DALLAS -- If the Dallas Mavericks somehow squeeze into the playoffs, it'll be on the back of Dirk Nowitzki. And what happened Saturday afternoon will have played a huge part.
Nowitzki drilled a 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left, finishing off a furious rally to lift the Mavericks past the Chicago Bulls, 100-98, at American Airlines Center. The Bulls were outscored, 15-1, to close out the game.
Dallas (36-37) remains in striking distance of Utah and the Los Angeles Lakers in the face for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Mavericks are at the Lakers on Tuesday to start a four-game trip.
The Bulls (39-32) seemed to have the game under control, riding the hot hand of Nate Robinson in the fourth quarter. The 5-foot-9 backup point guard began raining 3-pointers, and Chicago enjoyed a 12-point lead with four minutes left and still led, 97-89, with two minutes left.
"It didn't look good there; we were down eight with a couple of minutes to go, but that kind of sums up our season," said Nowitzki, who made a game-winning basket in the final 10 seconds of a game for the 12th time in his career.
"Never give up, keep plugging, you never know what could happen. We got some good stops and some good run-outs and obviously made some big shots."
Nowitzki caught fire on his way to a season-high 35 points. He pulled Dallas to within 98-97 with 27 seconds left on a turnaround jumper and after Bulls' forward Jimmy Butler missed two free throws, the stage was set for Nowitzki.
Needing only a basket, Nowitzki passed to Vince Carter, who appeared to have an opening for a shot. Carter, though, passed back to Nowitzki outside the arc and former MVP didn't hesitate. He pulled the trigger and the ball dropped through the net to provide the victory.
"We knew that they had hit their share of lucky shots during the game," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "Robinson hit two or three shots that he's capable of hitting. If you give in at that point and say, 'Hey, it's just their night,' you're never going to win a big game.
"But our guys hung in, hung in and kept battling. When you do that, you get a little good fortune; you get a couple missed free throws, you get opportunities to finish the game."
The late heroics kept the Bulls from their first four-game winning streak this season and also snapped a four-game winning streak against Dallas.
"This was definitely a tough loss," Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. "We knew this was going to be a tough game coming in because they are fighting for a playoff spot.
"I thought we played with high-intensity most of the game, but we just didn't finish it out. They have a lot of guys with lots of experience and I give them credit."
The Bulls were playing for the first time since ending the Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak. Chicago's execution with the game on the line against Dallas didn't match the Miami game.
"Well, I thought we missed a lot of layups down the stretch," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Missed layups and missed free throws. ... Those are things we have to correct."
Robinson, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng each scored 25 points for Chicago. Robinson nailed all seven of his 3-point shots, including three in the fourth quarter.
Carter and Brandan Wright each had 17 points for Dallas. The Mavericks shot 51 percent from the field and outscored Chicago, 48-42, inside.
Chicago appeared to get some breathing room in the third quarter, pushing their lead to double-digits on occasion. The Mavericks, though, finished the quarter with a 10-0 run to tie the game, 75-75, going into the fourth.
The Bulls took a 58-53 lead into intermission behind Boozer's 18 points. Deng missed only one of seven shots on his way to 13 points, while sparkplug Robinson chipped in 11 off the bench.
Nowitzki's perfection in the half kept the Mavericks close, as he scored 20 points, shooting 8-of 8 from the floor. Wright's activity inside accounted for 11 points. Carter added eight points.
The two power forwards went at it in the first quarter, as Dallas took a 24-23 lead after one. Nowitzki scored eight points on 3-for-3 shooting, including two from beyond the arc.
Boozer had nine points and pulled down three rebounds.
NOTES: Chicago was without Joakim Noah (foot), Marco Belinelli (abdominal strain), Richard Hamilton (back) and, as has been the case all season, former MVP Derrick Rose. Noah and Belinelli are possibilities Sunday against Detroit. "Both guys are improving," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Marco's very close, but we just want to make sure." ... Mavericks guard O.J. Mayo is dealing with a mild sprain of the AC joint in his left shoulder sustained earlier in the week and is playing with a harness. "He's been one of the toughest guys we've had here in a long time," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "Those are the kind of guys that you want to be able to get in a foxhole with." ... Dirk Nowitzki came into the game having averaged 35.3 points in his last three home games against Chicago.