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Associated Press

DALLAS — For weeks, the Dallas Mavericks have been doing all they can to avoid a first-round matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, using their best stretch of the season to step out of that.

On Monday night, they almost wasted it — against a lottery team, no less.

Trailing the Minnesota Timberwolves by seven points with 3:13 left, Dirk Nowitzki got his teammates going, then Jason Terry finished off the rally by swishing an 18-foot jumper from the right side with 0.2 seconds left for a 96-94 victory.

"The guys stuck together and said, ’There’s a lot on the line here. Let’s find a way.’ And that’s exactly what they did," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.


A loss would’ve knocked Dallas out of the running for the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference.

Now, the Mavs go into the finale on Wednesday night — at home, against Houston — with a win wrapping up No. 7 and a chance to get No. 6 if they win and New Orleans loses in San Antonio.

"This was one we had to get," said Nowitzki, who had 34 points and nine rebounds.

The Hornets were getting drubbed by the Rockets on Monday night, a score that was announced during the fourth quarter of this game. Terry and Nowitzki insisted they hadn’t noticed.

It’s easy to believe them considering how much attention they had to pay to Minnesota.

Despite their record, an 11-game losing streak against the Mavericks and a 13-point deficit just a few minutes into the game, the Timberwolves grabbed control in the second quarter and refused to budge.

Craig Smith came off the bench to score a season-high 24 points and Sebastian Telfair had 14 points and tied his season high with 12 assists. Minnesota players were jumping up and down on the bench, hoping to make amends for their last visit to Dallas — when they blew a 29-point, third-quarter lead. Instead, they found another heartbreaking way to lose.

"This is the second time we had them here," Telfair said. "We wanted to win the game and we fought. This would have been a nice win for us."


Dallas was without Josh Howard, who rested his gimpy left ankle, and his energy was sorely missed.

So was his scoring as Dallas went 8 minutes, 32 seconds between baskets over the middle two quarters, missing 14 straight shots along the way.

Nowitzki scored 17 of the club’s first 19 points in the third quarter. He was such a one-man show that no other Mavs player even took a free throw until the fourth quarter.

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