Jannero Pargo’s reaction to Jason Kidd’s flagrant foul summed up the growth of the Hornets’ confidence as they took a 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series with the Dallas Mavericks.
“We didn’t want him to get suspended,” Pargo said after practice Monday. “We want them to be at full strength and have their best team out there on the floor, so that way, if we get the win, it won’t be tainted at all.”
Letting go of the ball just in time to brace his fall, Pargo narrowly avoided a face-plant on the hardwood after Kidd hooked his hand around the back of Pargo’s neck and yanked the Hornets guard to the floor to prevent a transition layup.
Kidd was ejected with 7:16 remaining in the Hornets’ 97-84 Game 4 victory in Dallas on Sunday night, but the NBA decided Monday that Kidd wouldn’t be suspended for Game 5 in New Orleans on Tuesday night.
New Orleans won the first two games at home because of brilliant performances by Chris Paul, who had more than 30 points and at least 10 assists in each of those games.
Paul looked downright human during two games in Dallas, but that didn’t prevent the Hornets from getting a split on the road.
David West picked up the slack with 24 points Sunday night and perimeter sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic added 19. New Orleans reserves played ferocious defense and attacked on offense as well, with Pargo and rookie Julian Wright each scoring 11 points.
“We’ve gotten them out of rhythm on the offensive end because of our defense … and that’s going to continue because we understand how important it is for us to play defense to win this series,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “We have a lot of confidence that we can win this series. Obviously right now, being up 3-1, we’ve put ourselves in a pretty good position to make sure that happens.”
Although the Hornets were seeded second in the Western Conference and the Mavericks seventh, Dallas came in with the more impressive postseason resume.
This is the Mavs’ eighth straight season in the playoffs, including a trip to the finals only two seasons ago. When Dallas earned the top seed in the West last season and lost to Golden State in the first round of the playoffs, it was considered a stunner.
The Mavs were expected to play like a team looking for redemption against a young New Orleans squad with relatively little postseason experience and led by a playoff rookie in Paul.
If experience means anything in this series, now is the time for Dallas to prove it. Otherwise, the Mavs may be in for a roster shakeup, if not the firing of coach Avery Johnson, following a second straight first-round playoff exit.
“We’ve got to show some heart, compete until the end, never give up,” Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki said.
Nowtizki has been Dallas’ best player in this series, averaging 28 points per game. Jason Terry (16.6 ppg) also has been solid, but Dallas hasn’t gotten enough help from Kidd (7.2 ppg), Josh Howard (12.8 ppg) or Jerry Stackhouse (5.0 ppg).
Howard has been in a rut since Game 2, heard boos in Dallas and demonstrated how low his confidence has gotten on Sunday night by hesitating on an open jump shot before tossing up an air ball. He was 3-for-16 in Game 4, while Kidd had only three points, three assists and four rebounds before his ejection.
Howard’s struggles have come at a bad time for the Mavs, who need a third scoring option against a Hornets team playing defense with youthful vigor.
“If you’re in November, December, and you hit a week stretch of not playing good basketball, you have 40 games to get it turned around,” Johnson lamented when asked about Howard’s play. “Now you have one game because its single elimination right now.”
The Hornets expect an added boost from a home crowd looking to witness the first time an NBA team representing New Orleans has ever won a playoff series.
The Jazz never even made the playoffs while they resided in the Big Easy. The Hornets made the postseason in each of their first two seasons here, but lost in the first round both times.
“Another first? We’ve been doing that all season long,” said Scott, whose team set a franchise record with 56 wins in the regular season. “We’ve been breaking a lot of trends all season long, so that would be a nice one to break also.”