Monta Ellis scored eight of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and the Mavericks kept their playoff position with their third consecutive victory 93-91 against the Kings on Sunday.
The Mavericks won for the fourth time in five games to maintain seventh place in the Western Conference. It was the fifth consecutive road victory for Dallas, which will conclude its four-game road trip Tuesday in Utah.
"Every game is a playoff game right now," Dallas reserve center DeJuan Blair said.
The Kings defeated Dallas at home earlier this season and their three consecutive losses have been by a combined nine points. So with Nowitzki getting 15 points on 5-of-17 shooting, the Mavericks had to look elsewhere for a reliable scorer.
It was Ellis who stepped up in a tight fourth quarter. He made a crucial 3-pointer and converted all three free throws when Dallas was clinging to its slim lead down the stretch.
Ellis made a 3 at the 3:04 mark of the fourth quarter and converted a three-point play to give the Mavericks a 90-84 lead with 1:51 left.
"Monta saved the day in the fourth quarter," Nowitzki said. "He made that huge 3 and then he had the and-one [three-point play] on a pick and roll. He was phenomenal in the fourth quarter."
Rudy Gay had 32 points and tied a career high with eight assists for the Kings, DeMarcus Cousins added 28 points and 10 rebounds, and rookie point guard Ray McCallum had eight points and nine rebounds.
The Kings played their sixth consecutive game without starting point guard Isaiah Thomas (right quadriceps contusion), who is averaging 20.7 points and 6.4 assists per game.
"The Kings match up tough against us," said Blair, who had six points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes. "They have played us three tough games."
Nowitzki, who shot 64 percent and averaged 28.7 points in his previous three games, missed eight of his first 10 shots. Following a timeout early in the third quarter, Nowitzki hit a 19-footer and soon after made a 3-pointer.
"Obviously, their backs are up against the wall right now. They know they need every game they can get to get into the postseason," Gay said. "We went into this game knowing that we didn't have anything to lose. They are going to play a lot of teams that don't have anything to lose. For them to stay competitive, it's going to be tough for them."
The Kings fouled Ellis intentionally and he made two free throws to put Dallas in front 92-87 with 24 seconds left. McCallum's layup and two free throws by Gay pulled the Kings to within one point.
But Nowitzki hit one of two foul shots and Cousins was short on a baseline jumper in the closing seconds that would have sent the game to overtime.
"I still think we had an opportunity to make something happen," Cousins said. "But I am kind of disappointed in myself for settling for a shot like that. I could have gotten a lot better shot than that."
The teams swapped misses before Gay's three-point play pulled the Kings within three points with 26 seconds left.
Cousins made a driving shot in traffic to put Sacramento ahead 77-75 with 6:51 to go in the fourth. Consecutive 3s by Carter and another by Shawn Marion put Dallas ahead 84-79 with 4:20.
Trailing for much of the third quarter, Ellis had three transition baskets and Calderon made a 3 to help Dallas outscore the Kings 11-4 in the final 3:15 to take a 68-65 lead into the fourth.
"We knew it was going to be a dog fight, but the good thing is we stayed together," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "The Kings are pretty tough, but we came through. Every game has such a high level of importance. We need to play much better than tonight."
Cousins had 14 of his 16 first-half points in the first quarter. The Kings led 48-45 at the half. ... Dallas shot 29 percent in the second quarter and was outscored 24-16. ... Ex-King Peja Stojakovic, a three-time All-Star in Sacramento, sat courtside next to Kings owner Vivek Ranadive. ... Derrick Williams scored 31 points in an earlier home victories against the Mavericks, but had only five in the rematch.