Down by 12 points after one quarter, the Dallas Mavericks knew better than to panic. Instead, they waited for the struggling Toronto Raptors to crack. It didn't take long.
Dirk Nowitzki had 27 points and 10 rebounds, and Jason Terry also scored 27 points in the Mavericks' 96-86 victory over the Raptors on Wednesday night.
"Dirk is having a great year," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "When he's dialed in, there's nobody better."
Josh Howard added 20 points for Dallas in his first start since Nov. 18. Howard, who came off the bench Monday night in a loss to Denver after missing 11 games because of a sprained ankle, scored Dallas' first nine points and had 11 in the first quarter.
Terry, who had seven rebounds and eight assists, said Howard's strong return gave him more room to maneuver.
"With Josh out there, it just gives us another weapon," Terry said. "It's hard enough to stop Dirk by himself, but then you put (Howard) out there and now they forget about me."
Jermaine O'Neal scored 19 points for the Raptors, who have lost three straight and are 2-6 since Jay Triano replaced Sam Mitchell as head coach Dec. 3.
Terry said the Mavericks were well aware of what happened to Toronto Monday, when the Raptors opened the game with a 16-2 run but later missed 14 straight fourth quarter field goals in a loss to New Jersey.
Against Dallas, Toronto was hot again in the early going, opening 16-for-24 and building a 33-21 lead after 12 minutes.
"We knew they blew a big lead the other night, so we didn't get down (after the first)," Terry said. "We just said 'Keep grinding. If we can put some doubt in their mind they may fold,' and that's what we were able to do in the second and third quarter."
Toronto cooled off in the second, making just six of 22 shots. Terry scored 13 points in the period and the Mavericks cut the gap to five, at 49-44, at the half.
The Raptors' poor shooting continued in the third, with no one struggling more than All-star forward Chris Bosh. He missed all five of his shots, including a dunk, as Toronto went 5-for-20 in the period. Dallas took the lead on Howard's free throws with 8:29 left, outrebounded Toronto 14-7 and got nine points from Nowitzki to take a 69-63 lead into the final quarter.
"They seemed to lose some energy as the game went on, and that helped us," Carlisle said.
Bosh didn't appreciate the fans sounding off as the tide turned against Toronto.
"If I want to get booed, I'll go on the road," Bosh said. "It's really tense right now. When you're down three points at home and you're getting booed, that's kind of disheartening. Whether the crowd knows it or not, they play a big part in the game."
Bosh shot 2-for-13 through three quarters and finished with 12 points, failing to get good looks against the defense of Dallas' Devean George.
"He's got me inside, you know, he's got strength and he's got size," George said. "It would have been tough for me to play him one-on-one in the post. My thing was to push him out, make it a perimeter game and try to even the field."
Bosh hit a jumper with 9:40 left to cut it to 71-69, but Jose Barea and Terry hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Brandon Bass made a baseline jumper to push Dallas' lead back to 10 points.
"The whole team looked frustrated, some doubt started to come into their mind," George said. "They started off smoking, but it's a 48 minute game.
"When you see guys going, 'Not again,' that kind of feeds into the other team. We all kind of sensed that. They were really frustrated when things weren't going right and we started making a run."
Nowitzki sympathized with the reeling Raptors, recalling an overtime win at New York on Nov. 16 that snapped a five-game losing streak and turned Dallas' season around. The Mavericks have won 12 of 15 since.
"In this league, all it takes is one big win to get everybody on the same page," Nowitzki said.
Toronto was outrebounded 47-37 overall and has been outrebounded in 14 straight games.
Toronto's Jose Calderon made his only free throw and has made 62 straight dating to last season.
Notes:@ Mavericks owner Mark Cuban watched from a seat at the end of the Dallas bench. ... Toronto rookie forward Nathan Jawai, sidelined since training camp because of an unidentified heart abnormality, has been cleared to begin workouts. Triano said Jawai will likely need a month of workouts before he's ready to play. ... The Mavericks have not lost back-to-back games since losing five straight from Nov. 7-14.