Josh Howard and Dirk Nowitzki each scored 25 points and the Dallas Mavericks held off a late rally led by Chris Paul for a 100-92 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night that ties the teams for the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
It won't stay that way for long -- they meet again Sunday in New Orleans.
Dallas led by 10 after a few minutes and was up 42-21 midway through the second quarter. With 3 minutes left until halftime, the Hornets had fewer points than the 30 the Mavericks scored in the first quarter. New Orleans was still down by 12 with 3:54 left, but Paul pulled them within four in the final minute.
That was it, though, as he missed a layup with 37 seconds left and later came up short on a 3-pointer.
Paul had 42 points, one shy of his career high, with nine rebounds and seven assists.
New Orleans never led on the way to its fourth loss in five games. Dallas won its third straight and fifth in six games, with Howard the driving force.
He's played great in all the wins and missed the only loss to rest an ankle problem that's bothered him all season.
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This time, he also was playing with a butterfly bandage keeping together the cut over his left eye sustained the previous game.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle called this rare late-season, home-and-home matchup "like a mini-playoff series," yet only his club came out playing like it.
Howard set the tone, slashing to the basket on passes from Jason Kidd and hitting jumpers when the defense backed off. He scored 15 points in the first quarter, while New Orleans had only 17 that period.
Nowitzki started slow, but still cracked 20 points for the 22nd straight game.
That's the most in the NBA this season.
Kidd had 15 assists and seven rebounds. He was scoreless until making three free throws in the final 26 seconds. Jason Terry had 18 points and Brandon Bass added eight points and 18 rebounds.
The Mavericks improved to 13-1 at home since the All-Star break.
After playing at New Orleans on Sunday, they'll be back in Dallas for the final two games of the regular season.
The Mavs are guaranteed no worse than the seventh seed if they win out. They may need them all, too, as they would lose tiebreakers with the Jazz and Hornets. Utah is one game behind Dallas and New Orleans.
The Mavs grabbed 16 more rebounds than the Hornets, and limited New Orleans to nine assists. The Hornets went 6:16 without a field goal over the first two quarters, then had an even longer drought in the third quarter.
Paul was pretty much all New Orleans had going. David West was the only other double-digit scorer with 20, but it took 20 shots. West also had 14 rebounds.