Nowitzki scored 39 points and Josh Howard scored 11 of his 25 in the fourth quarter to lead Dallas past Milwaukee 123-104 on Sunday night.
But the Mavericks, who led by 22 early in the third, let the Bucks cut their lead to eight after a lethargic fourth quarter.
“We had a defensive letdown and let them back into the game,” said Nowitzki, who had his 11th 30-point game of the season. “It should have been easier. But we’ll take the win.”
The Mavericks made 47 of 89 field goals (53 percent), including 14-of-25 from Nowitzki. Dallas equaled its season-high point total.
Despite their stellar shooting, the Mavericks didn’t pull away until the fourth quarter.
The Bucks trailed 88-80 after three quarters and were down 97-88 before Dallas took control with a 9-2 run. Howard, who finished one point shy of his career high, capped the surge with a three-point play that put the Mavericks ahead 106-90 with five minutes left.
Howard was a bright spot for Dallas, holding Milwaukee’s Michael Redd to 18 points, nearly five below his season average.
“He’s our best defender, hands down.” Nowitzki said of Howard. “You can’t really shut Michael Redd down, but he did a good job on him.”
“We put ourselves in position to make a game out of it,” Milwaukee coach Terry Porter said. “Then they went on a spurt because of our inability to execute.”
The Mavericks led 66-50 at halftime and scored the first six points of the third quarter, but Milwaukee outscored Dallas 30-16 for the rest of the period.
“We were sporadic and not as sharp as we would like to be,” Dallas coach Don Nelson said. “This is kind of how the game was. It wasn’t consistent enough for me.”
The Mavericks, who scored 41 points in the first quarter Tuesday night against the Boston Celtics, jumped out early again and took a 33-19 lead after the first.
“Giving up that many points in the first is not a good thing,” Redd said. “But we were right there against a good team. But we collapsed in the fourth quarter. When you have that against this type of team, you’re going to lose.”
The Bucks crept within 45-38 midway through the second quarter after a 12-0 run. But the Mavericks answered with a 10-0 spurt of their own, which was capped by Nowitzki’s dunk with 5:13 left.
Dallas G Marquis Daniels missed his second straight game with a sore left ankle. … Milwaukee is 2-10 against the Western Conference. … Dallas C Shawn Bradley picked up four fouls in his first three minutes of action after checking in with 4:14 left in the third. … Milwaukee F Desmond Mason, who grew up in nearby Waxahachie, Texas, scored 12 points.