Game 1 started off almost exactly as expected with Dallas crisply executing its half-court offense by running sets for Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard. The Mavs attacked the basket, got to the free-throw line and beat the Hornets down the floor in transition -- all right out of Dallas' pregame script.
Meanwhile, the Hornets had some first-half jitters, showed some offensive tentativeness, missed lots of open shots and demonstrated some of the "playoff inexperience" they claimed not to have.
By halftime, Dallas had a solid 12-point lead. But this was fool's gold for them, as the Hornets were still doing two things well defensively that would help them eventually -- defending the screen and roll and trapping and rotating on their double-teams.
In the second half, the Mavericks began running isolations, which were limited to one side of the floor with the other Mavericks standing on the perimeter and not cutting. Even the Mavericks' screen and rolls were toward the sideline; nothing to the middle of the floor. This allowed New Orleans to maintain its defensive position, hedge and help, and essentially build a wall around the lane area, which meant no layups, no free throws and no offensive rebounds. Combine that with the Hornets' quick doubles and weak-side rotations and the Mavericks were suffocated on offense, shooting jump shots with rotating and recovering defenders in their face.
The Mavs also did nothing in the half court to free up Jason Terry, who had lit up the Hornets during the regular season. They did try to isolate Nowitzki in the post when things started to get away from them, but this just made the Mavs more stagnant.
The Mavericks' coaching staff will see all of this in their film study.
Their plan for Game 2 will include quicker action, more cuts to the basket to negate the Hornets' rotations and pick and roll action that attacks the middle of the floor.
Nowitzki, Howard and Terry must attack quicker and with more aggressiveness. High ball screens with Terry and Howard can put those two in the middle of the floor with space to work.
Dallas' offensive game plan must also include Kidd aggressively attacking Paul, getting into the paint and using his size to punish Paul and draw fouls. He made things way too easy on the NBA's leader in steals. Also, look for Dallas to ball screen much more for Kidd, even having him run off some screens without the ball to lay some body shots on Paul with Erick Dampier and Brandon Bass.
As for New Orleans on offense, it all begins and ends with Paul. In the first half, he was trying to get his teammates going and was not nearly as aggressive as he had been in two previous wins over the Mavericks, in which he torched them for 31 and 33 points. But in the second half, Paul took over and became a scorer.
Kidd can't guard him, so Dallas has to figure out either how to help Kidd or how to quickly get the ball out of Paul's hands. They can run a second defender at him early, they can double him on the dribble, or they can try a bigger defender on him, like Howard, who can lay off and use his length to bother Paul on jumpers and drives.
Or they can punish him every time he comes into the lane and put him on the deck.
That's what championship teams do, and it is something the Mavericks have not been willing to do, which may go literally to the heart of the Mavericks' recent playoff problems. When you have an opponent wreaking havoc on your team, scoring in every way possible, turning to the crowd and beating his chest and running down the court yelling, "They can't hold me!" its not a problem solved by X's and O's.
This gets solved by the players -- with physical toughness, aggressive and attacking offense, and hard fouls on defense. This takes a refusal to back down.
Backing away from a confrontation, or avoiding one altogether in the playoffs isn't necessarily showing good restraint. For the Mavericks, it is a sign of weakness. It has been their label for the past two years. Their late regular season mini-run put some of that to rest, but their complete meltdown and the way the Hornets disrespected them in the second half of Game 1 puts this issue right back in the forefront.
I expect New Orleans to come out smelling blood in Game 2, showing no respect at all for the Mavericks and trying to bury them in the first half. But I also expect Dallas to respond with a much more aggressive effort. Look for some hard fouls and some physical confrontations.
PREDICTION: Hornets win Game 2
Mike Moreau is the Director of Basketball for the Pro Training Center and The Basketball Academy at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He also serves an NBA Analyst for Hoopsworld.
Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.