DALLAS —Dirk Nowitzki came right out and said it: The Dallas Mavericks did not want to open the playoffs against the Los Angeles Lakers.
They’d much rather take their chances against the New Orleans Hornets— especially after the way things went Wednesday night.
Jason Kidd and Jason Terry outplayed Hornets star Chris Paul, with Kidd racking up the 100th triple-double of his career and Terry scoring 13 of his 30 points during a 32-8 stretch that took Dallas from down by 11 to leading by 13. The Mavericks wound up winning 111-98 to set up a first-round series between these teams.
“This was definitely a win we wanted to get,” Nowitzki said. “The Lakers are probably the hottest team in the West. We definitely didn’t want to face them in the first round. … (New Orleans) had a great year, but I think we match up pretty well.”
The Hornets came in locked into the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. To avoid the Mavericks, New Orleans had to win and have Denver win later Wednesday.
Coach Byron Scott decided to go for it, sticking with his starters after taking a 50-48 lead at halftime and even after they’d stretched it to 70-59. He could’ve pulled them at that point, comfortable in knowing his best handled Dallas’ best, and hoped his backups could finish it off.
But he didn’t. And it backfired.
Kidd and Terry began either scoring or setting up easy shots every time on offense. A few minutes into the fourth quarter, the Mavericks were ahead 91-78.
Although New Orleans got to 100-96, Dallas pulled away again—just like the playoff-experienced Mavericks hope to do to the young, playoff-novice Hornets over the next two weeks.
“They played harder and we got a little rattled,” Scott said. “They played with a little more purpose. We were a little lackadaisical. In the playoffs, you can’t do that.”
Paul agreed, even if he can’t speak from experience. The closest he’s gotten to the postseason is attending the last two NBA finals as a spectator.
“The playoffs are a whole different game,” he said. “Tonight they came out with a lot to prove, whether they played us or the Lakers. We definitely wanted to win but we also knew we also had the second seed.”
The teams tied 2-2 in the season series; it was 1-1 after Kidd joined the Mavericks.
New Orleans beat Dallas in Kidd’s first game, but this one showed how much better the Mavs have gotten since getting accustomed to him running the show. They go into the playoffs on a 6-3 roll that includes victories over Golden State, Phoenix, Utah and, now, the team they’ll open against.
“I’ve always thought the of the last regular-season game as a good steppingstone going into the playoffs,” Kidd said. “We want to keep our momentum going.”
Kidd had 27 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds for his first triple-double since rejoining the Mavericks, the team he was with when he broke into the NBA and began piling up the stats. He already was No. 3 on the career list, behind Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson, but now he has joined them in triple-figure, triple-doubles.
Terry said the guys were hoping Kidd would get it during the previous two games, which turned out be a pair of losses to lottery-bound teams. Kidd said he never thought he’d get it in this game because he was more concerned with staying in front of Paul.
The points came easily as Kidd shot 9-of-14, including 5-of-8 on 3-pointers. Then a teammate told him he needed only two rebounds and an assist. He went for it at that point, grabbing his 10th rebound with 1:37 left, drawing a nice ovation from stat-conscious fans.
“The good thing is that Dirk is at one, so I’m ahead of him. But he told me he’s on his way,” Kidd said, laughing. “Oscar and Magic are great company. They changed the game, so I’m happy to be in their company.”
Nowitzki shot just 4-of-16 and had 12 points, a stat the Mavericks think actually bodes well. After all, they won on a night when he struggled, with New Orleans’ defense aimed at shutting him down.
Howard scored 19 and Bass had 13 points and 12 rebounds. Jerry Stackhouse returned after missing nine games with a groin injury and had four points in 16 minutes.
West scored 26 points and Paul had 20 points and 10 assists. Peja Stojakovic scored 17 points and Bonzi Wells had 16 for New Orleans, which ends the season having lost three of four and four of five.