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Hornets surge late to sting the Mavs

CHRIS Paul sparked the New Orleans Hornets into life after the halftime intermission to lead the home team to a runaway 104-88 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday.

The All-Star point guard scored 21 of his team-high 27 points in the final two quarters and dished out 15 assists as the Hornets cruised to their sixth straight win.

"At halftime, I knew we weren't aggressive enough and I hadn't pushed the tempo. In the second half, I knew that was my job," Paul told reporters.

David West had 19 points and 10 rebounds while Rasual Butler added 18 for New Orleans, which shot 56 percent from the field.

Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks with 27 points, but his team looked jaded after playing out a tough 107-102 win over the San Antonio Spurs a day earlier.

The Mavericks stayed with the Hornets in the first half to be level at 45-45 going into the break but ran out of steam as the contest wore on, making just 39 percent of their shots over the entire game.

New Orleans broke open the game with an 18-6 run midway through the fourth quarter and with Paul running loose on the fast break, the Hornets built a 98-78 lead with 4:45 remaining.

New Orleans improved to 6-0 since the return of center Tyson Chandler, who was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder but sent back to the Hornets after he failed a medical.

Chandler's 10 points and 11 rebounds helped the Hornets (38-22) pull within two games of second place in the Western Conference.

"I just think we're clicking pretty well at this point," West said. "We're just feeling good about what we're trying to do and I think this is a good time of year to be doing that."

Dallas fell to 25-37 with its fifth straight road loss. The Mavericks are currently holding on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

In Denver, Carmelo Anthony returned from a team suspension to score 38 points and lead Denver to a 106-90 win over the Portland Trailblazers, boosting the Nuggets slim NBA Northwest Division lead.

The win gave the Nuggets a 1-1/2 game lead in the Northwest, ahead of the Trailblazers and Utah.

Portland missed its chance to go top of the division this late in the season for the first time in eight years.

Anthony, who was suspended for a game after refusing to come to the bench when told by the coach earlier this week, made sure to sprint to the bench as soon as George Karl beckoned this time.

Anthony's point total was his second highest of the season and his 16 baskets tied his season high.

Before tip-off, Karl suggested his star had learned a valuable lesson and everyone on the team had put the episode behind them.

"'Melo's conversations with me now are probably going to be more frequent, because I want him to understand we need him," Karl said.

"You saw the Detroit game, we didn't have a closer. We played a damn good basketball game and we didn't have a closer."

This time, they didn't need their closer, taking an 81-70 lead after three quarters and staying ahead by double digits the entire fourth period. Anthony took a seat for good with 1:42 left.

Having beaten one divisional rival, Denver will now head to Salt Lake City to face the Jazz, who have won nine straight games.


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