Hornets-Mavericks Game 3: What to watch for

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Published: April 25, 2008

With the Hornets up 2-0 against the Mavericks in the first round of the Playoffs, the series switches to Dallas for Game 3 on Friday. Here's a few things to keep an eye on…

1) The Hornets' reaction to a hostile crowd

The Hornets have managed to shut up just about every critic in the country after two impressive wins in New Orleans, but one big question remains: can they continue this level of play on the road?

It's been heavily publicized that New Orleans hasn't won a game in Dallas since 1998. However, the Hornets can boast one of the top four road records in the NBA this season, and Byron Scott has been quick to point out that this current squad is far superior to any Hornets team in the past decade. Additionally, New Orleans didn't exactly get their asses handed to them in two visits to Dallas this season, having been within five points in the final four minutes of both games.

Still, it's no easy feat to steal a Playoff game in The Big D. The Mavs believe their fans can provide the boost they need to get back in this series, and our young Hornets have yet to face a hostile postseason crowd. Can they handle the pressure and continue their dominant play? We'll soon see.

2) Avery Johnson's latest defensive game plan

I'm interested to see what AJ will try next. The Mavs were intent on slowing Chris Paul after his Game 1 outburst, but the kid came back and dropped a dose of deja-vu on them in Game 2. Nobody in a Dallas uniform has proved capable of guarding CP one-on-one, their bigs are just two slow to trap him effectively, and sending a quicker guy to double results in an open look for competent scorers such as Peja, Pargo or Peterson.

So if you're Avery Johnson, what do you do?

Well, he did try posting Kidd against Paul a few times in the third quarter of Game 2, and while I don't think the Mavs should be counting on JK's low-post prowess to get them a bunch of points, forcing Paul to work harder on defense isn't a dumb idea. Run some picks to get CP switched onto a better scorer and see what happens. Dallas can hope he either gets worn down over the course of the game, or he gets in foul trouble and spends major minutes on the bench. Either outcome hurts the Hornets offensively.

Beyond that, a zone might not be a bad look for Dallas. I believe they tried it a couple of times in Game 2, but never kept it going long enough to see how effective it might be. The Hornets have shown that they can bust open a zone defense, but if nothing else is working for the Mavs I'd be surprised if they don't resort to one.

3) Scoring help for Dirk Nowitzki

So far in this series, Brandon Bass has been the Mavs' second-best offensive weapon. It's not supposed to be that way. Josh Howard and Jason Terry need to step up for Dallas, and they need to do it in Game 3 or the series is over.

Howard, who has been playing through some niggling injuries, shot just 7-of-26 from the field in the first two games, for an average 13.5 points. Meanwhile, Terry has been shooting a pretty good percentage (8-of-15, 53.3%), but has had his looks limited by a focused Jannero Pargo. Other guys have also struggled to contribute offensively for Dallas, most notably starters Erick Dampier and Jerry Stackhouse.

The cure to these struggles could well be improved defensive play by the Mavericks. If they can get stops and rebounds, they can look to get some easy buckets off the fast break. So far in the series, running opportunities have been few and far between for Dallas, mostly because they're taking the ball out from under the basket to start every possession.

4) Foul trouble for the Hornets; free throws for the Mavs

During the regular season, the Hornets fouled less than any other team in the NBA, getting whistled for an average of just 18.67 personals per game. Through two Playoff games, the Hornets have been called for a total of 49 fouls against the Mavericks, or 24.5 per game. As a result, Dallas, the best free-throw shooting team in the League this season, has already made 77 trips to the free throw line, making 63 of those attempts (81.8%).

For New Orleans, perhaps worse than giving up those easy points is having guys end up in foul trouble. Peja Stojakovic and Bonzi Wells both had their minutes limited because of exactly that in Game 1, while Tyson Chandler suffered the same fate in Game 2. Luckily, such foul trouble hasn't caused much of a problem for the Hornets thus far, but it could prove to be a big factor if the Mavs pull their finger out and start playing ball.

5) Morris Peterson's aggressiveness

Don't underestimate Mo Pete's offensive contribution for the Hornets. He may be averaging just 9ppg in the series, but he's made the Mavericks think twice about leaving him open. He can shoot that three-ball from the corner, or take it right to the rack if the defense closes out on him too quickly. Having Peterson as a legitimate scoring threat helps spread the Mavs' D that much wider, allowing David West more room to maneuver in the low post, and giving Chris Paul bigger gaps to rip through.

Oh, and Mo is still pretty damn solid at the other end, too.

6) The Hornets' defense

The offensive explosion by New Orleans in Game 2 overshadowed some problems we were having on the defensive end. We gave up 103 points to the Mavs on 47% shooting, both above their season averages. Once again, the Hornets struggled to limit Dirk Nowitzki, who is now averaging 29ppg for the series. I'm okay with that for the most part, since the majority of his buckets either come from the free throw line or off jumpers where he had a hand in his face. Nothing too easy there, although we could probably send those double teams earlier so the dude isn't already in the paint before he sees the help.

I thought we could have done a better job defending the pick and roll, especially on the wing. Whenever their screener would roll towards the baseline, there was either no help there at all (hello dunk/layup) or it was late (hello open jumper).

Beyond that, the Hornets just need to maintain better focus defensively. For example, Chris Paul likes to drop off Kidd and roam for steals, and he can afford to do that because JK won't burn you all that much with open jumpers. The same can't be said for the other Mavericks though, and Chris needs to be aware of that when he gets switched off Kidd. Jason Terry dropped four three-pointers on Tuesday, and I believe a couple of those were because Paul lost him after a switch.

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