WASHINGTON -- Dirk Nowitzki is the 13th-leading scorer in NBA history. On Wednesday night, in his words, he was reduced to "an expensive decoy."
Nowitzki was held to a season-low nine points, and missed 11 of 14 shots from the field, but the Dallas Mavericks still beat the Washington Wizards 87-78.
Monta Ellis scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half and Vince Carter had 13 as the Mavericks won despite equaling their season low in points.
"It was an ugly game. I think we set the NBA back a couple years today," Nowitzki said.
He rolled his left ankle in the game's first minute, for "probably the 200th time in my career," Nowitzki said. "It was obvious that I wasn't moving well. I didn't get any elevation on my jumper."
The key to the game was Dallas holding Washington scoreless for more than 4 minutes late in the game.
The Wizards led 74-70 with 4:58 to play, but the Mavericks scored nine straight points on a 3-pointer by Carter, a hook shoot by Brandan Wright, two free throws by Carter and a jumper by Ellis to give Dallas a 79-74 lead with 2:14 to play.
Washington didn't score again until John Wall, who led the Wizards with 22 points, made two free throws with 46 seconds to play.
The Mavericks won despite shooting just 38.5 per cent, but they held Washington to 37.5 per cent.
"It was a beautiful game," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle laughed.
"It was such a competitive game, up and down the stretch, whoever won was going to be the survivor."
Trevor Booker had 10 points and a career-high 19 rebounds for Washington.
"We wasted a good defensive effort," coach Randy Wittman said.
It was Dallas' fourth straight win on the road and their eighth straight over the Wizards (14-15), who failed in their attempt to rise above .500 for the first time since Oct. 31, 2009.
It was the second time this season Washington failed to get over the .500 mark.
"It's a great opportunity in front of us, and we continue to get there and we just lay an egg in the next game," Wizards guard Bradley Beal said.
Beal, who shot 4 for 13, was pleased that Washington thwarted Nowitzki.
"Whenever you can hold a great scorer like that down to a minimum, you always love your chances," Beal said.
Ellis, who signed with the Mavericks as a free agent last summer, was a career 77 per cent free throw shooter. This season, he's boosted his percentage to 83, and on Wednesday made 9 of 10.
"I thought tonight was Monta Ellis' best game with us. He had such great command of the game offensively. He was under control, he was finding people," Carlisle said.
Ellis hit all six of his free throws in the fourth quarter.
"I want to get better, for that opportunity down the stretch to make those free throws, because I know they're going to put the ball in my hands," Ellis said.
In its last game, Dallas escaped with a win at Minnesota on Monday. On Tuesday, the NBA released a statement saying that the Timberwolves' Kevin Love should have been awarded two free throws late in a two-point Mavericks' win. Shawn Marion should have been assessed a foul, the NBA said.
The Mavericks finished the first quarter Wednesday on a 15-5 run to take a 25-20 lead.
Washington went on a 9-0 run to take a 36-35 lead with 3:48 to play in the first half. The Wizards led 42-39 at halftime.
The Wizards led through nearly the entire third quarter, surrendering the lead briefly on a 9-0 Dallas run, but led 61-59 after three.
Wall, who had seven rebounds and five assists, but tied a season high with seven turnovers, left the court with about 3 minutes to play in the first quarter. His left eye was cut and after the game he continued to wear a bandage. Wall said he was elbowed in the eye in a scrum, but wasn't sure who hit him.
"I just know there was four of us down there," Wall said.
NOTES: Carlisle declined comment on the NBA's statement about Monday's game. ... Washington swingman Glen Rice, who had surgery on his right wrist last month, had the sutures removed from it Tuesday, Wittman said. ... This was the second consecutive year the Mavericks and Wizards played on New Year's Day in Washington.