Ellis twice put the Bucks ahead in the final 2 minutes, the last time on a jumper for a 92-90 lead with 1:03 remaining.
Nowitzki had 21 points and 20 rebounds for the Mavericks, who had two chances after Ellis' go-ahead basket. Vince Carter, who was 0 of 8 from the field, missed a 3-pointer and Darren Collison's wild shot on a drive wasn't close.
Nowitzki's last 20-20 game was April 3, 2003, against the Los Angeles Lakers, when he had 25 points and 22 boards.
J.J. Redick, playing his second game in Dallas in six days but in a different uniform after he was traded from Orlando to Milwaukee, had nine points at halftime, tied with Mike Dunleavy for the team lead, and finished 14. Dunleavy had 13.
The Mavericks had four chances to break an 88-88 tie with less than 3 minutes left, but Nowitzki turned it over after three straight misses and offensive rebounds.
O.J. Mayo, who had eight points on 2-of-9 shooting while Kobe Bryant dominated with 38 in the Lakers' win Sunday, had 18 points.
The loss dropped the Mavericks, who have made the playoffs 12 straight years, five games behind Houston for the final postseason berth in the Western Conference. Dallas has 26 games remaining.
The Mavericks went on an 8-0 run to finish the third quarter and erase what was Milwaukee's biggest lead to the point
-- four. Elton Brand had a pair of jumpers and Nowitzki and Mayo had one apiece while the Bucks went the last 4 minutes of the quarter without scoring.
The last six minutes of the first half were a series of runs that ended with Dallas leading 49-44. Led by six from Brandan Wright, the Mavericks went on a 14-2 spurt for a 41-31 lead before the Bucks scored 10 straight to pull even.
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Dallas went on an 8-0 run started by two buckets from Darren Collison, who led the Mavericks with 11 points and four assists before halftime, but Dunleavy hit a 3-pointer with 2 seconds left to pull the Bucks within five.
The Bucks missed their first six shots and committed three turnovers while Dallas was building an 11-0 lead, but the Mavericks gave it back with an equally inept stretch bridging the first and second quarters.
The Mavericks went 5 minutes without a basket from late in the first quarter to early in the second before the drought ended when Nowitzki grabbed one of his 11 first-half rebounds for a layup after three Dallas misses.
Drew Gooden, who hadn't played in six games and sat out 15 of the previous 16, had eight points in the first half for the Bucks, one shy of his season high. He was the Milwaukee TV crew's choice for the halftime interview.
NOTES: The Bucks suspended C Samuel Dalembert for the Dallas game for an unspecified violation of team policy. He was relegated to a backup role after the emergence of Larry Sanders, although he did have 35 points, a career high, and 12 rebounds off the bench Feb. 5 against Denver. ... Mavericks G Anthony Morrow played just the final 3.9 seconds in Sunday's loss to the Lakers, his first game in uniform after coming over in a deadline trade with Atlanta. He got in the first quarter against the Bucks, and was 0 of 2 from the field in 3:41. ... Nowitzki drew a duck and a scowl from Dallas coach Rick Carlisle when an errant baseball pass on an inbound play flew over Carlisle's head out of bounds for a turnover 29 seconds into the game. ... The Bucks went into the game with three straight losses by three points or fewer, just the third time that's happened in franchise history.
Press; By SCHUYLER DIXON]
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