The agonizing layoff between games two and three is over and once again the Denver Nuggets go on the road with the possibility of reaching the next round of the playoffs without setting foot back in Denver. Denver carries a seven game winning streak against the Mavericks into the contest, but the simple fact the game is in Dallas will provide the Mavericks with at least a smidgen of hope that they can climb back into this series.
American Airlines Center was a house of horrors for the Nuggets as recently as the 2006-07 season. However, Denver has won three of their last four games in Dallas so going into Dallas and earning a win will not require any visualization techniques. The Nuggets have built up some experience in that area.
One of the primary issues for game three is health. The Nuggets are as healthy as a herd of oxen while Dallas is wondering what they can get out of Josh Howard. Howard has said he will play in game three (thanks to Mavs Moneyball for the link), but Rob over at The Two Man Game has a nice close up of Howard’s iced up ankles.
Erick Dampier is also still less than 100% after rolling his ankle early in game one, but that is not much of a story as he does not rely on quickness and mobility anyway.
The other health issue is the prospective health of Dirk Nowitzki’s mind and spirit. By now I am sure everyone has heard about his girlfriend (or potentially pregnant fiancé) being arrested in his home. I agree with the sentiment that Dirk will be able to focus on the game 100%, but as I mentioned in my post on the situation one reporter has surmised that based on the bags under his eyes Dirk is probably not sleeping well due to the events of the previous three days. I want to know where Marc Stein is in all of this. He is close enough with Dirk that I am sure he has partied with the lady in question. Do your job. Spill the beans Stein!
Regardless of whether or not Josh Howard plays, and plays well, or how Dirk responds the Nuggets have a chance to deliver a big message to the NBA. A win tomorrow probably means sweep as Dallas still has to live with the demons of their recent playoff collapses. Although, Thursday we discussed how confidence is a powerful ally and has helped sweep the Nuggets to unanticipated heights. Confidence is very fickle though and if Dallas can win game three, they are going to believe they can win game four. Denver got away with dropping game three in New Orleans thanks to the beating they plopped on the Hornets in game four, but you never want to allow a team to start to build any flicker of confidence.
Getting down to brass tacks it will be interesting to see how the Nuggets defend in game three. On one hand Dirk has been very effective going against the Nuggets’ single coverage and Jason Terry is scoring just below his season average. On the other hand no one has stepped to help either of them. Howard and Kidd had 15 points in game one, but Howard started out game two 0-3 before leaving and Kidd only scored four points. Right now Kidd is the Mavs’ third leading scorer of the series with an average of 9.5 points per game.
The one reason for concern is Dallas is shooting a very impressive 48.1%. That is 4.1% better than Denver allowed in the regular season and 9.9% better than the 38.2% Dallas shot against the Nuggets in their four regular season matchups. Denver won games one and two with their offense. There is no reason to suspect Dallas is suddenly going to become a stout defensive team, but if the Nuggets do not increase their intensity on defense and stop unnecessarily switching on screens Dallas can jump up and bite them.
It has been incredible to see how consistently well the Nuggets have played this postseason. They have only trailed by double digits in one game, game three in New Orleans where they lost 95-93 and they have set a new record for margin of victory over the first seven playoff games with an average margin of 21.0 points. The previous high was 17.7 by the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks who were barely better than the 17.6 points per game by the 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers.
I see no reason not to expect another Nugget victory in game three. Dallas will come out and play hard. I am sure Jason Kidd will hit a few threes, but where else do they get a contribution to help push them over the hump? Even if Dirk goes off again, Kidd finds his shot and drains four or more threes and Jason Terry puts up 25 or more points I still do not see Dallas outscoring Denver. The one player who could change the game is J.J. Barea. He has the ability to score from the perimeter, get in the lane and he is the only Maverick player who appears interested in taking advantage of the Nuggets’ soft transition defense.
I just do not see all of those stars aligning for Dallas. The Mavericks have no answer a motivated and unselfish Carmelo Anthony, they have no answer for Nene (Ryan Hollins is not the answer), between Chauncey and J.R. one will surely be hitting shots and if J.R. is cold, look for him to live in the paint.
Take this with you: Dallas has been a great home team since the All-Star break winning 17 of their last 18 home games, including the two they captured in the first round against San Antonio. The one blemish on that record was a 103-101 loss to the Denver Nuggets.