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A little smirk crept across Tyson Chandler's face.
The subject was the Dallas Mavericks' comments this week that they were pleased to be facing the New Orleans Hornets in the opening round of the NBA playoffs, rather than the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made New Orleans -5 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for today’s game, the over/under has been set at 192.5 total points (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 58% of bets for this game have been placed on Dallas +5 (View NBA Bet Percentages). Bet this game.
``They wanted us. They got us now, and good for them,'' said Chandler, the Hornets' feisty, 7-foot-1 center. ``Sometimes you've got to give people what they want.''
New Orleans won a franchise-record 56 games during the regular season, earning the second seed in the powerful Western Conference. It will be at home when this first-round series opens Saturday night.
The Hornets' banner year wasn't quite enough, however, to elevate them to the status of fearsome title contenders. Until they replicate their recent regular-season success in the playoffs, they represent little more than a nice story about a young and exciting basketball team that gave people in a rebuilding city reason to smile.
The Mavericks, on the other hand, may have mortgaged their future for an opportunity to win it all now when they traded away former top pick Devin Harris in a multiplayer deal for veteran guard Jason Kidd.
Dallas may have been in danger of missing the playoffs a few weeks ago, but the Mavs finished with 51 wins and beat the Hornets by double digits in both teams' regular-season finale on Wednesday night.
``In the playoffs, everything starts over, and whoever is going to play the best basketball now is going to win,'' Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki said. ``We're excited and looking forward to a great playoff run.''
The Hornets haven't been playing their best basketball lately, losing four of their last six games. They may need to turn that around immediately, and not just because the team that wins the opening game of a first-round NBA playoff series advances nearly 83 percent of the time.
The Hornets also must maintain home-court advantage, because they struggle in Dallas, where they haven't won since January 1998.
The teams split four games this season, the home team winning each time.
``We want to play the percentages, definitely. That's why we want to protect home court,'' Hornets swingman Bonzi Wells said. ``We've got four games at home, they've got three, so if you do the math, we'll win the series. Hopefully that scenario comes about.''
Then there's the matter of playoff experience. Dallas has a ton of it; New Orleans, not nearly as much.
The Mavericks were in the NBA finals two seasons ago and will want redemption for their first-round upset loss to Golden State last season.
The Hornets have not been to the playoffs since the 2003-04 season, when first-time All-Star David West was a rookie reserve. New Orleans' MVP candidate, fellow first-time All-Star Chris Paul, is in his third season and making his postseason debut.
The question is how much playoff experience matters? The last time the Hornets were in the playoffs, they lost a seven-game, first-round series to Miami, a team led by then-rookie Dwyane Wade.
``You've got to start somewhere. You can't win a playoff series or be successful in the playoffs without first getting to the playoffs,'' West said. ``I just don't think it's going to be that big of a factor. We've had big games. We've played in some tough environments ... We've done things that prepared us for this situation.''
While Mavericks players made no secret about wanting to avoid the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers, Dallas coach Avery Johnson scoffed at those who consider his team the favorite against New Orleans.
``It's a total disrespect for New Orleans,'' said Johnson, who grew up here and is friends with Saints coach Sean Payton. ``A lot of people nationally don't know what they're talking about. ... We're the seventh seed, they've had a terrific season, they have the home-court advantage and we're going to have to play awfully well.''
Dallas will try to slow down the speedy Paul, an extraordinary ballhandler who has shown the ability to score 40 points in a game but who usually looks to set up teammates for open shots first.
Teams struggled to stop Paul during the regular season, but Dallas now has a seven-game series in which to refine its defense, which will start with Kidd as Paul's primary defender.
``For me, it's just to play the game the right way, have fun doing it, and trying to slow him down,'' Kidd said. ``You're not going to stop him; he's too talented. Just try to make it tough on him and throw multiple guys at him.''
Hornets coach Byron Scott said he expects Paul to see double-teams, but not for an entire game.
``When you bottle him up, you've got two guys on him,'' Scott said. ``Somebody's open, and he's one of the best in the business at finding that open guy. It's just a matter of that guy stepping up and knocking down shots.''
Paul downplayed the significance of his backcourt matchup with Kidd, saying he and Kidd are different types of players.
``He's taller than me, he goes and rebounds the ball ... I probably look to score a little bit more,'' Paul said. ``He's got 100 triple-doubles. I think I've got four.
``He brings a confidence to that team, but it's not about stopping him. It's about beating the Mavericks.''