HOUSTON — Dirk Nowitzki scoffed at the notion that he's playing as well now as he did when he led the Dallas Mavericks to a title in 2011.
He will, however, concede that at age 35 he's having a pretty good season.
Nowitzki scored 31 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, to lead the Mavericks to a 111-104 win over the Houston Rockets on Monday night.
He joked that his big night was simply luck before getting serious and discussing the work he puts in off the court.
"Hopefully I can light it up a couple of more years and then slowly fade away," he said, breaking into a huge smile.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle isn't surprised at what Nowitzki, who is averaging 21.5 points a game, is doing for his team this season.
"He's the great Dirk Nowitzki," Carlisle said. "He's one of the great players in the history of the game."
Nowitzki missed the first 27 games of last season after knee surgery and the Mavericks missed the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. He feels like his game is good now and his injury is behind him, but he wants to do more.
"The driving the ball is what's missing a little now," he said. "I do a lot of one or two dribble and then up, but I want to get back to driving some more to the basket and get to the foul line. I don't think I'm in '11 shape, but compared to the last two years I feel a lot better. The right knee is great and I feel better."
Nowitzki's performance on Monday night gave him 25,629 career points, which moved him past Alex English for 13th place in scoring in NBA history.
Houston cut the lead to six after a 3-pointer by Aaron Brooks with about 3 1/2; minutes left, but Nowitzki knocked down consecutive baskets to push the Mavericks lead to 107-97.
Houston coach Kevin McHale was frustrated that his team was unable to slow Nowitzki down.
"We tried a bunch of different stuff," McHale said. "We tried showing and coming back. We tried staying on there. We tried running at him. Nothing seemed to work."
Dwight Howard had 29 points and 15 rebounds for the Rockets, who were playing their second straight game without leading scorer James Harden, who was out with a sprained left ankle.
Pistons 115, Cavaliers 92
At Cleveland, Josh Smith scored 25 points, Brandon Jennings added 21 and Detroit won for the seventh time in eight road games.
Jennings also had 13 assists for Detroit, which went ahead for good midway through the first quarter and built a 21-point lead late in the first half. The margin reached 28 points in the fourth quarter as the Pistons rolled to their biggest win of the season.
The Pistons' Kyle Singler played 27 minutes off the bench and recorded 10 points on 4 of 9 shooting with eight rebounds and a blocked shot.
Heat 121, Hawks 119
At Miami, LeBron James scored 38 points, Michael Beasley made two free throws with 9.2 seconds left to put Miami up for good, and the Heat beat Atlanta in overtime.
The Heat wasted an early 13-0 lead, then rallied from seven points down in the final 90 seconds of the fourth quarter. Ray Allen made three free throws with 8 seconds left in regulation to send it to overtime, after getting fouled by Atlanta's DeMarre Carroll.
Pelicans 113, Kings 87
At Sacramento, Calif., Tyreke Evans made a memorable return, scoring a season-high 25 points and adding 12 assists to help New Orleans snap a four-game losing streak.
The Pelicans pulled away in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Kings 36-23 to salvage their only victory on a five-game road trip. Evans was a major factor in the second half, scoring 13 points.
Grizzlies 104, Jazz 94
At Memphis, Tenn., Zach Randolph recorded 22 points, 10 rebounds and dished out a season-high seven assists for Memphis.
The Grizzlies' bench put up 51 points, led by Jerryd Bayless, who scored 17. Mike Miller added 15 and Jon Leuer 11.
Suns 117, Lakers 90
At Phoenix, Gerald Green hit six 3-pointers and scored 22 points and Miles Plumlee grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds.
Plumlee added 17 points while having his way inside with an ailing Pao Gasol in the Suns' third straight win.
Warriors 89, Nuggets 81
At Denver, David Lee had 28 points and 10 rebounds for his ninth straight double-double.
Stephen Curry, battling foul trouble much of the night, added 14 points in the first meeting between the teams since the Warriors, as the sixth seed, ousted third-seeded Denver 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs last spring.
Pacers 103, Nets 86
At New York, Lance Stephenson scored a career-high 26 points in his hometown, Paul George also had 26, and the Indiana Pacers went on to their third straight easy victory.
Stephenson, who recorded his NBA-leading third triple-double of the season Sunday in a rout of Boston, did most of his damage as a scorer, back where he did plenty of it in high school. He became the career scoring leader in New York state, scoring nearly 3,000 points at Abraham Lincoln High School.
Bobcats 111, Bucks 110, OT
At Charlotte, N.C., Al Jefferson had a season-high 26 points, and Kemba Walker nearly had a triple double as the Bobcats won for the fourth time in five games.
Jefferson was 12 of 23 from the field as the Bobcats (14-15) overcame an 18-point first half deficit.
Knicks 103, Magic 98
At Orlando, Fla., Carmelo Anthony had 19 points before leaving the game with a sprained left ankle in the third quarter.
New York led by 25 points before having its lead cut all the way to a point in the fourth quarter. Beno Udrih hit six straight free-throws in the final 26 seconds to help preserve the win.
Spurs 112, Raptors 99
At San Antonio, Tony Parker had 26 points and eight assists for San Antonio.
Manu Ginobili had 18 points and Danny Green was 4 for 6 on 3-pointers in scoring 14 points for San Antonio (21-7). Kawhi Leonard added 13 points and 10 rebounds after missing Saturday's game due to a dental procedure.