12/16/2006 Mavericks @ New Orleans

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Dallas 90 - New Orleans 79 NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Dirk Nowitzki grimaced as if he wanted to be anywhere but a basketball court.

It wasn't only because he had missed eight of his first nine shots, not to mention his first foul shot. When pressed about his health after the game, a sniffling and coughing Nowitzki said he had a sinus infection, but didn't want to use that as an excuse.

Then again, he didn't need one.

The Mavericks' leading scorer this season had 18 of his 20 points in the second half and grabbed 10 rebounds to help Dallas win its third straight game, 90-79 over the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday night.

``At halftime, I know that my team has confidence in me and they want me to keep shooting when I'm open, Nowitzki said. ``I never make excuses. I have sinus infections all the time and I know how to play through them.

Josh Howard scored 23 points, including a 3-pointer that helped Dallas put the game away, while Devin Harris added 13 points and Jason Terry 12 for the Mavericks.

It was the kind of balance New Orleans lacked with starters David West (elbow) and Peja Stojakovic (back) continuing their prolonged absences. And it helped Dallas control much of the first half when Nowitzki was clanging shot-after-shot off the rim.

``We're a team that has a lot of options on offense and obviously that's the way we got to the finals last season, Nowitzki said. ``You can't be a one-man team if you go to the finals. You have to spread it around and attack from a lot of angles and that's what we did tonight.

Chris Paul had 30 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists for the Hornets, who lost the second of two games in New Orleans this week and for the ninth time in 11 games.

Paul's only help came from Rasual Butler, who had 19 points, and reserve Marc Jackson, who finished with 13.

``The one thing (the Mavericks) were doing, being a veteran team, is they were coming down and making sure every time they would get a good shot and move the ball around, three or four passes, Hornets coach Byron Scott said. ``We were coming down - one pass, shot. ... We had to get better shots. We had to move the ball better and make harder cuts.

Nowitzki scored 13 points in the third quarter as he helped Dallas pull away.

``We were still going to call his number, Dallas coach Avery Johnson said.

After New Orleans took its only lead of the game at 42-40, Nowitzki - who came in averaging 24 points - scored six straight points on a jumper, an off-balance runner off of the glass and a fast-break layup.

New Orleans kept hustling, and made on last run when Paul's 3 had the Hornets as close as 76-72 midway through the final period.

Harris seized the momentum back for Dallas with an acrobatic driving scoop through a crowd, and then Howard followed with his third 3 of the game to make it 81-72 with 2:50 to go.

``It was a big shot. I wasn't scared to take it, Howard said.

Dallas also benefited from strong rebounding, finishing with a 50-39 advantage in that category.

One night after a 93-79 victory over Philadelphia, Dallas raced out to an 11-0 lead, and Howard's 10 quick points gave the Mavs a 26-16 advantage after one quarter.

``Josh is quietly maturing right before our very eyes, Johnson said.

The Hornets, who never recovered from a slow start in a loss to San Antonio on Thursday, fought back this time. Butler's driving scoop shot, 3-pointer and pair of mid-range jumpers fueled an 11-4 run that pulled New Orleans to 40-40 by halftime.

``We fought real hard. We were scrappy, said Hornets center Tyson Chandler, who had six rebounds and one block. ``We were in it the entire game, but they just had more firepower than us and they executed at the end.

Notes: Jerry Stackhouse, who had missed four games with a strained right groin, returned to the lineup and had three points in 18 minutes. ... New Orleans' last victory against Dallas was Nov. 17, 1999, about three years before the Hornets moved from Charlotte. The Hornets have lost 19 straight to Dallas. ... Hornets coach Byron Scott is 0-17 all-time against the Mavericks. ... Attendance for the Hornets' third game in New Orleans this season was 16,331, a little more than 1,600 short of a sellout. ... Dallas (17-7) has won 17 of 20 games.