DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki knows all too well that he's having his worst 3-point shooting season since his rookie year. Worse yet, he's not sure why.
But the reigning MVP is still willing to put them up.
"If I'm open, I'm still going to shoot," said Nowitzki, the only 7-footer to win the 3-point contest at the All-Star game. "I'm staying confident. I keep getting good looks, too. I'm not worried. The team wants me to shoot them when I'm open."
Nowitzki finished with 32 points, his most in 21 games. He was 12-of-17 with 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
"He's a tough cover," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "He got some open looks, but some of his shots were undefendable."
Actually, Nowitzki missed his first two 3-pointers, continuing a season-long trend. He came into this game making only 31.5 percent from behind the arc, well below his career average of 37.8, and he'd made only one in the last seven games.
The Mavericks were ahead anyway, mainly because the Nuggets were finally showing signs of missing Carmelo Anthony and his 25.5 points per game. While this was the third straight he's missed with a sprained ankle, Denver won the previous two.
Anthony Carter helped the Nuggets make a run at the lead by scoring 11 straight points in the fourth quarter, but Nowitzki kept the Mavericks in front. His first 3 came after Carter made it 74-70, then the next one answered after Carter made it 77-73.
"The first one came on a scramble," Nowitzki said. "They already were in transition. I was kind of lucky to find myself open in the corner. ... That was a good time for me to get two."
Carter also got Denver within 86-83 with 18 seconds left, but Nowitzki went 4-for-4 from the line the rest of the way.
The Mavericks won for the 11th time in 13 games, but they weren't very crisp. They missed their first 10 3-pointers and scored only 15 points in the third quarter. Josh Howard had 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists for Dallas, but 12 of his points came in the first quarter.
Jason Terry scored 19 and ran the offense most of the second half as starting point guard Devin Harris was in foul trouble, then hurt his left ankle. No others Mavericks player scored more than six points.
Harris landed awkwardly on a hard drive to the basket early in the fourth quarter. He didn't put any weight on it while being helped to the locker room and he left the arena on crutches, the foot in a protective boot and still not bearing any weight. The team initially called it a sprain, but changed it to a generic "injury."
Harris did not travel with the team to Memphis. Instead, he's scheduled to have an MRI on Monday and consult with team doctors.
"He's a big part of our team," Howard said. "We're going to need him."
Denver, meanwhile, might get Anthony back Monday night in New Orleans. Anthony took some shots on the floor before this game.
"Knowing Melo, I think he'll be ready, but I can't guarantee it," Karl said.
The Nuggets scored their third-fewest points of the season -- and that was after scoring 31 points in the fourth quarter. By comparison, they scored only 34 in the first half.
Denver shot only 32.7 percent in the first half, and it was only that good because J.R. Smith went 4-for-5. A few minutes into the second half, the Nuggets had 12 field goals and 10 turnovers.
Allen Iverson had 23 points and nine assists, and Carter added 20 points. Kenyon Martin had only eight, as did Linas Kleiza, who is starting in Anthony's place. Kleiza was 0-for-6 until making two baskets in the final 28 seconds.
Smith, by the way, finished 5-of-12 with 12 points.
"Not many nights when you lose do you make positive steps, and I thought we made positive steps," Karl said. "The Mavericks came at us, had a double-digit lead, we weren't playing very well offensively. But we hung in there. Down 10 with three minutes to go, to have a catch-up game it was pretty good."
Iverson had the shot of the game: A heave from around the top of the key while falling backward after being fouled. It's the kind of shot guys try all the time but rarely make; he acknowledged as much with the way he turned toward his teammates on the bench and laughed. He hit the free throw, too, for the three-point play.
Perhaps part of the reason both teams played so sloppy was the 5:30 p.m. starting time.
"I don't think I've ever played at 5:30," Karl said.
- As a rookie, Nowitzki shot 20.6 percent on 3s. His worst percentage since is 34.1; he was a career-best 41.6 last season.
- Denver's 34 points in the first half matched the fewest allowed in a first half by Dallas.
- The Mavericks' 15 points in the third quarter matched their fewest in that period all season.
- For "Fiesta Night," the Mavs had backup guard Jose Juan Barea of Puerto Rico greet the crowd before tipoff.
- Also before tipoff, Hall of Famer Bob Lanier presented Nowitzki with the NBA's Community Assist award for December.