Dallas 97, New Orleans 87 (F)

DALLAS, April 25 (AP) Even with Jason Terry guarding him, the crowd booing him and Dirk Nowitzki setting the tone for a renewed intensity among the Dallas Mavericks, Chris Paul insisted being on the road in the playoffs wasn't much different than being at home.

Well, except for that whole thing about him and his New Orleans Hornets teammates putting the ball in the basket with ease.

"I think we got a lot of shots we wanted,'' Paul said. "We just missed them.''

With 13 of Paul's first 16 shots falling out instead of in, and fellow All-Star David West clanging 11 of his first 14, the Hornets couldn't get into a groove until it was too late. Nowitzki and Terry came up big on both ends of the court, pulling Dallas right back into this first-round series with a 97-87 victory in Game 3 on Friday night.

Nowitzki had 32 points, 19 rebounds and six assists to get the Mavericks within 2-1. Game 4 is Sunday night in Dallas, where the Hornets haven't won since January 1998.

"We wanted to make sure we made it a series and win this first one,'' Nowitzki said. "They're going to keep coming. It's going to take the same effort, the same intensity.''

And, very likely, the same new lineup.

Terry replaced Jerry Stackhouse as a starter and replaced Jason Kidd as Paul's primary defender. The MVP candidate went from ringing up consecutive games with at least 30 points and 10 assists - something nobody had ever done in his first two playoff games - to having 16 points and 10 assists.

Terry cut off Paul's first step early and the speedster seemed a lot more content running the offense from the 3-point line. He kept getting the ball to West in hopes he would find his touch, but that didn't work either.

"Jet had a lot of energy. It takes lot energy to guard Paul,'' Dallas coach Avery Johnson said.

Paul finished 4-of-18 and West was 6-of-20 for 14 points. His late surge helped New Orleans cut a 17-point deficit to 90-83 with 2 minutes left, but the Hornets couldn't close the gap.

"We can't have the type of stretches I had to start the game off,'' West said. "That really put us in a hole.''

New Orleans' only consistent scorer was Jannero Pargo, who had 30 points, his most of the season and most ever in a playoff game. Peja Stojakovic was the only other double-digit scorer with 13. The Hornets shot just 38 percent.

"They came out with a Game 7 mentality, we came out with a Game 3 mentality,'' New Orleans coach Byron Scott said. "From the start, they outworked us. They were more physical, more aggressive.''

Terry gave the offense a lift, too, with 22 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:39 left to help hold off the Hornets' final surge. He had six assists. Kidd had eight points, 11 rebounds and five assists.

Josh Howard scored 18 points for Dallas, but was only 5-of-16.

With all their playoff experience, the Mavs opened the series with two strong quarters. Then came six poor ones, which happened to coincide with the six best for the Hornets. Dallas players insisted they'd be better simply by being home - and they were right.

The Mavericks led by 11 points in the first quarter and were up by seven at halftime. Then came a third quarter that might get NBA conspiracy theorists going.

Dallas took 22 free throws in the period, compared to just seven for New Orleans. Yes, the Mavericks went to the rim harder than the Hornets. They also were aided by getting into the bonus just 3:17 into the quarter.

"They shot more in one quarter than we did for the game,'' Paul said - accurately. The Hornets took only 13 free throws, making them all. Dallas made 15 in the third quarter alone.

The game, and series, nearly turned midway through the third quarter. With Dallas up 62-54, Nowitzki was conked from behind by Tyson Chandler, then run into by Pargo. He was sprawled on the court, the crowd silenced.

Then last season's MVP got up and hit four straight free throws, then a jumper.

"You could tell from the start he was really into it,'' Scott said.

So, how did Paul's first road game and his first playoff loss change his mind-set?

"Now we're trying to win it in five games,'' he said. "This is fun. I love this. We lost tonight, but we get to see them again Sunday. This isn't the end of the road.''

Notes: Dallas won for only the third time in its last 13 playoff games. ... Paul missed shots at the end of the first two quarters, then couldn't get one off at the end of the third, with a bump by Kidd helping prevent it. ... Pargo's first miss came with 3:21 left in the third quarter. His second miss came a half-minute later. ... Johnson was tightlipped about lineup changes before the game, joking that Juwan Howard would be at point guard. Told about it, Howard grinned and bragged about his point-forward skills.


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