The Denver Nuggets still have not swept a postseason series and the Dallas Mavericks were able to break an eight game losing streak to the Nuggets. Even so, I think I am starting to experience what teams like the Lakers and Pistons have felt over the years. I fully expected Denver to win this game until the final few seconds and when the lost I was not so much upset as I was annoyed. How dare the Mavericks waste our time and energy by pretending this game meant something? They are only delaying the inevitable.
The Nuggets may still be a virtual shoe in for the conference finals, but there are some reasons to be concerned about this team’s performance in games three and four. The problems start with the “vaunted” and “legendary” Nuggets defense. As loyal reader and commenter Beefy Swats pointed out in the game thread just as in the regular season the Nuggets defensive intensity has waned as games pass.
The Nuggets’ defense has slackened against Dallas. After posting a defensive efficiency of 95.1 against New Orleans, Denver’s defensive efficiency has surged to 112.5 against the Mavericks. As George Karl pointed out in the post game press conference, the Nuggets tried to win on offense instead of with defense and Dallas was able to run up the score.
What are the problems? The primary issue I see is they are not playing with the cohesiveness they did against the Hornets. When there is penetration the help is either late or non-existent. After forcing the Hornets and Mavericks to score from the perimeter for the first six games of the postseason the Mavericks are starting to earn some easy buckets. Tonight Dallas actually outscored Denver in the paint 42-36. Conversely, the Nuggets’ points in the paint have been slowly shrinking after posting 58 in game one. In game two Denver scored 50 points in the paint and they totaled 48 in game three. The 42 in game four go to show how Denver’s offense was far too perimeter oriented, but we are supposed to be talking about defense.
If Dallas is going to shock the world and come back to win this series it will be on the back of Dirk Nowitzki. No Nugget player has been able to deal with Dirk apart from Chris Andersen for one quarter in game one and Kenyon Martin for one quarter in game three. The decision not to double Dirk would seem to have worked as Dallas has not gone crazy from behind the three point line and Denver is up 3-1 in the series. I think you can make a good argument that not doubling Dirk is actually not working. The Mavericks are not killing the Nuggets from behind the arc, but from the charity stripe.
During the regular season Dallas averaged .274 free throws per shot attempt. Against the Nuggets Dallas is shooting .430 free throws per shot attempt and that includes game one when Dallas had 13 free throws compared to 82 shot attempts.
With free throws comes foul trouble and Denver has struggled with foul trouble with their bigs in both games in Dallas. Game four was especially difficult as Chris Andersen had to miss the game with a stomach illness.
When Dallas is not scoring from the free throw line they are hitting a high percentage of their shots. For the series Dallas is shooting 46.8%, but Dallas shot 48.8% in game one, 47.4% in game two and 50.6% in game four. Dallas is getting to the line and hitting their shots the hallmarks of efficient offense and poor defense.
I projected the Nuggets would have a more difficult time defending the Mavericks than they did against the Hornets, but I expected them to do better than this.
Another problem apart from the defense is the Nuggets have lost their physical edge. Along with the points in the paint Dallas crushed the Nuggets on the boards. I generally do not make a big deal about rebounds unless the Nuggets get or give up an avalanche of second chance points, but the Mavericks completely controlled their defensive glass giving up only six offensive rebounds to Denver while corralling 41 defensive boards.
Even with all of the Nuggets’ deficiencies in game four, they were never down by more than four and really should have pulled this game out.
Hopefully the Nuggets learn from this loss and bounce back to dominate the next game as they did after their singular loss against New Orleans. Game five is back at the Pepsi Center where Dallas should not be able to get 40 plus free throws and the Nuggets will hopefully rediscover their running game.
There is not much reason to fret about the Mavericks, but if Denver cannot tighten their focus they will be hard pressed to win the Western Conference Finals.
Look for the additional nuggets later this morning.