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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hornets vs. Mavericks Preview: Feel The Sting!

Posted by TADOne

Who is your MVP? Depending on the team you root for, or your personal disdain for a certain Superstar, your answer could be complicated. Kobe Bryant will more than likely edge out Chris Paul for this year’s award, but Paul has his eyes set on a broader view. Individual awards are nice mantle pieces and is something you can tell your grandkids one day, but winning a championship is a story that will live and tell itself. And Chris Paul doesn’t come across as one to gloat.

Coming into this season, Paul and the Hornets had their sights set high, even while the critics slept. After winning 39 games last season, the Hornets knew that if all of their key players could come back from injuries that derailed last season's playoff push, they could be very good. Ever since training camp, they set out to prove the doubters wrong. And now, on the brink of their first round series with the Dallas Mavericks, they still appear to have doubters.

"This was definitely a win we wanted to get ... and don't see the Lakers." Said Dirk Nowitzki.

Dirk was quoted just after the final regular season game, a win against these very same New Orleans Hornets. While some may look at the comment and say “big deal,” the significance of that win can not be exaggerated. Beating the Hornets ensured the number 7 seed and a first round matchup against the Hornets instead of Kobe and the Lakers.

"They wanted us. They got us now, and good for them," smirked Tyson Chandler. "Sometimes you've got to give people what they want."

Be careful what you wish for. While avoiding MVP favorite Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, the Mavs still have to deal with the 56-win Bugs, a franchise record number of wins. The turnaround this season for the Hornets was spurred by Paul, but was also a direct correlation of Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler coming back from their own injury-shortened seasons from last year, and the continued improvement of first-time All-Star PF David West. While Paul is the straw that stirs the drink, you cannot complete the cocktail without the other ingredients.

The Dallas Mavericks have an equally compelling story of reaching this postseason. While Dallas has always been a strong Western Conference power for the better part of this decade, they always seemed to have something missing when it came to getting over the hump and winning that elusive championship they have been gunning for since losing to the Miami Heat in the 2006 finals. After the blockbuster trades of Shaq to the Suns and Pau Gasol to the Lakers, the Mavs felt compelled to make a move to keep up with the Jones’s, so to speak. Enter Jason Kidd.

"There's really no pressure. The challenge is to find a way to win the series. That's the fun part. I've always felt that once you get to the playoffs, it's not about seedings. It's about who gets to four first."

Kidd is a veteran at this. He knows how to give the good PR answers to the questions that come up about the pressure of him showing a good return on the Mavs investment in trading for him and expecting his leadership to lead them where they ache to be. Dirk Nowitzki has taken a lot of heat for the Mavs past of not fulfilling the potential of leading his squad to the promised land, and rightfully so. But Kidd will take the pressure off of Dirk and allow him to get back to his MVP form of last season, and Dirk has definitely responded to the added help.

But beyond the superstars and starters, this series will hinge on the x-factors each team has coming off the bench. The Hornets traded for playoff veteran Bonzi Wells at the trade deadline, and he has bolstered what once was the Hornets shortcomings, a strong contributor off the bench and a playoff tested veteran. The Mavs also have an intriguing x-factor in Jason “Jet” Terry. The former starter is a fireplug off the bench for the Mavs, and when he is on, the Mavs are hard to beat.

So who is your MVP? Mine is Chris Paul. In such a close series, I look at Paul as being the difference with his MVP caliber play carrying over from the regular season and sparking the New Orleans revival.

The city should be proud. Hornets in 7.