DALLAS (AP) — For three quarters, the Dallas Mavericks showed they'd finally learned how to handle an injury-depleted team.
Then, they nearly blew it.
Although Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs led the Detroit Pistons from start to finish Tuesday night, the finish got pretty close before Dallas pulled out a 103-101 victory.
"Hey, stuff happens in this league," said Nowitzki, who scored 30 points. "We'll take the wins as we can get them."
Richard Hamilton was a late scratch for Detroit because of an aggravated groin problem. With Rasheed Wallace (calf) and Allen Iverson (back) also out, the Pistons were missing a combined average of 48.5 points per game, and were out of whack from the start.
Dallas made its first six shots, while Detroit missed six of its first seven. The Pistons never even tied the game while falling behind by eight after one quarter and 13 before halftime.
Down 14 going into the fourth quarter, Tayshaun Prince showed that Detroit was going to keep fighting by flying past Dallas center Erick Dampier for a thunderous dunk. With Will Bynum getting on a roll, and the Pistons scooping up rebound after rebound and converting them into points, they wound up scoring on their first nine possessions of the quarter and were within 90-85.
Dampier put Dallas back up by 10 with 2:10 left, but Detroit never went away. In the final 18 seconds, the Pistons got within 98-95, 100-97 and 101-99. They scored again as time expired to make the final score look as close as the last few minutes played out.
"I was very pleased with our effort," Detroit coach Michael Curry said. "We stuck with it, continued to fight and did a lot of good things. ... If we put in the same effort with (Hamilton) tomorrow, we'll be good. If he can go, he will."
Prince scored 28 points and Bynum set a career high with 19. Rodney Stuckey added 17, Arron Afflalo had 16 and Antonio McDyess 10 as the Pistons lost their second straight and fourth in six games to slip back to .500 (33-33).
The victory against a short-handed team was quite a switch for the Mavs. In the last month, they were drubbed by San Antonio when the Spurs were without Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, and lost to Oklahoma City when it was without its top two scorers; the loss to the Thunder prompted Dallas owner Mark Cuban to publicly question his team's effort.
Antoine Wright joked that Dallas took care of its problem against wounded teams, but the problem protecting late leads "still lingers."
"We're still a team in progress," he said. "But we're getting better."
Dallas was outrebounded 43-33 and gave up 27 second-chance points, while scoring only five. Coach Rick Carlisle said that's mostly a sign of effort, but also noted that he's using a lot of smaller lineups.
"Five guys are going to have to get in there and dig it out," he said. "In those situations where we don't have the length in there, we're going to have to do it with grit. Simple as that."
Jason Terry continued to be Nowitzki's scoring wingman, putting up 18. Dampier tied high season high with 16 points and added 13 rebounds.
The Mavs won their eighth straight at home, although this was their lone game in Dallas during a 17-day, seven-game stretch. They were coming off a 2-2 trip West and are headed East for games in Atlanta and Indiana.
Josh Howard won't be part of the trip. This was the sixth straight game the swingman has missed because of a problem with his left ankle, and Carlisle isn't expecting him back before late next week. Howard is getting a cortisone shot and will need arthoscopic surgery at some point, although possibly not until the offseason.
Notes:@ Before the game, Carlisle fondly remembered late Pistons owner William Davidson for his wisdom and sense of humor. Davidson died Friday and was honored Tuesday at a memorial service in Michigan. ... Detroit was 6-2 in the eight previous games Hamilton missed this season. ... The Mavs wore their alternate green jerseys in honor of St. Patrick's Day. ... The announced crowd of 20,427 was the largest of the season and the 309th straight sellout.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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