Photo by Danny Bollinger.
In Game 1, two critical Mavs sprained an ankle, Jason Kidd had twice as many turnovers as assists, the bench saviors were all wearing home whites, Dirk couldn’t get a helping hand, and the opportunity to take a game under Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups’ feet was lost.
I’m sure there were positives in that 48 minutes somewhere, but the theme for Game 2 is improvement. Looking over the lists of errors and miscues from Game 1, I can’t help but think that the Mavs are in charge of their own destinies. It comes down to unveiling a more refined style of play on Tuesday, a display of an offense that doesn’t struggle to finish in transition or toss around careless passes on the perimeter.
Jason Kidd probably can’t play any worse, so at least that’s one minor victory in the bag. But Jason Terry and J.J. Barea need to do their part as well to ensure that the offense doesn’t come to a grinding halt. It’s difficult for both JET and J.J. to see over and around traps, but their ability to swing the ball around the perimeter and not get greedy with their playmaking will cut down the team’s turnovers and hopefully open up the shooters. I was literally frightened whenever the Mavs passed the ball, as if each lazy hand-off or cross-court bounce pass was an open invitation for a Nuggets’ fast break. That, more than anything, needs to be reconciled if the Mavs want to hang in this series.
Asking for precise execution on something as simple as passing the ball should go without saying, but these Mavs apparently need a reminder every once in awhile. That reminder is even more crucial given Josh Howard’s injury status. Josh said that having two wobbly ankles is “like walking on egg shells,” and that if Game 2 were a regular season contest, he’d be watching from the bench. But it’s not and he won’t be. Regardless, any time Josh does put in on the court will likely be limited, and the Mavs’ best defensive strategy for Carmelo Anthony (getting him in foul trouble) will be a bit more difficult. If we’re expecting less scoring from Josh and more from Melo, that could mean serious problems even for a Dallas offense that executes perfectly. Antoine Wright will have to really dig in, lest Melo explode for a nickel.
Offensively, Jason Terry will need to pick up the slack. He was shadowed by Anthony Carter, J.R. Smith, Chauncey Billups, and Dahntay Jones during Game 1, and the only reason his shot attempts and point totals don’t look unusually meager is because of some fourth quarter shot hunting. In the game of basketball, I’m an advocate of doing what works, and ramming that consistent ingredient down your opponents’ throats. If you have a speedy point guard, drive and kick until the defense changes to counter it. If you have a reliable low-post threat, feed him the ball until the double-teams come. And if you have two players who can absolutely ruin defenses with the two man game, give them the ball and spread out. If the Nuggets continue to switch on screens, Jason Terry needs to realize that there are two options for exploiting the mismatch. Terry can turn overaggressive shot-blockers against themselves, using the pump fake to lure Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin into foul trouble, which helps out the entire team. And likewise, force a second defender to help on Dirk, which opens up shots from the perimeter and lanes for slashers. Make the Nuggets prove that they can stop Dirk before you give them any benefit of the doubt, and make them prove that their defensive strategies are as sound as they claim.
I can foresee Nene being a big problem in this series, particularly with Erick Dampier running gingerly on that sprained ankle. Around the basket, I trust in Dampier’s size to limit the easy looks. But off the pick-and-roll, it’s up to Damp to play under the screen and it’s up to the guards to battle through. Dirk has played way off of Kenyon Martin in similar situations and Chauncey Billups has yet to really exploit that. Plus, any possession ending with a Nene or Martin jumpshot has to be considered a win for the Dallas defense. Nene’s still going to be the beast that he is, but at least the defense might be in position to contest his attacks on the rim.
On Sunday, we saw reasons to worry, but nothing to really freak about. The Mavs are fully capable of stealing Game 2 in Denver and coming home with the series all square. A lot depends on two gimps, a revival of the league’s Sixth Man, and a healthy bump in basketball IQ, but the playoff Mavs have shown that they’re a bounce-back team. Kidd, Terry, and Dirk need to take Game 1 personally, and the Mavs on the whole need to realize their offensive potential. “Must-win” games are a myth, but an 0-2 deficit against Denver would put both teams on tilt. For the Mavs, that would likely end in more risky plays and more turnovers. For the Nuggets, an emotional ride would push them towards even more aggressive defense and a parade to the free throw line. If the Mavs are going to win this series, they’re going to need a statement win, and I see no better place for that than Game 2.