The Dallas star played like an MVP in his prime after halftime, when the game improved substantially for both teams.
Nowitzki scored a season-high 40 points, and the Dallas Mavericks recovered from a brutal first quarter and held to beat New Orleans 110-107 on Saturday night for their second win in as many days against the Pelicans.
The teams combined for more points in the third quarter than the entire first half. Nowitzki was the perfect illustration of the difference, getting 20 points in the third and hitting seven straight shots after starting just 2 of 9 from the field.
"It was an ugly game in the first half," Nowitzki said. "Then all of a sudden the basket started opening up and everybody's confidence went up."
Monta Ellis broke a 99-all tie with two free throws, and Nowitzki hit three more after getting fouled on a 3-pointer by Jason Smith. Nowitzki was 15 of 16 from the line and Ellis, who scored 26 points, made 12 of 15. Dallas was 39 of 45 as a team.
Anthony Davis had 28 points and 14 rebounds for the Pelicans, who lost their fifth straight and dropped six games below .500, both season highs.
The Mavericks, who won three of four games in a five-night stretch, almost blew a seven-point lead in the last 2 minutes after shooting 27 percent in the first half, when Dallas led 42-37 before outscoring New Orleans 42-40 in the third.
Davis made five of six free throws to get New Orleans within two at 106-104 with 18 seconds left.
Dallas had to call timeout after having trouble inbounding the ball, and Nowitzki hit two foul shots for a four-point lead and his first 40-point game since April 16, 2012, at Utah. He also had 40 in that one.
"Oh man, unbelievable," Ellis said of Nowitzki. "I've seen that a lot throughout my career. For him to come out and give us that lift tonight really opened up a lot for us as a team."
Austin Rivers tried to get off a 3-pointer at the buzzer but was tied up by Ellis.
Rivers pleaded for a foul call as the referees were leaving the court, and coach Monty Williams said video showed Ellis had his arm across both of Rivers' arms.
"That's embarrassing," said Williams, whose team also was playing for the fourth time in five nights. "That's not right. A no-call in a game like that when Dirk gets the same call in the first half and they shot 45 free throws? Certainly, we're not going to blame the game on the referees."
The Pelicans were playing their second straight game without leading scorer Ryan Anderson and assist leader Jrue Holiday. Anderson missed his fifth game with a herniated disc and is out indefinitely. Holiday has a stress fracture in his right shin.
The Mavericks were without starter Shawn Marion for the fourth straight game with shoulder and rib injuries.
Miller hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Davis had an alley-oop dunk and a jumper during a 10-2 run that put New Orleans up 95-92.
In the first half, both teams appeared to be feeling the effects of their previous game a night earlier and 500 miles away in New Orleans -- a 107-90 Dallas win.
The Mavericks were 2 of 19 from the field early in the second quarter when Nowitzki got fouled while making a 3-pointer and converted the four-point play. While that sparked a run to Dallas' first lead, it didn't improve the shooting much.
Dallas finished the first half 9 of 33 on field goals, and New Orleans was just 12 for 37 from the field in the first half.
The ugly start also included multiple air balls and an air-mailed pass by Gordon -- about 10 feet over everybody's head into the third row behind the Dallas bench. It was one of six turnovers in the first half and eight overall for Gordon.
Mavericks rookie PG Shane Larkin sprained his right ankle in the third quarter and didn't return. ... The Mavericks didn't get their first field goal until Calderon hit a 3-pointer with 6:55 left in the first quarter. ... Nowitzki had the fourth 20-point quarter of his career. His highest was franchise-record 29 against Utah in the fourth quarter on Nov. 3, 2009.