J.J. Barea scored a season-high 23 points and Jason Kidd had 13 points and 13 assists to help offset a season-low 10 from Nowitzki, sending the Mavericks to a 94-90 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Monday night.
Thanks mostly to Barea, the Mavs jumped ahead by 21 points early in the second quarter. Nowitzki had a single basket in that stretch -- then didn't score again until two free throws at the start of the fourth quarter.
The Hornets had tightened things up by then and kept the game close until the final minute, when Nowitzki still managed to come through, hitting a 20-footer, then a tough left-handed layup off an inbounds pass with 20.3 seconds left.
Dallas still needed two free throws from Jason Terry with 12.9 seconds left to seal its fourth straight victory and a second straight loss for New Orleans.
"Obviously we had a lot of attention on Dirk; you might say we paid too much attention to him," Hornets star Chris Paul said. "But we had a game plan and we had a chance to win at the end. We just didn't."
Paul guided New Orleans' rally, putting up 20 points, 16 assists and five steals. Darius Songaila tied a season high with 12 points and he played only the fourth quarter.
Although eight other Hornets played longer than Songaila, none had more than 11 points.
Dallas let New Orleans back into the game by committing 23 turnovers, five more than its previous worst. Nine came in the second quarter, when New Orleans' bench took turned a potential rout into a tight game.
The Mavs hung in with a little bit from a lot of guys. In addition to Barea and Kidd, Josh Howard scored 14 points, Terry had 12 and Shawn Marion 10. Erick Dampier had eight points and eight rebounds.
The turnovers, however, explain why the Mavericks had to eke out a victory on a night when they shot 55 percent. All those giveaways resulted in 20 fewer shots than the Hornets.
"We gave it away a lot tonight," said Kidd, who had only three turnovers. "That kept them in the ballgame."
Nowitzki came in fifth in the NBA at 27.3 points per game and was averaging 31.5 over his last four. But David West and the Hornets seem to have him figured out; Nowitzki's previous low of 12 points came in an overtime loss to New Orleans in early November.
"They're just running at me aggressive," said Nowitzki, who was 4 of 11. "Every time I faced [the basket], I was looking at two, three guys on my side. Sometimes I spun and then another guy or two guys were there. So I just passed the ball and let other guys make plays."
New Orleans was coming off a home loss to the New York Knicks in which they blew a lead by giving up an 18-0, game-ending run. Despite some extra work on defense during their morning shootaround, they barely protected the lane in the first 14 minutes, giving up runs of 10-0 and 11-0 to fall behind 39-18.
The Hornets essentially dared Barea to beat them, so he did. He scored 19 in 16 first-half minutes.
"I don't think we gave Barea enough respect in terms of his ability to impact the game," West said. "He was getting layup after layup and we didn't have an answer."
Things changed when New Orleans coach Jeff Bower benched all his starters except Paul. With the Hornets getting aggressive on both ends of the court, Dallas scored just 10 points the rest of the half.
Ultimately, though, Dallas' early surge was the difference.
New Orleans managed to tie it at 60 and get within 90-88 with 21.9 seconds left, but the Hornets' only lead was 2-0.
"Dallas is too good a team, too much scoring potential and defense to get yourself that far behind," Bower said. "We battled, but there was a lot to overcome to offset that first quarter."
West scored 11 points and James Posey had 10, including a 3-pointer with 49.6 seconds left that made it 90-86.
The Mavs are 8-1 in games decided by five points or less. They have won their last two by a combined five points and the last three home games by a total of six points. ... Hornets F Ike Diogu, already ruled out for the season, will undergo microfracture surgery on his left knee Tuesday.