CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Dirk Nowitzki shrugged off a back problem with 23 points and 16 rebounds to lead the Dallas Mavericks to a 98-88 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday night.

Nowitzki was a game-time decision for the Mavericks because of a lower back strain that sidelined him for the second half of Wednesday night’s loss at Philadelphia. Even during the pregame warmup he said he wasn’t positive he would play because it wasn’t worth “risking anything” this early in the season.

Yet he was on the floor at the opening tip and didn’t appear to be in any pain.

He helped Dallas open a 47-39 lead at halftime with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Nowitzki wasn’t Charlotte’s only problem: The Bobcats were partially done in on by their own shooting woes.

Charlotte shot just 35 percent for the game, and lacked much offensive power with leading scorer Gerald Wallace (16.2 points) out with a chipped bone in his right wrist. The bench also was short when Jumaine Jones had to return to Los Angeles when his pregnant wife went into unexpected labor.

It meant extended playing time for guard Bernard Robinson, who notched five fouls and a pair of turnovers in just over nine minutes of play.

Since opening the season 2-1 to notch their first winning record in franchise history, the Bobcats have lost three straight.

Dallas never trailed, led by 21 early in the fourth quarter and only let the Bobcats make it close in the final minutes.

Devin Harris scored 21 points off the bench for Dallas, Keith Van Horn added 16 and Josh Howard had 12.

Melvin Ely led Charlotte with 14 points. Kareem Rush had 13 and Emeka Okafor finished with 11. Jake Voskuhl made his Charlotte debut after missing the first five games with a sprained ankle. He scored five points in 15 minutes.

Notes: Dallas now heads to Oklahoma City for a Saturday night game against the Hornets. It will be coach Avery Johnson’s first trip to Oklahoma since he spent one season playing for Cameron University, but he wasn’t exactly thrilled to be returning. “I was looking forward to having some gumbo (in New Orleans) on Saturday,” he said. … The Bobcats were asked to name their favorite musical artists in a feature shown on the scoreboard and center Primoz Brezec, a native of Slovenia, drew hearty laughs when he said “Michael Jackson.”

AP-ES-11-11-05 2209EST

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