Paul taking his turn to torch Mavericks
By Jaime Aron
DALLAS ó Dwyane Wade turned himself into a superstar by dominating the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 NBA finals. Then Baron Davis made one terrific play after another while blistering the Mavs in the first round of last yearís playoffs.
Now, itís Chris Paulís turn.
Fortunate enough to draw the reputation-making Mavericks in the first playoff series of his career, Paul is certainly picking up where Wade and Davis left off.
The speedy third-year point guard is scoring 33.5 points per game and setting up his teammates for nearly as many, averaging 13.5 assists. His success, and Dallasí inability to stop him, is the main reason the New Orleans Hornets will take a 2-0 lead into Game 3 tonight.
Paul actually is off to a historic start ó the first player ever to have at least 30 points and 10 assists in his first two playoff games. Heís also the first player to do it in back-to-back playoffs games since Steve Nash in 2005 against, you guessed it, the very same Mavericks.
Oh, uh, before Nash? Not since 1989, when Michael Jordan did it against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
iItís been too easy,î star Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki said Thursday. iWeíve got to be a little more proactive on him and see if we can get the ball out of his hands some. If not, just move up on him and make it a little harder on him. Weíll see how that works.î
Bring it on, Paul said.
iThereís only so many different things you can do in basketball,î he said. iWhatever theyíre doing, weíve adjusted to it. Weíve had 82 regular-season games to see what different teams try and thatís what itís all about, making adjustments.î
The Mavericks have tried their share. Yet they still havenít been able to contain the one guy embarrassing them the most, whoever that may be.
Start with Nash in 2005, when he averaged 30.3 points, 12 assists and 6.5 rebounds in leading Phoenix past Dallas in a second-round series.
The Mavs bounced back to reach the finals in í06, even going up 2-0 until Wade realized he couldnít be stopped. He wound up averaging 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.7 steals and even a blocked shot per game, bringing the title to Miami.
Last year Davis powered eighth-seeded Golden State to a colossal upset of top-seeded Dallas, averaging 25 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.8 steals.
Perhaps the only good news for the Mavericks is that all those series went six games. This one is halfway to a sweep, not that Paul would use such a word.
iNo, no, you just think about the third game,î he said.
The Hornets havenít won in Dallas since January 1998, back when the franchise played in Charlotte and Muggsy Bogues was the point guard. The Mavericks were 34-7 at home this season, among the best in the league.
iThis is a totally different animal that weíre facing, totally different atmosphere and a whole lot more at stake,î Hornets coach Byron Scott said. iSo right now, as far as weíre concerned, itís 0-0 as far as playing them in their arena.î
Whatever the atmosphere and whatever the defensive gimmick, Scott believes Paul will handle it. He said the best part of Paulís game is recognizing what the defense is trying to do and finding a way to thwart it.
For instance, Dallas opened Game 2 trapping Paul. New Orleans got seven baskets the first 10 tries, so Dallas scrapped it.
Another stunt was making it hard for Paul to get the inbound pass. The Hornets found easy ways around that, too.
iSometimes it just takes players just to step up and say, `Iím just not taking it any more. I want to play better defense. I want to play better offense,îí Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. iWe feel we have those kind of players and I think theyíre going to respond that way.î
Since trading Devin Harris for Jason Kidd, the Mavericks are left with older, slower players who mightíve been able to hang with Paul in their prime, 30-something guys like starters Kidd and Jerry Stackhouse, and reserves Jason Terry, Eddie Jones and Devean George. They also have Tyronn Lue, but heís hurt.
Another option is forward Josh Howard. Heís covered smaller players before, but Johnson has hardly tried it this series.
iItís simple,î Howard said. iChris is the head of the snake. Weíve got to figure out a way to stop him.î