NEW ORLEANS (AP) Tyson Chandler struggled with the idea that New Orleans could be favored in its second-round series against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, even if the Hornets are the higher seed and have home-court advantage.
"I don't know if many players on this team consider themselves underdogs, but for some reason that's what we've been labeled as,'' Chandler said. "We're always going to be underdogs and we don't mind that. But people come around, it seems, when you start winning, so hopefully we can win some and get people to come around a little bit.''
The young Hornets, in the postseason for the first time in four seasons, passed their opening playoff test impressively, eliminating the Dallas Mavericks in only five games.
Only hours after the Hornets closed out Dallas, the Spurs disposed of the Phoenix Suns, also in five games.
Hornets coach Byron Scott said the Spurs appear to playing better now than during most of the regular season, when they finished second to the Hornets in the highly competitive Southwest Division, which had four 50-win teams.
"You can't really ever count them out,'' Scott said. "They understand what it takes to win.''
The Spurs said they felt a little beat up coming out of their series with Phoenix.
Manu Ginobili complained of soreness in his left ankle. Tony Parker said he was starting to feel old and that the hot tub was his best friend.
Don't buy it. Parker won't turn 26 until later this month and is playing some of the best basketball of his career, averaging 29.6 points to go with 7.0 assists during the first round of the playoffs.
Ginobili averaged better than 18 points against Phoenix. Tim Duncan, meanwhile, exhibited his typical dominance inside, averaging 24.8 points and 13.8 rebounds.
"They're built around Duncan,'' Hornets forward David West said. "Everything they do is kind of predicated on him. And that's why they've won, been so good for so long, because they have a cornerstone and he's unselfish and defers to those other guys like Parker and Ginobili when it's needed.''
The Hornets also have a cornerstone in third-year point guard Chris Paul, who can be pretty generous with the ball himself. He averaged more than 20 points and 10 assists this season and was even better in the first round, when he had 24.6 points and 12 assists per game.
West, who has flourished since the Hornets drafted Paul, averaged 22.6 points against the Mavs, routinely cashing in on open shots set up by the Hornets star guard.
"The easiest way to describe Chris is that he's an MVP candidate. And that means that he's done everything,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He's taken it to the hole, he's made shots, he's made it easier for his teammates by assisting, he's played D. He's the leader of the team. Everything he does is difficult to handle.''
Parker and defensive standout Bruce Bowen will have to handle Paul, and so far they've done so with mixed success this season. The Hornets and Spurs split their four regular-season games, with each team winning once at home and once on the road.
"I think he's going to score regardless and he's going to get his assists,'' Parker said. "We just have to focus on the other guys and try to slow the other guys down.''
The Spurs also downplayed the experience factor, and not only because of how New Orleans stormed past Dallas. The Hornets also handed the Spurs two of their worst losses this season, winning in San Antonio by 24 points and later by 25 in New Orleans.
"These guys are a very good team. That's the bottom line,'' Duncan said. "They're a very confident squad. They've been taking this no-experience, underdog role, whatever they want to say, to push themselves. And that's great. We're coming in here, we're not worried about what experience they have or what they don't have. ... It's two basketball teams and you have to figure it out from there and we're going to do just that.''
Scott said he's not sure the Hornets' earlier success over San Antonio will mean much in this series, but it certainly won't hurt.
"We know that we can play with them,'' Scott said. "Does it help? I don't know. But it lets us know that we are one of the better teams in the Western Conference. I think we've proven that in the first round, and they know that it's going to be a challenge as well. We've got a good young basketball team. We've got confidence that we can win the series.''
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