Nowitzki, who is expected to retire at the end of the season, surpassed the LA Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers legend during the first quarter, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.
The Mavericks lost 129-125 in overtime.
The 40-year-old’s 31,424 points total puts him a place behind Michael Jordan.
LA Lakers’ LeBron James went ahead of Jordan on the all-time list earlier in March, reaching 32,311 points in 1,190 games.
The Pelicans’ Elfrid Payton became the fifth player to record a triple-double in five consecutive NBA games in the win over the Mavericks.
Elsewhere, the Denver Nuggets sealed their place in the play-offs for the first time since 2013 with a 114-105 win at the Boston Celtics.
The San Antonio Spurs secured their ninth straight victory by defeating two-time defending champion the Golden State Warriors 111-105.