DALLAS (AP)—Dirk Nowitzki knew his shooting slump would eventually end.
And with the Dallas Mavericks looking to avoid a third straight close loss, Nowitzki found his offense when his team needed it most.
Nowitzki scored 16 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, and the Dallas Mavericks beat the Hornets for the 15th straight time, 97-88 Saturday night.
“I’ve worked too hard to struggle this much,” said Nowitzki, 10-of-17 from the field after going 8-for-35 in the previous two games. “I have confidence in my shot. There will always be nights when your shot isn’t going to be there. I felt good in warmups. My first couple of shots went in and that helps in building confidence.”
Dallas needed Nowitzki’s shot in the fourth quarter. The Mavericks had lost consecutive two-point games with their star forward mired in a drought.
Nowitzki, who scored a season-low 14 points Thursday night against San Antonio, scored 10 consecutive points to help Dallas pull away after New Orleans crept within three early in the fourth. Nowitzki was 8-of-9 on free throws and had eight rebounds.
“When he is aggressive and mixing his game up, they don’t play him for one particular area of his game,” Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. “He showed up his post-up game, his driving ability, his 3-point shot and his in-between game.”
“It’s very frustrating,” said P.J. Brown, who is in his sixth season with the Hornets. “We can’t figure these guys out. We don’t know what it will take to get over the hump.”
New Orleans pulled within three at 78-75 early in the fourth quarter on Paul’s layup. Nowitzki, who was 5-for-7 in the quarter, answered with a jumper and Erick Dampier followed with a layup to stretch Dallas’ lead to seven.
Nowitzki then hit consecutive 3-pointers and added a pair of jumpers, the last of which put the Mavericks 92-80 with 2:40 left.
“Tonight I got involved in the offense,” Nowitzki said. “I felt good in the first half, my shot was there. I got good looks all night.”
Paul scored six points in a 10-2 run that brought New Orleans to 51-50.
Dallas answered with an 11-2 run of its own to stretch the advantage back to 10 and led 75-67 after three quarters.
J.R. Smith scored 11 points for the Hornets, who fell behind 12-0 to start the game. New Orleans rallied several times, but could never overtake Dallas.
New Orleans coach Byron Scott was critical of his team’s defense.
“We were soft,” Scott said. “That’s why we got down 12-0. We were soft the whole game.”
Dallas forward Adrian Griffin, who was signed as free agent Sunday, made his first start. He had eight points and seven rebounds in 35 minutes. … New Orleans forward Desmond Mason, who is from nearby Waxahachie, scored five points. … New Orleans’ reserves outscored Dallas’ backups 35-23.