Commentary

Sweet sounds of success for Hornets

Originally Published: April 23, 2008
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com

Chris PaulChris Graythen/Getty ImagesThe Mavs couldn't keep Chris Paul down. He scored 32 points in New Orleans' 127-103 Game 2 win.

NEW ORLEANS -- "Woo!"

That's what the Hornets' PA announcer says every time Chris Paul scores, or assists, or makes some other nice play, and then the crowd follows it up with one of their own.

And the Mavericks have to be darn sick of hearing it, because in the first two games of this series we've had more wooing than Romeo and Juliet.

Paul followed his domination of Game 1 by, unbelievably, playing even better in Game 2. His 32 points, 17 assists, five rebounds and three steals led the Hornets to a 127-103 laugher over a reeling Dallas team and gave them a 2-0 lead in the series.

Unlike Game 1, the Mavs made a serious effort to throw full-court and three-quarter traps at Paul, but the Hornets obviously were ready. The first three times Dallas went to it, the Hornets ended up with David West isolated on the block against Jason Terry, and got three easy scores out of it.

"Early on, everything we tried on Paul didn't work," Mavs coach Avery Johnson said. "We wanted to come out [and] get the ball out of his hands. We tried that, he split us a couple times and got away from us.

"And then the main thing is their other guys stepped up big for them tonight. They were playing 4-on-3 sometimes, which we wanted them to do, and [Morris] Peterson made shots, [Tyson] Chandler caught some lobs, and they really jumped out on us in the first quarter."

That 39-point first quarter rocked the Mavs onto their heels, and they never recovered. The Hornets had only five empty trips in the entire period, a quarter that ended with Paul making a buzzer-beating floater down the right sideline for the second straight game to put New Orleans up by double figures.

From there Dallas threw the kitchen sink at Paul, to no avail. They used big defenders (Eddie Jones, Devean George) and small ones (Terry). They tried going under screens, and trapping him hard on the pick-and-roll. They tried posting him up when they had the ball to wear him out at the defensive end. About the only thing they didn't try was the Tonya Harding strategy, and one gets the impression it's the only thing left that will work.

In fact, the only difference from Game 1 was that while the Mavs couldn't stop Paul in the opener, they couldn't stop anybody in white in Game 2. Much of this was because the Hornets were simply playing out of their minds, as one can tell from some of the improbable shots they converted. Hilton Armstrong dribble driving from deep on the wing? Bucket. Kick out to West for a contested trey? Money. And don't even get us started on the 3s -- New Orleans made 10-of-18.

"You've got to give them credit, they were on fire tonight," Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "Paul did his thing, but they had their shooters going."

Of course, part of the reason they made so many shots was because they were wide open. Dallas took the first punch from New Orleans and went straight to the mat, never mounting a serious stand on defense.

That was what the Mavs seemed most disappointed about: not that they lost a game in which New Orleans was making everything it threw up, but that they didn't show the necessary energy and fire.

"We didn't play with a lot of enthusiasm," Nowitzki said. "Collectively we just have to have more fire, really get after them more. Everything came a little easy for them tonight. They were wide open."

"We just got outplayed, outfought and outworked," Terry said.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki-Avery Johnson
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzki and Avery Johnson had no answer for Chris Paul in the first two games.
Somehow, they've got to either stop Paul or shut down the rest of the Hornets. An NBA executive I talked to this week said his team's strategy was to let Paul get his points and try to limit how much business he creates for the other guys. Certainly what's happening now is the worst option: Paul is scoring like crazy and still involving the others.

Meanwhile, Dallas' midseason gamble on trading for Jason Kidd is looking shakier than ever. For the second straight game he was abused by Paul and gave a limited contribution of his own (seven points, eight assists); the departed Devin Harris' defense at the point of attack might have been the only thing that could have helped contain CP3.

"We have to look at the defensive side before we look at the offensive end," Kidd said. "We've got to find a way to guard the pick-and-roll. That's not an individual assignment, that's the team."

Of course, the Mavs might get more out of Kidd if they can get the running game going. And to do that they need stops.

"It's hard to get him the ball in transition if we're taking the ball out of bounds every time," Nowitkzi said. "And that's where he's at his best, getting in the open court, finding shooters, slashing."

So while the Hornets celebrate the latest chapter in their improbable rise to the Western Conference elite -- not to mention their even more improbable conversion into a raucous home court -- the Mavs find themselves hoping a change of scenery will change the momentum.

About the only thing Dallas can hang its hat on at this point is that it's going back home for Games 3 and 4. We've seen countless NBA series turn suddenly once the home court shifted, and there's still a chance this could be the next one.

"We're a good team, whether it looks like it now or not," Terry said. "We'll see what happens when we get back to Dallas."

If the Mavs hope to stay alive past the weekend, it better be a whole lot different from what happened in New Orleans.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.