Nowitzki scored 11 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and had the last of his season-high four blocked shots on a crucial possession in the final minute as the Mavericks beat the Pelicans 100-97 at the start of a four-game road trip.
Nowitzki gave Dallas the lead with a free throw to make the score 98-97 with 32.3 seconds left. He then got a piece of Eric Gordon's driving floater, grabbed the rebound and hit two more free throws with 8 seconds left.
"It could have gone either way," Nowitzki said. "Finally, we were on the other end one time in execution and getting some stops and getting some big rebounds. It was definitely a good one to get against a very good team."
Nowitzki ran off a long list of negatives that could have cost the Mavericks the game. The Pelicans outrebounded them 58-38. He felt he forced some bad shots in the first half when he was double-teamed, connecting on only 2 of 7 instead of finding the open man. He even missed two free throws after hitting an NBA-best 86 of 91 before Wednesday.
The Mavericks also messed up their final defensive possession, giving New Orleans forward Ryan Anderson a wide-open look to tie the score. Anderson, who entered as the NBA's second-most-accurate 3-point shooter at 55.6 percent, missed it with 2 seconds left.
"We switched at the end and left him open," Nowitzki said. "I don't know what happened. He had a clean look from the top of the key, which he probably makes eight out of 10, so we really dodged a bullet."
Jrue Holiday had a season-high 26 points for the Pelicans, who played without injured forward Anthony Davis for the second consecutive game. Al-Farouq Aminu tied his career high with 20 rebounds and added a season-high 16 points. Anderson finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds.
The Mavericks won with balance for three quarters and Nowitzki taking over down the stretch. No play was bigger than his block of Gordon in the lane. He had not blocked more than one shot in any game this year.
"Tell them you're a shot blocker now," Carter said jokingly as Nowitzki talked in the locker room.
"We have a lot of guys doing a lot of things to try to take the pressure off of him so he doesn't feel he has to put up big numbers every quarter," Carter added. "It can wear him down. Now fourth quarter he can do what he does best."
The Pelicans, who outscored opponents by 25 points in the second half while going 3-0 on their recently concluded road trip, tried to pull away in the third quarter with an 8-0 run to go up 73-65 late in the quarter. But the Mavericks answered with a 10-2 spurt, getting 3-pointers from Jae Crowder and Carter.
Dallas stayed hot at the start of the fourth. Nowitzki scored on a turnaround to give the Mavericks a 79-77 lead, converted a 3-point play on a tough shot and hit a free throw after the Pelicans were called for a defensive 3-second violation as Dallas went ahead 83-77.
That lead didn't last long. Holiday sank a 3-pointer to tie the score at 86 with 6:49 left.
Nowitzki hit a face-up midrange shot to give Dallas a 97-94 lead before Holiday sank a long 3-pointer to tie the score at 97, setting up Nowitzki's finish.
"It's not very often you win on the road getting pounded on the glass by 20 boards," Nowitzki said. "But we'll definitely take it."
Without Davis, New Orleans could not extend its winning streak to four games for the first time since Jan. 5-11 of 2013.
In Davis' absence, Aminu was more aggressive than usual. Averaging 5.5 points and 5.5 rebounds, he had a double-double by halftime (10 points, 11 rebounds) of his first in a full game this season. He finished the half with a soaring dunk off a nice pass from Holiday and a reverse layup around Nowitzki.
"I always grade myself off wins and losses," Aminu said. "It really doesn't matter what I do. It's a disappointing night."
Davis talked to reporters before the game for the first time since he fractured the fifth metacarpal when he hit his hand on the rim against the New York Knicks on Sunday. "Of course it's frustrating," he said. "You want to be on the floor. But at the same time, there's nothing you can do about it." ... Calderon started for Dallas after being listed as day to day with a bruised right ankle. . Neither team led by double digits at any time in the game. ... New Orleans, which fell to 9-9, has not been two games above .500 since starting 2-0 in 2011-12.