The Mavs’ playoff date with the Nuggets is creeping up on us, so I again enlisted some help to make sense of it all. Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com and Zac Crain of Inside Corner and D Magazine reprise their roles as roundtablers, and this time around they’re joined by Tim MacMahon from the Dallas Morning News’ Mavs Blog, David Lord of DallasBasketball.com, and Eric Celeste of Inside Corner/D.
Rob Mahoney: The good news: no more Tony Parker. The bad news: plenty of Chauncey Billups. Billups was brilliant against the Hornets in the first round, but he plays a completely different style than Parker. Does Chauncey have you shaking in your boots?
Tim MacMahon, Dallas Morning News Blog: He doesn’t scare me at all. Of course, I don’t have to play against him.
Will he have Jason Kidd shaking in his Chinese sneakers? Doubt that, but Billups does present quite a challenge for Kidd.
Kidd is still capable of putting his stamp on a playoff series because of his smarts, savvy, strength and tendency to step up in crunchtime. Billups ranks right up there with Kidd in all of those categories.
The Mavs were 18-4 in close games (decided by five points or fewer) that Kidd played in this season. Two of those losses came against Billups’ Nuggets. Coincidence? We might find out over the next few weeks.
Eric Celeste, Inside Corner/D Magazine: Not at all. Kidd is big enough to muscle with him, and Billups, while still crafty, isn’t so quick he can go around Kidd without help from screens. He averaged less than 18 points a game against Kidd this year. (Kidd didn’t play in the last game.) It’s the small quick guards that give the Mavericks so many problems. C-Bill is a great floor leader and a solid defender, but Kidd still was one assist away from a triple double when they played in November. I worry a lot more about J.R. Smith and Melo, because I don’t like counting on Anthony Wright to guard the former and I know Josh Howard *can’t* guard the latter.
Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: Kidd vs. Chauncey is as favorable a matchup as the Mavs can ask for here – and that’s no diss of Billups. Heck, maybe the Nuggets feel the same way about J-Kidd! The beauty of both of these players is that in their 30’s, they have moved to new teams and played “Extreme Makeover: Hoops Edition’’ with two franchises that were lacking. Kidd took over a team considered to be “Soft White Boyz’’ and a team that had a low BBIQ. And now? The BBIQ is Einsteinesque (maybe even MarcSteinesque!) and nobody messes with the Mavs physically because Kidd’s sheer presence commands such respect.
The fact that Chauncey has become Nicholson in the Denver Cuckoo’s Nest is equally impressive.
We know that when Kidd is on the floor in the final minutes of close games (five points or fewer), his Mavs are 18-4. What should shake some Dallas boots is that three of the close games the Mavs didn’t win this year were against. … Billups’ Nuggets.
David Lord, DallasBasketball.com: Individually, Chauncey isn’t scary to me. But his ability to harness and therefore maximize the super-athletic brigade in Denver that in past playoffs has often veered into knuckleheadedness is a concern. It’s much more challenging to get the Nuggets off track these days with Billups controlling the action, and it takes way more sustained focus to find a way to beat them now because they don’t beat themselves.
Zac Crain, Inside Corner/D Magazine: Not as much as Parker did, at least on an individual basis. He does elevate the team, though, and that worries me. Before, you could count on Nuggets playing out of control, or George Karl shooting the wheels off somehow. With Chauncey around, that’s not happening. Or, not as often.
RM: Denver has put together arguably the most complete team performance in these playoffs…although I’m sure the Mavs’ reserves would have something to say about that. How do you envision the battle of the benches unfolding?
Tim MacMahon, Dallas Morning News Blog: J.R. Smith and Jason Terry probably come close to canceling each other out. Unless Smith gets suspended for a game or two, which is a possibility considering the bad blood that he has with Antoine Wright.
J.J. Barea doesn’t match up well with the long, athletic Nuggets, but he’s on a nice roll, so you can’t count on him making an impact this series. He’s probably a push with Anthony Carter, the Nuggets’ best defensive guard.
I’ll take Brandon Bass over Linas Kleiza.
The big question about the benches is whether the Mavs can match Chris “Birdman” Anderson’s energy. That crazy guy, as Rick Carlisle referred to him earlier this season, killed the Mavs in their last trip to the Pepsi Center. Maybe fellow high-flying 7-footer Ryan Hollins is the Mavs’ answer. Hollins only played in one of the four games against Denver, but he had nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks in a Kidd-and-Josh-less Mavs’ two-point loss to the Nuggets.
Eric Celeste, Inside Corner/D Magazine: Now THIS concerns me. The Spurs’ bench couldn’t find any consistency and therefore didn’t take advantage of the Mavs’ suspect help defense. The Nugs will not have that problem. I really see a guy like Chris Anderson being a key for them. Damp hates guarding athletic guys like he and Nene. They’ve each had huge games against the Mavs this year.
Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: Funny thing. J.R. Smith goes for 20 and it’s the lead story on “SportsCenter.’’ Jet goes for 20 and. … oh, wait. That’s his average. He ALWAYS goes for 20.
All the parts fit for each team. Dallas is the club that figures to shift the biggest gear from Round 1 to Round 2, though, with JJB playing a lesser role here while Antoine Wright resumes his work as a wing/perimeter defender against any Nug who is long, quick and offensive-minded – and there are a lot of those Nugs from which to choose. There are also some Nugs who come off that bench who have a penchant for mental instability. Are they really prepared for this largo stage?
David Lord, DallasBasketball.com: Denver could have an advantage with their size at the guards, with the relatively smaller size of Jason Terry and JJ Barea making it difficult for them to match up (especially with JR Smith) on both ends of the floor. For Dallas, the bench key might be finding a way to exploit Brandon Bass’s raw strength to add easy interior shots in bunches.
Zac Crain, Inside Corner/D Magazine: Chaotically. The Nuggets don’t have anyone to keep up with J.J. (if he doesn’t start), but he also doesn’t have anyone to guard. J.R. Smith can shoot the Nuggets into and out of games, and often the same game. Both backup centers try to dunk every ball on offense and block every shot on defense. There’s a lot of canceling out in there. I think Brandon Bass is a difference maker for the Mavs.
RM: Which Mav is most likely to make Carmelo Anthony’s life difficult?
Tim MacMahon, Dallas Morning News Blog: It won’t be James Singleton. We saw during Melo’s 43-point night in the last Mavs-Nuggets game that Singleton simply can’t handle him.
Antoine Wright will probably start each game guarding Melo. But the bulk of this job should fall on Josh Howard’s shoulders. It has to if the Mavs plan to give Jason Terry his regular minutes at the two.
Is it asking too much for a hobbled Howard to defend one of the league’s most explosive scorers? Probably, but Rick Carlisle doesn’t have much choice.
Eric Celeste, Inside Corner/D Magazine: Rick Carlisle. This is when he has to earn his money. Dallas does not a have a perimeter defender who can stay with Melo. Carlisle will have to develop some defensive schemes that at least make him work for his shot. And I think he will: the thing people aren’t talking enough about in this series is the coaching match-up. George Karl teams have struggled in the playoffs relative to their talent, and Rick Carlisle teams have often overachieved. I could see that playing out here.
Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: Anybody who doesn’t think ‘Melo vs. J-Ho has a chance of being a “Mountain Duel’’ (I’m trademarking that, so don’t steal it, Rob) hasn’t been paying attention to the difference Howard makes in Dallas’ won-loss record in huge down-the-stretch games. ‘Melo spent the year getting his boys into the No. 2 spot, an impressive accomplishment. J-Ho spent two-thirds of a year helping his boys into the No. 6 spot – with a bullet up from having to worry about being ninth.
How close J-Ho can come to making this a push will tell us everything about how close underdog Dallas can come to making this a series.
David Lord, DallasBasketball.com: ‘Melo should have an offensive advantage against any Mav who guards him, so the key will be wearing him down with multiple defenders and making him expend energy on the defensive end as well. That means Josh Howard’s OFFENSIVE performance, especially in slashing to the hoop, might prove to be the Mavs’ best weapon here.
Zac Crain, Inside Corner/D Magazine: I’ll throw this out with no real backing other than a gut feeling: James Singleton. I think he’s strong/fast enough to frustrate Melo — at least a little bit. I’d rather see Josh play Dahntay Jones, kicking ass on offense and on weakside help, rather than burning fouls trying to keep up with Melo. Start Antoine Wright on him, then Singleton, with maybe Josh for short stretches. Melo is going to get his. I just don’t want his to include “all of Josh’s fouls.”
RM: Agree or disagree: Denver’s great defensive hope, Kenyon Martin, won’t be much of a problem for the offensive talents of Dirk Nowitzki.
Tim MacMahon, Dallas Morning News Blog: Disagree. Not saying that Dirk won’t have a big game or two or three – he did put up 44 in his last visit to the Pepsi Center – but Martin is the kind of nasty, athletic defender that is a pain in Dirk’s posterior. Dirk will get his points, but he’ll have to work hard for them.
Eric Celeste, Inside Corner/D Magazine: Agree. According to my steel-trap memory, Dirk averaged 87 points and 21 boards against the Nuggets this year. Or something like that. He will get his. The question for me is will Josh make Melo work on the defensive end or continue his evolution into the black Dan Majerle (a former driving force who settles for 3 pointers). I actually think Jason Terry will be the difference-maker, positive or negative, in this series.
Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: My man Michael Irvin was on the radio the other day talking about the “intimidation factor’’ when it comes to K-Mart vs. Dirk. I think labeling this Denver team the “Thuggets’’ is funny and all. But K-Mart has a tattoo of big pink lips on his neck and just bought a mansion in Arlington.
How ghetto can he be?
I hate to break this to Dirk Detractors, but Nowitzki averaged 30 ppg against Denver this year.
You people get off The UberMan’s back. He’s gonna be busy trying to use that back to carry his team to the Western Conference Finals.
David Lord, DallasBasketball.com: Agree. If the Nuggets don’t give KMart lots of help from the outset, he’ll eat them alive. But I look for them to add double-teams and junk defenses very early in the series to try to keep Dirk at bay.
Zac Crain, Inside Corner/D Magazine: Agree. Kenyon Martin used to be the kind of defender that would have killed Dirk. He’s solved that problem, and I don’t think Carlisle would put him in situations where it still is a problem. He’ll get his looks. And I think he knocks down more than he doesn’t.
RM: Describe this series in one word.
Tim MacMahon, Dallas Morning News Blog: Heated.
Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: I gave you “Thuggets’’ and “Mountain Duel’’ and in my back pocket I got me some “We Aren’t Chicken, Nuggets!’’ What do you want from me?
David Lord, DallasBasketball.com: Intriguing.
Zac Crain, Inside Corner/D Magazine: Dirk’s.
6. Prediction time: who ya got?
Tim MacMahon, Dallas Morning News Blog: Nuggets in seven.
Eric Celeste, Inside Corner/D Magazine: The shocks continue: Mavs in 6.
Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: I haven’t missed on a Mavs postseason series prediction all year. Mavs. Again. Or not. I dunno.
David Lord, DallasBasketball.com: I keep coming up with a tie in my initial analysis. It’s that close.
In particular, I give the Mavs big plus points for Dirk and JHo, while I give the Nuggets big plus points for Melo and JR Smith. Behind that I see PG-C-other starter as a combined wash, and the other bench players (primarily Birdman and JET) as unpredictable wild cards that are probably also going to be a wash. To me that leaves the outcome teetering on whether Denver’s home court and altitude matters more than the fact that the Mavs seem to be morphing into the deadly 67-win capable team of two years ago, combined with the headiness of Kidd to keeping them focused and confident.
Ultimately? I think experience matters the most in the playoffs – and despite their recent failures, this Mavs team also has a whole team of guys who have experienced playoff success in the not-too-distant past. Meanwhile, virtually this entire Nuggets’ core other than Billups is already farther than they’ve ever been before. (If you recall the Mavs in Miami, didn’t they unravel once they reached unprecedented heights?)
In addition, the Mavs beating the Spurs didn’t surprise me, but the way they virtually controlled that series against a set of wily accomplished playoff winners did. Going into SA and winning an elimination game against the Spurs on their home floor, while leading wire-to-wire and managing that lead where it was never really close in the 4th quarter, is a statement being made that I think few noticed. As a result, I’m taking the Mavs here, because I think they’ve grown up enough with Kidd’s leadership where they make things happen. Even in adversity, they are finding ways to fight through it – and that’s not your same ole Mavs. It’s a new and improved version – of something that not so long ago was really really good.
Give me Dallas in 6.
Zac Crain, Inside Corner/D Magazine: Mavs in 6.
A hearty thanks to the whole gang for their contributions, and you can expect a full preview post from me in the near future.