I Think ‘Weird’ Fits Rather Nicely

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 7, 2009 under News | 16 Comments to Read

Photo by AP.

I’m already internet years late on this, but the most bizarre Mavs-related news of the season hit the fan this morning: a woman, who may or may not be Dirk Nowitzki’s girlfriend/fiancée and may or may not be pregnant with Dirk Jr., was arrested on charges of theft of services and possibly a probation violation.  You can watch a video of Dirk and Christian Julie Wellington/Christian B. Travino/Crystal Nobles/Christy Nobles/Kristi Briana Westerhauf/Cristal Taylor, Cristal Taylor Westerhaus/Christa A. Westerhays (yeah, she had eight aliases) here, but I’m not sure that it really says anything conclusive aside from the fact that Dirk is apparently hungry.

Here’s what Dirk had to say:

“It’s pretty obvious that I’m going through a tough time in my personal life right now, but like I always have, I want to kind of keep my private life private,” Nowitzki said. “I’m not at the stage where I can talk about it yet and feel comfortable talking about it. … At this point, I just can’t talk about it.”

It’s hard to really say anything without confirmed facts, but claims that this is somehow a character flaw or that Dirk “has moved into T.O. type territory,” are flat-out false.  Maybe it’s just a writer with his hand caught in the hyperbole jar, but the mere mention of Dirk and Owens in the same breath is ridiculous, not to mention unfounded.

I don’t sit down with Dirk on the weekends to grab a drink or call him up on his birthday, but based on what we know of him I would strongly doubt he was aware of his friend’s, girlfriend’s, or whatever’s past.  Dirk has apparently hired a private investigator to look into the matter, and based on the frame of questioning from reporters, it seems that Dirk has not bailed out the woman who is allegedly his fiancée.  Doesn’t quite ring of the actions of someone in the know, much less a forgiving beau.

To claim that this will or won’t affect Dirk’s in-game performance would be irresponsible of me.  There’s never been a precedent of anything even remotely similar to this in Dirk’s career.  But I’ve never doubted Dirk’s ability to focus on the game before, and I’m not about to start now.  Game 3 carries a bit of weight, and this team as a whole is intelligent enough to appreciate that.

Denver Nuggets 117, Dallas Mavericks 105

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 6, 2009 under Recaps | 30 Comments to Read

Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images.

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Have the courage to live. Anyone can die.
-Robert Cody

Brick by brick, the Mavs built the foundation for a victory.  They survived 1st quarter adversity to remain within striking distance.  The bench stepped up as Josh Howard went down.  They clawed their way into a game that they really had no business being in.  And yet, when a Jason Terry three finally pushed the Mavs ahead 74-72, I couldn’t shake the unmistakable feeling that it would all come crashing down.

Boy, did it, in a way that may seem eerily familiar.

After hanging, and hanging, and hanging with a Nuggets team playing better basketball than them on both sides of the floor, the Mavs blew a perfect opportunity by scoring just 2 points in the first 6 minutes of the fourth quarter.  There were rim-outs, there were horrible turnovers, and there were blocked shots, all of which seemed to end in free buckets for Denver on the break.  The offensive magic that pulled the Mavs through the third quarter unscathed was left gasping the thin Denver air, and the Nuggets danced on the grave of the Mavs’ dead and buried transition defense.  The team that wanted to turn this series into a marathon was run out of the gym, and I can’t decide whether ‘leak out’ better describes the nemesis of the Mavs’ defense or the insufferable feeling of their playoff hopes dripping away.  Each drop brings us a bit closer to another playoff loss puddled on the floor, and another step towards the team staring itself down in the puddle’s reflection.

For three quarters, this was a game.  You can thank Dirk Nowitzki (35 points on 20 shots, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) for that.  Dirk’s impact was anything but the silent assassinations we’re used to; each fall-away and maneuver in the post was deafening.  He served as a constant reminder that no Nugget can guard him (don’t worry, I’ll get to the TNT crew later), and also that the Mavs’ offense can’t function without him.  That’s where Denver’s defense really excels.  They can’t stop Dirk, and they don’t even do a very good job of limiting him.  But the second that the offense stops going through Dirk or the second that he sits on the bench, the Mavs look bewildered.  Our possessions begin with a lot of dribbling on the perimeter by Jason Kidd or Jason Terry, and usually end with a turnover or a forced jumper at the shot clock buzzer.  They haven’t taken away our best player, but they may have taken away much more.

The number of open dunks and layups the Nuggets had was humiliating.  Erick Dampier, Ryan Hollins, and James Singleton finally started stopping the freebies with a steady supply of fouls, but the attempts the Nuggets were able to get on the whole were entirely too easy.  The Mavs would grind and pick and squeeze two points out of a jumper, and the Nuggets would respond in a matter of seconds by hitting a wide open Nene for a dunk.  It’s impossible to say exactly how much Dampier’s ankle is limiting him, but for his sake I hope it feels like a ball and chain.  Otherwise, Nene has basically ripped Damp’s heart out of his chest, demoralizing and emasculating him on national television with rolls to the basket, thunderous dunks, and sly work in the post.  Nene finished with 25 and 8, but it seemed like his highlight reel would last for days.

The Mavs’ bench does deserve the appropriate credit for their offensive exploits, but the defense was bad enough that no Mav should leave this recap unmarred.  Jason Terry finally looked like Jason Terry again, registering 21 points and 6 assists off the bench.  Ryan Hollins was the Mavs’ most effective center, and he somehow corralled his speed and athleticism into a few buckets.  J.J. Barea and Brandon Bass vaguely resemble the contributors we saw against San Antonio, but even their mild success was balanced with a steady diet of defensive failure.

On his return, JET ran headfirst into his foil, J.R. Smith (21 points on 6-10 shooting).  Smith showed his full range by making alert, intelligent passes to open teammates, and pulling up early for an errant 26-footer at the end of the second quarter that allowed Kidd to run the length of the court and hit a bomb of his own to pull the Mavs within three going into the half.  He was every bit the Maverick irritant, coming away with a few steals and hitting big shots to stop the Mavs’ momentum dead in its tracks.  I’m sure George Karl will fall asleep smiling.

Carlisle made frequent use of the zone defense, and personally, I’m not sure what to think about it.  It seemed to limit the number of successful slashes, but the Mavs gave up entirely too many offensive rebounds to Denver’s bigs, and surrendered a few baskets to backdoor cuts.  It’s hard to tell exactly how effective it was without some in-depth analysis, but to be honest it seemed like a wash.

Carmelo Anthony (25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) was again brilliant in the fourth quarter, capping an otherwise quiet game with a 15-point explosion to put the game out of reach.  Whether foul trouble or stomach pains have kept Melo mortal, his close-out performances have been stellar.  He’s hitting tough jumpers without forgetting to attack the basket, and essentially using a style that is quintessentially Melo to improve on his perceived shortcomings.  There’s no doubt that he has evolved as a player, and when that fully-evolved form is on display it is to be both feared and respected.

Closing thoughts:

  • I can’t think of anything that makes me angrier than Jason Kidd penetrating all the way to the rim, and declining a layup for a chance to whip the ball around to a shooter.  Truly infuriating basketball.
  • The TNT crew (and by that I mean Kenny, Charles, and C-Webb) really grilled Dirk for describing Denver’s defenders with positive attributes.  Apparently in saying that Nene and Martin are strong and Andersen can challenge shots, Dirk was ceding some gravely important psychological edge.  Oh, but then he kind of dropped 35 on them.  A big thanks to Ernie Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo for being voices of reason and actually listening to Dirk’s soundbite before they frolick off into exaggeration land.
  • Denver’s first quarter parade to the free throw line was brutal.  They entered the bonus with about 6 minutes remaining, and shot 14 free throw attempts in the first quarter alone.
  • Jason Kidd’s performance was much easier to swallow, but with all the free three-pointers he blew, his performance still hurt.  On top of that, Chauncey Billups (18 points, 8 assists, 4-9 3FG) finally emerged from whatever cave he was hiding in, so not only was Kidd sub-par, he was outclassed.
  • For those who don’t know, Josh Howard missed three of the four quarters with some swelling and soreness in his ankle.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Dirk.  Let’s just leave it at that, because even though Dirk had a wonderful night offensively, this team doesn’t deserve a superlative right now.

Protect That Ball With Your Life

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 5, 2009 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

Mike Moreau delves into Mavs-Nuggets Game 2, and kicks off his preview with the following two bullets:

• When coach Rick Carlisle looks at the film of Game 1, his biggest concern has to be the Mavericks’ sloppy ballhandling and head-scratching turnovers, eight of which came from veteran point guard Jason Kidd. Fumbles, mishandles, deflections and passes to no one poured gasoline on what became a roaring fire that allowed the Nuggets to turn a close game into a blowout.

• Denver’s fast break and raucous crowd were ignited by steals that led to dunks and baskets in transition. Look for better ball protection in Game 2 from Dallas, with offensive players getting lower and keeping the ball closer to their bodies to prevent deflections on the pass. With Denver constantly reaching, the Mavericks can turn many of those steals and deflections into fouls. Dallas receivers must also cut harder to the ball to prevent run-throughs for steals.

I couldn’t agree more.  As poor as the Mavs’ defense was, the catalyst of that fourth quarter implosion was poor offensive play.  We need to essentially do everything better on the offensive end, from the basics of passing and dribbling to more complex play execution.  That can be tricky against teams with good defenses, but I don’t think the Mavs will embarrass us that same way again.

…that means you, Jason Kidd.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • Congrats to LeBron James, the 2008-2009 MVP…and as a footnote, Dirk came in 10th in MVP voting ahead of Tim Duncan and Yao Ming.
  • The thing that Carlisle’s not going to talk about, and we’re not going to talk about.  It is what it is.
  • Oh, look, another writer calling the Mavericks “soft,” and woefully confusing physical toughness and mental toughness.  A push in the back or a hand-check isn’t the same as having an iron will, or the kind of mental toughness needed to survive serious road blocks.  We know the Nuggets can shove with the best of them, but I’d say the jury’s still out on this team’s mental state.
  • Jean-Jacques Taylor of the Dallas Morning News: “See, the Nuggets make no apologies for being front-running bullies. They prance. They preen. They pose. They play with the arrogance of a team that’s seeded second in the Western Conference. They know they’re good and don’t mind telling or showing you. They stick their collective finger in your face and dare you to knock it away. Stand up to the Nuggets by matching their physical play and there’s a chance they will implode. The signs were evident during the first three quarters of Game 1 before Denver turned the game into a blowout. You saw Carmelo and J.R. Smith and Anthony Carter whining about every single foul, even though they kept whacking Dirk upside the head. You saw them nearly lose control. We all did. But it didn’t happen. Denver regained its focus, turned up its defensive intensity and blew out the Mavs in the fourth quarter.”

  • Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “…trying to match Denver’s physical nature isn’t going to be the Mavericks’ cure-all. It will take more than throwing an elbow into the ribs of Denver’s attitude. It will take execution. And as Jason Terry said, it will take perseverance, like the Mavericks had against San Antonio in the first round, even if the game plan is substantially different. ‘Look for us to be in attack mode from the start,’ Terry said Monday. ‘The key is to make them work. We’ve got to give them a chance to make mistakes defensively.’”
  • The Mavs need to kill the Nuggets’ momentum right…about…now.
  • Only slightly related to the series, but I think these accounts are pretty fascinating: the life of an NBA advance scout.
  • The evolution of George Karl.

Behold, the Worst Shot Attempt of Dirk’s Career

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 4, 2009 under xOther | 14 Comments to Read

Maybe That Shove Was a Bit Extracurricular

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under News | 8 Comments to Read

As it turns out, Kenyon Martin’s hard, playoff foul on Dirk Nowitzki was a bit more than that; the league upgraded Martin’s foul to a flagrant one and assessed him a $25,000 fine.  My response: mmhmm.

From Marc Stein:

It’s believed that Martin’s history of hard fouls — compared to Boston’s Rajon Rondo, who escaped punishment for high-profile fouls in the Celtics’ first-round series with Chicago — led to a fine in addition to the reclassification of the foul.

“I voiced our opinion [to the league] that we believe the fine was excessive,” Nuggets vice president of player personnel Rex Chapman said Monday night. “With regard to other incidents that have taken place in these playoffs and some of those actions not [resulting in] a fine, we feel that fining K-Mart for this is a bit excessive and inconsistent.

“But we’re going to accept it and move on. I think that Dirk was off balance as he often is — and he’s one of the best actors in the game, too — but that’s part of the game.”

Staring Down the Panic Button

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under xOther | Be the First to Comment

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.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under xOther | 6 Comments to Read

  • Nene, via Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post: “We don’t a send message to Dallas,” Nene said…”We send a message to us. If we play like that — simple, humble, hard, share the ball, play defense — this is going to be the result.”
  • Bethlehem Shoals of The Sporting Blog: “‘X-factor’ may be one of the emptiest cliches in all of sports, but somehow it’s not only appropriate for Josh Howard—it practically has become his nickname. Like if your friend earned the sobriquet “Wingman.” In Howard’s case, though, the concept is taken to an entirely different level. The Mavs swingman can either be the team’s best player or fade into the background; light up the scoreboard in the first quarter and then barely assert himself; hustle like crazy or get accused of being a lousy malcontent. He has been troubled by ankle issues all season, and it has become painfully clear that, while Howard may be mercurial, he also is the difference between the Mavs being solid and potentially very good. For Dallas to make a series of this after today’s steamrolling, Howard needs to stay healthy and for once play the same way for several days in a row.”
  • Could Denver actually be the best team in the West?
  • Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “Carlisle insisted he didn’t want to turn this into a whine party about the referees. Never mind that the last 16 times Dan Crawford has refereed one of their playoff games, the Mavericks have one win. At least he’s out of the way early this series. Nowitzki didn’t want to get dragged into any discussion about the referees. ‘It is what it is,’ Nowitzki said. ‘I’m not going to sit here and complain about it. We knew they were going to play tough.’”
  • Joey from FreeDarko: “There was a moment against the Mavericks yesterday when Denver broke its huddle by Karl imploring them to “keep on playing the right way.” This “right way,” one which had stolen the early lead and momentum from Dallas, consisted of leak outs and aggressive defensive rebounding; of Nene, not always so nimble, swooping to the basket as Dallas looked slow and confused; of Kenyon Martin elbowing anything that got in his way anywhere on the floor; of defensive breakdowns against Dirk rapidly fading amidst retaliatory secondary breaks; of Linas Kleiza taking threes early in the shot clock; of J.R. popping over guys with hands in his face; of Chris Andersen swatting a shot into the fifth row and egging on the crowd in a knowing frenzy. Erick Dampier spent most of the first half falling over himself, and it might have owed to the sort of dimentia which the Nuggets can cause when the unconventional parts are orchestrated in a common direction. Honestly, this moment was sublime. With its brooding and surly and muscular and wild elements in explosive harmony, Denver was so far afield of anything Larry Brown has ever moaned at any of the players he loves to hate that George Karl, unintentionally, made a mockery of what we attach to the concept of “playing the right way.” And yet, it was less farce and more cooptation, because Denver was, in fact, playing the right way. It was playing its right way. Its shit worked.”
  • Jean-Jacques Taylor of the Dallas Morning News: “It’s not that Terry was awful in the Nuggets’ 109-95 win in this Western Conference semifinal; it’s that he was a nonfactor. That won’t get it done. The Mavs need more from their emotional linchpin. When Jet is draining jumpers and running down the court with his arms extended as though they were airplane wings, these Mavs defend better. And rebound better. And shoot better. When he’s not, the Mavs often receive a butt-kicking like the one Denver delivered in Game 1, because these Mavs feed off the enthusiasm that comes with Terry’s shot-making.”
  • Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie: “You see, the Nuggets are 2009. Carmelo Anthony is the future, J.R. Smith is quite young, and nobody seemed to hear about Dahntay Jones and Chris Andersen until this year, but this team is now. They are full of guys who are either in their prime, or possibly a bit removed from it, but still brilliant enough to take down giants. And while Melo and Smith are years away from the top of their pops, that’s not enough to ably predict that the Nuggets of this season (and, possibly, next season) will be as good as this team (as currently constructed) will get.”
  • Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop: “Last week, we characterized many of Dwyane Wade’s defensive blocks as “horror flick” plays — just when you think Wade is out of the play, he comes in for the kill. Andersen is a horror show, too — only he’s not a furtive killer that we never see on screen. He’s Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, walking in broad daylight with a pneumatic air gun.”
  • Jeremy of Roundball Mining Company: “Things changed when Kenyon Martin leveled Dirk with a forearm along the baseline. I think that play triggered a response from both the Nuggets and Dirk. For Denver, they started playing Dirk much more physically and the open space he was enjoying early on disappeared. For Dirk he was no longer as aggressive going to the rim. Over his final 17 shots he only took four at the rim. Was it a result of the hard foul or the Nuggets’ increased pressure? My guess is it was a little of both.”
  • Woody Paige of the Denver Post: “Andersen played 28 minutes, 17 seconds against Dallas in Game 1 of the Western Conference semi- finals. The Nuggets outscored the Mavericks by 24 points during the time he was on the floor. ‘Now that’s a fun fact,’ Andersen said afterward. Andersen tied his postseason high with 11 points. He also had six rebounds. But he finished with a playoff personal-best six blocks, the most for a Nugget since a guy named Dikembe Mutombo rejected seven in 1994. To the Mavs, Andersen was a road rash. Dirk Nowitzki felt like he had fallen into a briar patch, and then attacked by killer red ants. ‘If Dirk squares up at the basket, he’ll make the shot every time. You’ve got to frustrate him, get up against him, get in his face, disrupt the shot, force him to drive,’ Ander- sen said.”
  • David Moore of the Dallas Morning News: “In the words of philosopher/coach George Karl, these Nuggets are aggressive physically and conceptually. They will put two defenders on Kidd. They will chase the ball all over the court and force the other Mavericks to make quick decisions. Those decisions were frequently wrong in Game 1. Denver’s 15 steals set a postseason record against the Mavericks.”
  • George Karl on what kind of coverage the Nuggets should use on Dirk, via Anthony Cotton of the Denver Post: “I don’t know exactly what our concepts are except to say that I don’t think staying too much with one thing is the right formula. I think the best thing is to mix it up with jumps and switches and double teams.”

Pick a Little, Talk a Little

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under xOther | Be the First to Comment

I’ll update this thread if any other late predictions come my way, but for now, here is where the picks are falling.  Denver’s a pretty clear favorite.

Dallas Staffers:

  • Kevin Sherrington, Dallas Morning News: Mavs in 7
  • Jean Jacques-Taylor, Dallas Morning News: Nuggets in 6
  • Tim Cowlishaw, Dallas Morning News: Nuggets in 6
  • David Moore, Dallas Morning News: Nuggets in 6
  • Eddie Sefko, Dallas Morning News: Nuggets in 7
  • Randy Galloway, Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Nuggets in 7

ESPN:

  • Henry Abbott: Nuggets in 6
  • J.A. Adande: Nuggets in 6
  • Chris Broussard: Nuggets in 6
  • Chad Ford: Nuggets in 5
  • John Hollinger: Nuggets in 7
  • Tim Legler: Nuggets in 6
  • Jalen Rose: Nuggets in 6
  • Chris Sheridan: Nuggets in 5
  • Marc Stein: Mavs in 6
  • David Thorpe: Nuggets in 6

Ball Don’t Lie:

  • Kelly Dwyer: Nuggets in 6

FanHouse:

  • Matt Moore: Mavs
  • Tom Ziller: Nuggets
  • Nate Jones: Nuggets
  • Will Brinson: Nuggets
  • Brett Pollakoff: Nuggets
  • Matt Watson: Nuggets
  • Shane Bacon: Nuggets

Sports Illustrated:

  • Scott Howard-Cooper: Nuggets in 6

Mavs Bloggers:

Nuggets Bloggers:

TNT Studio:

  • Ernie Johnson: Nuggets in 7
  • Charles Barkley: Nuggets in 5
  • Kenny Smith: Mavs in 7
  • Chris Webber: Nuggets in 7

Denver Nuggets 109, Dallas Mavericks 95

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

Photo by Louis DeLuca / DMN Photo Staff.

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Beginnings are always messy.
-John Galsworthy

Remember the good old days?  Those times when the offense took care of itself, and the Mavs’ supporting cast was never to be outdone?  Those wonderful days of yore, those wonderful days of last week?  They’ve never seemed more distant.  37 minutes of building, rallying, and battling was undone in just 5, as the normally poised, proficient Maverick offense imploded before our very eyes.

In that woeful five minutes, the Mavs were outscored 15-2.  They shot five jumpers and made just one.  They had no free throw attempts.  And, perhaps most importantly, a completely manageable two-point deficit was suddenly a fifteen point one.  Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard, the Mavs’ two most effective offensive players in the game, combined for just two attempts (both Dirk’s) during the game-deciding stretch.  Team basketball is cute and all, but at some point your best players need to be there to make plays, and the offense as a whole needs to put those players in a position to succeed.  The Mavs clearly failed in that regard, and my eyes are fixed squarely on Jason Kidd.

Kidd has done plenty to validate his acquisition, but the heady floor general was actin’ the fool during the most critical stretches of Game 1.  I can confidently say that I’ve never seen so many poorly timed and poorly executed bounce passes from such a talented point guard, and Kidd made it easy for Denver’s defense by bouncing the ball right into their laps.  Obviously the Dallas brass didn’t dream of Kidd double-dribbling away fast break opportunities or hurling passes out of bounds when they traded for him a year ago, but that’s exactly what he was doing with the Mavs’ most critical possessions.  I can accept Kidd’s weaknesses.  I know he won’t be an impact scorer, and I know that his defensive abilities are impacted by his age.  But I’m not prepared for Kidd’s strengths to suddenly disappear before our very eyes.

It’s a shame that the Mavs weren’t able to hang around in the fourth quarter, because the Nuggets’ offensive leaders, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, had been quiet until that point.  Entering the final frame, Billups and Anthony had totaled a combined 15 points (4-13 FG) and 5 turnovers.  But when Melo finally showed up and the Mavs were unable to answer, the game was essentially over.  I can’t give enough credit to Nene (24 points, 9-13 FG) and the Denver bench for keeping the Nuggets afloat and then some during the meat of the game.  Chris Andersen was every bit as nutty and active as you’d expect, and with fantastic results.  J.R. Smith used his dynamic scoring style to the team’s benefit, which is one of the factors that takes the Nuggets from “good” status to “great.”  And Anthony Carter brought a completely unexpected scoring punch off the bench by killing the Mavericks in transition.  Those three in particular accomplished everything that the Mavericks reserves could not, completely dwarfing the Mavs’ bench in scoring output, defensive impact, and influence on the pace and momentum of the game.

It’s worth noting that Erick Dampier and Josh Howard each faced a small injury crisis.  Both turned an ankle (left for Damp, right for Josh), and both returned to action.  Howard never quite returned to his first quarter form (injury or normalcy?), but his defensive effort was certainly adequate despite Carmelo’s explosion.  Dampier’s injury was even more difficult to gauge, considering Nene’s speed off of the pick-and-roll would likely kill Damp, sprain or no sprain.  Regardless of their individual performances, the Mavs on the whole seemed to fold under the convenient circumstance of the injuries.  Their assertiveness went out the window, and the defense that had held Denver to 16 first quarter points went into turnstyle mode.  Nene, Smith, and Andersen killed the Mavs’ reserves, and though the game wasn’t out of reach until that fatal fourth quarter stretch, the Mavs surendered the lead and their drive along with their clean bill of health.

Chris Andersen had some very limited success guarding Dirk, but it’s clear that if the Nuggs continue to try to guard Dirk with just one defender and/or continue to switch on screens that Nowitzki will burn them every time.  Kenyon Martin was touted as an ideal Dirk defender, but Dirk’s 4 of 5 shooting with Martin D-ing him up should put that speculation to rest.  Martin and the rest of the Nuggets were clearly ready to be physical with Dirk, but even an extra shove or two didn’t force him off his game.  The key will be getting Terry, whose shot attempts in the flow of the offense were clearly limited, involved, and rallying the bench back into action.  Oh, and hoping that Kidd doesn’t decide to channel his inner Rafer Alston.

Closing thoughts:

  • The Mavs turned to doubling Carmelo and Chauncey on the catch, and we learned two things: coming off of Dahntay Jones is okay, coming off of the Birdman is not.  KA-KAW!
  • We need to start worrying about Nene…now.  And, Dampier has no business chasing him around on the perimeter.  If Nene wants to start popping jumpers, I’ll live with that.
  • There were referees at this game, and they were truly odd souls.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes, hands-down, to Dirk, who finished with 28 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists.  Dirk started off a white-hot 6 for 6, and though he had undoubtedly one of the worst misses of his career on an errant jumper, it’s hard to ask more of Dirk offensively.