Last season: Hornets failed to make the playoffs; Mavericks lost in first round of playoffs to Golden State

Overview: This series features last year's Most Valuable Player, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, against the Hornets' Chris Paul, a top MVP candidate and one of the most exciting young players in the league. It also pits a veteran, playoff-savvy team against a young club with little postseason experience.

The Mavericks, after finishing with the best record in the NBA a year ago, flamed out in the playoffs against the Warriors. That seemed to have a lingering effect on the team this year. It also caused team owner Mark Cuban to take a huge gamble just prior to the trade deadline to land veteran point guard Jason Kidd. Immediately after the trade, the Mavs struggled against the other top teams in the league, but just when it looked like they might miss the playoffs completely, they started putting things together. Kidd is fitting in and Nowitzki is relatively healthy and the Mavs can put the rough regular season and last year's disappointment behind them with a long playoff run.

Dallas, two years removed from the NBA finals loss to the Miami Heat, does feature plenty of battle-tested players. In addition to Nowitzki (23.6 ppg) and Kidd (10.8 ppg, 10.1 apg), Josh Howard (19.9 ppg) and Jason Terry (15.5 ppg) give Mavs coach Avery Johnson plenty of options on the offensive end. The Mavericks' playoff experience should give them an advantage over the young Hornets.

That's not to say that New Orleans doesn't have a chance. There is a reason the Hornets had the best record in the West for much of the year and finished just one game behind the Lakers. They simply are an all-around good team. Paul (21.1 ppg, 11.6 apg) is the unquestioned leader, but power forward David West (20.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg) was an All-Star this year and center Tyson Chandler (11.8 ppg, 11.7 rpg) had his best season. Small forward Peja Stojakovic (16.4 ppg) was in plenty of playoff battles when he was with the Sacramento Kings and he will be looked to for leadership.

Prediction: The window of opportunity is closing for the Mavericks, but it's not shut yet. Dallas will make this a series. In fact, look for the Mavs to pull the upset. Dallas in six.

Season series: tied 2-2

Today at Hornets, 7 p.m.

Tuesday at Hornets, 7 p.m.

Friday at Mavs, 8 p.m.

April 27 at Mavs, 9:30 p.m.

April 29 at Hornets, TBA *

May 1 at Mavs, TBA *

May 3 at Hornets, TBA *

* if necessary

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