No, the Dallas Mavericks’ first-round playoff series against the New Orleans Hornets won’t be slam-dunk simple. Not with the way the Mavs have played on the road, and Dirk Nowitzki is limping, and ,,, well, you know the story. But of the MVP candidates in the West, I’d much rather face Chris Paul than Kobe Bryant. You?
The Mavs clinched seventh place in the West and avoided a match-up with the Los Angeles Lakers with last night’s season-ending 111-98 victory over the Hornets. Though the American Airlines Center crowd briefly booed while Dallas trailed by 11 in the third quarter, Kidd polished off his 100th triple-double, and the Mavs rallied to finish a relatively rocky regular season at 51-31. A far cry from last year’s 67-15 -- and, as we all know, that’s a good thing.
Fittingly, the playoffs begin right back where the Kidd experiment commenced. In his first game as a Mav on February 20 in New Orleans, Kidd teased us all with a first possession perfect alley-oop assist on a Josh Howard dunk. The possibilities, we dreamed, were endless. But the Mavs lost that game and went only 16-13 after acquiring Kidd. They were 35-18 before the trade.
Which somehow brings us comfort out of chaos.
The Mavs, remember, were up 2-0 on the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals. Everything, it seemed, was set up perfectly. Last spring the Mavs were the record-setting No. 1 seed with home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, initially facing a Golden State team that scrambled just to get into the playoffs. Everything, it seemed, was set up perfectly.
This April, it ain’t set up perfectly at all. Perfect.
Dirk is still hobbled by a gimpy left ankle. Kidd is sometimes thinking rather than reacting. The Mavs were only 17-24 on the road. And we all know they’re psychologically frail, having gone 2-8 in their last 10 playoff games. Worst of all, they’re decided underdogs.
As you know, I poo-pooed the Kidd trade from the start, and I’ve doubted this team all spring. But this is the perfect match-up. The Hornets don’t have a center (Tyson Chandler) that will dominate Erick Dampier. David West is a rising star, but he isn’t one of those smaller, quicker, pesky defenders that irritate Nowitzki. And veterans Eddie Jones and Devean George were brought here specifically to shadow jump shooters like Peja Stojakovic. Which brings us to Paul, who, granted, will dribble circles around Kidd.
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Still, experience often negates talent in the playoffs. Sometimes when you least expect it.
Prediction: Mavs in six. --Richie Whitt
Game 1: Sat., April 19 Dallas at New Orleans 6 p.m. ESPN Game 2: Tue., April 22 Dallas at New Orleans 6 p.m. TNT Game 3: Fri., April 25 New Orleans at Dallas 7 p.m. ESPN Game 4: Sun., April 27 New Orleans at Dallas 8:30 p.m. TNT Game 5: * Tue., April 29 Dallas at New Orleans TBD TBD Game 6: * Thu., May 1 New Orleans at Dallas TBD TBD Game 7: * Sat., May 3 Dallas at New Orleans TBD TNT
*: If necessary