DALLAS -- With a great start and a feisty finish, the rolling-at-the-right-time Dallas Mavericks were able to withstand a big game by Chris Paul and beat the New Orleans Hornets 100-92 on Friday night, forcing a tie between the teams for sixth place in the Western Conference.
Now Dirk Nowitzki is eager to see if the Mavs can do it again -- on Sunday, in New Orleans.
"We've won some nice home games, but our true tests are on the road," said Nowitzki, who scored 25 points. "How you respond to some adversity on the road? That's really what determines if you're a good team."
After nearly seven weeks stuck at the No. 8 spot, the Mavericks can grab No. 6 all to themselves by winning the back half of this rare, late-season home-and-home series that Dallas coach Rick Carlisle says is "like a mini-playoff series."
The stakes are big for the Mavericks because winning their three remaining games is the only guarantee they'll keep the sixth seed. They have little margin for error because they'd lose any tiebreaker to the Hornets or Utah Jazz, who lost Friday night to fall a game behind New Orleans and Dallas.
"It's like our playoffs started early," Nowitzki said.
Paul scored 42 points, one shy of his career high, plus had nine rebounds and seven assists. However, he didn't get much help.
David West was the only other double-digit scorer with 20 points and it took him 20 shots. New Orleans trailed by 10 after a few minutes and was down 42-21 midway through the second quarter. Paul scored 17 points in the fourth quarter and pulled the Hornets within four points in the final minute, but they never led on the way to their fourth loss in five games.
"It's the second time in the last few games where I had 40-something points and we lost," Paul said. "It's not about how I do. It's about how we do."
Still missing center Tyson Chandler, New Orleans was outrebounded by 16, with Dallas' Brandon Bass grabbing a career-high 13. Because Paul had to score so much, the Hornets had only nine assists as a team - that's a total of two from everyone but him. They also went 6:16 without a field goal over the first two quarters, then had a longer drought in the third quarter.
"A lot of times he held onto the ball and had to look for his own shot because we took everyone else away," said Mavericks swingman Antoine Wright, who opened the game guarding Paul. "We can live with that."
Players and coaches always say it's hard to beat a team twice in a row, and the Hornets hope that's the case. New Orleans coach Byron Scott perhaps added to his team's desire by accusing the Mavericks of "rubbing it in, showing off, I don't know what you want to call it."
"I'm old school, so it doesn't set well with me," he said. "I hope it doesn't set well with our guys."
Dallas won its third straight and fifth in six games, with Josh Howard the backbone of them all. He's played great in all the wins and missed the only loss to rest an ankle problem that's bothered him all season. This time, he also was playing with a butterfly bandage keeping together the cut over his left eye sustained the previous game.
Howard came out slashing to the basket on passes from Jason Kidd and hitting jumpers when the defense backed off. He scored 15 of Dallas' 30 points in the first quarter, while New Orleans had only 17 that period. He finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds, including two biggies in the final minute.
"Everybody that got in the game tonight was crashing the boards and just doing the right things at the right time," Howard said.
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 Bass scored eight.
James Posey returned to the rotation for the first time since March 27, but he missed his first five shots and finished with five points in 19 minutes. He and Wright were hit with offsetting technical fouls when they went jaw-to-jaw in the first half.
- Scott said Chandler (sore left ankle) probably won't return until one of the final two regular-season games. "It's still a little tender but he's shown some progress," Scott said. "He jogged today and not with a limp like the other day. He says he feels 1,000 percent better."
- The Mavericks improved to 13-1 at home since the All-Star break.
- Dallas missed 13 straight in the second quarter and 17 of 18 to close the first half.
- Mavs C Erick Dampier had a goaltending roundup in the first quarter, getting an offensive one then a defensive one about a minute apart.