DALLAS – Jason Terry scored 25 points and reserve Jerry Stackhouse added 16 to lead the Dallas Mavericks past the New Orleans Hornets 89-80 Friday night.

Josh Howard added 15 points for Dallas, but reigning league MVP Dirk Nowitzki continued to struggle. He had only seven points on 2-of-8 shooting, and is 8-of-23 from the floor over the last two games.

New Orleans had taken its first lead midway through the third before Terry scored eight points in a 10-5 spurt that gave Dallas a 61-57 advantage heading into the final quarter.

The Mavericks opened the fourth by scoring the first six points to stretch the lead to 10. New Orleans got within 83-78 in the final minute before Dallas put it away by hitting six straight free throws in the final 30 seconds.

Dallas coach Avery Johnson had been critical of his team’s defense in recent days, but he watched his squad hold New Orleans to 36 percent shooting.

After giving up an average of 112 points in three games last week, the Mavericks had their best defensive performance since holding Portland to 80 on Nov. 30.

Chris Paul scored 22 points for the Hornets on 9-of 21 shooting. Tyson Chandler had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Peja Stojakovic chipped in 10 points.

Dallas, which led 43-35 at halftime, went ahead 51-44 on Howard’s layup with 8:09 left in the third. The Hornets answered with an 8-0 run to take their only lead of the game.

Stojakovic hit a pair of 3-pointers, then Paul stole the ball from Nowitzki and made a nifty layup to give New Orleans its first lead of the game with 5:38 left in the third.

Before he took over the game offensively, the 6-foot-2 Terry blocked the 7-foot-1 Chandler’s layup attempt. Terry followed with a 3-pointer to give the Mavericks a 54-52 lead.

Then Dallas made another nice defensive play to take the lead for good. Stackhouse blocked Bobby Jackson’s shot and fed Terry for another 3-pointer to put Dallas on top 57-54.

After taking the lead, New Orleans missed nine of its final 10 shots to end the third.

New Orleans was just as cold in the first quarter, hitting just 5-of-25 shots, and finished the half 14-of-45 from the floor.

Dallas took advantage, building a 41-25 lead in the second quarter on Terry’s layup.

The Hornets’ struggles were epitomized in a four-possession stretch in the second quarter.

Rasual Butler and Stojakovic airballed short jumpers on consecutive shots. Two possessions later on a pass seemingly intended for no one, Chandler fired the ball into the second row of seats.

Notes: Harris returned to the starting lineup after missing Wednesday’s game against Toronto with a stomach virus. … New Orleans reserve Melvin Ely missed the game with fractured left eye socket he sustained Wednesday against Denver. … Morris Peterson (back) and Stojakovic (groin) returned for the Hornets after each missed the last two games.

AP-ES-12-14-07 2307EST

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