The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 112, Denver Nuggets 95

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 20, 2012 under Recaps | 11 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas99.0113.159.517.914.314.1
Denver96.047.024.111.113.1

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Kenneth Faried (nine points, five rebounds) is a good player and an incredibly active defender, but he had the incredible misfortune of being pitted against a most dominant Dirk Nowitzki (33 points, 12-19 FG, 11 rebounds, six assists). What, precisely, would you have any defender do against Nowitzki at the top of his game — much less one with relatively limited NBA experience and far less matchup-specific experience? Dirk maneuvered too well to be blanketed, shot too accurately to be stopped, and passed too effectively to be doubled. Faried was damned before he even had a chance to consider his options, as Nowitzki triggered his usual array of fades and jumpers en route to one of his most spectacularly efficient performances of the season.
  • Dallas’ 33 assists were a season high, and the furthest thing from an empty total; the Mavs’ ball movement was the most successful and consistent force in this game, and sustained even during the roughest offensive stretches. The shots didn’t fall, but to the Mavs’ credit, they never abandoned the process. That commitment is more important than any series of makes or misses, wins or losses — it’s the backbone of successful offense, and that the Mavs are relying on a replicable formula to generate points bodes well for their future this season.
  • This particular matchup made for a fascinating watch due to the fact that size was a uniquely irrelevant factor. Nowitzki demands a certain size and length in defensive response, but Dirk aside, both teams were free to play whichever players gave them the greatest chance for success, regardless of the opponent’s configuration or traditional positions. The Mavs largely stayed “conventional,” if you could really term their usual lineups so ridiculously. The Nuggets, on the other hand, toyed with all kinds of combinations, most of which used Denver’s army of wing players in a futile (in retrospect, anyway) effort to get the jump on Dallas. Faried split time with Al Harrington as the only big on the floor for long stretches of the game, and though Denver couldn’t use their wing-heavy lineups to create any in-game leverage, it was still a hell of a sight.

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Dallas Mavericks 102, Denver Nuggets 101

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 4, 2010 under Recaps, Video | 2 Comments to Read

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Box Score
Play-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOr
Dallas91.0112.150.620.231.614.3
Denver111.051.710.128.312.1

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
-Abraham Lincoln

This was a game that the Mavs needed to win. This was not the way that the Mavs needed to win it. Denver provided the Dallas’ first real challenge on the schedule, and rather than prove that their defensive success in the first three games was indicative of a real and sweeping change, we’re now left wondering how many of the season’s first 144 minutes should be taken seriously at all.

Dallas was, statistically speaking, an excellent defensive team before last night. Yet when the Mavs had a chance to make a statement against a top-10 offense, they allowed an unpalatable 111 points per 100 possessions. The Mavs’ defensive performance in the first three games matters, but the value of that performance has withered under high heat. There are better offenses out there than the Denver Nuggets. There are surely better offenses out there than the Denver Nuggets sans Nene, Kenyon Martin, and Chris Andersen. And when those offense come, the Mavs may not get the lucky bounce they need to leave the floor as victors.

Dallas will have to be better. Luckily, we’re now a mere four games into the season, and the Mavs have innumerable opportunities to solidify their defense before the games stop meaning something and start meaning everything.

We shouldn’t let this win soak up too much gloom, though. Offensively, Dallas was pretty fantastic. That’s an idiomatic Maverick way of saying that Dirk Nowitzki was pretty fantastic. With almost all of Denver’s bigs sidelined, Nowitzki (35 points, 15-31 FG, 12 rebounds, three assists) went to work on a cast of undersized defenders. George Karl refused to throw any kind aggressive double teams Dirk’s way, and his team paid the price with each move on the low block, and each jumper dropped over the hand of a defender that could barely reach Nowitzki’s eye level.

Dirk dominated the game and the Maverick offense, and pushed Dallas’ offensive efficiency just far enough to overcome their deficiencies on defense and the glass. On a typical night this season, Nowitzki uses 24.7% of the Mavs’ possessions. Last night against the Nuggets, he used 47%. Forget alpha and omega, Nowitzki was the entirety of all alphabets of all times, all that had been and all that ever would be for the Mavs’ O.

Others thrived from Dirk’s resplendence. Jason Terry spotted up on the break beautifully and balanced the weak side when things slowed down. JET had 16 points and went 4-of-4 from three in the third quarter alone, keying a 14-4 run that gave Dallas the lead. Of those 14 points, Terry scored 11.

Kidd should also be credited, even if he scored just three points of his own. 83.3% of Terry’s field goals were assisted, and 100% of both Caron Butler’s (16 points, 7-14 FG, seven rebounds) and Shawn Marion’s (eight points, six rebounds, two blocks) field goals were set up by a teammate. Kidd’s 12 dimes don’t account for all of those FGs, but his execution of the offense was masterful. Kidd is just so unbelievably patient; Kidd is kind; Kidd is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. He does not insist on his own way; yada, yada, yada; He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Nowitzki had the ball in his hands an astounding percent of the time, but it was Kidd who got it there. He was making perfect entry passes, waiting for plays to develop, and finding Dirk (and JET, and Caron…) when he leaked into open space.

When Kidd is functioning at this level, the Mavs are a rather brilliant offensive team. But when Nowitzki is left purely to his own devices to fuel the entire offense, the well-oiled machine tends to sputter. Both players are essential if Dallas is to have a top-shelf offense again, and games like these give us a glimpse — however stilted it may be in terms of usage — of the Mavs’ offensive potential with both Kidd and Nowitzki playing effectively.

Final thoughts:

  • Carmelo Anthony finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds, but had a pretty frustrating night overall. He shot 42% from the field on 19 attempts, and while I’d love to attribute some of Anthony’s rougher patches to Shawn Marion and the Mavericks’ defense, Melo didn’t do himself any favors. Dallas played him well, but it was a bit of an off-night.
  • A silver lining to the Mavs’ defense: Dallas utilized a match-up zone in the second and third quarters that was fantastically effective, but relied on it less and less as the game wore on. The Mavs shouldn’t want to be in a place where their defensive future hinges on the effectiveness of the zone (which, for all of its strengths, is still a bit gimmicky), but knowing that it can still be effective in spurts against rhythm offenses is valuable knowledge.
  • Speaking of: Nowitzki could probably stand to not hedge quite so heavily toward the middle when playing zone with Chandler. Tyson can cover plenty of ground on his own, and considering the potency of Denver’s three-point shooters, Dirk might be better served honoring the impact of the corner three. Dirk did what he could to close out, but sometimes he was just too far out of position. I realize that threes are a realistic concession of the zone, but in this case some of those attempts (and makes) might have been preventable.
  • This was not Brendan Haywood’s finest performance.
  • Gary Forbes is now an NBA player. Forbes started for the Nuggets, and drew the short straw on being the first defender to face Dirk Nowitzki. He did an admirable job, and the former D-Leaguer dropped 12 points on 50% shooting to boot.
  • Jason Kidd is doing a great job of giving up the ball early on the break and then spotting up as a three-point shooter. In traditional fast break situations, I’m always surprised that opponents pay so much attention to the threat of a Kidd layup. He’s not a very good finisher at all, and the thought of a pass always comes first, second, and third for him. But by giving up the ball early, Kidd turns himself into a fast-break weapon. No longer is he only looking to set up a bucket with a pass. Instead, he’s capable of completing transition opportunities of his own on both the primary and secondary break:
  • J.J. Barea’s three turnovers hurt, as did his defense at times. But does anyone dare discount the impact of his nine points in a game decided by a single bucket? Barea made mistakes, but he also drew offensive fouls and got to the rim when Dallas needed offensive help.
  • Arron Afflalo (known affectionately in some circles as “Spellcheck,”) is the real deal. Afflalo had a tremendous year last season with the Nuggets, but he’s become an even more versatile offensive player while continuing to groom a rather potent three-point stroke. Fans of every other NBA team are jealous.
  • Again: no Kenyon Martin, no Nene, no Chris Andersen. Yet the Nuggets nearly matched the Mavericks in offensive rebounding rate. Dallas has to do better work on the defensive glass. The Mavs’ offensive rebounding on the other hand, was fine. And, might I add, clutch:
  • All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again. In games like these, it’s hard not to wonder if going small is a more viable option than Rick Carlisle and his coaching staff acknowledge. Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler are very good defenders, but in games like this one, they become strictly help defenders and rebounders. Taking on-ball post defense out of their job description leaves them slightly less useful, and I do wonder if running a lineup of Kidd-Terry-Butler-Marion-Nowitzki might have been more effective at times. It’s not the most intuitive way to get better defensive results, but having more natural match-ups could be a conceivable boon for the Dallas D.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: Come on. Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs won with their offense, and their offense won with Dirk.

.

Dallas Mavericks 109, Denver Nuggets 93

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 30, 2010 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.

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“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing.”
-Leonardo da Vinci

I don’t need to tell you what this win means in terms of playoff seeding, or how good Denver is, or how close the playoffs are. These are things that we all know and we can all appreciate the gravity of. But I will say this: if you roll together timing, magnitude, tangible implications, and pertinence for the future, this is the most important Maverick win of the season. Bigger than the wins over the Lakers, any inspiring comeback, any gutsy, last-second win, or drawn-out defensive battle. We’ve seen Dallas struggle in recent weeks with all kinds of opponents, but last night they were highly-motivated, well-prepared, and ready to rock Denver’s world.

And that they did. That. They. Did.

From the opening tip, the Mavs were just operating at a different level than the Nuggets. The ball movement for Dallas was pristine, while for Denver it was a tad sloppy and just a second off. The Mavs (and Shawn Marion, in particular) were clearly ready for Carmelo Anthony (10 points, 3-16 FG, nine rebounds) and Chauncey Billups (11 points, 3-14 FG, six assists) going in, and they executed their defensive game plan to perfection. This isn’t to say that the Nuggets’ performance, in spite of limited production from their two best players, wouldn’t be enough for a win on some nights. Against some teams in the league, the Nuggets’ 93, with 30 free throw attempts and 12 offensive rebounds, would be enough for a victory. But for the first time in weeks, the Mavs presented a challenge of a different kind for an elite opponent, even if they are a struggling one. The Mavs finally look like a team that’s ready to play playoff basketball, ready to embrace and exploit the physicality and strategy that go with it.

This is the product that Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson envisioned when piecing together this roster. Shawn Marion (21 points two steals) was brought in specifically to handle threats like Anthony, and his defense was absolutely superb. Brendan Haywood (10 points, seven rebounds, four assists) defended the rim and helped to negate Nene’s impact. Caron Butler (10 points, seven rebounds) and Jason Terry (15 points, 3-5 3FG) provided supplemental scoring, Dirk Nowitzki (34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) did the heavy lifting, and Jason Kidd (eight points, 10 assists, six rebounds, three steals) ran the show like few point guards in the league can. This is what the finished product looks like, and we can only hope that what we saw last night was an unveiling rather than a sneak preview. If so, we’re entering “best basketball at the right time” territory, which is a pretty special place to be.

Nowitzki and Marion were particularly impressive. Dirk notched just the second triple-double of his career, and his 34 points came in a different fashion than we’re accustomed. Nowitzki usually makes his money from mid-range, but he put together a 4-of-5 showing from beyond the arc in a bit of a throwback performance. Despite his reputation as a sweet-shooting big man (which he is, don’t get me wrong), Dirk has phased the three out of his nightly arsenal over the last few seasons. It’s not that he can’t shoot them, but in an effort to help the Mavs engineer a more deliberate offense, he’s move his game inward. He sets up in the low post to draw fouls, attract double-teams (a tactic which Denver was happy to utilize, and Dirk capitalized with 10 assists), and get easy buckets, and operates from the high post near the top of the key or the free throw line extended. This is contemporary Nowitzki’s game as we know it, but we saw a Dirk of a different breed against the Nuggets. Dirk had just three two-point field goals, and 28 of his 34 points came off of free throws and three-pointers, the most efficient shots possible.

Marion wasn’t quite as impressive in terms of his all-around game, but the combination of his lock-down defense on Anthony (though to be fair, he obviously had help) and his scoring punch is well-deserving of second billing. Marion scored on an array of runners and layups, as per usual, but it was his ability to post up the Denver guards that was especially helpful. Plus, his own scoring success didn’t outfit him with blinders, and he was willing to find open teammates with passes even from deep in the post. I’m not sure if the Nuggets will still be switching so much on screens if they were to match up with the Mavs into the playoffs, but Marion’s versatility is an obvious way for Dallas to exploit mismatches. He took Chris Andersen off the dribble, he posted up Billups, and he was everything the Mavs wanted him to be.

Even if these last two games are a daydream, they’ve been a pleasant one.

Closing thoughts:

  • J.R. Smith (27 points, 10-16 FG, four rebounds, five turnovers) was both a blessing and a curse, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. I don’t have any problem with a player like Smith focusing solely on his scoring on a night like this, even if he could be using that prowess to create looks for his teammates as well. His efficient shooting and high scoring volume exempt him from that in my book, though, on the grounds that J.R. putting up that kind of production should be good enough. The five turnovers, though, hurt big time. Dallas only had seven turnovers as a team, and for Smith to sniff that total on his own is a bit troublesome. That said, I’m still awed by his scoring ability on nights like these, and if I had to bet my life on one guy in the NBA to take a bad shot at the end of the shot clock, I’d probably pick Smith.
  • The Mavs started quarters with authority. The first quarter began with a 17-4 Dallas run, the third with a 7-0 run, and the fourth — after a Smith three-pointer had brought Denver within 10 — was marked by a 15-4 run in the opening minutes.
  • Dirk grabbed three offensive rebounds, which is enough to tie his season-high.
  • 27 assists on 38 field goals. Tremendous. Dirk and Kidd each had 10 assists, but I’m not sure that number properly encapsulates Kidd’s value. This was one of his better nights running the offense, and the Mavs looked like an elite offensive team. 123.9 points per 100 possessions is awfully impressive, and while that’s representative of team-wide success, the responsibility for the team’s offensive production weighs heavily on the point guard’s shoulders. Kudos, Kidd.
  • Mavericks fans live to see Rodrigue Beaubois succeed, and he actually played reasonably well in spite of a 2-of-7 shooting performance. Unlike most of Beaubois’ games this season, most of his minutes in this contest came at point guard, as J.J. Barea missed the game with a sore left ankle. And unlike most of Beaubois’ games this season, most of his production came at the defensive end, where he was excellent against Chauncey Billups and grabbed three steals.
  • Erick Dampier (four points, five rebounds) looked much more mobile and energetic in nine minutes, and assertive to boot. Since returning from injury on March 10th, Damp has looked a bit rusty in limited minutes. He’s not the quickest big on the court even when healthy, but last night’s game should inspire optimism for many reasons, including the possibility of having a healthy and engaged Erick Dampier.
  • This is the fifth game in seven nights for the Nuggets, and while I don’t really believe in scheduling as an excuse, it deserves a footnote.
  • Solid minutes for Eddie Najera, some coming at the 4 and some at the 5, but even solid…er minutes for Joey Graham (10 points, 4-5 FG, four rebounds). Not what you’d expect from Graham in a game like this, but surprisingly effective role players can make a huge difference in match-ups like these, especially in the playoffs. Chris Andersen, on the other hand, failed to get a single bucket in almost 18 minutes.
  • An even more impressive note on Dirk and Marion’s performances: they played just 37 and 29 minutes, respectively.

Denver Nuggets 127,681, Dallas Mavericks $0.75 and Half of a Moldy Sandwich

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 10, 2010 under Recaps | 10 Comments to Read

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

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“…All the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”
-William Shakespeare

It honestly does not get much worse than this.

Worst loss in nearly a decade? Check. Embarrassing effort level on both ends of the court? Double check. Truly horrid execution? You betcha. Completely whiffing in a ‘statement game?’ Probably an understatement, but yes. The Dallas Mavericks failed in just about every conceivable way on Tuesday night, giving the players, coaching staff, and front office personnel plenty to think about going into the All-Star break.

You’ll find no more cogent and persuasive argument for the Mavs to make a trade than last night’s misery. The Nuggets just seemed to be operating on a completely different plane of existence, one that was simply beyond that of the pitiful, mortal Mavs. All Dallas could do was stare wide-eyed as Denver’s shooters nailed shot after shot, and marvel at every backdoor cut and spot-on defensive rotation. Nothing the Mavs did on the court could really be classified as actively playing the game of basketball, so don’t misunderstand my rhetoric; the Mavericks were spectators on the floor, watching the true professionals do what they do. They simply couldn’t be bothered with offering the slightest resistance or competition.

Dismissing the Mavs didn’t even require a spectacular game from either of Denver’s biggest stars, Chauncey Billups (16 points, 6-8 FG, six assists, three steals) and Carmelo Anthony (19 points, six assists, four rebounds). Instead, the Nuggets simply cashed in on the ordinary performances of their top players, and supplemented with some ridiculous production off the bench. Four of Denver’s reserves finished in double-figures, and it was actually the ridiculous second quarter runs of the Nuggets’ bench players that put away the game early. The Mavs expect, scheme, and tech to stop the players that are difficult to stop otherwise; Billups is so crafty and Anthony so talented that if you’re not preparing for them, you’re doomed to allow a monster scoring night from one or both. But Ty Lawson? Arron Afflalo? Johan Petro? These aren’t supposed to be the guys that give a team like the Mavs trouble…and yet here we are, looking at a decisive 18-33 quarter that says otherwise.

Without a healthy, fully-functional Erick Dampier, the Mavs have no hope of stopping Nene (21 points, 8-9 FG, eight rebounds). Eddie Najera got the start at center in Dampier’s absence (you know the drill – left knee effusion), but both he and Drew Gooden looked absolutely clueless in “guarding” (I use this term loosely) a player with such size, speed, and finishing ability. Nene was one of the unheralded difference-makers of last year’s playoff series between the Mavs and Nuggets, and his most recent domination of the Mavs was only more of the same.

J.R. Smith (12 points, three rebounds, three assists) and Chris Andersen (14 points, ten rebounds) were predictably troublesome, if only because the Mavs didn’t match their energy and activity. Based on everything else you’ve read and seen regarding this game, that shouldn’t be at all surprising.

Look, the Mavs were awful. Terrible, really. They slowed to a crawl when the should have (and could have) been sprinting, and now they’ll have to live with the consequences. So the best thing I can tell you to do is just laugh this off. Chuckle a bit at the thought of Ty Lawson running circles around the Mavs’ defenders. Let out a laugh because you know that Malik Allen, MALIK ALLEN, scored six points against Dallas. Just giggle with delight because you know that Denver shot 16-18 at the rim, and that’s probably not even the Mavs’ most embarrassing defensive feat of the night. But most importantly, laugh this off because there’s really nothing else you can do. This loss was so bad that it’s probably beyond anger or frustration, and qualifies as pure comedy. I mean, this is all some sort of elaborate joke…right?

Shot distribution data courtesy of HoopData.com.

Dallas Mavericks 104, Denver Nuggets 96

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 28, 2009 under Recaps | 8 Comments to Read

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

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOr
Dallas102.0102.052.431.719.515.7
Denver94.141.032.621.812.7

“Change is the only constant.”
-Unknown

Everything has changed.

The Mavs were once destined to rely on Dirk to conquer their demons, and in doing so, doomed themselves against more talented foes. But Dirk shot 6 of 15 from the field against the Nuggets last night, and was anything but the Mavs’ offensive centerpiece. He was more a fancy napkin or a nice tablecloth, an appropriate setting and a suitable distraction from the true forces at work. His offensive efforts were largely complementary, and though Nowitzki managed to drop a dagger of a three-pointer with just 50 seconds remaining, he was ultimately but a part of the Maverick machine. Dallas has had its fair share of struggles in making their offense a team affair, but they’ve had seven double-digit scorers in each of the last two games. Nowitzki’s shot attempts have remained down, the rest of the offense has picked up, and for perhaps the first time all season we have reason to believe that the Maverick offense is ‘getting it.’

The Mavs were once fated to be a step slow on the perimeter, and the league’s elite wings licked their chops at the opportunity to tear up the Dallas D. But add Carmelo Anthony (16 points, 5-19 FG, 12 rebounds) as the latest to fall under the constant pressure of the Maverick defense, a mighty juggernaut that has bested the likes of Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant. To call this defensive outfit “for real” is a tad understated and a few months too late, and all the credit in the world for that goes to Shawn Marion and Josh Howard. The two drew the primary defensive responsibilities of covering Anthony, and though the Maverick plan of attack featured frequent and early double teams, it was Marion and Howard’s execution on and individual level that kept Melo’s shooting percentage so dreadfully low. Anthony absolutely torched the Mavs (who at the time depended heavily on the defensive skills of Antoine Wright) in last year’s playoffs, but the addition of Shawn Marion and a healthy Josh Howard proved to be a world of difference. This is the defensive tandem that will largely determine the outcome of games against the Western elite, and they added another line to their already impressive resume with the way they shackled Carmelo Anthony.

The Mavs were slated to be soft inside, as perennial punchline Erick Dampier and non-center Drew Gooden formed the entirety of Dallas’ center rotation. But Dampier nearly notched a double-double (10 points, nine rebounds) in just 21 minutes, and Gooden (19 points, 8-8 FG, 10 rebounds) was completely and utterly dominant against Nene, Chris Andersen, and the Denver bigs. The Nuggets seemed to only have a fleeting interest in playing solid defense, and Dampier and Gooden positioned themselves to best exploit Denver’s lackadaisical attitude. Damp was able to capitalize on the Nuggets’ D in a way he had failed to do in last year’s playoffs, and Gooden showed what is perhaps his most valuable skill as a Maverick: interior shot creation. Creating shots is a crucial part of any offense’s success, and part of the reason why the Mavs have struggled this season is the inability of players (outside of Dirk Nowitzki) to create good shot attempts for themselves. Gooden is certainly capable of that, as his array of hook shots and finishes around the basket demonstrated beautifully. And to drop a cherry on top, Gooden and Damp were instrumental in the Mavs’ shot-challenging and defensive rebounding (to the tune of a 22.6 and 33.2 defensive rebounding rate, respectively). Damp and Drew were nothing if not tough on the interior, and they moved earth, expectation, and Nuggets in search of rebounds and scoring opportunities.

Though supposedly aged and wise, the Mavs were foretold as a team that would inevitably falter in the face of adversity. Not only have the Mavericks completely flipped that theory on its head with their performance in clutch situations this season, but against the Nuggets they played with the poise of a contender while closing out yet another strong opponent. Denver was visibly distracted by the overly and overtly physical play, but Dallas simply executed their sets, got their stops, and scored just enough to keep the Nuggs at bay. It wasn’t the prettiest finale (late turnovers, blown free throws, and missed opportunities can put a blemish on even the most beautiful of wins), but the Mavs pulled together enough scoring and rebounding to secure a victory.

Everything has changed.

Closing thoughts:

  • It simply has to be noted that Chauncey Billups missed the game due to injury. He changes the outlook and execution level of this Denver team, and though Carmelo Anthony has elevated his game over the last season or so, he operates much more comfortably with the safety net that Billups provides. When the Mavs really brought the heat against Melo, the rest of the Nuggets were left to sort out the mayhem. That’s the kind of situation in which Billups thrives, whereas his replacements, rookie Ty Lawson or the limited Anthony Carter, falter.
  • Arron Afflalo was a nice pick-up for the Nuggets, even if his jumpshot was absolutely erratic last night; he nailed a few of his early looks before throwing up some bricks in the fourth quarter. But as someone who has watched plenty of Nuggets this year, let me simply say that he makes sense as a defensive stopper/offensive contributor when Chauncey Billups is in the game and the Nuggets are on their game. He’s a contributor to the system, and that’s all you should expect from your role players.
  • It was a good night for the Shawn Marion hook shot, as the Mavs looked to engage Carmelo Anthony both offensively and defensively. The game plan was obvious: wear him out on both ends and frustrate him with constant pressure and movement. It worked beautifully, and Marion’s work in the low post against Anthony was a carefully executed part of that plan.
  • With Carmelo Anthony in and out of the game with foul trouble (he played just 31 minutes on the night), the Maverick defense turned its full attention to J.R. Smith. Rick Carlisle clearly had the utmost respect for Smith’s offensive game, and he wasn’t shy about throwing additional defensive pressure J.R.’s way. The results were often even better than they were against Anthony, as the flustered Smith committed offensive fouls (including one near-flagrant by introducing his elbow to Jason Terry’s head) and jacked up ill-advised three-pointers. In Billups’ absence, Smith is supposed to fill in with ball-handling and scoring, and instead, he stalled the flow of the Denver offense when met with the Mavs’ defensive pressure.
  • Again, Shawn Marion was not on the floor to finish the game. That said, the lineup of Kidd-Terry-Howard-Nowitzki-Gooden was entirely deserving and successful.
  • DNP-CDs for Tim Thomas and Quinton Ross. Defending Carmelo Anthony was one of the more obvious reasons for adding a player of Ross’ defensive caliber, and though I was thrilled with the Mavs’ coverage of Anthony last night, I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to see Q give it a try. Maybe next time.
  • J.J. Barea (13 points, 6-10 FG, four assists) continues to excel in his starting role. Say what you will about the aesthetic of the starting lineup (a 6’0” shooting guard? Wha-wha-what?), but he’s adding a ton offensively while he’s on the floor. The defense may be another story, but for the moment, his time on the floor is certainly a net positive (he was a +4 on the night).
  • Dirk Nowitzki really was a virtual non-factor on offense, but he continued to influence the game through his rebounding. As far as defensive efforts go, Dirk’s night was merely so-so, but Nowitzki pulled in tough, contested rebounds at crucial times to help put this thing away.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Drew Gooden, whose perfect night from the field and tough interior D were highlights of the Mavs’ win. Dallas simply doesn’t get the job done without Gooden’s tangible and intangible contributions. This was perhaps Drew’s finest game in a Maverick uniform (his effort against Tim Duncan and San Antonio stands out as a potential equal, in my mind), and as such he gets the gold sticker bling.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 13, 2009 under xOther | 2 Comments to Read

  • Just a little reminder that despite the lack of a double-header, the Mavs-Nuggs will still tip off at 8:00 central time.
  • Check me out on the NBA Today podcast with Jason Smith talking Mavs — mostly Dirk straight beastin’ and the fan hijinx.
  • Rick Carlisle on technical fouls, via Tim MacMahon of the DMN Mavs Blog: “I’m never an advocate of technicals, even though I’ve had more than my share this year, but when they sort of manifest with a pure heart, you feel a little differently about them, especially if they win. Now, if we’d have lost by a couple points and gave up five technical free throws, I’d be singing a different tune. But I just thought the way we fought was great.”
  • An extensive history of Dirk’s performances in elimination games tells many Mavs fans what they already know: when the pressure swells, so does Dirk’s play.  With one notable exception (2007 was a doozy), Dirk has been exceptional with the series on the line.
  • Mike Moreau of Scouts, Inc./ESPN: “The Game 5 defensive plan must include better efforts by Howard and Antoine Wright to deny Anthony the ball. Once every three or four times isn’t enough. If Anthony gets it going in Game 5, it will be lights out for the Mavericks. Anthony’s defender must deny, front, fight and refuse to concede a single catch in the post, wing or top of the floor. Just preventing two catches per quarter takes 16 potential points away, and Anthony’s attempt to receive a pass in Game 5 should become a fight for position and for the ball…The Mavericks cannot take a single defensive possession off in Game 5. Any lapse in concentration will turn into the quick scoring runs that can turn this game into a blowout. This must be their best defensive effort of the year — every shot contested, everybody in the lane on drives, everybody on the glass.”
  • The Birdman is ready to fly.
  • Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “Asked if he thought Cuban’s blog, where the owner apologized to Kenyon Martin’s mother and to other Nuggets fans, including Vazquez, whose experience at American Airlines Center was marred by confrontations with Mavericks fans, was the wrong forum for an olive branch, Anthony said: ‘No blog to blog. No twitter to twitter. Face to face.’ Martin also voiced his feeling that the online apology to his mother was not the most genuine way to go about it.”  For what it’s worth, the TNT crew mentioned on Inside the NBA that Mark Cuban apparently tried to contact K-Mart’s agent, tried to contact his mother directly, and even waited for Martin at pre-game shootaround, where Kenyon refused to speak to him.  Let’s all remind ourselves that all of this nonsense is the product of Cuban telling a player’s mother that her son was a ‘punk.’  This is the reason why the off-day hype machine is a bad thing.
  • Oh, but Kenyon did finally make some attempt to communicate with Cuban face to face…but this video isn’t for ye of virgin ears, those at work, or nuns.
  • Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “Mano-a-Melo. It just doesn’t get much better…Down 3-1, the Mavericks still don’t have much chance to rally for a series win. But with Denver seemingly married to the idea of guarding Nowitzki one-on-one, you have to wonder if just about anything is possible for him. ‘I can’t say enough about what Dirk did out there,’ Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. ‘Just a fantastic performance. There are very few guys I’ve been around in this league that are as strong-willed as he is. Dirk’s performance was amazing.’”
  • Praise for Nene doing the unthinkable: guarding Erick Dampier on the perimeter.
  • And wonderful, another incident with a Nugget familial cheerleader and the Mavs’ bleachers.  Here’s the video of LaLa Vasquez, Carmelo Anthony’s girlfriend/fiancée, being escorted out of the arena.  She’s playing the race card, which isn’t something to throw around.  A Mavs fan claiming to be sitting in her immediate vicinity argues otherwise, but at best it’s he said-she said-she might have said.

Dallas Mavericks 119, Denver Nuggets 117

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 12, 2009 under Recaps | 18 Comments to Read

Photo by AP Photo/Matt Slocum.

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Little strokes fell great oaks.
-Benjamin Franklin

Our man Dirk sure knows how to put on a show.

In a game where the anarchy of flagrant and technical fouls ruled, Dirk was able to make order out of chaos.  He was never involved in the game’s numerous entanglements, not once caught fuming with uncontrollable anger or demonstrating anything but the desperation and calculated resolve that makes him such a force.  The result?  Dirk poured in for 19 in the fourth quarter, the importance of which is amplified by the Mavs’ narrow margin of victory.  The Mavs needed every single point to reel in a victory that desperately tried to escape their grasp.  Though this time, no near-foul, heart-breaking shot, or referee could stand in their way.

Plus, how’s this for irony: the Mavs were feeding off of the energy of Antoine Wright wrapping up Carmelo Anthony in the way that he was ‘supposed to’ at the end of Game 3.  After Anthony grabbed an offensive rebound early in the second quarter with the Nuggets nursing a 14-point lead, Antoine Wright wrapped up his arms to foul him on the floor.  For seconds after the whistle blew, Wright refused to let go of Anthony’s arm.  Carmelo wasn’t all too pleased about that, and responded by trying to push AW off, only to maybe possibly kind of catch a bit of Wright’s cheek.  The implications of which were much more significant than a simple technical foul; the Mavs and the crowd were awakened to fight off the surging Nuggs, and a game that seemed destined for a blowout was suddenly altered into a competitive affair.

The Dirk takeover had commenced, and it was really one of those nights.  One of those nights where Dirk’s greatness can hardly be quantified, but also one of those nights where the numbers (44 points on 25 shots, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 16-17 FT) turn out quite beautifully.  Dirk’s attack was as captivating as it was methodical, as he used every trick in his book and then some to lure the Nuggets’ defenders into fouls, including an insatiable desire to score at the rim.  K-Mart, Nene, Melo, whatever; Dirk took advantage of whoever was guarding him, turning every matchup into a problem with his footwork, balance, and silky smooth jumper.  More coming on Dirk in a later post.

Carmelo Anthony (41 points on 29 shots, 11 rebounds, 5 steals) provided the perfect foil for Dirk.  Whereas Dirk’s moves were calm, planned, and deliberate, Melo’s game represented the brash improvisation and spontaneity that makes him such an effective scorer.  His pull-up jumpers were exclamation points, and each steal and subsequent fast break dunk a flurry of its own.  Melo’s night was exemplified by his clutch, hard-hitting three pointer with just seconds remaining, a chilling reenactment of his Game 3 shot that pulled a seeminglysafe four-point lead into an ever-vulnerable two-point one.  I’m just glad that this time around, that shot was dangerous and not deadly.  It’s also certainly worth noting that J.R. Smith went absolutely hog wild on huge, game-changing jumpers.  Some of his attempts deserved to go in and other’s didn’t (a certain straight-on bank shot, perhaps?), but Smith bailed the Nuggs out of many a shot clock violation by hitting important shot after important shot.

Though Dirk was undoubtedly the shining star (and the Gold Star, hint-hint), he couldn’t have done it without some help from his friends.  Josh Howard gimped his way to 21 points and 11 rebounds, and though his shot selection in the fourth very nearly cost the Mavs the game, they couldn’t have even been in this game without him.  J.J. Barea (10 points, 5-8 FG) and Brandon Bass (11 points, 4-6 FG) were able to get easy baskets at difficult times, and Jason Terry (12 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) made his presence felt in spite of foul trouble.  Roll all of that up into a ball with superior team defense (though you’d never guess it based on Carmelo’s totals), a much more dependable Jason Kidd, and world’s finest Dirk Nowitzki, and you’ve got yourself a win.

Sad team defense is often tough to point out in the box score, but it was clear that in these last two games, the Mavs were much more willing to prevent Denver’s transition attack and contest many (notably not all) of the Nuggets’ attempts in the paint.  Of course that starts with the perimeter guys — Kidd, Howard, Wright, Terry, Barea — but relies on the rotation of bigs like Dampier, Bass, and Dirk to make things work.  This is one area in particular where I thought Dirk Nowitzki excelled, and though his individual defense may not have received any of the spotlight, his effectiveness on that end should not go unnoticed.  He and Bass proved that they can work together as a defensive tandem and still be effective, which means quite a bit for the team’s most efficient offensive frontcourt.

Closing thoughts:

  • Please, please, please, NBA, have some consistency with the flagrant calls.  The Mavs were called for two very iffy flagrants to finish the 2nd quarter, one of which, combined with a technical arguing the play and a Melo bucket, turned a 5-point deficit into a 10-point one at the buzzer.  I remain convinced the fouls on Kleiza and J.R. Smith were just that, fouls.
  • The Birdman didn’t suit up for this one due to some severe stomach cramps.
  • I’d feel bad if I didn’t single out Brandon Bass by name for praise for his defense.  Erick Dampier racked up six fouls in just 23 minutes, so Bass played a huge role in keeping Nene to a very mortal 9 points and 8 rebounds.  Essentially, Nene has been the difference between a nail-biter and a blowout for the Nuggets.  When he’s on his A-game, they can just roll over teams.  But when a physical defender really digs in and gives him trouble, their offense can really struggle.
  • The Mavs won the battle of the offensive boards 9-6 and got the win.  That’s no coincidence.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: Come on.  Seriously?  Do you have to ask?  Dirk Nowitzki.  No-brainer.



Denver Nuggets 106, Dallas Mavericks 105

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 9, 2009 under Recaps | 45 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear.
-Mark Twain

There are losses that make you want to yell and scream.  There are losses that make you want to roll over and die.  And then, there are losses that leave you staring in disbelief, mouth agape, as if the life has been sucked right out of you.

Or, if you’re like me, it’s a rotation of the three until I successfully recover from my postgame stupor.

In general, I try to avoid the thing that nobody wants to talk about but everybody wants to talk about: officiating.  There’s a certain give and take to the ref game, and I respect that.  But tonight is different.  Although a  blown call in the fourth quarter technically carries the same weight as one in the first, the critical mistake of the officiating crew in the final seconds of Game 3 was the biggest dagger I’ve seen in these playoffs.  In one missed call, Dallas fell from a hopeful 1-2 to a funereal 0-3, a death knell in NBA basketball.  It’s up for debate whether or not the Mavs had a real chance at winning this series, but one suddenly silent whistle made any debate irrelevant.

No team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit, and though winning some games would dress up the series in its Sunday’s finest, the Mavs don’t appear to be a team that can buck that trend.  Every piece of evidence imaginable would point to the Mavs losing this series, and can’t even convince myself, much less you, otherwise.

What makes last night’s loss so painful is that the Mavs did what they needed to to win.  Nene (5 points, 2-10 FG), a dominant force in Games 1 and 2, was neutralized by a more effective frontline and a defense aware of his presence.  Josh Howard was revived from ankle hell to score 14 points, grab 7 rebounds, and play some commendable defense on a white-hot Carmelo Anthony.  Dirk (33 points, 16 rebounds) was absolutely wonderful, and managed to actually build upon his prior brilliance by adding an impressive 15 free throw attempts to his series resume.  Jason Kidd and Jason Terry each broke out of their respective slumps, with Kidd running the break with mastery and Terry hitting the (original) biggest shot of the game to put the Mavs up 4.  But all of that was wiped away when Antoine Wright tried to use the Mavs’ foul to give with two seconds remaining and was denied by official Mark Wunderlich, who saw no reason to stop the play and allowed Carmelo a free look at a game-winner.  This isn’t a complaint about a questionable call — NBA president of league and basketball ops Joel Litvin confirmed the boo-boo — but rather voicing the frustration of a clear error that denied the Mavs a chance at this series.

The thought that history will likely remember this day as a Nuggets’ triumph rather than an officiating failure pains me, but credit to Denver for clawing their way through this game.  It wasn’t always pretty and, to be frank, wasn’t always effective, but they managed to perservere despite a lot of things going wrong.  Foul trouble and poor execution be damned, the Nuggets weren’t going to see themselves embarrassed, and that mentality just so happened to get them face-to-face with a winning jumper.  Luckily for the Nuggs and their fans, Melo didn’t blink.

Brandon Bass (16 points, 5 rebounds, 12-14 FT) was awesome.  He alone dominated Chris Andersen (plagued by foul trouble) and J.R. Smith (plagued by poor shot selection being J.R. Smith), and played tough interior defense while Erick Dampier was resting.  Early in the game, it looked as though Ryan Hollins may have supplanted Bass as the back-up center, but Bass played with exactly the kind of energy and discipline that he needs to be effective on a regular basis.  The free throw attempts are clear evidence of his assertiveness around the basket, but that kind of quantification hardly tells how important he was to the Mavs’ offense.  In the first half, Dirk sitting on the bench meant a scoring drought.  But once Bass started hitting his stride, he afforded Nowitzki some much-needed rest and the team a much-needed weapon.

Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups…were Carmelo Anthony (31 points, 8 rebounds) and Chauncey Billups (32 points).  They had the kind of big games that you expect from players of their paygrade, and there was no chance that Denver even sniffs a win if those two don’t contribute huge baskets and meaningful plays at both ends.

Aside from that, the only other Maverick-killer was their inability to secure defensive rebounds.  The Nuggets grabbed 13 offensive boards, many of which were converted into impressive tip-ins and dunks.  That’s a disheartening way to end a play, especially when Dallas’ half-court defense seemed much improved from the first two games.  They were putting the Nuggets in tough spots, but Birdman or Kenyon Martin would swoop in for an easy jam as the ball bounced off the rim.  We’ve asked the Mavs to improve their defense and they responded, which makes those easy put-backs that much more harrowing.

Closing thoughts:

  • Well, Gerald Green played a full 9 minutes, and it wasn’t pretty.  Josh Howard and Antoine Wright’s foul trouble left Carlisle digging into his bench, and Green rewarded his generosity with 0-4 shooting, 0 assists, 0 rebounds, 0 steals, 0 blocks, and 3 fouls.  Ai yai yai.
  • In case you missed it, you can actualy re-watch the game in its entirety here.
  • Say what you will about Antoine Wright “giving up” on that final play, but I don’t see many faults with his play.  If he challenges the shot, there’s actually a decent chance that Anthony catches him jumping from out of position, draws a foul, and gets three free throws (or maybe even more if the foul was flagrant).  If he even challenges the shot, there’s still a chance that a whistle negates his efforts.  And all of this is taking place in about a second flat, fleeting moments in which Wright is expecting play to be stopped by a tweet.
  • Josh Howard was called for an offensive foul on a play where he drove into the lane and warded off a defender by kicking out his foot…which you may remember was almost the exact play that won a regular season game for Chauncey Billups and the Nuggets against the Mavs back in January (check the clip here at the 1:50 mark, although it’s pretty bad quality).
  • Damn.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Brandon Bass.  Dirk has been playing well all series long and deserves his props, but Bass provided something both unexpected and delightful tonight.  Shooting 14 free throws off the bench in just 25 minutes is quite a feat, and Bass is quite a player.

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.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 4, 2009 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.”