The Denver Nuggets have a chance to grab their second round series with the Dallas Mavericks by the throat. If they can win game two tonight at home it will put the Mavs in a big hole.
There is only one major adjustment I can think of that will determine the outcome of this game and that is whether or not the Mavericks are capable of matching the Nuggets intensity and, you guessed it, physicality.
Until the Mavericks prove to me I am wrong I will consider them the mentally fragile squad who blew the 2006 NBA finals, were spiritually demolished in the 2007 playoffs by the Golden State Warriors and were run off the floor by the Hornets last season.
I have written all season about how the style of defense the Nuggets play can determine their mindset for the game. A passive defensive strategy led to a passive effort. In game one the Mavericks play a reactive style on both sides of the floor and that perpetuates a collectively passive team atmosphere. That type of team mindset is not conducive to winning in the playoffs.
For Dallas to change their team mindset now would be nearly impossible and that is the greatest obstacle for them right now.
At a more tactical level I wrote yesterday that Dallas needs to utilize the high screen with Dirk more often. That is the set he rode to his 6-6 start, but they got away from it as the game wore on. When they returned to it in the fourth quarter Jason Terry chose to keep the ball rather than give it back to Dirk. I remember reading that some people thought the Mavs were better because Terry took over more often in crunch time to make up for Dirk’s well documented late game shortcomings. In game one Terry forced it and the Mavs suffered.
Another adjustment I am tempted to recommend is to play Terry for 40 plus minutes or to start Antoine Wright and leave J.J. Barea on the sidelines. That might be an example of overreacting to the limited returns from only one game. While I understand the temptation to get Terry out there more frequently or to play Wright I think it might be a mistake. Barea can still be a thorn in the Nuggets’ side if Carlisle releases him to attack in transition. There is not a Nuggets player who can stay in front of him and just as much as the Mavs need Jason Kidd to throw the ball to teammates and not the upper crust of Denver society seated at midcourt they almost equally as badly need Barea to play well.
I am also a little worried about how well Chris Andersen can do against Dirk. The Birdman was amazing when pressed into duty on the big German in game one, but I think Dirk can drive on him. If Dirk throws a little pump fake at Birdman to get him to at least raise up on his toes will free Nowitzki to drive past him and get to the rim. I still believe Kenyon is the best option to defend Dirk.
Apart from their slow start the Nuggets played a very strong game. I have very few recommendations for the Nuggets. They should keep pounding the middle with pick and rolls by Nene. J.R. Smith needs to be relentless going to the rim. Melo needs to be aggressive as well both in the post and driving from the wing.
Defensively I believe they can do a better job of fighting over the high screen from Dirk. There were instances where they just switched without forcing Nowitzki to set a strong screen. Dirk typically sets very strong screens, but do not let him off the hook by anticipating that he will do so. Force him to set a strong screen and absorb the contact.
From a rotation standpoint the only way Kleiza should be in the game is if Josh Howard is not. Of course, it will help if Melo can avoid foul trouble. I would also cut Dahntay Jones’ playing time from 18 down to the 10 or 12 minute range to get J.R. Smith and Anthony Carter more floor time.
However, everything comes back to which team is going to play tough playoff basketball. So far the Nuggets have raised their game to the perfect level of aggressive physical play while their opponents have not been willing or able to do the same.
I have never felt so confident about the Denver Nuggets in my life. They are nearly unbeatable at home where they are playing with supreme confidence and being pushed to new heights by great crowds. I do not need to hope Denver will win, I know they will and I can get used to it.
Take this with you: I am going to pass on a couple of links here. First George Karl is not a big fan of the NBA’s decision to fine Kenyon Martin. Secondly, celebrate Cinco de Mayo with LaPhonso Ellis. It has been exactly 15 years since Ellis’ 27 point 17 rebound game in the first round series against the Sonics in 1994. Oh Yea and one more. Footage from the lockerroom right after the Nuggets won game five to beat the Hornets.
Thanks to Brandon from BallerBlogger for the link.