With Dirk Nowitzki on the bench for much of the second half Sunday night at the Rose Garden, the Dallas Mavericks had to really scramble to hang on for a 96-91 triumph over the Portland Trail Blazers.
The victory enabled the Mavs to finish this weeklong road trip with a 2-2 record and improve their record to 38-39 going into Wednesday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns.
More importantly, Nowitzki, who left the game for good with 6:16 remaining in the third period and the Mavs nursing a 68-47 lead, will be evaluated Monday to determine the status of his injury.
“I think I jumped for a rebound or something in the second quarter — halfway through the second quarter — and I must have landed wrong or something,” Nowitzki said. “I must have irritated my bone spurs or something.
“It got really stiff and I couldn’t hardly move much during the third quarter. I said, ‘Let me sit this one and the boys will bring it home,’ and it was a lot closer than we’d hope, but we got it done.”
As far as his status for Wednesday’s game against the Suns is concerned, Nowitzki said: “I could probably play [Monday]. Get some of that good meds — I’ll be fine.
“We’ve got five games left and a huge chance at home to see .500 for the first time since probably December, so I’ll definitely play Wednesday.”
The Mavs were last at .500 on Dec. 12 when they were 11-11 after a 117-115 double-overtime loss on the road to the Boston Celtics.
On Sunday, the Mavs thoroughly dominated the Blazers as everything was going Dallas’ way for most of the night. Behind the spirited play of Chris Kaman and Shawn Marion, the Mavs mounted a 79-53 lead with 1:45 left in the third period.
It appeared as though the Mavs were primed to get out of town without breaking a sweat. But the pesky Blazers — they’ve lost eight consecutive games — put together a huge rally and clawed to within 94-91 with 39.4 seconds left after a pair of free throws by Will Barton.
O.J. Mayo then missed a 3-point attempt, leaving Portland with 12.5 seconds to possibly force overtime. However, rookie Damian Lillard missed a driving layup, Brandan Wright rebounded, and Marion made an uncontested layup at the buzzer to end this road trip on a winning note.
“We’re just trying to get a ‘W,’ ” said Marion, who collected 20 points and seven boards. “Every win counts right now, regardless of how you win, as long as you get the ‘W.’
“We’re going to see what happens with the race to the finish line. One more game and we’ll be at .500.”
Kaman provided an early spark that got the Mavs off to a fast start. He scored 14 of his season-high 26 points less than eight minutes into the game when the Mavs held a 19-9 lead.
Also, Kaman grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked two shots in 25 minutes in easily his most impressive game of the season.
“I thought I got a good start in the first quarter and made some easy buckets,” said Kaman, who was 12 of 21 form the field. “I got a couple of easy layups after that in transition and it just kind of came tonight.
“Sometimes you have those kinds of games.”
These are the kinds of games the Mavs had hoped Kaman could provide all season when they signed him to a one-year, $8 million free agent contract last summer.
“Kaman was great from the beginning of the game,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He hit his first shot, was really active on defense, rebounded like crazy and just gave us a terrific all-around game.”
Still, the game turned and appeared eerily similar to the Jan. 29 contest in Portland when the Mavs led 69-49 with 8:11 left in the third period. Dallas went on to lose that game, 106-104, when LaMarcus Aldridge banged in a jumper at the buzzer.
But this time, the Mavs held on as performances by Vince Carter (14 points, six rebounds) and Wright (12 points, nine rebounds) were crucial to the victory.
“We’ve obviously been hurt in am lot of games this year,” Kaman said. “Tonight we did our job.
“We did a good job of going to the glass.
“I thought they kind of gave in for a little bit, and then they had an energy group in there at the end and kind of pushed us down the stretch.”
That push came primarily with Nowitzki on the bench.
“We held Dirk out because he’s got something in his foot that’s bothering him,” Carlisle said. “I just felt like either way it was more important to keep him out and get this thing looked at and hopefully get him ready for Wednesday.
“I’m not going to get into what it is, because I don’t know exactly what it is. At this point I don’t consider it serious, but you don’t mess around with something like that.”
Nowitzki, who finished with just six points on 2-of-7 shooting, said he had his ankle re-taped at halftime.
“I didn’t really help much in the third. I didn’t move much, every jumper I took there was not much lift and it was short,” Nowitzki said. “We were still up 20 at this point in the fourth and I said, ‘My ankle is a little stiff,’ and I decided to just sit this one.
“Obviously it got a lot closer than we were hoping for. So we really had to grind it out down the stretch.”