Dallas Mavericks close in on playoff berth with late magic

DALLAS -- They gave their fans a little dose of some fourth-quarter magic Wednesday night at American Airlines Canter.

For that, the Dallas Mavericks need only one victory in their final three games after they rallied for a 117-110 triumph over the slumping Houston Rockets.

One more loss each for the Rockets (32-30) and Phoenix Suns (32-30), or a Dallas victory, will wrap up a playoff spot and put the Mavericks (35-28) in position to at least have the chance to successfully defend their NBA title.

"We understand things and we talked about it [Wednesday] morning,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "This game was really pivotal in so many ways because it's a double court game on the whole magic number thing, and it effectively takes one team [Houston] out of it, which is big.

"We've got three more important games to go and they're all meaningful.''

The Mavs, who collected 39 points in the fourth quarter when they scored on 17 of their first 20 possessions, knew Wednesday's game was meaningful, also. Perhaps that's why when the money quarter rolled around, they rolled up their sleeves and started doing some serious damage.

Down 84-76 very late in the third period, the Mavs woke up in time to go on a 26-10 run and assume a 102-94 lead with 4:05 left. Most of the damage was done by Dirk Nowitzki, who tallied nine of his game-high 35 points in the run that inched the Mavs ever so close to the playoffs.

Jason Terry also played a pivotal role in the comeback, as did Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, who finished with 23 points.

"He just had a really strong disposition at both ends of the floor,'' Carlisle said of Carter. "Defensively, he was putting his body on people and he was rebounding.

"He's a tremendous all-around player. His passing ability is something that's frequently overlooked because he's a high flyer and scorer.''

Kidd's passing certainly wasn't overlooked. The 18-year veteran scored 12 points -- he was 4 of 7 from 3-point range --and also finished with eight assists while getting kudos from Delonte West for helping jump-start the comeback.

"He came in late in the third and he just got the ball to the right guys at the right time,'' West said. "And he hit big shot after big shot all game, and that's what it's about.

"And our scorers -- Vince and Dirk and Jet -- they put this team on their back.''

The game was tied 27-27 after the first period and 55-55 at the half before the Rockets started getting some separation in the third quarter when Luis Scola tallied 12 of his 18 points. But the Mavs showed they had plenty of fight left when the game was still there for the taking.

"It was definitely important to get this win tonight,'' center Brendan Haywood said. "Houston's a team that's fighting for one of those last playoff spots, so it was almost like a game that had a playoff-type atmosphere.

"It had playoff implications, so it was important that we got this one. Now we know that we're a couple of games away from locking this thing in and locking ourselves in the playoffs.''

Dwain Price, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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