Follow The Leader

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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 year's playoffs.

Now, it's Chris Paul's 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 Dallas' inability to stop him, is the main reason the New Orleans Hornets will take a 2-0 lead into Game 3 Friday night.

Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Dallas -5 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 195.5 total points (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 65% of bets for this game have been placed on New Orleans +5 (View NBA Bet Percentages). Bet this game

Paul actually is off to a historic start - the first player ever to have at least 30 points and 10 assists in his first two playoff games. He's 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.

``It's been too easy,'' Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki said Thursday. ``We've 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. We'll see how that works.''

Bring it on, Paul said.

``There's only so many different things you can do in basketball,'' he said. ``Whatever they're doing, we've adjusted to it. We've had 82 regular-season games to see what different teams try and that's what it's all about, making adjustments.''

The Mavericks have tried their share. Yet they still haven't 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 '06, even going up 2-0 until Wade realized he couldn't 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.

``No, no, you just think about the third game,'' he said.

The Hornets haven't 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.

``This is a totally different animal that we're facing, totally different atmosphere and a whole lot more at stake,'' Hornets coach Byron Scott said. ``So right now, as far as we're concerned, it's 0-0 as far as playing them in their arena.''

Whatever the atmosphere and whatever the defensive gimmick, Scott believes Paul will handle it. He said the best part of Paul's 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.

``Sometimes it just takes players just to step up and say, `I'm just not taking it any more. I want to play better defense. I want to play better offense,''' Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. ``We feel we have those kind of players and I think they're going to respond that way.''

Really? Who?

Since trading Devin Harris for Jason Kidd, the Mavericks are left with older, slower players who might've 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 he's hurt.

Another option is forward Josh Howard. He's covered smaller players before, but Johnson has hardly tried it this series.

``It's simple,'' Howard said. ``Chris is the head of the snake. We've got to figure out a way to stop him.''

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