HOUSTON -- As far as the Dallas Mavericks are concerned, the playoffs started Saturday night at the Toyota Center in Houston.
That's why they played with so much passion and with a sense of urgency. That's why they were clawing and scratching and diving for loose balls, which ultimately helped the Mavs edge the Houston Rockets 101-99 in overtime
The victory represented a two-game cushion for the Mavs (28-22) over the Rockets (26-23), who are breathing down their backs in the race for a playoff spot. Coach Rick Carlisle talked to his team before the game about the playoffs (unofficially) starting Saturday for the Mavs, who will host the Rockets on Tuesday.
"He put a huge emphasis on [the playoffs starting] and I think guys really took it to heart," said Jason Terry, who finished with 24 points. "And regardless if we were on a back-to-back, it didn't matter.
"We won Game 1 and now it's time for us to go home and get another one. Our talk before the game is that this game's a playoff game, and the next one, so we treat it like a playoff series and we have to win this series to move on."
Terry also only needed to hear his number called. One of the game's best clutch players, Terry scored eight points in the fourth quarter and scored six of the Mavs' 10 points in overtime to hold off the Rockets.
"That's his quarter, that's his reputation and he takes pride in it," Carlisle said. "Our guys look for him and he's a different breed of cat."
The Rockets had a chance to win, but Chase Budinger misfired on a wide-open 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Nowitzki, who scored 31 points and passed Charles Barkley to become the NBA's 19th all-time leading scorer, made a pair of free throws to give the Mavs a 101-97 lead with 18.5 seconds remaining.
Goran Dragic scored inside for the Rockets, then Rodrigue Beaubois failed to get the ball past midcourt, giving it back to Houston because of an eight-second violation with six seconds left in overtime. That was more than enough time for the Rockets to work the ball to Budinger, who didn't execute with the game on the line.
Earlier, Nowitzki needed four stitches near his right eye after being hit accidentally by teammate Brandan Wright. And a night after not playing in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Lamar Odom played 13:17 and was 0 of 2 from the field with no points, two rebounds, two fouls and one turnover.
Asked about being back on the court, Odom said: "It was cool. It was quick, but it was cool. I didn't say it was too short. I just said it was quick. That's OK. All I can do is play and do what's asked of me. Just so we won, that's all that matters."
The Mavs got a huge night from Wright, with 14 points, six rebounds and seven blocks. And Shawn Marion had 12 points and 15 rebounds.
"I think I've been real close to putting a game like that together the whole year," Wright said. "I've just got to play my game."
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760