Howard scored 11 of his 15 points in the first quarter, and Dirk Nowitzki had 28 points and nine rebounds to help the Mavericks stretch their winning streak to nine games with an 85-73 victory over the short-handed New Orleans Hornets on Saturday night.
Howard, who also had seven rebounds, returned to the lineup for Friday night’s 95-92 win at San Antonio after missing eight games due to a sprained ankle. On Saturday, Howard had more energy than his teammates, who were playing their sixth game in nine nights.
“Playing a back-to-back caught up with us, so we needed Josh’s fresh legs,” Dallas’ Jerry Stackhouse said. “He got us off to a great start and everybody fed off that.”
Howard had 11 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, while Dallas was opening the game on a 21-3 spurt. His 3-pointer with 6:32 left in the first period capped the run. The Mavericks were on such a roll (hitting nine of their first 12 field goal attempts) that Nowitzki, their top scorer, didn’t even take a shot during the early run.
“It’s good to be back,” Howard said. “I was knocking my shot down in the first quarter. Any time I can knock it down, that takes pressure off my teammates and helps me get my drive back.”
The Hornets’ defense was determined to take away Howard’s ability to drive to the basket, but Howard used the shooting room to nail three early long-range jumpers.
“We figured we’d give him the 3s,” Hornets forward Desmond Mason said. “If he made ‘em, we’d pat him on the back. We didn’t want him to drive.”
Erick Dampier added 11 points for the Mavericks, who have won 18 straight over the Hornets dating to November 1999, when the franchise was in Charlotte. That’s the longest active streak in the NBA.
“I won’t say we own them, but we know their personnel real well,” Howard said. “I was in high school when it started.”
“Those two are our large scorers from the outside,” Tyson Chandler said. “When we don’t have that threat, teams will pack the paint on you.”
Dallas built a 35-16 edge after the first quarter by shooting 13-of-19, with the Mavericks converting eight turnovers into 16 points.
Nowitzki was scoreless with 5:37 left in the first quarter, but he caught up fast by finishing the half 8-for-9 from the field and contributing 19 first-half points to help Dallas to a 51-36 lead at the break.
Nowitzki picked up three fouls in the first five minutes of the third quarter and went to the bench with four fouls with 7:12 left in the third.
But Dallas was still able to bring a 70-53 advantage into the fourth quarter.
The Mavericks, who reached the NBA finals for the first time last season, have recovered after opening the season with four straight defeats.
“We knew we were better than that,” Stackhouse said. “You don’t want to start like that. Doubt starts creeping in. But we’ve managed to turn it around.”
The nine straight wins ties for fifth longest streak in Mavericks history. … Hornets G Bobby Jackson picked up two technicals and an ejection when he protested a foul call with 2:18 left in the third quarter. Teammates had to restrain Jackson from going after referee Derek Richardson, pulling Jackson toward the locker room. That further shortened the Hornets’ bench. Hornets F Linton Johnson also was hit with a technical for arguing in the fourth quarter. … Mavericks F Devean George missed his fourth straight game because of a sprained right knee. George is expected to resume practicing on Monday. …The Hornets had a season-low first half.