Tyson Chandler and Rajon Rondo were the other two Dallas starters who sat out the second night of a back-to-back on Wednesday, and their return helped as well.
Chandler had his 17th double-double with 11 points and 16 rebounds, while Rondo scored just two points but had eight assists and nine rebounds while helping slow Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson early.
Arron Afflalo scored 16 to lead the Nuggets, who had to withstand a rally to beat the travel-weary and short-handed Mavericks at home after four nights off. Denver's five-game winning streak, tied for a season high, ended in the first of four games in five nights.
The 36-year-old Nowitzki looked energized from the start, scoring Dallas' first 10 points as the Mavericks built a 17-4 lead. He was 8 of 18 from the field, making four of five from 3-point range, and added nine rebounds.
The Nuggets got within three late in the first half but were outscored 11-2 to start the third quarter, falling behind by 16 before rallying again.
But Denver never led and couldn't get closer than a six-point deficit to start the fourth quarter. Free throws were partially to blame, with the Nuggets making just 12 of 25.
Lawson, who led Denver with 29 points on Wednesday, didn't make his first field goal until banking in a 3-pointer late in the third quarter. He finished with 11 points and 12 assists.
Jameer Nelson, who started the season with the Mavericks, finished with 14 points before fouling out late in his debut for the Nuggets.
Nelson was playing Dallas for the second time in two weeks, and with a second different team. The first was with Boston after he was included in the Rondo trade. The Nuggets got him this week in a deal that sent Nate Robinson to the Celtics.
Nuggets: Nelson scored in double figures for the first time since Dec. 9, when he had 18 points against Memphis while still with Dallas. ... J.J. Hickson had 13 points and a season-high 14 rebounds.
Mavericks: Nowitzki moved into 22nd place on the career list for 3-pointers, passing Mike Bibby's total of 1,517. ... In their loss to Denver on Wednesday, the Mavericks had eight players in double figures for the third time this season, a first for the franchise. All five bench players reached double figures.
Nuggets: Home against Minnesota on Saturday.Mavericks: At Memphis on Monday.