Five Observations: Mavericks 111, Hornets 98

Wednesday, April 16, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

New Orleans (55-27) couldn’t end their lengthy losing streak in Dallas on Wednesday. As a result, the Hornets will be returning to Big D for a pair of playoff games about 10 days from now.

Dallas (51-31) led by just five points through three quarters, but outscored its guests by a 28-20 margin over the final 12 minutes to sew up the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. New Orleans had already clinched the No. 2 slot by winning the Southwest Division championship 24 hours earlier.

The Hornets-Mavericks first-round series will begin either Saturday or Sunday. The league traditionally releases the dates and times for the opening round of the NBA playoffs within an hour or so after the final regular season game is played. We’ll have an update as soon as it's available here in the blog, hopefully within the next few hours. (As well as the blog question of the night).

A pair of Jasons spoiled the Hornets’ regular season finale. Dallas starting point guard Jason Kidd netted a triple-double, while supersub Jason Terry piled up 30 points in 30 minutes. The Mavericks prevailed despite a 12-point, 4-for-16 shooting performance by last season’s league MVP, Dirk Nowitzki.

The Hornets chose not to rest their top players much, despite having the No. 2 seed in hand entering Wednesday’s game. David West (26 points, 8 rebounds) logged 40 minutes; Peja Stojakovic was on the floor for 38 minutes. Chris Paul played 34 minutes, but that was partly due to foul trouble.

After each of the final two games of the regular season, we’re taking a player-by-player look at the starting five and key reserves. Tonight we wrap up with the backups. The questions below were asked on in late September about each player:

1) The buzz on… Jannero Pargo.
How large will his role be if Chris Paul and Bobby Jackson are both healthy all season?

The reason I brought up this question was because I thought if Paul and Jackson were consistently in the lineup, it might mean fewer opportunities for Pargo to contribute. While Pargo technically has played less this season (1,490 minutes entering Wednesday) than he did in 2006-07 (1,710 minutes), his impact has never been greater. He outperformed Jackson over the first couple months of the season, making the departure of the popular Jackson in the Houston trade less of a concern. Pargo has been one of the team’s most clutch shooters and given the Hornets a huge boost late in numerous victories.

Also at the point guard position, Mike James is a proven veteran with postseason experience, as a member of the 2004 NBA champion Pistons. He had a string of DNPs in March, but has gotten into games for more than just mop-up time recently. That makes it hard to predict how much we’ll see of him in the playoffs.

2) The buzz on… Bonzi Wells.
Traded to New Orleans at trade deadline.

After a rough start in his new uniform that included an Achilles injury, Wells justified the trade with Houston by authoring several excellent performances during the team’s 11-4 month of March. His stats are up nearly across the board in comparison to his stint with the Rockets prior to the deal. Wells provides the second unit with a go-to scorer who can post up and get easy baskets. The rest of this group doesn’t score much in the paint. Also at shooting guard, Rasual Butler was dropped from the rotation in early March. He hasn’t appeared in a game since March 3 at New York.

3) The buzz on… Julian Wright.
How much of an impact can he make as a rookie?

Through the first four months of the season, the answer to this one was, “not much.” Somewhere along the way, though, things started clicking for the Kansas product. He still makes a few too many mistakes to be thought of as completely reliable, but his energy, athleticism and jaw-dropping dunks have been huge plusses. Now it will be interesting to see how much he plays in the postseason. He averaged 19.3 minutes in March, but is at 11.8 in April.

4) The buzz on… Ryan Bowen.
Signed by New Orleans late in offseason.

He was a nice story during the first few months of the season, a blue-collar guy who relies on his trademark hustling style of play to give the bench a regular energy boost. He started four games in March while David West was out due to injury, but as it turned out, Bowen’s role began diminishing immediately after that stretch. He’s been on the fringe of the rotation lately, appearing in only five of the team’s first nine April games.

5) The buzz on… Hilton Armstrong.
How much improvement can he make now that he’ll likely be given every opportunity to be the first frontcourt player off the bench?

He shows flashes now and then, but the anticipated jumps in role and production that seemed possible for him at the outset of the season never materialized. The 2007 first-round pick fell out of the rotation for portions of the season, but now appears to have solidified the backup center job. He’s probably the biggest variable in terms of how effective the second string will be in the postseason.

Also at center, Melvin Ely’s role has fluctuated throughout the season. He hasn’t seen much significant PT since the six-game East Coast trip, but has been on the active list. Right now he’s basically the 12th man.

Chris Andersen was given a chance to claim the backup center job during that lengthy trip East. He had six points and nine rebounds in 34 total minutes. Andersen has been a frequent member of the inactive list, last appearing in a game April 2 at Miami.

Hornets locked into 2 seed, will play Dallas or Denver

The Lakers' rout of Sacramento on Tuesday guaranteed that the Hornets (56-25) will be the Western Conference's second seed. Their first-round opponent will be either Dallas (currently the 7 seed) or Denver (8 seed). New Orleans will match up against Dallas (50-31) in the West quarterfinals if ONE of the following outcomes happens Wednesday:

* Dallas beats New Orleans
* Memphis beats Denver

New Orleans will face Denver (49-32) if BOTH of these outcomes happen Wednesday:
* New Orleans beats Dallas
* Denver beats Memphis
The NBA is expected to announce the complete first-round schedule after the games are played tonight. The Hornets will open the playoffs in the New Orleans Arena on Saturday or Sunday. We'll have an update here as soon as we get the info from the league this evening.

One other note: Based on Byron Scott's press conference Tuesday, it is likely that the Hornets' key players do not receive extended minutes in Dallas tonight. Scott seemed to lean toward giving the starters some rest. The fourth-year coach also said he was hoping that Game 1 of the first round will be Sunday, giving the Hornets an additional day of practice and preparation time.