DALLAS -- Guard Monta Ellis and forward Dirk Nowitzki are proving to be a winning combination for the Dallas Mavericks.
The duo spoiled a huge night for Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, helping the Mavericks rally from an 18-point deficit in the second half for a wild 123-120 victory Wednesday at the American Airlines Center.
Howard was the big story for much of the night, making his first 11 shots and nailing his free throws during a 33-point, 11-rebound performance.
However, the Mavericks climbed out of the 110-101 hole they faced with 5:41 left in the game.
"It would have been easy to drop our heads and stop playing, but these guys aren't going to do that," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "They didn't do it last time we played these guys down there even though we were getting beat pretty good, and tonight we hung in and we gave ourselves a chance."
Ellis, the free agent Dallas signed when it failed to lure Howard, posted a season-high 37 points on 13-of-18 shooting.
The last of Ellis' eight assists was his biggest, a beautiful drive-and-kick to forward Shawn Marion in the corner. Marion swished the 3-pointer to give the Mavericks their first lead since 2-0.
"Marion hitting a three out of the corner -- what a huge play," Carlisle said. "What a huge play."
Rockets guard James Harden missed the second of two free throws with nine seconds to go, leaving Houston down by one point. After Dallas point guard Jose Calderon made two free throws with 6.7 seconds to go, Harden launched an air-ball, sealing the comeback win for Dallas.
"We stayed together as a team," Ellis said. "We got the defensive stops when we needed and came down and made shots on the other end."
Nowitzki recorded a season-high 35 points on 13-of-20 shooting. He had one steal in the game, a huge one late, stripping Howard in the lane and igniting a fast break that got Dallas to within 119-118.
"We're really just playing off him," Nowitzki said Ellis, who scored at least 18 points in all 12 games. "He's been aggressive, he's handled the ball well, but what's been great is that he has been making plays for others. He's making all of us better. We run a lot of screen and rolls for him; I don't know how he does it, but he gets everyone involved and it's been fun to play with him."
For most of the game, Howard was unstoppable from everywhere, even the free-throw line, and Houston forward Chandler Parsons was unconscious from deep.
Howard didn't miss until the 8:16 mark of the fourth quarter on a lefty hook. He couldn't even be stopped when the Mavericks resorted to fouling Howard in the third quarter in hopes of slowing down another Rockets run that pushed Houston's lead to 89-72. Howard made four consecutive free throws, and he finished 9-for-13.
Chandler drained four of five 3-pointers, three coming in the Rockets' explosive first half. He finished with 21 points, 11 assists and five rebounds.
The Mavericks (8-4) ran their home record to 6-0. They climbed back in the game with a 14-3 burst to start the fourth quarter behind Ellis.
"In the fourth quarter we went away from what got us the lead," Howard said. "We've just got to do a better job of doing what we do to get leads and continue to do that late in the game."
Dallas pulled within 104-101 with 6:49 to go. Rockets guard Patrick Beverley then hit a 3-pointer to make it 107-101. After an Ellis turnover, Beverley rebounded a missed 3-point attempt by Rockets forward Terrance Jones and fired the ball out to Harden at the arc for a 3-pointer and a
110-101 lead with 5:41 left.
"We had a lead in the fourth quarter again," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said, referring to several other blown fourth-quarter leads in the early season. "We had some point-blankers and layups that we missed. We just couldn't get them stopped the whole game. Dirk and Ellis got what they wanted."
The Rockets (8-5) shot 68.4 percent in the first half and went 9-for-14 from beyond the arc, yet went to halftime with only a 68-61 lead because they couldn't stop Dallas. The Mavs shot 59.5 percent in the first half.
Dallas led once in the first half, 2-0, before quickly falling behind under an avalanche of Rockets baskets. Houston made its first eight shots, including four 3-pointers and ended the first quarter shooting 75 percent and leading, 40-29.
On the night, Dallas shot a sizzling 58.3 percent, while Houston was close behind at 55.3 percent.
NOTES: Dallas F Dirk Nowitzki passed Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller for 15th place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. ... The Rockets and Mavericks entered Wednesday's game ranked in the bottom eight in turnovers per game with Houston ranking last at 19.3 turnovers per game. Houston committed just 12 turnovers in the loss. The Mavs, who were averaging 16.9, gave the ball away 16 times Wednesday. ... The Rockets won the first meeting between the division rivals, 113-105 in Houston earlier this month. They play the third of four games in Houston on Dec. 23. ... Mavs coach Rick Carlisle hopes to lower starting SG Monta Ellis' minutes with rookie PG Shane Larkin back in action. Ellis is averaging a team-high 37.5 minutes per game, seventh highest in the league. Larkin was the first point guard off the bench Tuesday ahead of rookie Gal Mekel.