Posted by Mike Rice
DALLAS (AP) -- Monta Ellis went crazy in the fourth quarter again.
This time, the Dallas Mavericks beat a Western Conference also-ran in their quest to get back to the playoffs.
Ellis scored 26 points, including 14 when the Mavericks pulled away in the fourth, and Dirk Nowitzki added 21 in a 122-106 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.
Two nights earlier, Ellis scored the last 12 points of regulation for Dallas to force overtime against Minnesota, but the Mavericks couldn't finish the rally in a potentially damaging loss. This time, he put the game out of reach.
"He was getting any shot he wanted," said Jae Crowder, who hit all four of his 3-pointers in the second quarter to help the Mavericks build the first of several leads they almost lost. "We ran the same play for him I'd say five or six times and they couldn't stop it, so he just kept making plays."
J.J. Hickson led Denver with 18 points and eight rebounds before leaving with a sprained right knee in the fourth quarter. Coach Brian Shaw said he would be re-evaluated Saturday.
"We made a lot of mistakes, and we don't have much margin for error," Shaw said. "All the credit goes to them. They're fighting for the playoffs."
The Mavericks led by 17 in the first half and had let a 15-point edge early in the fourth quarter dwindle to three.
Dallas had the margin back to 10 when Ellis finished things off with a tough jumper from the baseline and consecutive 3-pointers. He had a three-point play and three straight 3s in the fourth quarter of the 123-122 OT loss to the Timberwolves.
"Just taking what the defense gave me, being patient," said Ellis, who was 11 of 14 shooting and had seven assists. "We run the screen and roll, come off, see how the defense is playing and make the right plays."
The Mavericks avoided a season sweep by the Nuggets, who ran away with a win in Denver two weeks ago to hand Dallas its longest losing streak at three games.
Dallas (42-28) got a boost in the playoff race when Miami rallied from seven down in the last 3 1/2 minutes to beat Memphis 91-86 Friday night. The Mavericks and Grizzlies (40-28) started the day in a virtual tie for the final two postseason spots in the Western Conference.
Vince Carter shook off a dislocated pinkie on his right hand in the first quarter to finish with 13.
"Carter had a good game," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "He scored and had some assists, but he was really good defensively. He made some big plays down the stretch."
Denver's Ty Lawson had 17 points and nine assists after missing a game with a sinus infection, and Randy Foye scored 15, all on 3-pointers.
Denver was within 99-96 after a 3-pointer and dunk from Dallas native Darrell Arthur, who had nine of his 11 points in the second half.
But Nowitzki hit back-to-back fadeaway jumpers and Brandan Wright and Shawn Marion took turns feeding each other for baskets, the last one Marion's dunk for a 109-99 lead with 4 minutes to go.
Wright, a 6-foot-10 center, had all three of his assists in a 4-minute stretch of the fourth quarter and finished with 13 points. Marion scored 14 as the Mavericks had seven players in double figures.
Ellis took over from there, helping clinch a winning season after a 12-year run of winning records ended with a 41-41 mark last season.
"I've been watching him since I was in high school," Lawson said. "When he makes a shot, he gets hot. He got a 3, got a 2 and got to the rim."
Hickson helped keep Denver close with 10 second-half points and was four shy of his season high against the Mavericks in November before going out.
Crowder's run of 3s came with Carter getting treatment in the locker room and included three straight that put the Mavericks up 50-36. He didn't attempt another shot and finished with 12 points.
"Jae's stint out there was big for us," Carlisle said. "We were able to get scoring and defense while Vince was getting fixed up."
The teams combined to go 25 of 52 from 3-point range. The Nuggets had 13 from long range and the Mavericks had 12. The season high is 15 for both teams. ... Nuggets C Kenneth Faried got a technical in the third quarter after colliding with Jose Calderon and knocking the Dallas guard to the floor. ... The Mavericks recalled G Gal Mekel from the Texas Legends of the D-League. He's played 31 games for Dallas and four games for the affiliate. The 26-year-old rookie from Israel missed nearly two months with a knee injury.