DALLAS -- Tyson Chandler doesn't have to think real hard to recall the exciting 2007-08 season when he, Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets broke onto the Western Conference scene with flash and dash.
The Hornets won a franchise-record 56 games, shared the Southwest Division championship, earned the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and dusted off the Dallas Mavericks in the first round with a flurry of Paul-to-Chandler alley-oops.
"It seems like yesterday," Chandler said Sunday, the day before his Mavs take on Paul and the undefeated Hornets at the American Airlines Center. "I've got some fond memories of those guys. I still keep in contact with a lot of them, know their families, know their kids. So, we’re definitely still close and they're on a bit of a run right now."
Yes, they are. The most surprising team in the NBA is 8-0 under first-year coach Monty Williams, and they've beaten a slew of good teams to get there. The 7-foot-1 Chandler is now two seasons and two teams removed from the Hornets. While battling through ankle injuries, he was dealt to Charlotte in the summer of 2009, and was nearly traded to Toronto this summer before it was called off, opening the door for the Mavs.
Chandler said that even during the franchise's breakout year, the team knew it wouldn't last.
"It was a financial situation," said Chandler, who averaged a career-best 11.8 points and 11.7 rebounds in '07-'08. "We had our opportunity to win that one year and if we didn’t go all the way we kind of had it in the back of our head that they would break things up. I kind of knew I was going to be the one to go because teams were inquiring and my contract made sense."
The Hornets didn't win it all. They lost to the San Antonio Spurs, going down in a Game 7 in New Orleans. The core of the team remains with Paul, power forward David West and 3-point specialist Peja Stojakovic. Emeka Okafor is now handling the middle and averaging 12.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. Newcomers Marco Belinelli and Trevor Ariza are playing key roles and the bench is deep and so far productive.
"They’re actually deeper than when I played there," Chandler said. "They’ve got some athletic wings. That’s what we lacked when I was there, athletic wings that can get out, take some pressure off Chris, handle the ball and move side to side well defensively. I think they’ve upgraded in those positions and they’re playing well."
Chandler, who is working on the $12.6 million final year of that contract, has been a breath of fresh air at the center position for the Mavs, who traded the aging Erick Dampier for Chandler's 28-year-old and fully healthy legs. His stats are steadily on the climb, up to 8.1 points and 8.6 rebounds. He's shooting 74.1 percent from the floor, thanks to swapping Paul alley-oops for lobs from Jason Kidd, and he's hitting 86.2 of his free throws, more than 25 points better than his career average. He's also bringing a demeanor to the Mavs' defense, which leads the NBA in opponent shooting percentage.
Tonight's meeting is the first of two in three days. They teams will meet again Wednesday night in New Orleans. But, first comes tonight's anticipated game when the Hornets will put their perfect record on the line against the Mavs (6-2). Chandler said he plans to send them back to his old home with a first 'L' of the season.
"Trust me, it’s definitely on my mind and I’ll make it be known in the locker room that this will be huge for us," Chandler said. "They’re the only undefeated team in the league and everybody’s got to lose at some point. It would be good for them to get that loss here."