NEW ORLEANS -- Often the smallest player on the court, Chris Paul might have looked silly flexing both arms beside his head if his all-around game wasn't so big.
Paul narrowly missed his seventh triple-double this season with 31 points, 17 assists and nine rebounds, and the New Orleans Hornets defeated the Dallas Mavericks 102-92 on Sunday to earn a split in a key late-season home-and-home series.
Afterward, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said his club could do little to slow Paul.
"We tried everything. We were trapping him ... pretty much the whole fourth quarter," Carlisle said. "He just found ways to either draw fouls or get the ball to other people. That's what great players do. He was great down the stretch."
Paul had 20 of his points in the second half. For the game, he shot 11-of-15 from the field -- making both 3-pointers he tried -- and 7-of-7 from the foul line.
"Paul was setting everybody up and he was scoring, so that's why he's one of the best point guards in the league," said Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, who had 29 points and 14 rebounds.
David West scored 31 points to help New Orleans (49-31) move a game ahead of Dallas for the sixth playoff seed in the Western Conference. Each team has two games left in the regular season.
"Obviously, you want to be seeded as high as possible, but it's all about us playing well," Paul said. "Whatever seed we get, I think we'll be fine."
Josh Howard added 15 points for the Mavericks, who had pulled even in the standings with New Orleans on Friday by beating the Hornets in Dallas. In the rematch, the Mavericks led for much of the third quarter and stayed close throughout, which once again forced Paul and West each to play more than 40 minutes while combining for nearly two-thirds of the Hornets' offense.
New Orleans' two All-Stars have been averaging more than 40 minutes for a month now, meaning they won't be all that well rested for the playoffs.
"We understand that is what it's going to take," West said. "We are not going to back down from that challenge."
The Hornets did get help on defense with James Posey playing his second game since returning from a left elbow injury. In the fourth quarter, Hornets coach Byron Scott went with a small lineup, putting the 6-foot-9 West at center and having the 6-foot-8 Posey guard Nowitzki.
The move paid off. Nowitzki was held to four points in the final period and could not get enough help as the Hornets outshot the Mavericks, 55.6 percent to 42.5 percent.
"They started double-teaming me everywhere," Nowitzki said. "We've got to make some shots on the weak side and just 42 percent isn't good enough if we let them shoot 55."
The Hornets led 77-73 early in the fourth quarter after Paul backed in on Jose Juan Barea, then spun around him for a layup as he was fouled. The 6-foot Paul celebrated, to the delight of the home crowd, by clenching both fists above his shoulders as he flexed both arms.
New Orleans never trailed after that, but Dallas declined to go quietly.
Jason Kidd's 3-pointer tied it at 83 with 4:11 to go before the Hornets slowly began to pull away again on West's tough turnaround fade from the baseline. Paul then found Butler for a fast-break layup as he was fouled by Kidd, giving New Orleans a 91-86 lead.
Jason Terry, who had 13 points, pulled Dallas to 95-92 on a driving scoop over West, but Posey salvaged a botched drive to the hoop with a pass to the corner, where Peja Stojakovic drilled a crushing 3-pointer to make it 98-92 with 1:09 left.
"Peja was at the right place at the right time," Posey said. "I was attacking the basket and I was out of control myself - I can admit that - and I was able to see Peja over there."
Butler finished with 13 points and Stojakovic 11. Brandon Bass had 13 points for Dallas.
Trailing 45-44 at halftime, Dallas surged ahead by seven early in the third quarter, with Nowitzki's two jumpers highlighting an 8-0 run. New Orleans didn't score until West's free throws with 7:13 left in the period.
Butler's 3 made it 54-50, and the Hornets slowly pulled even as West's driving scoop off the glass tied it at 69 heading into the fourth quarter.
- The halftime score was shown as 45-45 until officials reviewed what was initially ruled a 3 by Kidd late in the second quarter. The basket was changed to a 2-point field goal.
- Posey was called for a technical on what officials said was a hard foul on Nowitzki, though Posey said Nowitzki was out of control and already going down when they collided.
- Dallas had 14 offensive rebounds and 18 second-chance points.
- Scott said C Tyson Chandler is nearly ready to get back on the court, but he likely won't allow him to play until Wednesday's regular season finale at San Antonio on Wednesday. The Hornets also play Monday at Houston.
- Dallas finishes its regular season with home games against Minnesota on Monday night and Houston on Wednesday night.