Over the next few days, Basket Bawful and Free Darko will be previewing each NBA Playoff series. Basket Bawful looks at the Western Conference today, continuing with the series between the New Orleans Hornets and the Dallas Mavericks, which begins Saturday.
After Dallas wrapped up their season and secured the seventh seed by beating the Hornets, Dirk Nowitzki went and opened his big German mouth. "This was definitely a win we wanted to get. The Lakers are probably the hottest team in the West. We definitely didn't want to face them in the first round. ... (New Orleans) had a great year, but I think we match up pretty well."
You know, it's one thing for a team to have a preferred first round matchup — everybody has one — but it's another thing altogether to tell it to the media. Do you really want to give your opponents additional ammunition? (No.) Do you want your enemy to be able to motivate themselves with the "lack of respect" card? (No.) And do you really want to tempt the fates that have been so cruel to you over the last few years? (No.) Seriously, Dirk ... WTF?
The season series: The series was tied at 2-2, with the home team winning every game.
Good news for the Mavs: Dallas went 6-3 down the stretch, and that streak included wins over the Warriors (who were fighting to make the playoffs), Suns (who trying to get homecourt advantage), Jazz (ditto) and Hornets (who had nothing to play for but were seemingly trying to win the game). Even better, Dirk Nowitzki won the Phoenix and Utah games with big shots down the stretch. Could it be ... is it possible ... that Dirk has finally overcome his case of clutchshotitis?!
Bad news for the Mavs: The Hornets are 30-11 at home and won both games against Dallas at New Orleans Arena. On the flipside, the Mavericks — while great at home (34-7) — have the same road record as the "they're tragically bad on the road" Utah Jazz (17-24). And did I mention they don't have homecourt advantage? As Hubie Brown would say: "You've got to win on the road in the playoffs if you want to advance."
Reality check: Do you trust the Mavericks? They're like a girlfriend/boyfriend who keeps cheating on you: It's going to take a lot for them to earn your trust back, you know? At the end of the day, I just don't think they have it in them to win in the playoffs ... even with Jason Kidd.
Hornets player(s) to watch: Chris Paul. He is the New Orleans offense. David West. He must score points so Paul doesn't feel pressured to do everything (and perhaps too much). Jannero Pargo. He must be the spark plug off the bench. Bonzi Wells. He's their only lowpost option, and an inside game is critical in the playoffs.
Mavericks player(s) to keep an eye on: Jason Kidd. He has to contain Paul, and he has to hit a shot or two from the outside. Dirk Nowitzki. He has to lead — really lead — and I'm not sure he's ever actually done that before. Josh Howard. He just needs to do what he does. Erick Dampier and Brandon Bass. They need to control the boards and keep Chris Paul out of the paint. Preventing Tyson Chandler from getting all those uncontested alley-oops would be nice, too.
Key(s) to the series: The Hornets need some solid contributions from their bench. Dallas needs to play like gangbusters on the road. Mark Cuban needs to keep his mouth shut and trust his coach and players to win without his constant yelling and lobbying to the officials.
Prediction: Hornets in seven.