12/14/2007 Mavericks vs. New Orleans

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The combinations were different. The substitution patterns tweaked. The Mavericks shook some things up Friday night and out tumbled a win.

It wasn’t always pretty. The Hornets made their runs. There were defensive breakdowns and offensive bog downs for Dallas. The reigning MVP never found his shot.

But the good outweighed the bad, as the Mavs outlasted Southwest Division rival New Orleans 89-80 two weeks after falling in overtime in the Big Easy. Jason Terry scored a game-high 25 for Dallas, which has won three of its last four.

“I thought for most of the game we executed the game plan,” Mavs coach Avery Johnson said. “We executed our system. They missed some shots, but we were very competitive tonight. Lots of energy.”

Especially defensively. After torturing Dallas a couple weeks back, Chris Paul was held in relative check. David West and Peja Stojakovic – 17 combined points – were shut down. The Hornets as a team were held to 36-percent shooting and the 80 points allowed were the fewest given up by the Mavs since Portland hit the same number Nov. 30.

Jerry Stackhouse typified the basket-protecting effort with a game-turning third-quarter block. With the score tied at 54-all – the Hornets had just taken the lead moments earlier – New Orleans jitterbug Bobby Jackson broke away from an apparent easy layup.

Trailing the play, Stackhouse perfectly timed his leap and pinned Jackson’s shot. With the crowd on its feet, the Mavs streaked the other way. Terry would nail a 3-pointer for a 57-54 lead. Dallas wouldn’t trail again.

“That block that Stackhouse had,” Johnson said, “that was really a turning point the game for us.”

The start was promising for the Mavs, who welcomed Devin Harris back to the starting lineup. The Hornets scored only 13 points in the first quarter – a low for a Dallas opponent this season – and didn’t score for the last 4:38, missing eight straight shots.

Harris scored four and had three assists in the first period, as Dallas scored 24. Harris’ backcourt partner, Terry, was clicking with seven points. The 11-point lead grew to 16 before New Orleans began to battle back.

The Mavs (15-9) held Hornets (14-9) off down the stretch. Stackhouse (16 points) knocked down a jumper with 4:48 left for a 78-64 lead that effectively closed out New Orleans. Along the way, there were several new/interesting wrinkles.

Foul trouble and fatigue forced Johnson into a big lineup of Eddie Jones, Josh Howard, Brandon Bass, Juwan Howard and Stackhouse in the second quarter. No point guard. No problem.

“That lineup held its own,” Johnson said. “That is something we have kept in our back pocket and we wanted to try it tonight and we thought it bought us a few minutes because Devin was a little fatigued there for a minute.

“His energy was a little down, getting over this stomach deal and Jet was in foul trouble, so I had other options and that is what we have been planning for.”

DeSagana Diop, who spent the first 14 games as starting center, didn’t play in the first half. He did, however, play a key role in the second half. He finished around the basket with authority, including a devastating one-handed slam to open the fourth period.

Johnson admitted there was a motivating element to benching Diop, who scored seven and added five rebounds.

“I had the energy,” Diop said. “He benched me the first quarter and the first half. I had a lot of energy because I hadn’t played the first two quarters. I got out here and hustled for loose balls.”

Dirk Nowitzki (season-low seven points) took only eight shots, making just two. He still battled for 32 minutes, grabbed nine rebounds and opened lanes up for his teammates with six assists. Josh Howard finished with 16 points and 10 boards.

The job done against Paul was admirable. He torched the Mavs for 33 in the 112-108 win on Dec. 1. Though he scored 21 (9-of-21 shooting), he racked up a season-low three assists.

“He’s so herky-jerky with the ball and just pounds the hell out of the ball,” Stackhouse said. “I don’t think it was really any one defensive scheme. It was more energy and effort. I thought we had the effort tonight to try to fight over and then when guys didn’t fight over the bigs stepped over and tried to play him and did a great job with that, too.

“A guy like that who has the ball in his hands all the time and is as crafty as he is off the dribble it’s hard to contain him for a whole game, but I thought we did so in the important parts of the game.”

The division road winds to Houston on Saturday night. The Mavs have taken the first two against the Rockets and would clinch the four-game season series with another win.

“We just need to see the carry over and see where we are,” Johnson said. “You know, Houston is coming off of a big win against Detroit and we had to come back at the very end to win that game the last time.

“Again, we are in the same boat. But hopefully we can go down there and at least play consistent. That is all I want, for us to play consistent. If we can do that, then we feel we have a chance.”