Memphis within 93-91, but a pair of free throws by Nowitzki put Dallas up 95-91.

Chucky Atkins then hit another 30-footer for Memphis with less than a second left for the final margin.

The Mavericks missed only one of their 25 free throws. They outscored Memphis 38-24 in the paint and 18-6 in second-chance points.

"We're one of the best free throw-shooting teams in the league,'' Nowitzki said. "We work on them a lot. ... We kept knocking them down, but they kept making shots from the parking lot.''

Jerry Stackhouse and Jason Terry added 20 points apiece for Dallas, which has won 24 of 26. Erick Dampier scored 15 points, missing only one of his seven shots from the field, and grabbed eight rebounds. Nowitzki had 11 rebounds.

Hakim Warrick had 15 points for Memphis, while Pau Gasol finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

Memphis, which trailed by as many as 15, stayed close down the stretch with 6-of-8 shooting from outside the arc. Miller hit all five of his 3-pointers in the fourth.

"When you get open shots, you try to make them,'' Miller said. "It doesn't matter if it's in the first quarter or the fourth quarter, you've got to be able to step up and make shots for your team.''

Dallas led 40-33 at the break behind 12 points from Terry and Dampier's 11 points.

"We had control of the game early because of what Damp did,'' Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. "Damp came out with a lot of energy and was a force early in the game.''

The Mavericks showed their inside dominance early, primarily with Dampier scoring easily, hitting his first five shots. Memphis coach Tony Barone became so fed up with Gasol's defense against the Mavericks' center, that he sent the Grizzlies' leading scorer to the bench midway through the opening quarter after Dampier's first four field goals.

Meanwhile, Nowitzki connected on his first three shots to give Dallas an early lead. Dallas would lead by as many as 10 in the first half.

Memphis seemed completely out of sync on offense, fumbling the ball and shooting poorly. Gasol missed six of his first seven shots, and even the Grizzlies' effort to run on the break was thwarted by Dallas getting back on defense.

"In the first half, I thought we were too anxious and rushed our shots,'' Barone said. "We didn't play with smoothness.''

The Mavericks pushed the Grizzlies outside their normal shooting zone and pressured them throughout the first half. No Memphis player was in double figures and Gasol was 2-of-10 in the half.

"We know he likes to drive the baseline whenever he catches the ball,'' Dampier said. "We tried to make him drive the middle and contest his shot.''

Still, Memphis stayed close thanks to the Mavericks' 7-of-23 shooting in the second quarter.

The Grizzlies used better shooting in the third quarter and eventually took the lead late in the period when Atkins scored on a layup. But a 3-pointer by Greg Buckner gave Dallas a 63-61 advantage heading into the fourth.

Miller keyed the fourth-quarter Memphis rally from outside the arc, and Memphis got close. But Dallas used its experience and better shooting from Nowitzki to preserve the victory.

"Our guys really know how to handle adversity,'' Johnson said. "At the end of the year, this is going to count as a win. It's not about how many you win by or who you play.''

Notes: Memphis, which was coming off Monday night's 124-117 victory over the Kings, still has not won two straight this season. ... G Will Conroy, the rookie out of the University of Washington signed by the Grizzlies to a 10-day contract earlier this week, played 2 scoreless minutes in his first game for Memphis. ... Austin Croshere, who had a career night with 34 points and seven rebounds against Seattle on Tuesday night, had no points and missed all four of his shots. ...The FedExForum for some reason was a little chilly, perhaps due to sub-freezing temperatures outside. "Did we cut back on the heat in here?'' Barone asked in the game's early minutes. ... Mavericks G Josh Howard was not with the team for the second straight game awaiting the birth of his first child. ... Dallas' 95 points broke a string of 22 straight games where the Memphis opponent surpassed the 100-point mark.

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