Howard missed the team’s morning shootaround with a stomach flu, but he was in the starting lineup and scored 10 of Dallas’ last 20 points, including a critical 3-pointer to break a 90-all tie with 1:59 left.
“I wasn’t feeling well, so just for me to come out and play well took a lot,” said Howard, who estimated that he was feeling “75 percent.”
“I could have sat down and not played, but this is an important part of the year right now. We need all the guys we have to play,” Howard said.
Dallas is 21-12 at home, 21-10 on the road.
Nowitzki, averaging 26.7 points, finished with 15 points on 4-of-17 shooting. He hit four key free throws in the final minute and grabbed nine rebounds, but was held below 20 points for the first time in 10 games.
“Offensively we’re struggling right now,” said Nowitzki, who rolled an ankle late in the first half on a layup but played 36 minutes. “We can’t make shots, but at least we got the win.”
Dallas shot 41 percent from the field (35-for-85).
Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Damon Stoudamire had 20 points each for the lottery-bound Trail Blazers, who’ve lost three in a row and nine of 10. Joel Przybilla and Sebastian Telfair added 16 points apiece.
Portland was without Zach Randolph, Darius Miles, Nick Van Exel and Ruben Patterson. Randolph, Van Exel and Patterson are injured. Miles is with his mother, who is having surgery this week in Portland.
“Our team was absolute heart and soul tonight …,” Portland interim coach Kevin Pritchard said. “We’re getting some guys in there, playing the right way.”
The Trail Blazers were far more competitive than they were on Wednesday night when they lost 108-77 at Houston.
“We’re getting better,” Abdur-Rahim said. “If anything, we can feel good about that, but we still lost.”
After Howard’s go-ahead 3-pointer, Przybilla converted two free throws with 1:37 to play, pulling Portland within one.
Howard wasted an opportunity to widen Dallas’ lead when he missed two free throws with 1:19 remaining. Jason Terry made one of two from the line with 35 seconds left to give Dallas a 94-92 lead.
Abdur-Rahim missed an eight-footer in the lane with 18 seconds left, and Nowitzki hit four free throws in the final 17.7 seconds to send the Blazers to their fifth consecutive defeat to the Mavericks.
Dallas finished the third quarter with six unanswered points to narrow Portland’s lead to 67-66.
The Mavericks continued their recent trend of slow starts, trailing 22-13 after the first quarter, earning boos from a usually supportive crowd. Dallas had its lowest scoring first quarter of the season, and the Mavericks were behind entering the second quarter for the 10th time in their last 11 games.
Nowitzki was scoreless in the first quarter for the third time this season. He had only four points at halftime, going 2-for-8 from the field. … Mavericks C Shawn Bradley sustained a bloody upper lip in the first quarter and went to the locker room for medical attention. He returned to the game late in the second quarter. … Pritchard is 1-7 since taking over for Maurice Cheeks. … Dallas played the 2,000th regular-season game in its history.