There were whispery indications that the Hornets were comfortable losing in order to set up a playoff matchup with Dallas. There were whispery indications that the Mavs were desperate to win in over to set up a playoff matchup with New Orleans. Fine. Match.com couldn't pair these two lovebirds up any better.
The Mavericks rallied in the second half of Wednesday’s regular-season finale for a 111-98 victory over New Orleans. The Hornets were locked into the No. 2 Western playoff spot, cooperated with Dallas earning the No. 7 playoff slot, and starting this weekend, each of the teams gets its wish.
(Here's the Mavs-Hornets playoff schedule:
Game 1, Sat, April 19, Dallas at New Orleans, 6 pm, ESPN
Game 2, Tue, April 22, Dallas at New Orleans, 6 pm, TNT
Game 3, Fri, April 25, New Orleans at Dallas, 7 pm, ESPN
Game 4, Sun, April 27, New Orleans at Dallas, 8:30 pm, 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)
The Mavs had no desire to open against the Lakers, Kobe Bryant, and maybe an NBA hierarchy that might looooove to see LA advance. The Hornets apparently felt Denver’s Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony present tricky challenges and were therefore cool with settling on the Mavs.
Said Dirk Nowitzki of his team’s thoughts: “(The Lakers) are pretty much are the favorites. To me, right now they’re probably the best team in the West, so we definitely didn’t want to face them in the first round.”
Said New Orleans coach Byron Scott of his team’s thoughts: “We didn’t care who we played, to be honest with you. We know Dallas is going to be tough in the first round, Denver would have been tough, so it really didn’t matter.’’
Is it just me, or should the Mavs take that as an insult?
What the upstart Hornets will get: a 51-win Mavs team that is inconsistent but seasoned, that is capable of earning AAC boos while falling behind by double-figures in the second half before storming to a 30-6 comeback run, that has enough weaponry to survive a 12-point effort from Dirk Nowitzki because Jason Terry scored 30 and Jason Kidd joined the exclusive 100-triple-double fraternity.
“There were a lot of shots that presented themselves for me and I tried not to think about it and just catch and shoot,” said Kidd, who hit four 3’s in the third period alone on the way to 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. “Whatever the defense gives me, I try to take advantage of it whether it’s driving to the basket or shooting 3s.’’
But Kidd’s handling of MVP candidate Chris Paul was about more than just his shooting – and hopefully, it’s about more than just one early-starting Wednesday night. The Hornets point guard was good for 20 points and 10 rebounds – solid, to be sure, but that 20/10 represents CP3’s average. Kidd was very effective muscling Paul down low when the Mavs were on offense, was part of saddling Paul with foul trouble late in the third, and got lots of help defensively as Dallas flashed a variety of different looks at the young star.
The physical Kidd guarding him one-on-one? Check.
The longish Jerry Stackhouse taking a one-on-one turn? Check.
Waterbug Jason Terry trying to go quick-for-quick on Paul? Check.
And then the biggie, maybe strategically for the future and certainly a turning point in this game: The double-teaming of ball-handler Paul as he approached mid-court.
We’ve seen this strategy employed most recently in this month’s loss at LA, when coach Avery Johnson opted to double-team Kobe Bryant. But oddly, he did so with Kidd pairing with immobile center Erick Dampier. This time, it was Kidd and Dirk one time, and then, with some consistency, Kidd and Brandon Bass making a CP3 sandwich.
The score was tied 76-all with 1:40 left in the third when Avery unleashed his mid-court double-team. Kidd and Bass executed it well enough that it wasn’t just intended to force the ball out of Paul’s hands; it was intended to create havoc. Bass poked the ball free, Terry scooped it up and fed Kidd, who touch-passed the ball to trailer Bass for the resounding and-1 dunk.
Suddenly, the Mavs were up 79-76.
With :35 left in the third, Dallas did it again, the same double-team, protecting an 83-78 game. Kidd deftly drew a charge on Paul. That gave CP3 his fifth foul, and he played tentatively from there. In the entire fourth quarter, Paul contributed one assist, had one turnover, and failed to score.
And the Mavs outscored New Orleans 28-20 in that last period.
We were given a few other glimpses of what we might see in the upcoming intriguing best-of-seven series between two teams that split their four regular-season games. The 6-8 Bass was used as the backup center, Bass getting 30 minutes (and 13 points and 12 boards) while starter Dampier registered just 17 minutes. Avery seems to like Bass getting some work against All-Star power forward David West, with Dirk guarding NO center Tyson Chandler. And New Orleans found itself grab-bagging for ways to control Nowitzki and Josh Howard. Now, Dallas’ starting forwards combined for 10-of-36 shooting. So it could be argued that whatever the Hornets did sort of worked.
At the same time, J-Ho did score 19. And The UberMan did thrust the dagger with 1:28 left, his trey assuring a win as it gave Dallas a 108-96 advantage.
Now, which one of those guys does Peja Stojakovic think he can guard?
“They had a great year, but I think we match up well with them,” Nowitzki said. “It should be a great series and there’s a lot of great matchups all over the court. … It’s time to hoop.’’