LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers looked like the team with the NBA's best record in stretches. They were flat and sloppy at other times, yet still pulled out the win.
"We'll take the win, but we know we can play better," he said. "We came out a little flat, but it's not going to be merry every night. It's a good win for us to grit it out and fight it out against a tough team."
Matt Barnes added 19 points off the bench, and Blake Griffin had 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Clippers (29-8), who took sole possession of the league's best record from Oklahoma City with their third straight win overall.
"We're not going to win pretty all the time," Barnes said.
Vinny Del Negro earned his 100th victory in his 184th game as Clippers coach, making him the fastest to reach the century mark in franchise history. But he was in no mood to note the occasion, clearly irked by his team's defensive breakdowns and its 21 turnovers.
"It wasn't a very productive game," Del Negro said. "We weren't as consistent as we need to be. We had so many turnovers, it was hard to get a rhythm offensively. When we're struggling offensively, we got to lock down defensively."
Darren Collison scored 22 points for Dallas. O.J. Mayo added 17 and Dirk Nowitzki had 15. At 13-23, the Mavs fell 10 games below .500 for the first time since March 30, 2000, two months after Mark Cuban bought the team. They've lost four in a row overall and three straight on the road, where they are 5-16.
"This is painful right now, to be losing like this when we were so close," Shawn Marion said. "It seems like when we get right there, we're going to do something to mess it up. We played a solid game, but it just seemed like the little things kept adding up and it killed us."
The Clippers led the entire first half, fell behind by 10 points in the third quarter and then regained the lead for the first time in the fourth on Paul's steal and layup that made it 82-80.
They took the lead for good on Barnes' 3-pointer, which keyed an 8-0 run. Los Angeles forced former Clipper Chris Kaman into two misses and Collison airballed another shot in that stretch as the Clippers went ahead 90-83.
Nowitzki's jumper pulled Dallas to within 95-93. Griffin hit a turnaround jumper to give the Clippers a four-point lead before Collison missed a 3-pointer in the right corner.
"My performance was pretty poor. I need to do a much better job of taking care of the ball," Griffin said. "But I love the way our second unit came in during the end of the third and got us back."
Barnes grabbed a defensive rebound and Caron Butler came up with two big offensive boards off consecutive misses by Griffin and Paul in the final minute. After the Clippers took two timeouts, Paul missed an 18-footer with 24 seconds left and Dallas called timeout. Collison scrambled looking for a shot before he passed to Vince Carter, who missed.
"Those offensive rebounds at the end just killed us," Marion said.
Paul got fouled and made both shots for a 99-93 lead while fans chanted "MVP!"
"In the fourth quarter, we needed to stay with the aggressiveness," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "But they turned it up and we just didn't get it done. We've got to keep working. We've got to do a few things better, get some more rebounds and knock down some more shots."
Los Angeles played flatly in the third, when the Mavs used a 22-8 run to take a 75-65 lead. Marion's 3-pointer early in the spurt gave Dallas its first lead of the game and snapped the Clippers' streak of leading for 10 straight quarters. The Clippers rallied at the end of the period, scoring seven in a row, punctuated by Barnes' 3-pointer that beat the buzzer to trail 75-72.
"It's disheartening losing these games," former Clipper Elton Brand said. "I haven't been through a stretch like this in a long, long time. We've been competing in most of these games, and we just have to find a way to close them out and win them."
The Clippers led the entire first half, sparked by Barnes' 11 points, including three 3-pointers. The Mavs scored seven straight points to tie the game at 50-all on Collison's hook before Paul got around Mayo to hit a running jumper at the buzzer, keeping the Clippers ahead 52-50 at the break.
Jack Ramsay previously held the Clippers' franchise record for fastest coach to 100 wins, doing so in 223 games with the Buffalo Braves. Former Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy reached the mark in 224 games. Clippers G Jamal Crawford returned after missing the past two games because of a sore left foot. "The foot is OK, the legs were a little heavy," he said. Clippers F Grant Hill did not make his expected return after missing all season with a right knee bone bruise. Coach Vinny Del Negro said Hill has not had any setbacks and would practice a couple more days before being evaluated for Saturday's game against Orlando. The Mavs signed free-agent guard Mike James to a 10-day contract on Wednesday. The 10-year NBA veteran had played two games with the Texas Legends of the NBA D-League.