PHOENIX —A hobbled Dirk Nowitzki brought the offense. Jason Kidd triggered the defense.
The result was a fourth-quarter rally that may have saved the season for the Dallas Mavericks.
Nowitzki scored 32 points and the Mavericks rallied from a 13 points down early in the fourth to stun the Phoenix Suns 105-98 on Sunday. Dallas outscored Phoenix 27-9 in the fourth quarter for the kind of gutsy victory against a strong opponent the Mavericks had sought since the trade that brought Kidd from New Jersey.
“Every team we’d played so far we were right there, on the road or at home,” Nowitzki said. “So it feels great to get finally over the hump. I think everybody in t he locker room was pretty hyped up that we had finally pulled this one out. Hopefully this could build some momentum.”
Josh Howard added 24 points and Brandon Bass 19 for the Mavericks, who used a smothering defense in a 16-0 run that put them ahead for good in a game the Suns had led nearly throughout. Phoenix went scoreless for just under 8 minutes, missing 12 shots in the process.
Nowitzki, in his third game back since missing four with a sprained left knee and ankle, scored 12 in the fourth quarter.
The victory lifted Dallas a game ahead of eighth-place Denver in the Western Conference with five to play. The Mavericks have regrouped to go 2-1 against teams with winning records after going 0-for-10.
The Suns, who would have clinched a playoff victory with a victory, fell 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Los Angeles Lakers in the Pacific Division. Phoenix dropped to sixth in the West, a half-game behind Houston.
Dallas coach Avery Johnson estimated Nowitzki’s ankle was 60 percent to 75 percent normal, and the big forward acknowledged there were times when he was in a lot of pain, albeit usually of short duration.
“I don’t think if it was November I would have played this week,” Nowitzki said. “There’s no way. But the way the playoffs are shaping up right now, we need every healthy (or in his case not-so-healthy) body.”
Johnson said the biggest concern was making sure the ailing Nowitzki wasn’t a defensive liability.
“He’s always a man of desire and determination. That’s why we love him so much,” Johnson said. “He was out there fighting. We were just trying to find the right person for him to guard.”
Obviously, the Mavericks figured it out. Phoenix made three of 19 shots in the final period.
“We were feeling good about everything, everything was going our way,” the Suns’ Steve Nash said, “and their backs were against the wall, not only in this game but in the season. We played like two teams in different psychological places.”
Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni said his team should have felt just as desperate for a victory as the Mavericks did.
“Everything was good and for whatever reason, the lights went out, and we couldn’t get back in it,” D’Antoni said.
Amare Stoudemire had 31 points for the Suns but missed three of four free throws down the stretch. Nash had 14 points and 10 assists, but shot only 4-of-17 from the field. He was 1-for-9 in the second half, 0-for-6 in the fourth quarter. He also had five turnovers.
Kidd had eight points, seven assists, six rebounds, four steals and four blocked shots for Dallas.
Shaquille O’Neal had 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Suns, whose season-best home winning streak ended at seven games.
After O’Neal’s 10-footer made it 91-78 to start the fourth quarter, the Suns went cold and the Mavericks took off. Bass’ rebound basket started the decisive run. Howard’s two free throws with 5:15 to play put Dallas ahead for good 92-91.
Erick Dampier’s rebound dunk capped the run to make it 94-92. Stoudemire’s dunk ended the long drought and cut the lead to 94-93 3:45 from the finish, but an 8-3 spurt finished off the Suns.
Nowitzki’s falling-down 16-foot runner with 32.2 seconds left sealed the win.
“I stumbled about 18 times,” Nowitzki said of the play. “But I was able to gather myself right at the end. Just that one little step at the end was all I needed, and I was able to knock it down. Definitely a little luck there, but we needed every second of it.”
Phoenix outscored the Mavs 11-4 to start the second half to go up 68-56 on Raja Bell’s 3-pointer. The lead reached 77-63 when Nash sank a 3 with 5:32 to go in the third.
Dallas cut it to 87-78 on Howard’s 16, footer, but Bell bounced in a 20-footer on an assist from Boris Diaw and it was 89-78 after three.
Diaw scored 12 of his 15 points in the second quarter.