Brook Lopez missed almost the first two months of the season because of a broken right foot, and the New Jersey Nets eased him back into the lineup.
While the 7-foot center finally played his first two games last week, his minutes were somewhat limited and he was even inactive for the game in between those. There was more rest during the All-Star break over the weekend before the Nets finally let him loose.
Lopez scored 38 points, including the go-ahead free throws with 42 seconds left, and the Nets held on for a 93-92 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.
"We kind of took the handcuffs off him. We weren't putting him on a minute restriction," New Jersey coach Avery Johnson said. "He got a pretty good rest over the break, and we kept feeding him."
The two free throws by Lopez came right after the Mavericks had taken the lead with a 13-2 run after missing 14 consecutive field goals.
Jason Kidd's 3-pointer from the right wing only 6 seconds earlier had put Dallas ahead 92-91.
Jason Terry forced a turnover with 18 seconds left, and Dallas called timeout. Kidd then had the ball in the left corner, but it was knocked loose by DeShawn Stevenson. Kidd got it back but his desperate heave at the buzzer was short.
Stevenson, who got his NBA championship ring from the Mavericks before the game, thrust both arms in the air as it ended. He was scoreless, but part of the game-ending play.
"It's tough with Dirk (Nowitzki). I've seen that move about 1,000 times, so I kind of cheated that way, and he passed to Jason Kidd," said Stevenson, who left Dallas in free agency. "I was going to jump, and I got my hand on the ball and got a win off of that."
The 38 points by Lopez, one short of his career high, were the most against the Mavericks since LeBron James scored 37 for Miami in the season opener on Christmas Day.
Anthony Morrow had 15 points for the Nets, while Deron Williams had 12 points and 12 rebounds.
"Brook was a monster tonight. He carried us from the start. With him back, we're a different team," Williams said. "I just wasn't feeling it and Brook was."
Nowitzki had 24 points despite shooting 7 of 19 from the field and 7 of 11 from the free-throw line. Brendan Haywood had 18 points and 10 rebounds for Dallas, which shot only 36 percent (32 of 89).
"It was brutal, like the whole game. We were off. We couldn't make a shot," Nowitzki said. "It was ugly, ball-handling and shooting. Everything was sloppy. It was a tough night. It wasn't the way we wanted to start this off, with a loss a home."
The Mavericks played the first of nine games in 12 days, a stretch that will take them to seven different cities and three time zones. They have lost three of their last four games.
When Lopez scored with 5:23 left, the Nets had an 89-79 lead and Dallas still hadn't made a field goal in the fourth quarter.
Terry drove for a right-handed layup with 1:22 left to get the Mavs within 91-89. He then blocked a shot by Morrow. When Kris Humphries rebounded the miss, Terry stole it. That led to Kidd's go-ahead 3-pointer.
Williams, a free agent at the end of the season who is from the Dallas area, got off to a fast start in his only game this season against the Mavericks. He had 10 points, four assists and two rebounds in the first 9 minutes while New Jersey built a 24-18 lead.
Williams missed his last 10 field-goal attempts in the game, adding only two more points after his early surge.
"Deron wanted those shots to go down like he was in his backyard," said Johnson, who before the game said he believes Williams has every intention to re-sign with the Nets but isn't surprised by free agency speculation. "He's a guy who can hit 30 and 15 on a night."
Lopez scored 13 consecutive points for the Nets during over a more than 9-minute span of the second quarter.
"The guys got the ball to me in spots where I could lay it up and score," Lopez said.
NOTES: Terry took over sixth place on the NBA career list for 3-pointers made. He has 1,720, which is 40 shy of Peja Stojakovic at No. 5. ... The only member of Dallas' 2010-11 team who hasn't received his ring is Tyson Chandler. His new team, the New York Knicks, are in Dallas next Tuesday night. ... Nets G Jordan Farmar missed his fourth straight game with a strained right groin. Johnson said Farmar could be back Friday at Boston or Sunday at Charlotte. ... Lamar Odom missed his second straight game for Dallas for personal reasons. He will also be out Wednesday night at Memphis.