Predictions

A quick round-up of who’s picking whom:

Analyst/Expert/”Expert”

Pick

Site

David Thorpe

(6)

Scouts Inc.

Marc Stein

(6)

ESPN.com

Stan McNeal

(6)

Sporting News

Tim Legler

(6)

ESPN.com

Stephen Ilardi

(6)

U of K, inventor of +/-

J.A. Adande

(6)

ESPN.com

Mike Kurylo

(6)

Knicker Blogger

Chad Ford

(6)

ESPN.com

Jeffrey Ma

(6)

Pro Trade

Marty Burns

(7)

Sports Illustrated

Chris Sheridan

(7)

ESPN.com

Henry Abbott

(7)

True Hoop

John Hollinger

(7)

ESPN.com

Justin Kubatko

(7)

Basketball Reference

Kelly Dwyer

(7)

Ball Don’t Lie

Kevin Pelton

(7)

Sonics Central

J.E. Skeets

(7)

Ball Don’t Lie

Why Did Utah Fall? (And What Can We Learn From It?)

Some Hornet fans may not have watched last year’s NBA Playoffs due to its lack of New Orleans flavor. But those that did witnessed the coming out party of Jazz PG Deron Williams (whose game I have always respected no matter how much Jazz fans bash Chris Paul). The Jazz took care of a tough Rockets team and easily dispatched an undisciplined Warriors squad. In the Conference Finals, more than one analyst gave them a fighting chance versus the Spurs. San Antonio proceeded to crush the Jazz in a lopsided series.

The Jazz of last year were similar in one major regard to this year’s Hornets- they held the 3rd most efficient offense in all the land while New Orleans was 5th this year. Granted, the Bees’ defense has blown away last years’ Jazz team (7th vs. 19th), but it’s the offense you worry about versus San Antonio, not the defense. With an offense that doesn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of its opponents (12th among 16 playoff teams), San Antonio has put the clamps down all year (3rd most efficient D). So what lessons can we take from last year’s Conference Finals?

1. Use every offensive weapon you have.

If there’s one thing last year’s Finals taught us, it’s that not even the greatest of superstars (LBJ) can singlehandedly take on an elite defense. Yes, James defeated Detroit in the Conference Finals, but Detroit was significantly worse defensively than SA (gave up almost 4 more points per 100 possessions). Switching gears back to the SA-UTA series, Deron Williams took 0.500 shots per minute.

This was significantly up from the 0.365 he averaged per minute in the regular season. About one out of four field goals was attempted by Williams, again a significant jump from the regular season, where he took one out of six Jazz field goals. The point is that getting away from good ball movement and falling into shot-clock-winding-down isolations is a terrible idea. That might sound like the most simplistic thing you’ve ever heard, but it’s exactly what San Antonio excels at- making an offense one dimensional.

2. Keep your hands to yourself.

The Spurs aren’t a spectacular shooting team (9th among playoff squads in eFG%), nor do they draw a lot of fouls (21st in FT/FG). That’s why it’s stunning that Utah decided to hack the hell out of the Spurs in the Conference Finals. The Jazz fouled at a rate of 43 FT(allowed)/FG while the Spurs drew a mere 23.5 FT/FG in the regular season. In essence, Utah turned one of San Antonio’s only weaknesses into a great strength.

New Orleans fouled way too much in the initial games versus Dallas (+40 rate in the first 3). They ramped it down as the series concluded, and they would be very wise not to repeat Utah’s mistake.

3. Tony Parker burned Utah for going over screens… but don’t believe it.

The way Parker knocked down jumper after jumper against Phoenix is fresh in everyone’s mind. But the fact is after improving his eFG% on jumpers from 40% to 42% and then to 44% last year, TP has regressed back to a 41.9 conversion rate this year. Essentially, this is one place where it would be unwise to extract information from last year’s series. Tony Parker is not shooting as well as analysts say he is, but he’s still the best tough layup maker in the game. I’d go under the screens, not over.

The Hive Five: Game Eighty-Seven

WORDS: || AP (through NBA.com) || Five Observations ||

NUMBERS: || Box Score || Shot Chart || Play-by-Play ||

VIDEOS: || ESPN || NBA.com || Yahoo! ||

Woooo! We did it!!

Even the refs must’ve enjoyed the Hornets’ play this series.

Hats off to all the Hornets for an amazing game and an amazing series. Virtually every analyst out there doubted that we could defeat the Mavs, wrote off our regular season as flukey, said we would be doomed by playoff inexperience. Charles Barkley said that if there was one guarantee he could make, it was that New Orleans wouldn’t get past the first round. Only 3 out of 8 ESPN writers picked the Hornets to win the series (all three said 7 games). Mark Cuban went as far as to call out Chris Paul about his “toughness.” (Hat Tip to reader Colin) Is 24, 15, and 11 tough enough for you, Mark?

Chris Paul just put up 24.6 ppg, 12.0 apg, 5.6 rpg, and 2.0 spg for the series to humble his veteran, experienced, “knows how to play the game” counterpart Jason Kidd. I feel giddy thinking about how much this guy is going to improve in the coming years. What more can he possibly do? 30/15/10? I don’t know. Paul’s performance overshadows David West coming into his own in Games 4 and 5. The Mavericks had no answer again for West, who hit 10 of 17 shots on the way to 25 points. He let the game come to him, deftly passing out of the post to set up teammates when he couldn’t get a look himself. West has developed so much as a player this year that his isolation plays have come to be just as reliable as Chris Paul’s. If there were any lingering doubts as to the validity of West’s All-Star selection, you need look no further than this series.

Of course, the play of Jannero Pargo deserves its own paragraph. After dealing with Jason Kidd’s potentially career ending foul in the classiest of ways, Jannero ripped Kidd’s (and other Dallas PG’s) defense to shreds. For the second straight night, he carried the bench on his shoulders with an assortment of tough layups and even tougher jumpers. His defense on Jason Terry was so invaluable that Byron Scott elected to leave him on the floor instead of sending in Bonzi Wells. Some people will certainly be wondering why Wells got as few minutes as he did in the series, but I’m not reading anything into it. This might sound strange, but the series wasn’t as physical as the numerous altercations made it seem. This was especially true on the offensive end for the Hornets where Dallas simply didn’t body up ball handlers as much as it should have. The next series with either San Antonio or Phoenix will be far more physical, and we’ll have an extremely fresh Bonzi Wells to throw at them. It’s simply another example of outstanding coaching by Byron Scott.

Jerry Stackhouse’s outstanding series merits its own paragraph. The versatile swingman broke out and absolutely torched the Hornets with his 12 for 38 in 5 games. He came up with a clutch, game-changing airball down the stretch, had his bench role usurped by Devean “Please Don’t Trade Me!” George, had his dignity smashed to the ground in the form of two massive Tyson Chandler blocks, and got himself thrown out with a move even a rookie wouldn’t be stupid enough to try. And those are merely the Game 5 highlights. Hey Jerry, go ahead, keep calling Coach Scott a sucker. You’re the only one who doesn’t realize how funny that is.

I still remember Baron Davis throwing the ball up court to Jamaal Magloire with the buzzer going off in the background, and Tracy McGrady walking off dejectedly on his home court. It’s been a while since we won a series, but it’s still just as awesome to experience that feeling once again.

Pace

Eff

eFG

FT/FG

OREB%

TOr

DAL

81.0

116.0

48.2%

18.3

33.3

9.9

NOR

122.2

53.8%

19.2

31.6

9.9

1. Shooting () It’s amazing that we shot above 50% on a night where Peja went 2 for 12 from the field. But our two stars distanced themselves even further from Game 3 by hitting 20 out of 36 attempts. Jannero Pargo had a little something to say about the field goal percentage as well. How good is the decision to move Bobby Jackson and increase Pargo’s minutes looking right now?

2. Turnovers () The fifth straight game this series where the Hornets had a turnover rate of 11 or less. It doesn’t get better than that.

3. Offensive Rebounding () Dallas did the whole rebounding thing all 5 games this series. But you know what? We made up for it in so many other areas. That alone is enough to make me happy.

4. Free Throws () The best thing about this series: our guys showed the ability to adapt and change what might have been a fatal flaw. Of course I’m talking about fouling. As the series progressed, we regained our biggest defensive weapon and we’ll need it against San Antonio.

5. Pace (81) The slowest game of the series nearly saw us collapse by speeding up the pace too much down the stretch. Thankfully we got the basketball into the hands of free throw shooting extraordinare Peja Stojakovic who more than made up for a bad shooting night by sealing the deal. Some closing notes: another thing the Hornets need to take with them to the second round- the knowledge that a playoff team on the ropes never gives up. New Orleans seemed almost surprised by Dallas’ comeback. A better team like San Antonio will take advantage of that. Julian Wright moves to the center of the key on David West postups far more often and successfully than Morris Peterson. I wonder whether that’s a strategy thing with JuJu’s quick legs or something Mo Pete needs to do more often. Whatever it is, that cut is very effective and makes West’s back to basket game much more dangerous. Finally, Chris Paul’s line tonight: 24 points, 15 assists, 11 rebounds. Baron Davis’ line 6 years ago and virtually to the day in the clinching game in Orlando: 28 points, 10 assists, 11 rebounds. That’s some eerily similar stuff.

WORDS: || AP (through NBA.com) || Five Observations ||

NUMBERS: || Box Score || Shot Chart || Play-by-Play ||

VIDEOS: || ESPN || NBA.com || Yahoo! ||

Time to Seal the Deal

The Close Out: head coach after head coach has called it one of the most difficult things to do in basketball. But what exactly makes it so grueling? How does it differ at all from the other games in a series? It’s one thing to hear analysts and players toss around platitudes about “energy,” “heart,” and “desire.” It’s another thing to go look at where on the court this energy is visible and what has actually occurred in previous close-out games. Keep in mind I’m looking at the first opportunity a team has to close out the series. I strongly believe that mentality/strategy changes on successive attempts.

Let’s look at it statistically:

I examined a sample of last year’s first opportunities at closeout games, of which there were 15, to see if any trends stood out. The team attempting to close out went 10-5.

My strategy was to look at how teams shot, rebounded offensively and defensively, got fouled, fouled, turned over, and forced turnovers in the close out game as opposed to the previous game. Here are the numbers:

OFFENSE:

eFG%

FT/FG

OREB%

TOr

Previous/Close Out Differential

-0.03

3.42

-2.80

1.60

DEFENSE:

eFG%

FT/FG

DREB%

TOr

Previous/Close Out Differential

0.06

4.50

+3.32

0.34

A few things are immediately obvious. First, the eFG% rarely came into play (in fact, with all previous season data points taken into account, the change was even smaller at 0.015). This means that the other three factors determine the outcome of closeout games more than in other games in a series since the eFG% differences aren’t nearly as small for the others.

Second, the physicality greatly increases in the first elimination game, as evidenced by the much higher FT/FG rates for both teams. This series has been physical enough as it is, with all the Game 1 altercations and then the Kidd-Pargo incident. But if the numbers from last year tell us anything, it’s that the Hornets better buckle up for an even more hostile game.

Third, both sides elect to get back on transition defense instead of crashing the offensive glass. This is more marked a phenomenon in the team that will be potentially eliminated. I wouldn’t expect that to change tonight since the Hornets burned Dallas in transition in Game 4. That should be fresh on their minds, so perhaps Game 5 will be our first respite from the crazy rebounding of Brandon Bass and Co.

Last but not least, the team closing out showed a tendency to turn the ball over a lot more than its opponent. So far this series, the Hornets have been simply outstanding at ball control so it’ll be very interesting if a spike in turnovers does indeed occur.

Go Hornets!!!

Congratulations, Coach Scott

Word’s just in that Byron Scott will be awarded Coach of the Year prior to tomorrow’s tipoff. Huge congratulations are in order- this is a man who suffered through an 18-64 inaugural season with his new team, and was forced to move to an entirely new city for two years. This was a coach that saw his top 4 players miss a combined 126 games just a year ago. This was a man who witnessed his coaching credentials viciously attacked by Jason Kidd and the media, and who was called “a sucker in my book” by a player who has played basketball one entire standard deviation below league average.

Yes, he obtained the services of a short little kid from North Carolina. Yes, he has at his disposal one of the greatest three point threats this league has ever seen. But that’s as far as you can take it. Byron Scott saw in a struggling 23 year old what few others recognized. He stuck with him as others tossed money around at the Boozers, and O’Neals of the world. Fast forward 4 years, and the Hornets have one of the most fiscally sound investments in the league. They’ve built up loyalty internally to the point where West leaving is simply unimaginable. Oh, did I mention he’s now an All-Star?

Of course CP sets up DX like no other. But would West even be around right now if it weren’t for Scott? Where would his game be if Scott hadn’t gotten him to work on a mid-range jumper? David West’s turnover rate has halved since he came into the league. Chris Paul isn’t using the Force to keep the ball in West’s hands. Byron Scott has taught West where to be on the floor, when to force his way to the hoop, when to fall away, when to put it on the floor, when to reset.

Yes, Scott obtained the services of the league’s number 1 offensive rebounder. It’s very easy for analysts to write off Chandler’s enhanced offense as Paul’s doing entirely. But go look up the numbers. In two seasons with New Orleans, Chandler has been assisted on approximately 55% of his field goals. While in Chicago, he was assisted on 51% of his field goals. That’s a difference, sure, but it’s not “whoa, Chandler gets SO many more easy buckets with the Hornets.” The real difference has been Chandler knowing where to be on the floor at any time. Off the high screen? He’s rolling to the hoop, behind the defender that’s supposed to pick him up. After a long rebound? He runs the weak side of the floor towards the rim. Byron Scott understood the value of Chandler’s athleticism as soon as he came over. More importantly, he was the first to realize that his athleticism could be used not only defensively but also on offense. Tyson’s averaging more than double the FGA in NO as he was in Chicago. Paul has the vision, but if TC isn’t in scoring position, what’s the point?

And this is to say nothing of Chris Paul himself. Most of us speak as if he’s in some kind of vacuum, as though CP is what he is because of insane natural talent and nothing else. It’s wise to take a step back and realize that the guy is 23 years old. It’s wise to step back and realize that many of the great PG’s in history took a few years to reach their peaks and hang around that level of play (about 22 PER for the Stocktons, Isiahs, and Kidds). It makes you appreciate the fact that Paul started his career with a 22.1 PER, and just registered the highest PER for a PG ever, at 28.3. And it also makes it undeniably clear that Byron Scott has set up the perfect system around Paul for him to succeed. That can’t be emphasized enough.

I’m sure our coach will continue to be called out by the ignorant Jerry Stackhouses of the world. But we as Hornets’ fans understand what he’s brought to this team, to its players, and to the city. Thank you, Byron Scott, for all you’ve done these last 4 years.

CLICK FOR LARGER:

The Hive Five: Game Eighty-Six

WORDS: || AP (through NBA.com) || Five Observations ||

NUMBERS: || Box Score || Shot Chart || Play-by-Play ||

VIDEOS: || ESPN || NBA.com || Yahoo! ||

Hey Jason Kidd, J-Pargo isn’t your wife. That’s gotta be one of the most unsportsmanlike plays in recent memory. What happens if Pargo can’t get his hands in front in time (he almost didn’t). I shudder to think of it. That last, tiny iota of respect I had for Jason Kidd? Yeah, it’s gone.

Shout all you want, Juwan. But just remember that’s Peja Stojakovic you’re yelling at.

The Hornets just went out and smashed an inferior team, plain and simple. All series, we’d been letting Dallas hang around via the free throw line; tonight, we cut off their biggest lifeline, and they suffered. The defense stepped up big time, and as Avery said in his post-game presser, “David West came out in the second half and dominated [them].” West fought back from a terrible first half, stayed within himself in the 3rd, and kept going to his strengths. We’ve seen David succumb to frustration by lowering his shoulder, and committing bad fouls when his shot isn’t on. Tonight represented a huge and underrated step forward for him. While Paul couldn’t really get back to his Game 1 and 2 level of play, David West made sure he did.

The thing that stood out most about our defense was the lateral movement of Hornets’ players. In Game 3, Dallas blew by defenders at will, but tonight they could never get that all important first step. It’s only natural that this resulted in a ton of fadeaway jumpers over outstretched hands and far fewer layups. The Mavericks shot a miserable 36% from the floor (40% eFG) with no regular save Dampier (2-3) shooting above 50% from the floor. The Big 3 for Big D (J-Ho, Jet, and the Whale) went an awful 17-50 from the floor, while our Big 3 (CP, DX, Predrag) went 22-46. That discrepancy alone explains a lot about the win.

Apparently Pargo’s monster game on Friday was just a precursor to the bench’s break-out tonight. Pargo didn’t quite score 30, but he impressed me with 6 rebounds. Everything he did on the court, he did with aggression, whether it was pulling up for the transition three, throwing the alley oop lob, or snapping to his feet to challenge Jason Kidd’s foul. Throughout this last week I’ve heard a lot of people calling Pargo the best back up point guard in the league, and my reaction was to laugh. I still think that distinction belongs to a Jason Terry or Leandro Barbosa, but I can at least see where those assertions are coming from. Statistically, Paul outshone him, but Pargo was a +14 on the court to CP’s +12 (Oddly enough, Tyson led the way with +22… which is why I don’t put much stock in +/- numbers unless they’re adjusted).

Byron Scott must have heard my cries of anguish through this blog, because he unleashed Julian Wright big time. Seriously, how good is this guy going to be? He runs the fast break like a young Vince Carter, he stops his crossovers on a dime like Chris Paul, and his jumper is eerily reminiscent of a young Kobe- good but not great. And there’s that whole dunking thing. Here’s what I found most encouraging about this game- our best bench player, Bonzi Wells, goes 1-4 from the field, is a total non-factor, plays just twelve minutes, and we’re still talking about how good the bench was. This second unit has made significant strides since the Wells acquisition. They virtually outplayed a deep Dallas bench that include starter for most teams Jerry Stackhouse, playoff experienced Devean George, and the utterly unguardable Brandon Bass. On to the factors:

Pace

Eff

eFG

FT/FG

OREB%

TOr

NOR

88.0

110.2

52.6%

22.4

13.9

10.2

DAL

95.5

40.4%

13.5

30.2

12.5

1. Shooting () Normally, you might chalk up such a huge discrepancy in eFG% to lucky shots dropping for one team, and the opposite for the other side. That wasn’t the case tonight. We attacked the basket aggressively in order to get good looks at the hoop, and to make up for having only 12 assisted baskets. Dallas also had just 12 assists, but they settled for tough jumpers all night long.

2. Turnovers () The Hornets have shown unbelievable poise through these first four games. Dallas didn’t score a single point off a turnover until a pointless bucket in garbage time, while the Hornets came up with 5 steals to Dallas’ 2. Chris Paul this series: 45 assists, 6 turnovers. Wow.

3. Offensive Rebounding (X) The DREB numbers were ugly again, but the Hornets definitely tightened up in the second half. In the first two quarters, Brandon Bass had 6 offensive rebounds versus the Hornets’ 4. Bass didn’t pick up another offensive board the rest of the game. Still, if the Hornets want to make absolutely certain that they win Game 5, this needs to be fixed.

4. Free Throws (√√√) Yes! Byron Scott finally got it into the Hornets’ heads to stop fouling. Sure, Tyson Chandler picked up 2 fouls within the first 4 minutes. Sure Hilton Armstrong picked up 3 fouls in about 10 minutes. But both those guys combined for just 2 more fouls in the next 32 minutes that they played. Peja Stojakovic, a major culprit in Games 1, 2, and 3 with 8 total fouls, was whistled one time.

5. Pace (88) Faster than Game 3, slightly slower than Games 1 and 2. The slow pace belies how often we got out on the fastbreak, but perhaps Dallas’ inability to run the break compensates for that. Some final notes: our insistence on not relying on the trifecta continued, as we attempted just 10 triples. Peja Stojakovic is now 15-24 from downtown in the series, good for a 63% percentage. Jerry Stackhouse since his ridiculous comments about Coach Scott: 22 minutes, 1-7, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 2 points, 1 turnover, and 1 air-balled three. Josh Howard, first four games: 15-58 (25% shooting).

WORDS: || AP (through NBA.com) || Five Observations ||

NUMBERS: || Box Score || Shot Chart || Play-by-Play ||

VIDEOS: || ESPN || NBA.com || Yahoo! ||

The Hive Five: Game Eighty-Five

WORDS: || AP (through NBA.com) || Five Observations ||

NUMBERS: || Box Score || Shot Chart || Play-by-Play ||

VIDEOS: || ESPN || NBA.com || Yahoo! ||

All you can do is tip your hat to Dirk and the Mavs. It wasn’t an elimination game, but it sure was a must win contest, and Dallas responded well. Now look, you can dispute the validity of whistles, that too many touch fouls were called, that Dirk flopped around like a beached whale (even Mavs fans surely admit as much). But here’s what you can’t deny: the Mavericks players took first steps past defenders way too easily and often. They were the aggressors and made us suffer.

Dirk the Whale (yes, that is now his official nickname) out of his natural habitat and flopping around on the beach.

As good as the Hornets were in Games 1 and 2, it’s hard to say you couldn’t see this coming. I won’t claim I predicted this, but the two recurring flaws of the last two games were evident tonight. First, we fouled way too much. Whenever the Mavs wanted to, they drove hard and fast towards the rim. Instead of establishing defensive position or utilizing footwork, our guys slapped at wrists, and the ball. Paul and Stojakovic were the biggest culprits in not staying in front of defenders. Kidd blew by CP way more times than a 35 year old man should. Peja’s obviously not the quickest guy on the floor, but Josh Howard was going baseline (from the wings) every single time, and Stojakovic never compensated for it. David West struggled with Brandon Bass. I was the biggest “playoff experience doesn’t matter” guy. But the playoffs have taken away arguably our greatest defensive asset- staying away from fouls. The Hornets have turned into fouling machines after averaging the fewest fouls per game during the season; they haven’t adapted to the high percentage of drives that’s characteristic of playoff basketball.

Second was another case of really poor defensive rebounding. Brandon Bass was a monster off the bench once again, while Erick Dampier cleaned up the garbage 5 times. The odd thing is that our offensive boardwork was stout just like Games 1 and 2, with 3 different players grabbing 3 or more OREBs. Dallas just brought more intensity on the glass; Jason Kidd coming from the backcourt to steal a rebound over David West was probably the low point.

Now let’s get to some individual performances. General Pargo’s jumper was unreal. It’s been statistically proven that “streak shooting” doesn’t actually exist, but this game provided some terrific anecdotal evidence, especially once you compare it with Game 2. He played 32 minutes, scored 30 points, took as many shots as David West, but hit twice as many as Fluffy. Without Pargo, Game 3 would have been a laugher. It’s easy to feel that his performance was “wasted” in the loss, but had we lost by 20+, Dallas would have gained a lot more confidence. This might sound too dismissive, but I’m not worried in the slightest about David West and Chris Paul. Yes, they went a combined 10 for 38. Yes, David West looked overmatched under the glass on numerous instances. But think about it: our two best players played miserably with virtually every starter in foul trouble, and Dallas still couldn’t close the game until the final minute. If we had rebounded the ball and stopped fouling, we would’ve won this game regardless of how poorly Paul and West played.

I don’t understand Julian Wright’s playing time at all. He comes in, grabs an offensive rebound, slams one in Public Enemy Number One Jerry Stackhouse’s face, then promptly returned to the bench never to be seen again. I would not have minded if Peja got benched in favor of Wright for a stretch just because Stojakovic was getting burned by Howard. On to the factors:

Pace

Eff

eFG

FT/FG

OREB%

TOr

NOR

85.0

102.4

42.5%

14.9

26.9

11.8

DAL

114.1

46.0%

37.3

32.6

9.4

1. Shooting (X) Our shots weren’t dropping, but the looks were there. David West was consistently open for the 17 footer, and Predrag missed a couple of layups. Paul had the floater less often than in the first two games, but he still had it to an extent and couldn’t convert it. Pargo’s effort off the bench was what drove our eFG% over 40; he was the only player on the team to shoot above 50% from the floor, excluding JuJu’s 1-1.

2. Turnovers () We didn’t take care of the ball as well as we did in New Orleans, but the Tor was still low. Chris Paul has turned the ball over 5 times in his first 3 games, which is incredible. David West didn’t go to his shoulder charge/offensive foul move out of frustration, another encouraging sign. Dallas just took even better care of the basketball.

3. Offensive Rebounding (X) As I mentioned earlier, the offensive rebounding was there, but the defensive rebounding wasn’t. Dirk’s 19 boards look impressive on the stat sheet, but they really didn’t do much to help his team since 18 of them were defensive. A large part of his huge rebounding game was the inability of his teammates to grab defensive boards- that in itself is pretty odd given that Dallas outhustled us.

4. Free Throws (X) Remember how FT/FG was the retarded stat that never factored into anything during the regular season? Well, times have changed. We’ve allowed 35+ on FT/FG in every game this series, and we handed them this game at the stripe. Give any team 38 free throws while shooting only 13 yourself, and you can’t seriously expect to win. Yes, Dirk is a Whale. But that’s the sort of thing you need to deal with in the playoffs.

5. Pace (85) This was the slowest game of the series, and Dallas’ improved defense played a large role. Avery pretty much abandoned the traps, and instead clogged the paint starting from the top of the key all the way to the basket. The Mavs’ Game 2 strategy was to force different Hornets to make jumpers, and it was essentially the same tonight. The difference was we connected on our shots Tuesday and missed crazily today. Some closing thoughts: The worst thing is if we start to buy into the “New Orleans hasn’t won in Dallas in 10 years” thing. None of the current players were on those rosters, so that’s totally irrelevant. Hearing the commentators bring it up quarter after quarter is pretty annoying. The guys can’t let this loss affect them. We won the first two in convincing fashion, and while Dallas played well tonight, they didn’t do anything spectacular. If the Hornets lose Game 3, the pressure’s back on them. I’m sure Dampier’s pointless, hard foul in the last minute will prove to be some form of motivation. But a win in Game 4 virtually assures us the series, given how we’ve played at home recently.

WORDS: || AP (through NBA.com) || Five Observations ||

NUMBERS: || Box Score || Shot Chart || Play-by-Play ||

VIDEOS: || ESPN || NBA.com || Yahoo! ||