J.R. Smith broke a tie in the final minutes with a layup and immediately followed with a jumper, lifting the Denver Nuggets to a 104-96 victory over the struggling and short-handed Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night.
Smith scored 23 points, seven after Dallas tied it at 94 with 2:51 left. Kenyon Martin added 18 as the Nuggets won for the seventh time in eight games. The NBA's highest-scoring team also cracked 100 after going a season-worst three straight games in double figures.
With Denver holding the No. 5 spot, the Nuggets and Mavericks could end up meeting again in the first round. Denver won the season series 3-1, although this was the first matchup since Carmelo Anthony was traded.
Playing without Jason Kidd or Tyson Chandler, the Mavericks lost their fourth straight, and ninth in a row against Western Conference playoff teams. They are 8-9 since an 18-1 spurt that put them in contention for the top overall seed. Their lead over Oklahoma City for the third seed is down to one game.
Chandler missed his second game with a back injury sustained Saturday night. Kidd was held out simply to rest his 38-year-old body with the playoffs approaching.
Shawn Marion led Dallas with 21 points and Dirk Nowitzki scored 20. Brendan Haywood, starting in Chandler's place, grabbed a season-high 19 rebounds, and Jason Terry had 15 points.
Wilson Chandler scored 16 points for Denver. Danilo Gallinari and Al Harrington each scored 10. Nene had nine points and 15 rebounds.
Denver led by 10 at halftime and stretched it to 16 during a lethargic start to the second half. In one stretch during the opening minutes, the Nuggets put up a 3-pointer that thudded against the backboard, then the Mavericks shot an airball on a 3-point try. Denver followed with a basket and when Rodrigue Beaubois went to throw it in for Dallas, none of his teammates were around to catch it.
Then the Mavs caught a spark. They went on a 16-4 run capped by J.J. Barea ducking his way through a collision of two big guys, getting into the lane and feeding Marion for a dunk that got Dallas within 65-61. The Mavericks went ahead 77-76 early in the fourth on a jumper by Nowitzki, then were trailing 94-85 later in the quarter.
A 3-pointer by Terry got Dallas within 94-90 and brought the crowd to life. Marion made a high-arching layup to push the Mavericks even closer, then Beaubois tied it with a pair of free throws following a backcourt steal. But Dallas would only score once more down the stretch — and that was only when Martin was called for goaltending with 19.5 seconds left. Martin got his money's worth, though, swatting a layup try by Beaubois into the seats.
NOTES: This was the first game Kidd missed all season. He had been hoping to play all 82 as a matter of pride. He's done it twice in his career, last in 2001-02. ... The Nuggets are expecting to be without rookie C Timofey Mozgov for about two weeks because of a sprained left knee and ankle sustained Tuesday night. ... Denver's Chris Andersen missed his third straight game with a sprained ankle. "We're hopeful for Friday," coach George Karl said. Arron Affalo remained out with a hamstring injury. When these teams last met, he hit the winning shot in the closing seconds. That was Dallas' only loss in the 18-1 stretch. ... Without Kidd in the lineup, DeShawn Stevenson started at shooting guard and Beaubois shifted from shooting guard to point guard.