Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hornets move out to 2-0 lead

NEW ORLEANS – The Mavericks were in this position once before under Avery Johnson. In fact, it was worse.

The General’s first playoff experience as an NBA head coach began with back-to-back losses at home to Houston. The series seemed lost.

Those Mavs would come back in 2005, eventually routing the Rockets by 40 in Game 7. These Mavs are staring at the same mountain after dropping Game 2 to the Hornets, 127-103, Tuesday night at New Orleans Arena.

The first-round best-of-7 reconvenes in Dallas for the next two games starting Friday with Game 3. New Orleans is up 2-0 thanks to the brilliance of Chris Paul and the Mavs’ inability to generate scoring opportunities for anyone other than Dirk Nowitzki.

If the Mavs wanted to get the ball out of Paul’s hands early, they did a good job. Trouble was Paul put the ball in the hands of others to score. He had eight assists in the first quarter – just two less than his Game 1 output. Several dishes found his high-flying center Tyson Chandler at the rim.

Not that Paul didn’t want to score. The 6-foot speed demon ended the first quarter with another buzzer beater – he did the same at the end of the same quarter in Game 1 – to give New Orleans a 10-point difference (39-29) going into the second. Paul dipped around Nowitzki to swish a one-handed floater from the corner.

The lead would continue to grow, as the Hornets took a 16-point edge into the break. New Orleans extended it to 25 in the third quarter during a flurry of crowd-erupting 3-pointers and relentless drives, before settling on a 99-79 advantage after three periods.

The Mavs couldn’t make much of a dent in the deficit in the fourth. Johnson’s team got it down to 16 a few times, but Paul and Co. kept a comfortable cushion throughout the quarter. Dallas has dropped all four meetings in New Orleans this season, including two in the regular.

Paul followed up his 35-point, 10-assist playoff debut with another dominating effort. He finished with 32 points, 17 assists, five rebounds and three steals in 39 kinetic minutes. It didn’t matter what defense or what defender the Mavs tried. Paul found a way to beat them all.

Paul had plenty of support. David West (27 points) and Peja Stojakovic (22) and were two of the other five in double figures, as the Hornets shot better than 60 percent for the game. Nowitzki (27 points) couldn’t say the same. Brandon Bass (19 points) did have a second-half spurt, but those who share the lion’s share of responsibility with Nowitzki weren’t nearly as effective.

Jason Kidd, Josh Howard and Jason Terry didn’t make an impact on the game, especially when the outcome was still somewhat in doubt. The same was true in Game 1. The trick is figuring out a way to turn that around before Game 3.

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