Nowitzki scored 23 of his 34 points in the second half and the Dallas Mavericks beat Phoenix 122-117 on Tuesday night to widen their lead over the Suns to five games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
The Suns have lost five straight and have only 18 to play. Phoenix's Steve Nash said his team came out inexplicably flat in the second half.
"Dirk played great. He was unstoppable," Nash said, "but you know I felt like our output in the second half wasn't nearly up to where it could have been. Our concentration, I felt, could have improved a lot. I'm very disappointed with the way we played and competed in the second half."
Jason Terry added 25 points and Jose Barea 16 for Dallas, which snapped a five-game road losing streak.
"We haven't won a road game it seems like in two months," Nowitzki said. "That's how it feels. I think our last road win was in Orlando [on Feb. 2]. We know we can beat anybody at home, but I think the good teams and the great teams find a way to win big games on the road. That was definitely a big game for us tonight."
The game was the first of four straight on the road for the Mavericks, who are at Portland on Wednesday night.
Dallas is a half-game behind Denver, a game behind New Orleans and 1½ games behind Portland for the fifth through seventh playoff spots in the West.
"Make no mistake, though," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "We're trying to move up. We're not just trying to hang in this thing. We're trying to move up the seeding."
Shaquille O'Neal scored 21 on 9-for-10 shooting for Phoenix to pass Elvin Hayes for sixth on the NBA's career scoring list. Nash had 23 points and 13 assists for the Suns. Matt Barnes added 21 points.
Dallas took final control with a 10-2 run late in the fourth quarter. Nowitzki made a pair of outside jumpers to start the spurt, then Jason Kidd sank two 3-pointers and it was 112-99 with 3:08 to play.
The Suns scored the next six to cut it to 112-105 on Jason Richardson's inside basket with 1:35 to play. But after a timeout, Terry broke loose for a layup to boost it to 114-105 and Dallas won on the road for the first time in six tries.
Phoenix led 70-64 after O'Neal's 10-foot bank shot with 9:31 to play in the third quarter, but the Suns managed only two field goals -- both by Leandro Barbosa -- over the next 6:10.
Nowitzki, who had 15 points in the third quarter, scored the last four in an 18-4 Dallas run that put the Mavericks ahead 82-74 on his two free throws with 3:56 left in the period.
Phoenix cut it to 89-87 on Barnes' breakaway layup with 22 seconds to play. But Terry made one 3-pointer with 52 seconds left and another with six seconds remaining, and Dallas led 92-87 entering the fourth quarter.
Nowitzki was 6-for-8 in the third quarter, 9-for-14 in the second half.
"My hand was right in front of his face," Barnes said. "He hit a lot of tough shots, leaning back on one leg, up on the key, hitting the rim and bouncing it in. He's an All-Star and he carried his team the way he's supposed to do."
O'Neal got his 13th point of the night with 1:34 left in the first half to pass Hayes on the career scoring list. With 27,322 points, O'Neal needs 88 to pass Moses Malone for fifth.
The basket, on an assist from Nash, capped a string of five straight points by the Suns' big man to give Phoenix its biggest lead of the half, 59-52. He was fouled on the play but missed the free throw.
On the next possession, O'Neal threw the ball away, resulting in Terry's 3-pointer that cut it to 59-55. Barbosa and Antoine Wright each made 3-pointers in the final 1:03 and Phoenix led 62-58 at the break.
- The Mavericks lead the season series 2-1. The teams meet one more time, April 5 in Dallas.
- Barea replaced Devean George for his seventh start of the season.
- Dallas snapped a string of nine straight road losses against Western Conference foes.
- Nash has scored at least 20 points in six consecutive games for the first time in his 13-year NBA career. He has at least 20 points and 10 assists in his last four games.