Arron Afflalo scored 24 points for the Nuggets, who lost a game that could have an impact on their playoff position. Denver entered Monday seventh in the Western Conference, a half-game behind Dallas. The Mavericks not only gained a game on the Nuggets, but they won the season series and hold a tiebreaker should the teams finish with the same record.
"It always helps," Mavericks guard Vince Carter said. "Right now, it's not about series wins, it is about getting wins and moving ourselves up the ladder."
Nowitzki was the biggest reason they hold the tiebreaker. The 13-year veteran started hitting shots early and never really stopped as he finished 12-of-19 from the field against several different defenders, all of whom were shaking their heads.
And when he wasn't hitting shots, he was finding the open man. He finished with six assists.
"For some reason, we're really shooting the ball well, moving the ball," Nowitzki said. "I have gotten better at it as I've gotten older. That comes with experience. Sometimes my passing decisions aren't the greatest."
The Nuggets also lost guard Andre Miller in the second quarter with a bruised right shoulder, and forward Danilo Gallinari broke his left thumb in the third quarter. Neither player returned, and their status for Wednesday was unknown.
"I hit my thumb to the backboard. I was trying to block a shot," Gallinari said. "I tried to play through, but it was getting worse second by second. I didn't know it was broken, but it hurt a lot."
Their injuries made Wilson Chandler's debut even more significant one day after he signed a multiyear deal. He had 13 points and took a team-high 16 shots.
Chandler, who played overseas for Zhejiang Guangsha of the Chinese Basketball Association during the lockout, was ineligible to return until his team and FIBA, basketball's governing body, signed off. Once that happened, he and the Nuggets agreed to a five-year, $37 million contract. They finalized the deal Sunday, and he was on the court Monday. He came into the game midway through the first period and hit his first three shots, including a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock.
"I was pretty winded," he said. "First game back against the defending champions with two future Hall of Famers, it's tough."
Chandler's early offense helped keep the Nuggets close in a half in which the Mavericks didn't miss many shots.
Dallas started the game 10-of-13 from the field and shot 62.5 percent in the first period. Nowitzki led the way by going 5-for-5, mostly against rookie Kenneth Faried.
"That 1-foot fadeaway, nobody in the league can hit that, and he makes it look so easy," Faried said. "You think you play great D, you contest the shot, and he looks at you like, 'That's going to go in every time.' As a rookie, wow."
Behind Nowitzki's 18 points in the first half, the Mavericks built a nine-point lead before Denver made a charge to get within a point at 50-49 with 2:38 left in the second quarter. Dallas recovered and led 63-56 at the half.
Nowitzki drained a 3 as the Mavericks scored the first seven points of the third to go ahead by 14. Denver cut it to 78-72 on Chandler's tip-in, but Dallas finished the third quarter on a 14-6 run to lead 92-78 heading into the fourth.
"My biggest disappointment was the beginning of the third quarter," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "They scored the first seven points, and their confidence just ballooned. They're a championship team, they have an attitude and they're getting ready for the playoffs."
Nowitzki's three-point play and 16-foot turnaround jumper gave Dallas a 101-82 lead with 8:08 left. Soon after, he sat down for the rest of the night, and Denver never made it a game in the fourth.
"It was one of the smartest-played games I've seen in the league all year long," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "Very disciplined, aggressive, but not frantic, and we moved the ball the way we had to."
Mavericks F Shawn Marion did not make the one-game trip because of an injury. The team's injury report noted Marion has a sore left knee, but Carlisle wouldn't be specific, saying: "We're not listing him as anything in particular except for he's getting treatment." ... Nuggets C JaVale McGee, acquired from Washington on Thursday, didn't play.