NEW ORLEANS - Vince Carter's confidence seldom wavers, even when he struggles, as he did for much of the second half Friday night.
But with a two-game winning streak and a playoff push teetering, the veteran Carter responded, making a long three-pointer with 6.5 seconds remaining to lead the Dallas Mavericks to a 104-100 victory against the New Orleans Hornets.
Carter's trey gave the Mavericks a 102-100 lead, and, following a Hornets turnover on the inbounds pass, Darren Collison made a pair of free throws with 3.1 seconds remaining.
Carter had been held to three points in the second half before his clinching 25-footer.
"You can't be afraid to shoot it," said Carter, who finished with 22 points, including 16 in the first half. "I just tried to read the situation, see if a guy was open and try to find somebody. In that situation, I feel comfortable."
Dirk Nowitzki scored 25 points, Elton Brand 13, Collison 11 and O.J. Mayo and Shawn Marion 10 each for the Mavericks, who have won three straight and are 6-2 in February.
"We're really starting to figure things out," Mavericks center Bernard James said. "We finally are starting to learn each other's game, what we're good at and what we're not good at."
Eric Gordon led the Hornets with 23 points but was held to three in the second half. Jason Smith came off the bench to score a season-high 22 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter for the Hornets, who lost their third consecutive game after winning four of five heading into the All-Star break.
Ryan Anderson had 20 points and Anthony Davis 10 for New Orleans. Davis sprained his right knee in the third quarter and did not return. Davis later said the injury was not serious and that he could have returned.
Anderson's three-pointer with 55.5 seconds remaining gave New Orleans a 100-96 lead, but he thought Dallas may have one last gasp.
"People don't realize how long a minute is," Anderson said. "This is the NBA and a lot can happen."
Mike James' three-point shot cut the Hornets' lead to 100-99, and the Hornets' Greivis Vasquez followed with a miss, setting the stage for Carter.
"Any time you lose a game you feel bad, but any time you lose a game that way because of your mistakes it's worse," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "Down the stretch you are up four, you have the ball in your guard's hands and you can't make plays. Back in the day when you see a team with a four-point lead with 50 or 40 seconds on the clock, you are thinking that game is over."
With 5.8 seconds remaining Gordon lost the ball on an inbounds pass from Anderson, sending Collison to the line with 3.1 seconds left.
"It's as big as it gets," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "Down four with a minute to go, the great thing was no one ever wavered or lost belief."
The Hornets gave up 35 points in the first quarter and 30 in the third quarter, yet held the high-scoring Mavericks to 18 in the second. It was the second quarter when New Orleans closed the half on a 25-13 run to erase what had been a seven-point deficit.
"They hit some tough shots, but a lot of it was defensive breakdowns," Williams said. "Why is there this disconnect as far as continuity."
Notes: Dallas had 17 blocked shots, seven by Bernard James . . .Although Vasquez was held to five points, Carlisle lists him as the favorite to win the NBA's Most Improved Player award. Vasquez entered the game averaging 13.9 points. 9.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds, which is nearly twice his previous career averages. He also has a league-high 21 double-doubles. "I think (Vasquez) will win the award just because of how he has picked up his game as an everyday starter," Carlisle said. "A lot of people didn't think he would be able to do what he has been doing.". . . Mavericks center Chris Kaman did not play because of a concussion. Carlisle said Kaman was expected to practice Saturday.