Dirk Nowitzki scored 32 points then was ejected for arguing a call in the fourth quarter of the Mavericks' 98-94 preseason victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night.
The Dallas Mavericks are glad the regular season is finally here. They're also pretty happy the regular referees are returning to work.
Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd both added 14 points for the Mavericks (5-2) and Drew Gooden added 12 points and 10 rebounds. Marion returned for the preseason finale for both teams after missing the last four games with a strained right calf.
Carl Landry scored 22 points and Trevor Ariza added 17 for the Rockets (4-4).
About the same time the NBA's regular referees agreed on a two-year contract and ended a lockout, the replacement refs had their hands full in the fourth quarter in Houston.
First, Gooden dragged down Pops Mensah-Bonsu while the two were going for a rebound. When Mensah-Bonsu got up, Gooden shoved him, knocking Mensah-Bonsu's red headband askew.
The referees conferred and issued technical fouls to both players. Gooden assumed he had been ejected and went straight to the locker room. But he had not been thrown out and returned to the court a few minutes later.
"I was kind of confused," Gooden said. "I asked my coaches, 'Am I out?' They said, 'Yeah, you're out.' I was more happy coming back and the fans, to see how they were going to react after they gave me the nice booing as I went to the locker room. I wondered if they were going to cheer for me when I came back out. But I got booed again."
Nowitzki, who picked up his fifth foul early in the fourth quarter, returned with 4:01 left and Dallas leading 88-85.
He was called for his sixth foul only 12 seconds later, fighting Mensah-Bonsu for a rebound. Nowitzki protested and referee Lorenzo Bronson gave him a technical foul and ejected him.
Nowitzki said the replacement refs performed well during the preseason, but was glad to hear the regular officials will return in time for the start of the regular season.
"Obviously, the other refs are the best in the world, and we're looking forward to getting them back," Nowitzki said. "We're glad the preseason is over."
The referees called a total of five technical fouls in the game. Like Nowitzki, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle praised the backup refs for their work in the preseason.
"Through it all, they've maintained a very even-keeled disposition," Carlisle said. "They've been tested on multiple occasions in every game they worked. They're trying their best and that's all we can ask."
Kidd banked in a 3-pointer with 1:01 left to put Dallas up 90-87, and after a Houston turnover, Kris Humphries hit a shot from the perimeter to push lead to five. Kidd went 6 of 6 from the free-throw line over the last 26 seconds to keep Houston at bay.
Dallas outrebounded Houston 50-40 and held the Rockets to 22 percent shooting from 3-point range (6 of 27).
"You are reminded of how you win close games and in this game, we didn't come up with key offensive rebounds and didn't execute down the stretch," Houston forward Shane Battier said. "Sometimes you forget about that in the preseason, because you're trying to get new guys acclimated to new plays."
Nowitzki scored 14 points on 6-for-6 shooting in the first quarter and the Mavs led 27-24.
Marion also hit his first six shots, including a driving, one-hander midway through the second quarter. The Rockets finished the half on an 11-3 run to take a 56-48 lead. Houston hit nine of 14 shots in the second quarter.
Dallas opened the second half with a 16-2 run as the Rockets missed their first eight shots. Nowitzki scored 11 points in the quarter and Dallas took an 81-76 lead into the fourth.