Before the game, Nuggets coach Brian Shaw grinned the grin of a healthy skeptic.

He'd been asked about his team's defensive effort against the Bulls, a good one, but dismissed it because, he said, the Bulls "struggle to score" sometimes.

He'd be more impressed, he added, if the Nuggets could do that to Dallas, which came into Saturday night's game at the Pepsi Center sporting the NBA's fifth-highest scoring offense.

He still couldn't have been that impressed.

The stat that mattered was the win column, and the Nuggets put another mark in it by getting a defensive stop in the closing seconds to outlast Dallas in a 102-100 nail-biter for their fifth straight home win. The Nuggets are 6-3 since starting the season 0-3.

The two teams match up again Monday in Dallas.

Getting back to .500 was a tough task despite the Nuggets holding a huge edge from the 3-point line and despite Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle picking up two technical fouls in the second quarter and heading to the showers with the automatic ejection.

The Mavericks fell behind by as many as 17, but clawed back in the game thanks to a third quarter in which the jump shots flowed and the Nuggets turnovers multiplied like Gremlins. By the end of it, the Nuggets were clinging to a six-point lead and had to work in the fourth quarter to keep it.

Shaw, who substituted liberally throughout, as has been the standard early this season, went back to most of his starters with just under 10 minutes left, asking them for a prolonged stretch of high energy to close things out.

And he got it.

But there were scary moments.

The Mavericks took the lead on a Monta Ellis jumper with 7:40 left. The teams traded baskets and leads the rest of the way. Dallas kept things interesting on its defensive end, mixing in a zone defense to keep the Nuggets off-balance.