DALLAS -- Don't look now, but the Dallas Mavericks are slowly climbing back into the Western Conference playoff picture.
And they're doing it by getting everybody involved and by playing nasty defense.
The Mavericks won their season-high fourth consecutive game Wednesday night 105-100 over the Houston Rockets when they pieced together another balanced attack.
With the victory, the Mavericks (17-23) moved within four games of the Utah Jazz and Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference as they can finally picture an array of sunshine during a season that got ugly real quick.
While what Dallas has been able to accomplish lately might not sound like much to naysayers, it's very encouraging news to the Mavericks, who were a pitiful 13-23 following a painful loss to the Los Angeles Clippers eight days ago.
"We really stepped up tonight," said Elton Brand, who registered his 400th career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. "They lead the league in offense with 105 a game and we tried to keep them under 100. We got big stops, big rebounds and big blocks when we needed it. We did well because they have a heck of an offensive team."
It was the ninth consecutive time the Mavericks have beaten the Rockets. And no blocked shot was bigger than the one Brand recorded against James Harden.
With the game tied at 97-97, Harden slithered down the left side of the paint and appeared to have an easy foray to the basket. But Brand popped out of nowhere and blocked Harden's shot near its highest peak with 1:05 left in the game.
O.J. Mayo then buried two free throws to put Dallas ahead 99-97. Houston (21-19) got within one when Jeremy Lin made one of two free throws with 57.7 seconds remaining.
Harden then missed a layup, and Dirk Nowitzki's two free throws pushed the Mavs' lead to 101-98 with 25.1 seconds left.
After a turnover by Lin, Dahntay Jones gave the Mavericks some breathing room when he nailed a couple of free throws with 14.1 seconds left to pad Dallas' lead to 103-98.
All in all, the Mavericks had six players score in double-figures for the third consecutive game, and they made the critical plays during key junctures of the game.
"Elton's block was huge, Dirk's rebound where he got fouled and put us up three with his free throws was big," coach Rick Carlisle said. "I thought Mike James, in the last three minutes, gave us more of a physical presence in there guarding Lin.
"And we did what we needed to do to win."
James, whose 10-day contract expires tonight at midnight, finished with just four points and five assists in 17 minutes, but he played 7:28 in the fourth quarter when he distributed four assists.
Nowitzki scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half, including a late 3-pointer that fired up the American Airlines Center crowd and gave the Mavericks an 80-73 cushion going into the final period.
Shawn Marion finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, Mayo contributed 18 points, six rebounds and eight assists, and Darren Collison and Jae Crowder each popped in 10 points.
The Mavericks shot just 38.4 percent from the field, but tossed a blanket over Harden, who wound up with 20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, but was only 5-of-23 from the floor.
"We knew coming into this game that our focus was going to be on Harden and Lin," said Crowder, who was 3-of-4 from the field. "We knew that was going to take all five guys on the court, and we were locked in.
"We got stops and got off to running, and on the other end we made shots."
Houston led 15-10 early, only to commit nine turnovers during a 19-0 run by the Mavericks.
The Mavericks will complete this homestand Friday night against Oklahoma City.
And they can collect their thoughts after the 15-point lead they accumulated midway through the second quarter didn't go for naught.
"I thought it was a tough game," Carlisle said. "It was an important win for us. We need anything and everything we can get right now."
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760