The last time Dallas visited the New Orleans Arena, the Hornets ended a 21-game, head-to-head losing streak against the Mavericks, but they needed a semi-miraculous three-pointer by Peja Stojakovic to stay alive. They also needed an overtime period to finish off Dallas and bring a merciful end to a run of frustration vs. their divisional rivals, which dated back to the 1990s.
While the Dec. 1 OT victory could have been filed under the “nail-biter” category, in Wednesday’s game New Orleans and point guard Chris Paul made sure there'd be no doubt about a second triumph over Dallas in 2007-08. After taking a three-point lead into halftime, the Hornets (37-15) dominated the Mavericks (35-19), going up by as many as 17 points in the second half. Paul turned in a spectacular 25-point second half, part of the hosts’ 57-49 advantage after intermission.
New Orleans has won five consecutive games and is now an impressive 6-2 against the three teams that entered this season as the unquestioned Western Conference elite – Dallas (Hornets 2-1), Phoenix (3-0) and San Antonio (1-1). The Hornets are also 17-4 in the 2008 calendar year.
Five observations from the 11-point victory:
1) The return of the MVP chant is well-justified.
Several media members wondered if this might be the best game of Chris Paul’s NBA career – although I have to admit, it seems like we’ve said that about eight times already this season. The Wake Forest product finished with 31 points – 25 in the second half – on 11-for-20 shooting. He also had 11 assists, five rebounds and a career-high nine steals. The last stat is the most by any player in the NBA this season, as well as a new Hornets franchise record.
One of the loudest MVP chants of the season at the New Orleans Arena occurred in the second half, amid Paul’s huge offensive outburst.
“He’s just a better basketball player than he was last year,” Hornets coach Byron Scott credited. “He’s more experienced, he’s smarter, he has more weapons, his shot is better. He’s become one of the elite point guards in this league.
“He’s playing at that (MVP) level. To me, an MVP is a guy that your team really can’t do without. I don’t see Cleveland winning a whole lot of guys with LeBron not playing, and it’s probably the same thing for us with CP. I don’t think there is a point guard right now who’s playing better.”
2) The buzz on… Bobby Jackson.
It was easy to be optimistic that the 6-foot-1 combo guard was breaking out of his shooting slump in early January when he had a couple scorching-hot performances, most memorably a 7-for-7 three-point binge vs. Miami on ESPN. Unfortunately for the Minnesota product, he sustained a hamstring injury later in January and was sidelined for six games. Quietly in February, Jackson has been shooting the ball better and broke out in a big way vs. Dallas, connecting on 5-for-9 three-point attempts and netting 17 points.
“He played big-time for us tonight off the bench,” Scott said. “It was something that we needed. He was part of that third-quarter run that put it away and he made a couple three-pointers that really hurt (Dallas). I thought Bobby played great basketball.”
3) A budding rivalry?
I don’t remember hearing as many boos of Mavericks players in recent seasons as there were Wednesday, when both Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd were greeted that way by many home fans. These divisional foes now have marquee matchups at point guard (Paul vs. Kidd) and power forward (Nowitzki vs. West). At small forward, there are two past All-Star picks (Josh Howard vs. Peja Stojakovic) who are at different stages of their careers.
I can pretty much guarantee that the Mavs haven't been all that concerned by the Hornets in the past, even though they’ve been in the same Southwest Division since 2004-05, but New Orleans might have Dallas’ attention now. By the way, the clubs close their annual four-game season series on April 16, the final day of the regular season.
4) All-Star forward matchup one of few that goes Dallas’ way.
They weren’t squared off for much of the evening as both clubs used frequent cross-matches, but it was interesting to see who would get the upper hand between Dirk Nowitzki and David West, three days after they were on the same Western Conference All-Star squad. Nowitzki was better statistically than West on this night, but what hurt the Mavs was that no one else enjoyed much offensive success. West (18 points, 8 rebounds) was one of four Hornets who tallied 17 points or more.
Jason Kidd’s Dallas debut did not go very well, with him posting eight points, six rebounds, five assists and six turnovers.
5) Mo Pete returns.
Peterson missed the last three games prior to the All-Star break with a back injury, but he benefited from the midseason week-long hiatus and returned to the starting lineup Wednesday. The longtime Toronto Raptors swingman played only 14 minutes vs. Dallas, going 1-for-4 and scoring two points.
He was relieved midway through the first quarter by Jannero Pargo and did not play again until the outset of the second half. His minutes have been reduced in many games this season when he has had quiet starts. With Pargo playing as well as he has and Jackson turning in a stellar game Wednesday, Scott opted to leave Peterson on the sideline in the fourth quarter.