DALLAS (AP) -- After being a starter most of his first eight seasons in the NBA, Jason Terry is coming off the bench this year.
And he's thrilled.
Returning to a role he excelled at in college, Terry showed how much of a spark he can provide with his performance Monday night, scoring 31 points and guiding the Dallas Mavericks on a late 14-4 run that carried them past the Houston Rockets 107-98.
"He just had that look in his eye and his shot really looked good," coach Avery Johnson said. "We are very surprised when he misses; we're kind of spoiled these days."
A starter for Dallas in the finals two years ago and on the club that won 67 games last season, Terry showed his leadership late in the third quarter, scoring seven straight points with Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard on the bench in foul trouble. Then he opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer, a personal 10-0 run that took the Mavericks from down by five to leading by five.
"Not that I can flip a switch, but without those guys out there, I've got to look for my shot," Terry said.
Dallas was up only 91-90 when Terry started the winning burst with two free throws. He also fed Nowitzki on two baskets and hit two more free throws to cap the spurt with the Mavericks in control 105-94.
Nowitzki had 19 points on 7-of-20 shooting, including a 3-pointer that bounced in off the front rim for a big emotional boost during the gamebreaking run. He also had nine rebounds. Howard had 21 points and DeSagana Diop added 10 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks. Jerry Stackhouse scored 16 points on his 33rd birthday, including five in the final rally.
The Rockets came in riding a 3-0 start and a nice roll by Tracy McGrady, who earlier Monday was named the Western Conference's first player of the week for this season. While he had 35 points and eight assists, and Yao Ming had 21 points and 11 rebounds, it wasn't enough to prevent Houston from its first loss under new coach Rick Adelman.
"We've got to be smart," McGrady said. "They did some different things and we weren't able to adjust. ... It's a learning process. We've only been together for about a month."
Adelman hopes to put the lessons learned to good use right away. The Spurs play in Houston on Tuesday night.
"It's tough but that's our challenge," he said. "We have to learn how to beat a good team and get more people involved."
The Rockets shot 42 percent, and that was boosted by hitting 50 percent in the opening quarter. They also were hurt by nobody other than McGrady and Yao cracking double digits.
McGrady, who came in as the league's leading scorer, was 12-of-31. He had 28 points through three quarters, but managed only seven more with the game to be won.
The Mavericks are 3-1, which is notable only because they were 0-4 at this point last season, with a 41-point loss to Houston mixed in. Dallas went on to match the fifth-most wins in league history before getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
Johnson has tweaked things this year, making Devin Harris his starting point guard and Terry his first sub. Johnson has shown his commitment to the plan by keeping Terry as his top reserve even though Harris has missed the last two games with a bruised left thigh. Jose Barea started both games; after a terrific performance last time, he struggled this time, with Terry starting the second half.
Terry started 558 of the first 654 games of his career, including 80 each of the last two seasons, but he embraced Johnson's plan, reminding everyone he won a national championship as a sub at Arizona. He's also set a goal of winning the Sixth Man award. He's off to a good start, having averaged 20 points over the games before this one.
"I'm very comfortable in this role," Terry said. "I'm going to go out there and give us what we need, a good punch off the bench every night."
Dallas C Erick Dampier is expected to take part in his first full practice Tuesday since offseason shoulder surgery. When will he make his season debut? "His body will tell us," Johnson said. "The main thing is, I don't want to rush him." ... Dallas G Devean George (stress reaction in foot) is farther from returning, prompting Johnson to say, "Our inactive list is pretty deep right now." ... Adelman on McGrady being player of the week: "He's definitely deserving. We're 3-0 and he's one of the main reasons." ... Barea came in as the league's top 3-point shooter: 4-for-4. He also was No. 2 in field goal percentage. "That'd be nice at the end of the year," he said.