Spurs-Hornets series breakdown
No. 3 Spurs vs. No. 2 Hornets
Season Series: Tied 2-2
Nov. 9 -- Spurs 97, Hornets 85: Tony Parker had 27 points and eights assists to outduel Chris Paul (18 and seven) in an early-season meeting in New Orleans. Tim Duncan added 24 points and 12 boards.
Jan. 26 -- Hornets 102, Spurs 78: David West scored 32 points (on 15-of-19 shooting) and Paul added 17 points and 11 assists as the Hornets handed Duncan his worst-ever home defeat.
Feb. 23 -- Spurs 98, Hornets 89: The Spurs avenged that embarrassing loss of a month before behind Manu Ginobili's 30 points and 12 assists. Paul finished with 27 points, but just four assists.
March 12 -- Hornets 100, Spurs 75: Paul had 26 points and 17 assists (to go with just three turnovers) and West added 29 points and 10 boards as the host Hornets routed the Spurs for the second time during the regular season.
The Skinny: The NBA's New Kids on the Block meet the Old Guard. The Hornets are in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the franchise moved to New Orleans in 2003. San Antonio is seeking its fifth NBA title in 10 years. But while the Spurs will have a huge edge in postseason experience, the defending champs are facing a potential nightmare in this matchup.
Led by the sensational Paul, the Hornets racked up the second-best record in the Western Conference during the regular season. They boast a bevy of exceptional shooters, including West and Peja Stojakovic, a strong defense anchored by shot-blocker Tyson Chandler and the kind of youthful legs that could give San Antonio fits. New Orleans also has home-court advantage and is brimming with confidence after dispatching the more experienced Mavs in five games in the first round.
The Spurs counter with their Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, but they also boast a deep and smart supporting cast along with a masterful coach in Gregg Popovich. San Antonio struggles to score at times, but its defense might be the NBA's best overall. The Spurs contained the high-scoring Suns in the first round, generally protecting the lane and controlling the backboards as they have done so well over the years.
Key Matchup: Chris Paul vs. Tony Parker
Paul, a legitimate MVP candidate this season, averaged 24.6 points, 12.0 assists and only 1.2 turnovers in the first round. The 6-foot floor general can break down a defense in a multitude of ways, using his handle and stop-and-go style to get in the lane at will and set up teammates. Parker is an All-Star in his own right with three NBA titles on his résumé. One of the quickest players in the league and one of the best finishers ever for a guy 6-2, he averaged 29.6 points and 7.0 assists in the series against Phoenix. Parker doesn't have to win this matchup by himself (Bruce Bowen will get the call to defend Paul at times), but he has to attack the rim consistently, knock down open jumpers and make Paul work on defense.
X-Factor for Spurs: Manu Ginobili
The league's Sixth Man Award winner could be the key for the Spurs, especially because New Orleans has strong counterpoints to Parker and Duncan in Paul and West, respectively. Ginobili's ability to make plays, create offense and hit outside shots figures to be critical against a New Orleans defense that does a good job defending the paint. Matched up against Morris Peterson, he should have room to operate. However, he was relatively quiet in three of the four games during the season series.
X-Factor for Hornets: Tyson Chandler
Though overshadowed by Paul and West, Chandler has delivered for the Hornets all season with his energy, defense and rebounding. The 7-1 center doesn't have much of an offensive game, but he cleans up around the glass and finishes well on the break. Defensively, he blocks and alters shots as well as anybody in the league. If Chandler can stay out of foul trouble and protect the rim like he did against the Mavs, the Spurs could have a difficult time scoring enough to win this series.
The Pick: Paul is scary good, and the Hornets showed in the last round that they could handle the big stage of the playoffs. But New Orleans is facing a much tougher foe in the Spurs, who still possess the game's best big man in Duncan and know how to win in the postseason.