That was one Houdini act the Dallas Mavericks pulled off Friday night at New Orleans Arena.
Down by four points with 55.5 seconds remaining in a game against New Orleans that was slip-sliding away, the Mavs stole a 104-100 triumph over the Hornets before of a stunned crowd of 16,538.
It was the Mavs’ fifth win in their past six games and padded their record to 25-29 going into Sunday’s nationally televised home game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
New Orleans sharpshooter Ryan Anderson barely beat the 24-second shot clock Friday and made a 3-point field goal that gave the inspired Hornets a 100-96 lead with 55.5 to go.
Undaunted, the Mavs first got a 3-pointer from Mike James with 42.8 seconds remaining to inch within 100-99.
Then, Vince Carter’s 3-point dagger with just 6.5 seconds left lifted the Mavs ahead 102-100 and had the reserves on the bench jumping for joy.
Afterward, Carter, who tallied 22 points, said: “You can’t be afraid to shoot it. If you feel confident, take the shot and, hey, shoot it.
“I’ve been around in many situations where I’ve taken the game-winning shot and missed it, and I’ve been in situations where I’ve hit big shots for our teams.
“I’ve never been afraid to take the big shot and deal with the consequences either way, so if I’m ever in that situation I feel comfortable.”
With the much-improved Lakers coming to Dallas, the Mavs knew they couldn’t afford to lose to a Hornets team that’s headed to the NBA Draft Lottery. That’s why those two baskets by James and Carter were so meaningful.
“The great thing was no one ever wavered or lost belief,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Sure enough we were really determined and were able to scratch it out.
“But these games are all going to be hard, we’re going to have to have guys making big shots and we’re going to have to make plays defensively.”
Offensive-minded guard O.J. Mayo produced one of the game’s biggest plays — on defense — when he bounced a ball off the knee of Hornets guard Eric Gordon with 5.8 seconds left.
At the time, the Mavs had just finished celebrating Carter’s major 3-pointer, when the inbounds pass came to Gordon and Mayo reached around from behind and poked it off Gordon’s knee.
Shortly thereafter, Darren Collison iced the game with a pair of free throws with 3.1 seconds to go.
“That’s huge because when [Mayo] deflects that ball off of Gordon it takes the drive and the potential foul out of the equation,” Carlisle said. “We made the plays we had to make, but there’s still room for improvement.
“I’m excited about that. We’re going to keep our enthusiasm about this and keep battling.”
Following a 3-pointer by Carter, the Mavs were nursing a 27-16 lead late in the first period. But the pesky Hornets regrouped and managed to assume a 69-63 lead with 5:32 remaining in the third period.
But with Dirk Nowitzki (25 points) and Elton Brand (13 points) heating up, the Mavs went on an 18-5 run to take an 81-74 lead late in the fourth period.
Still, the Hornets (19-37) wouldn’t go away quietly and appeared on their way to doing what they did on Jan. 5 when they beat the Mavs in Dallas, 99-96 in overtime.
However, the Mavs kicked into another gear after they saw their slim playoff chances about to go away.
“We’ve got to understand no matter how the game is going it’s only over when the buzzer goes off,” James said. “We knew that we got to come down, we got to run our set offense and we got to make a play and we were able to do that.’’