- Associated Press - Sunday, March 30, 2014

DALLAS (AP) - Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks can’t seem to turn comfortable leads into easy wins, even with their playoff fate on the line against teams going nowhere.

They avoided what would have been a damaging letdown against Sacramento on Saturday night.

Nowitzki scored 19 points, including eight in the fourth quarter when the Mavericks wiped out a five-point deficit after leading by 17 in the first half and held on to beat the Kings 103-100.

“It’s unfortunate it’s been part of our DNA, and I just feel like we’re going to snap out of it,” said coach Rick Carlisle, whose team has lost six games after leading by at least 16 points this season. “And I know we have to. So I’m a very positive thinker on this.”

The Mavericks beat Sacramento at home for the 20th straight time in the regular season, the longest against any opponent in franchise history.

Dallas (44-30) is in a virtual tie with Memphis (43-29) for eighth place in the Western Conference, a half-game behind Phoenix. The Mavericks have eight games left and finish the regular season at the Grizzlies.

Rudy Gay scored 30 for the Kings.

Monta Ellis had 17 points and six assists and Sam Dalembert added 15 as Dallas avoided a second loss to a West also-ran on a franchise-record eight-game homestand that ends Tuesday night against Golden State, the fourth likely playoff-bound opponent in five games.

“We’ve got to push it,” Dalembert said. “We have to go out every night and fight, try to get anything we can get and see if we can get that second chance.”

The Kings were up 89-84 after a jumper from Jason Thompson when Jose Calderon started a 10-0 run with a 3-pointer and Nowitzki hit a pair of free throws for a tie.

Shawn Marion made two more free throws to put Dallas back in front, then knocked down a 3-pointer from the right corner for a 94-89 lead. Marion finished with 14 points.

Sacramento had a chance to tie in the final seconds after Ellis missed two free throws, but Travis Outlaw’s 3-pointer was short just before the buzzer.

“We played a lot harder, a lot more physical, in the second half,” Sacramento coach Michael Malone said. “But we don’t want to be having to get down by 17 to do it.”

Gay, who had 35 points in another close loss at the Mavericks in January, led Sacramento’s push for its first regular-season win in Dallas since Feb. 27, 2003. The Kings won a playoff game in Dallas in 2004 when they eliminated the Mavericks in five games in the first round.

Gay tipped in his own miss for the Kings' first lead at 81-80 with 7:26 remaining in the game and muscled in a bucket after Ray McCallum missed a layup. Gay also had seven rebounds.

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