Chat Postponed

If you stopped by to take part in the chat I promoted earlier today, it has been temporarily postponed/potentially canceled.  I have not heard from Rob yet and he is the technical genius who set the first one up.  Sorry if news has ruined your day.  Hopefully tonight’s game will lift your spirits.

Nuggets/Mavericks Notes

Before we get to a few more thoughts on game three of the Denver Nuggets/Dallas Mavericks series there are a couple of announcements to make. 

First, make sure you swing by here at 1:00 Mountain time to take part in a chat with Rob Mahoney from The Two Man Game.  We will be taking your questions and I am sure listening to a lot of complaining heading into game four.

Secondly, the Nugg Doctor is hosting a game four viewing party at the ESPN Zone in downtown Denver.  I cannot make it due to the fact my softball teams needs my sterling skills at shortstop tonight (only two errors so far in two games improving on my previous best of 12 errors in two games), but if you like watching games with other rowdy Nuggets fans I encourage you to join the party.  Nick the Nugg Doctor is promising trivia and prizes.

More end of game comments

There has been a lot of fallout over the whistle not heard around the world and it deserves more discussion here.

First of all, all the excuses being made for Antoine Wright are ridiculous.  It has been said that he could not have wrapped Carmelo up because of the danger of being called for an intentional foul or a flagrant foul?  That is just preposterous.  The entire episode took place under the guise of referees to not want to unduly impact the end of games.  No NBA referee is going to call either an intentional or a flagrant foul in that spot.  Rajon Rondo punched Brad Miller in the face and did not get a flagrant foul. 

There are two accounts of Nuggets fans watching the game in a bar with the sound down and thus not knowing the Mavs had a foul to give.  Jakester recounted it here in a comment here on RMC and Andy from Denver Stiffs was also in that position.  Neither observer thought there was a foul that should have been called in that point in the game. 

The actions of Mark Cuban following the game were repulsive.  I can appreciate his passion for his team, but his conduct was not appropriate for a fan, let alone an owner of an NBA franchise.  At one point he pushed a camera man, although not hard, was seen shouting obscenities on the court and he even yelled at Kenyon Martin’s mom calling Kenyon a thug. 

I respect players and teams who do not look to blame the officials whenever they lose.  Mentally tough teams do not look to blame the referees after any loss.  They accept responsibility.  There is a belief that teams taken on the personality of their coaches.  Well, as active as Cuban is I think Dallas has taken on some of the personality of their owner.  The Mavs are not a mentally tough team and I think a big reason is because of the emphasis Cuban has placed on poor officiating.  I understand much of what Cuban has done is with the admirable goal of improving officiating in the NBA.  However, he should keep that data away from the players, coaches and fans.  By making a stink over every call he does not agree with he remove the burden of losses from his players to the officials.

Instead of learning from all the mistakes Dallas made in the final couple of minutes, or wondering why they were not up double digits at halftime when the Nuggets were shooting under 30%, they are completely focused on the officials. 

Mavericks fans have been proclaiming that Nuggets fans would be angry too if Denver had tried to foul and failed only to see the game winning shot go through the hoop.  I agree, it would be a wide topic of conversation, but on this site I promise we would have focused on the very same issue of what the player could have done better in order to get the foul called.

I will say one thing in Wright’s defense.  The game had been called very tight all afternoon and what he did would have been called a foul at any other point during the game. 

I will also add that Dirk Nowitzki seemed to have the right attitude about the end of the game.  He left the floor quietly and I believe he was contemplating what he could have done better to win the game.  Jason Kidd was also quick to accept blame (Update:  Dallas Morning News blog post with Kidds’ comments) as he was quoted as saying the play at the end of the game was not what cost Dallas the win.  

It was interesting to see that Josh Howard who shot 5-15 and was in foul trouble was the most animated in his displeasure.  Maybe Josh should have shared Dirk’s attitude.  He was called for a technical in the third quarter that gave Denver an extra point, he only shot 33% and his defense was not overly impressive.  He can blame the officials all he wants and I realize he is playing in pain, but he should be looking at himself. 

It is unfortunate that the game had to end with that kind of controversy, but do not let it get you down Nuggets fans.  Dallas can say whatever they want and the NBA can put out statements until the end of time, the fact is Melo made the shot and Denver earned that win.  Enjoy it.


The NBA is reportedly reviewing the events on the court following game three and I will let you know as soon as I know if there are any suspensions as a result of what went down.

Kleiza’s thumb

According to a report on this site (thanks to Nate at Pickaxe and Roll for the link), which has since been removed, Linas Kleiza’s thumb is broken.  

There is no news in the Denver Post that I have found confirming that, but as I wrote in my game three recap.  Kleiza was clearly not interested in shooting, which I have never seen before, and if he is not scoring, he does not belong on the court.  

2009 NBA Playoffs Round 2 Game 3: Denver Nuggets 106 – Dallas Mavericks 105

Box Score | Highlights

If you are looking for a reason why the Denver Nuggets struggled to duplicate their relatively easy wins from the first two games of the series against the Dallas Mavericks I will give you three.  First Dallas played with more fire and intensity because they were at home.  They are a very good home team. 

Secondly Dallas finally started running and scoring in transition.  In game three the Mavericks were credited with 21 fast break points while the Nuggets only compiled nine.  Dallas had only scored 13 fast break points in the first two games while Denver rung up 54.  Transition defense has been a weakness for the Nuggets all season and neither New Orleans nor Dallas have tried to take advantage of that aspect of the game.

Thirdly, the game was officiated in a way that was beneficial to the Mavericks.  That is not a complaint.  I thought the referees were consistent from start to finish, or at least from start through the first 11:57 of the fourth quarter.  Dallas needs the referees to penalize Denver from playing physical defense and they did.  In my opinion they called the game too tightly.  The third quarter seemed like it lasted an hour.  Dallas shot 21 free throws in the third quarter alone (all in the final 9:20) and the Nuggets shot 12.  Thirty-three free throws in a single quarter is just brutal to watch.

However, it is difficult to be upset with the referees (and not because of the way the game ended).  After watching the third quarter again the way the game was being officiated, it is hard to argue with the calls.  Many of them were on plays where the Nuggets were reaching.  Chauncey picked up two fouls trying to make a steal.  At one point Melo had switched onto Dirk, he fought for position in the post and forced Nowitzki out to the three point line to receive the pass.  Then he banged with Dirk continuing to fight for every inch he could.  Then after working that hard, he bails Dirk out by slapping his arms when he pivoted to shoot.  The Nuggets committed fouls due to either lazy defense or getting caught out of position.

Foul trouble became an issue in the third quarter as Chauncey, Chris Andersen and Nene all were called for their fourth foul by the midpoint of the third quarter.  Andersen committed two bad frustration fouls which gave him five fouls with over three minutes left in the third.  He would foul out after playing less than 11 minutes. 

As a result the Nuggets were forced to play with a smaller lineup and with the Mavericks forcing their way into the paint more frequently it forced the Nuggets to foul even more to prevent easy shots at the rim.

As the game progressed it was apparent to me that Dallas was playing with just a tad bit more intensity and intelligence at both ends of the floor.  As I have written before it is impossible to manufacture desperation and Dallas was playing with desperation.  Add in the poor shooting by the Nuggets in the first half, the lackadaisical defense resulting in the free throw parade in the third quarter, the foul trouble born out of sloppy defense and the Nuggets not being able to put together that decisive run we have become accustom to and it was a very frustrating game to watch.  The Nuggets did not play their best and everything I was watching convinced me the Nuggets would not pull this game out.  They lost a close game three in New Orleans and they were about to lose a close game three in Dallas. 

With 34 seconds left Anthony Carter made the horrible decision, as he frequently does, to run at Dirk from behind Dirk in an attempt to steal the ball.  Carter left Jason Terry all alone in the corner and in a play you could see happening before everything actually happened Dirk passed over to Terry who hit the open three to put Dallas up 105-101.  Game over, or at least so I thought.

From that point on the Mavericks made four big mistakes.  First of all needing to run some clock they allowed Carmelo to score on a dunk in only 2.6 seconds.  I realize you do not want to foul, but at least make Melo change directions.  If they manage to force just two more seconds off the clock, I think Denver has to foul on ensuing possession instead of playing to get one more stop with time on the clock.  

The second mistake was made by Dirk.  Not only did Dirk take some terrible shots down the stretch, but he probably lost the game for Dallas by shooting far too early on their second to last possession.  There was a differential of roughly four seconds between the shot clock and game clock.  Dirk shot with six seconds left on the shot clock.  By the time Denver corralled the rebound and called timeout there were 6.5 seconds left.  If Dirk shoots that shot with just one or two seconds on the shot clock, Denver is looking at only a second or two to tie or win the game instead of 6.5. 

The final two mistakes were the inability to foul convincingly, which I have already written about, and the unimaginative inbounds play the Mavericks ran at the end of the game.  I thought the final inbounds play by the Mavericks was pretty weak.  The Mavs only needed two points to win and running a play for Dirk or Terry to catch running away from the basket, forcing them to turn and shoot from long range was silly.  I think Dallas could have had Josh Howard cutting to the rim.  They should have known Denver would be focusing on Dirk and Terry which would have allowed Howard, who set a screen for Dirk, but when Howard curled around the backside he ran towards the opposite sideline instead of at the rim plus Brandon Bass was just sitting on the offside block anyway.

If Dallas makes better decisions or better plays in any of those four situations, apart from the final play with only a second left, that is a tough situation to bounce back from, perhaps the game ends up differently.

If you are looking for one thing that turned the game in the Nuggets’ favor look no further than a defensive adjustment George Karl made midway through the fourth quarter.  With Dirk scoring almost at will off of all the defensive switches the Nuggets were employing Karl changed things up during a timeout with 6:22 remaining in the fourth.  From that point on Denver started defending screens straight up with the big man hedging to slow down the ball handler and then recovering back to his man.  From that point on I believe Denver only switched one more screen the rest of the game.  However, Dallas probably did not realize the Nuggets had changed tactics for a couple of minutes because they posted Jason Kidd up on Chauncey for four or five straight possessions. 

Dallas ran their last set with Kidd posting up Billups at the 3:17 mark when Chauncey finally kept Kidd out of the lane and forced a bad turnaround jumper.  From that point on Dallas ran their regular down screens and pick and pop sets against the Nuggets more stout non-switching pick defense.  The result was out of Dallas’ final six shots not one of them came from in the lane.  Four of those six shots were badly forced jumpers by Dirk over Kenyon (of course one of them was the final shot of the game where Dirk had no choice, but to shoot a contested jumper).

When the Nuggets switch and Dirk is covered by a guard or Melo, he will back the smaller defender down and get an easy two.  If he has a big man on him, he almost always settles for the jumper.  By making sure Kenyon stayed on Dirk it ensured Nowitzki will take much more difficult shots.

Denver did hold the Mavericks to 40.0% shooting so from that standpoint it is difficult to say Denver did a poor defensive job, but I will.  The Nuggets hardnosed defense we saw against the Hornets has been softened because of all the switching.  Denver was forced to foul because the Mavs had the ball in the lane all night long.  The Nuggets defensive efficiency in games two and three against Dallas has been their two worst of the postseason. 

The Nuggets now have a chance at sweeping the Mavericks tonight in Dallas.  How amazing has this run been?

Additional Round 2 Game 3 Nuggets


  • I love how Chauncey defended the final play by Dallas.  Kidd was throwing the ball in and Dallas attempted to run Terry and Dirk towards the ball to receive a pass, turn and shoot.  Chauncey did not bother covering Kidd and when Terry flashed to the ball, Chauncey ran at him forcing him to run back out towards half court.  Kenyon forced Dirk to run almost all the way to Kidd to get open and at the three second mark of the five second count both Dirk, Terry, Chauncey, Kenyon and Carter were all bunched up in front of Kidd and Jason had nowhere to pass.  He made the inbounds pass to Dirk with just a couple of tenths of a second left on the five second count. 
  • One thing I have not heard mentioned about the play where Melo hit the game winning three pointer, although I have not read any game stories as of yet so someone may have brought it up, is even if the officials make the foul call the Nuggets still have the ball with over three seconds left to score.  Wright reached in at the 3.6 second mark so Denver still would have had plenty of time to set Melo or Chauncey up with a chance to win the game.
  • I do think Denver had to go for the win at the end of regulation.  With the foul trouble they were in, an extra five minutes might have been a dicey proposition.
  • Dallas deserves credit for the way they played. Their defense was spirited and offensively they were much more aggressive at going to the rim and attacking in transition. It will be interesting if they can recreate that effort after all the frustration from a very difficult loss.
  • With Denver down three and under a minute left Kenyon Martin forced a miss by Dirk on a wild turnaround jumper and the Nuggets quickly brought the ball into the front court.  Chauncey had been red hot in the second half and Melo had been getting to the line at will.  Surely needing a bucket to have any chance to win they would go to one of those two.  Instead Chauncey gave the ball to a player who at that point was 1-9 on the day.  Chauncey realized Brandon Bass cold not cover Nene.  Nene caught the ball on the right block, surveyed the court and noticed Bass was playing him high to keep him from turning getting into the middle of the lane.  Nene spun baseline around Bass and after avoiding a meager swipe at the ball by Dirk laid it in to bring the Nuggets to within one.  I do not know if Chauncey knew Nene was 1-9 and had been missing easy shots all day long, but the fact he gave the big man the rock in that situation shows the kind of trust these guys have in each other.
  • I have to take George Karl to task over one decision.  We all know Linas Kleiza is only worth having on the court if he is scoring.  Well, due to foul trouble Kleiza was on the floor for 13:54 despite the fact he could not shoot after slamming his thumb in a car door.  Why keep Kleiza on the court knowing he cannot provide anything on offense and suffer through his poor defense.  Renaldo Balkman absolutely must play in that situation. 
  • Rick Carlisle has received a lot of credit for having the guts to keep Josh Howard in the game with four fouls in the third quarter.  Apart from a couple of nice drives Howard did not really do anything.  He switched onto Dahntay Jones for much of that time so he was not helping on defense, he was just on the court to be on the court.  Plus he was called for a technical after in his frustration he swatted the ball out of play after it passed through the net.  Do you think Dallas would have liked to have that point back?
  • J.R. Smith had a poor shooting game, but he was excellent on defense and he ended up leading the Nuggets in plus/minus with a plus eight.  J.R. played very good defense and there were two occasions in the first half when he was switched onto Dirk where he prevented Nowitzki from getting to the rim and forced misses. 
  • Chris Andersen  was also largely an observer although he has little room to complain.  His fourth and fifth fouls were just very poor decisions.  For the Nuggets to win, on the road in the playoffs no less, with Birdman on the bench for almost 38 minutes and J.R. not scoring is a great sign.
  • Carter’s steal percentage has to be about the lowest in the league.  Near the end of the game when he tried to get a steal from Dirk and left Jason Terry alone in the corner I think every Nuggets fan saw the three pointer going in the hoop as soon as Carter ran at Dirk.  He may be a good on the ball defender and at chasing his man through screens, but he leaves his teammates out to dry by going for steals as much as Allen Iverson did. 

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  90.7 – Exactly the same as game two.

Defensive Efficiency:  115.8 – Exactly the same as game two as the pace factor was the same and Dallas scored 105 points in both games. 

Offensive Efficiency:  116.9 – Once again the offense was solid even with J.R. Smith struggling and Melo shooting a poor percentage.

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How to Foul When You Want to Foul

Yes, what Antoine Wright did to Carmelo Anthony was a foul, but you play the game the way the referees call it.  In that light I have three recommendations for the Mavericks next time they find themselves in that situation.   

1.        Tell the officials you want to foul before the shot goes up.  It is not against the rules to communicate your strategy to do to the officials.  For years players and coaches have informed refs that they want to call a timeout as soon as they grab a rebound.  If the officials know what you want to do they will be anticipating that you are going to do it and that makes it much more likely that they will make the call you are looking for.  Plus, I have no idea if the on court referees keep track of who has a foul to give or not.  In fact, the scorer’s table passes that information on to them specifically so they do not have to keep track of that kind of thing. 

2.       If you are going to foul, foul.  Do not make a weak slap at the ball/arm.  Wrap the offensive player up.  Grab him, hold him like you are at the prom.  Leave the referees no choice, but to call the foul.

3.       After the contact do not put your hands up in the air and act like you did not foul.  Making the French national gesture with you arms up in surrender communicates that you did not intend to foul and do not want to be called for a foul.  Players have been making that gesture hoping to avoid a whistle since God created referees.

If there is something to be said for the officials I think it is clear that the game was officiated the way the Mavericks need it to be officiated in order to have a chance to beat the Nuggets.  The Nuggets physical play was penalized all night long, which is fine and I think the officials were pretty consistent all night long.  The result was the game turned into a dreadful non-stop parade to the foul line.  Now, please note, I did not say the referees screwed the Nuggets nor did I say the Mavericks got all the calls.  Denver shot plenty of free throws too.  If Dallas wants to complain about the refs, and judging by the reaction of Mark Cuban following the game they do, tonight was not the night to do it.

Update:  Official statement from the NBA:

“At the end of the Dallas-Denver game this evening, the officials missed an intentional foul committed by Antoine Wright on Carmelo Anthony, just prior to Anthony’s three-point basket.”

2009 NBA Playoffs Round 2 Game 3: Denver Nuggets at Dallas Mavericks Game Thread

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.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

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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.

Is Dirk’s Girlfriend in Jail?

I had this whole post about how Dirk’s visitor/tenant/friend/girlfriend/pregnant fiancé had been arrested and how I tend to ignore stories like that, but an article today in the Dallas Morning News made me realize this was a much bigger story than I was giving it credit for.  Then I had to load some ridiculous program on my computer and restart it for my actual job so I saved the file and closed it.  Now my post is gone so I must have done something wrong.

Anyway, you can read the articles for yourself if you have not already.  Ball Don’t Lie has the basic story down (thanks to Nate at Pickaxe and Roll for the link) and the Dallas Morning News article I read can be found here.

I had pieced together some of the more interesting quotes, but do not feel like doing it again so here is my paraphrased version of the good stuff.

There was a lady, Cristal Taylor, who was arrested in Dirk’s house, she had a criminal past comprised of various forms of fraud.  She was someone who had some form of relationship with Dirk.  An unnamed fried of Taylor’s said she was engaged to Dirk and carrying his baby.  Taylor’s mom refuted that though saying she had no knowledge of either of those developments.  Dirk has said he had a girlfriend, but there was never any confirmation of who she was.  However, Taylor had been seen watching the Mavericks with Dirk’s father when he was visiting from Germany.

The Mavericks had spoken to Dirk about his relationship with Taylor and it was apparently causing some friction (whether the friction was between Dirk and his teammates or Dirk and management was not made clear).  They were able to convince Dirk that she was worth checking out and Taylor’s arrest may have been a result of the work of a private investigator working for Dirk.  Taylor is being held on $20,000 bail, which Dirk is in the position to pay if he really wanted to so at this point it is possible to surmise that Dirk wants his close acquaintance/girlfriend/pregnant fiancé to be in jail.

When discussing how he was not going to discuss these events for the press one report said he had big bags under his eyes.  He may be losing sleep over this situation, but claims he will be good to go tomorrow.

Mentally I fully expect Dirk to be ready to play in game three and beyond, but if he is really struggling with this situation and losing sleep, as his physical appearance at practice would suggest, that will make a difference in his performance.  Plus it is embarrassing so should the series return to Denver Nuggets fans will have a bunch of new material to use to taunt Dirk with.

Offday Offerings – Where I Gladly Consume Copious Amounts of Crow

On March 10, 2009 I wrote the following:

With the stink bomb the Nuggets dropped on us the past couple of weeks they have almost completely destroyed any chance of earning home court advantage in the playoffs.  I have a difficult time envisioning a scenario where they catch the Spurs, Jazz or Hornets.  Plus with the loss last night they have lost the season series to the Rockets making it even more difficult to surpass them in the standings.  In order to earn home court advantage the Nuggets would have to overtake two of those four teams.  At this point almost any best case scenario we can construct leaves the Nuggets playing either the Spurs, Jazz or Hornets in the first round.  Because of that I am afraid there is little hope of Denver reaching the second round. 

Needless to say with the Nuggets up two games to none against Dallas and heavy favorites to advance to the Western Conference Finals I think I can find it in me to admit I was wrong.  I had not forgotten about my inaccurate analysis and thought I owed you all an explanation.  Today reader Fats emailed me and asked me to detail what has changed since that dark March day and I realized it was time.

If we rewind back to March 10 the Nuggets were in the midst of a terrible slump.  They had lost eight of their previous 11 games to teams like Milwaukee, Indiana and Sacramento.  They were drubbed in Chicago by 17 and lost by 38 to the Celtics at home.  Out of their three wins during that stretch one was a one point home win against Atlanta where the Hawks overcame a 17 point third quarter deficit and Flip Murray missed a short runner at the buzzer that would have won the game. 

Another win was against the Los Angeles Lakers and as impressive as it seemed at the time was made to look fluke-ish based on the story the surrounding games told.  Considering the Lakers did not get into Denver until four in the morning due to a late Thursday night TNT home game against Phoenix the night before the win lost some of its luster.

It was really the loss to Sacramento that seemed to sum up the Nuggets’ apparent demise.  The Nuggets allowed the Kings to shoot 51.3% and their perimeter defense was nonexistent resulting in a plethora of open looks from behind the arc with resulted in Sacramento converting 14 or their 29 attempts from distance.  I was still ready to give the Nuggets the benefit of the doubt if they could rise to the occasion and notch a home win against the Rockets the next night, but after falling behind by 19 in the third quarter their late push was not enough to earn the win.

It is also important to look at what the other teams in the west were doing at the time.  New Orleans was still thought of as a strong team.  Tyson Chandler had returned from injury and the Hornets had just run off seven straight wins.  They looked like the team many observers thought could challenge the Lakers before the season.

Utah, likewise a preseason favorite, appeared to have righted the ship as well.  They would win their twelfth straight game that night.  The Spurs were playing well without Manu Ginobili and we did not yet know Manu would be out for the season.  They appeared to be a lock for the second seed.

Portland had also passed the Nuggets in the standings and looked strong as well while Dallas was only a half a game behind Denver and they were surging too.

Denver was riding a six game road losing streak and any hope for advancing out of the first round seemed to be tied to capturing home court advantage and that accomplishment looked to be as likely as peace in the Middle East.

If we look at what transpired since then my projections were not far off although the teams I feared, Utah and New Orleans, proved to be paper tigers.  I started the post proclaiming the Nuggets were about to embark on the easiest portion of their schedule.  Even before the season I wrote that if they could just hang around up until the middle of March they should be able to make a move in the standings.  On March 10 I still expected Denver to win 52 games, I just did not see any way it would result in a top four seed. 

Honestly, I was only off by one game.  Had Denver finished with 53 wins they would have faced off with the Rockets in the first round without home court advantage.  As well as the Nuggets are playing right now, I am not sure they escape that series victorious.  Houston is playing very well and I think Denver really needed that home court edge in their first couple of games to exorcise those old demons.

So that was the lay of the land when I wrote the Nuggets off on March 10. Now we need to look at on the court changes. 

To see what Denver was doing wrong during that pathetic stretch in late February and early March you can go back and look at this post from March 11.   Primarily the issues were a lack of running, poor shooting, stationary offense that was isolation heavy that resulted in fewer easy buckets, poor perimeter defense and a big decrease in their advantage from the free throw line. 

It is not difficult to look over that list and realize things have changed pretty drastically since then.  Denver is running and earning easy baskets, their offense is flowing and they are dominating the paint against Dallas, Billups and J.R. Smith have been shooting lights out from three point land and Melo and Nene are doing efficient damage at the rim.  Of course, the biggest difference has been a focus and tenacity on defense that was absent during their 3-8 stretch.

Without the lightweight schedule following the loss to the Rockets on March 9, I firmly believe Denver is sitting at home right now.  Relatively easy games including home tilts with Oklahoma City, the Clippers, Nets and Wizards with a road game at Memphis mixed in allowed Denver to rebuild their confidence and see that they might still have something to play for.  After that five game winning streak Denver then went on the road and played the Suns very tough in a 115-118 loss, but responded by defeating  the Hornets and Mavericks in their arenas over the next two games. 

The Nuggets were now back in first place in the Northwest Division as Utah started their fade and Portland was unable to keep up, although they did close the season on a 10-1 streak.  The Nuggets were the third seed, tied with Houston and only a game and a half behind the Spurs who now knew they would be without Ginobili.

I closed that March 10 the sky is falling post begging Denver to prove me wrong.  Have they ever and thank God for it.

Someone buy this man a soda

John Hollinger has a great article wondering why the Nuggets are not garnering more attention.  I do not think Denver is flying under the radar as much as Hollinger thinks, but it is encouraging to hear national media members proclaim Denver as legit contenders.

Mavs news wrap

For a collection of news from the Dallas perspective head on over to Mavs Moneyball.  Wes includes a quote from Kelly Dwyer properly lambasting Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Chris Webber for their verbal assassination of Dirk for talking about Kenyon, Nene and Birdman playing defense on him.

Today’s history lesson

Andrew at Denver Stiffs continues to show why he is the resident Nuggets’ historian tracing the road these two teams have traveled since Kiki Vandeweghe cleaned house back in 2002.

Like Jacobim Mugatu I feel like I am taking crazy pills

Am I the only person in the world who noticed the Nuggets defense in game two was far from stellar?

Fun with photos

The Chris Andersen Files has some great pictures up showing Dirk and Mark Cuban in various states of inebriation.  Plus unlike my rambling screeds the posts there do not take long to consume.

Nuggets at the movies

The wild and woolly site Low Posts introduces their own take on the upcoming Quentin Tarantino vehicle Inglourious Basterds called Innuglious Basterds.

Brad Miller is not amused

The NBA set the bar for suspensions for contact to a player’s head very low by suspending Rafer Altson for this:

Where Dampier Happens

Another “Where Amazing Happens” spoof featuring a Mav (hat tip to Mavs Moneyball)

I forgot two things

Bill Simmons makes his case to be GM for the Timberwolves and all I can say is it is sad this will not happen (thanks to Ball Don’t Lie for the link) because it would be too sane.  Denver is the dunkingest team in the league.  Any and every slam dunk stat you could hope to see (thanks to Eric to Roto Evil for the email tip).

Denver Nuggets 117 – Dallas Mavericks 105 – Additional Nuggets

Box Score

I promised you these the day after the game.  Well, I have not gone to bed yet so no matter what the calendar says, I delivered!

  • How far gone is Jason Kidd?  Exactly a minute and a half into the game he stole the ball from Kenyon Martin, drove the length of the floor was in the lane with no Nugget player in position to do anything other than foul him or let him score and he pulled the ball out right before he made it to the charge circle.  There was a lot of talk about Chauncey and Kidd shutting each other down in game one.   At this point I have no idea how Kidd ever scores other than on three pointers.  He cannot drive and he is almost afraid to go in the lane if he could.  Melo is even taking him out of the game when he is assigned to guard him and Carmelo is making it look easy.
  • In game one the Nuggets doubled Dirk a couple of times in the post and he burned them by making a skip pass or kick out pass for an open three.  In game two there were a couple of possessions where after Kenyon switched off with a guard he stayed close and showed what I call a soft double where he stayed within a step of Dirk and was ready to help, but was also in position to recover and challenge the three if Kirk chose to kick it out.  When Kenyon played that soft double style Dirk chose to pivot away from Kenyon and shoot a turn around jumper, despite the fact he was covered by a smaller guard.  At the 8:50 mark of the first quarter Dirk actually shot an air ball over the rim even though he was being covered by Chauncey.  I would be interested to see if Denver can use that tactic in the future to try to slow Dirk while still giving themselves a chance to recover and cover the three.
  • The biggest surprise of the Nuggets’ season is not the fact that they won the Northwest Division or that George Karl was a deserving candidate for coach of the year or that they have been nominated the team playing the best in the west in the month of May.  The biggest surprise was that Dahntay Jones shot 64.7% from the three point line.  He only attempted 17 shots and they were all from the corner, but still I did not think he could make 11 of 17 threes in practice let alone in game situations.  Well, things have reverted back to normal.  Jones made his first three of the playoffs, but has proceeded to miss six of his next seven.  These have not been good misses either.  For some reason Dahntay has been taking perimeter shots early against Dallas.  In Game one he missed a short jumper with 9:23 left in the first and then missed a three 2:40 later.  Last night he missed a 19 footer off the dribble at the 9:03 mark of the first and then missed his three from the corner exactly two minutes later.  Someone please tell Dahntay to stop shooting jumpers.
  • Sticking with Jones I think I am ready to remove him from the rotation.  Right now I would start J.R. Smith and then bring Anthony Carter in when the Mavericks bring Jason Terry in.  Then J.R. can come back at the start of the second quarter when Chauncey takes his first rest.
  • Between round one and round two the Nuggets have added a nice wrinkle to their offense.  The basic premise is rolling Nene to the basket at unexpected times.  In game one Denver ran a set where Nene set a screen for Billups on the left wing and instead of driving Chauncey passed to Melo at the top of the circle and Nene rolled to the basket.  Carmelo hit Nene with an easy pass over the middle for a dunk.  When Chauncey did not drive Dallas decided that Nene was no longer a threat and shifted their focus to Melo.  In game two they new twist once again involved Chauncey, Melo and Nene.  Chauncey passed to Melo at the left elbow who was covered by Antoine Wright.  Chauncey immediately cut and ran left past Melo introducing the possibility of a pick and roll or a handoff.  After Chauncey cleared Melo pivoted 90 degrees towards Nene who was moving towards Carmelo from the right block.  Melo’s pivot communicated to Erick Dampier that he was about to drive right around a screen from Nene so he reacted by hedging on Nene’s outside shoulder.  Wright was frozen like a deer in the headlights knowing he had no chance of stopping Melo from doing whatever he wanted and that left the middle open for Nene to slip the screen.  Once again Melo delivered an easy pass and Nene was fouled at the rim.  These plays are not earth shattering, but they are new and effective sets that teams are not prepared for. 
  • I mentioned this in the game thread and I usually try not to double dip, but I have to post it here to make sure everyone gets a chance to read it:

I had to rewind it to make sure I saw what I saw, but after Hollins’ dunk to bring the Mavs to within SEVENTEEN he ran down the floor pounding his chest. People get on the Nuggets for showboating, but at least they do not do it when they are getting blown out. What a tool.

  • When Nene switches off onto Jason Terry he has to realize that if Terry has five options running through his head options one through three and option five are to shoot a three.  Instead of laying off he needs to step out a force Terry to drive.  I see this all over the league.  When big men are stuck on the perimeter against a guard they lay back knowing the guard can drive past them essentially giving up whatever jumper the guard wants to get.  There is no help at the three point line, but there is help in the lane.  Bigs must force players like Terry who desperately wants to launch a three (83% of his shots are jumpers) instead of risk driving and having something bad happen to put the ball on the floor.  Most power forwards and centers look very uncomfortable because they feel alone so why are they so hesitant to coerce the guard to take the ball where they can get help from their teammates?  There, I think I beat that point into the ground.
  • The Nuggets 16-2 run to start the fourth quarter, but the question is did Denver play great defense or did Dallas fold?  Let’s find out.

The Mavs are supposed to have one of the best benches in the NBA and after the game Ernie Johnson practically had a conniption fit when Charles Barkley asserted that the Nuggets’ bench was killing them.  Dallas started the fourth quarter with four or five bench players depending on how you look at it.  Jason Terry was out there with James Singleton, Brandon Bass and sometimes starters J.J. Barea and Antoine Wright. 

At this point I originally copied down the next few possessions step by step before realizing that not even I would read it so here are the key points.

On the first possession of the quarter Dallas tried to get Terry open flashing out to the left wing, but they could not because Anthony Carter was so close to him on the cut that their breath was combining into one aromatic sent.  That ruined the set and Dallas did not get a good shot.

Carlisle saw that group was going to struggle to score so after that singular possession I am sure he put Kidd and Dirk in right?  Nope.  He put Kidd into the game for…Jason Terry?  Wow.  Now the only Mav capable of getting his own shot on the court was Barea. 

With Terry out Barea is the only player capable of getting his own shot and he is checked by Carter, which is the best option for Denver against the diminutive speedster.  Carter and Birdman trap Barea off a screen and forces the ball to go to Singleton who, the offensive force that he is, cannot decide what to do with a wide open lane in front of him so he starts to shoot and then realizes he should probably take advantage of the open space in front of him to drive.  The result is a travel.  It is probably for the best as Birdman was quickly recovering into the lane and any attempt at the rim would have been difficult at best and embarrassing at worst.

After two empty possessions Carlisle gets Dirk in the game.  The ball goes to Dirk on the right wing.  He drives left into the lane and jump stops at the charge circle.  A pump fake gets Bird in the air (of course), but Dirk misses the short fade away off the back rim.

On the ensuing Denver possession Melo gets mugged at the rim with no call (hey, we have a right to complain about the refs after the 36-13 free throw advantage from game one that was rightfully ours was slashed to a 40-30 advantage, just horrible) Dallas outlets to Barea who flies up the court, draws AC and J.R. into the lane and kicks out to Kidd who misses a toe-barely-over-the-line two pointer.  The miss triggers a break the other way for Denver that results in Nene being fouled at the rim.

Now down ten, 93-83, Carlisle reinserts Terry.  Carter stays right with Terry on a four day, three night trek from one side of the court to the other that visited some beautiful locations along the baseline and spent some time at a screen set by NBA superstar Dirk Nowitzki.  Birdman and Carter trap Terry again leaving Dirk open in the middle of the floor about 30 feet from the hoop.  Terry passes to Dirk who drops it like the phone number of a female power lifter from the former East Germany which sets the Nuggets running again.  That makes for a 9-0 run and puts the Nuggets up 12, 95-83.

After a timeout Dallas sets up with Terry in the left corner and after a misdemeanor assault two handed shove to free himself from AC’s tremendous defense Terry flashes to the high right wing.  Carter was left so far behind due to the push off that Nene has to step out to cover Terry.  Terry gets the ball and then passes to Nowitzki after which JET cuts to the right corner.  He gets a return pass from Dirk and rises to shoot, but Nene, perhaps having jumped into the future and read my comments about big men guarding little ones on the perimeter, forces him to abort the jumper and desperately pass back out to Dirk who has the chase it down.  Terry gets the ball again with Nene blanketing him.  Bass, who AC should be guarding after being physically forced to stop guarding Terry at the beginning of the play, clashes to the lane and having been left for dead by Carter makes a little ten footer for Dallas’ shot that put the two in 16-2.

On Dallas’ next possession the Nuggets trap Terry off a high screen by Bass who slips down the lane.  Terry delivers the ball and it appears Bass is about to score when J.R., Melo and Nene collapse on him and force a loose ball.  Bass collects and passes out to Kidd who misses a semi-contested jumper as Melo recovers from helping in the lane to at least get a hand up on the shot.

As the run grows Denver’s defense gets more and more active.  Barea has the ball on the left wing with Dirk setting a screen to his right and Bass doing the same to his left.  Barea chooses left for some reason.  With the sideline right there and Nene hedging to bottle him up J.J. leaps and throws a wild pass into the middle of the court.  Birdman gets a talon on it, but it bounces to Terry.  Dirk and Terry run a pick and pop.  Bird and AC trap Terry who passes back to an open Dirk.  Melo leaves Kidd in the corner to run at Nowitzki.  Dirk passes to Kidd as Nene rotates out to the corner and Andersen rotates perfectly onto Bass on the right block who Nene left to cover Kidd.  Kidd drives left into the lane and fumbles the ball as if it was a phone with his ex wife demanding this month’s alimony payment resulting in another Denver fast break.

Hang in there we are almost done.  Kidd and Hollins run a pick and roll and Melo is forced to switch onto Hollins.  Hollins receives the pass from Kidd and Melo fouls him to prevent a dunk.  Melo was in foul trouble in game one, but he only had two at this point late in game two which allowed him to make the smart play and prevent the basket.  It sure pays to have some fouls available late in games.  Dallas then ran Terry off a double screen and he was able to lose AC who lost his balance on the first pick.  Nene switched onto Terry and apparently forgot how good of a job he did earlier as he laid back and allowed Terry to take a three from the right wing.  Fortunately Terry missed, Nene ran out, Melo caught the rebound and hit Nene in stride with a perfect pass and the Brazilian Gazelle threw down a dunk to wrap up the 16-2 burst that gave the Nuggets the win.

OK, now imagine that only twice as long.  Oh, who am I kidding?  No one is still reading this.

Anyway, Denver still had a couple of breakdowns and the Mavs missed two or three open jumpers, but the key was the only open shots they could get were perimeter shots.  Denver was much more sound on screens and I liked how Birdman and AC have their own little trapping scheme down pat.  While Denver played some lethargic defense for much of the game they did crank it up in the fourth quarter and while I prefer the 48 minutes of nasty defense they had been playing I guess I will take it.

I was going to get into the Mavericks’ zone defense, but we are well over 2,000 words so you can all go back to the days when you were in school and the teacher was about to give out an assignment only to have the bell ring and free you from the obligation.  Heck, I am not going to even try to proof read this thing until tomorrow.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  90.7 – Slow for a home game.

Defensive Efficiency:  115.8 – Denver’s worst rating of the season topping 108.7 in the game three loss against New Orleans.  The numbers between games one and two are all very similar except for Dallas’ nine fewer turnovers and 17 more free throws. 

Offensive Efficiency:  129.0 – Second best output of the playoffs trailing only the 138.7 they posted in the game four blowout in New Orleans.

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2009 NBA Playoffs Round 2 Game 2: Denver Nuggets 117 – Dallas Mavericks 105

Box Score | Highlights

How many playoff games can you honestly say the opening jump ball played a role in determining the outcome?  Erick Dampier was called for stealing the tip and that gave the Nuggets the ball to start the game, but more importantly Denver got the ball to start the fourth instead of Dallas.  Entering the fourth quarter the Nuggets held a slim 86-83 lead.  Had the Mavericks received the ball first and converted they could have drawn to within one or even tied the game.  Instead of a confidence building possession for the Mavs Melo took the ball to the rim and set the tone for the final stanza and carry the Nuggets to a 117-105 victory.

To start the quarter Melo was on the left wing, took a handoff from J.R. Smith and drove right parallel to the rim off a double screen.  Antoine Wright ran to recover and get back in front of him and like a good running back Carmelo cut back to his left and drove behind Wright using his momentum against him.  All Wright could do was foul and Melo made both free throws. 

After giving up an offensive rebound to J.J. Barea of all people the Nuggets managed to get a stop.  Carmelo received a short outlet pass from Kenyon and dribbled with his right hand up the left side.  When he hit the three point line he cut right, absorbed contact from Antoine Wright and hit a right handed floater from about four feet out.  Just like that the Nuggets were up seven, the Denver players were saying here we go again, the Mavs players were thinking here we go again and the was a seven Melo had reasserted the Nuggets control of the offensive paint.  To top things off Rick Carlisle was called for a technical apparently upset that Melo did not get the “and one” he deserved after the contact with Wright.  Melo hit the free throw and Denver’s lead surged to eight.

Even though he had another big fourth quarter dumping in 15 points Melo was not the only star of the game on offense.  Nene continued to own the lane, setting a new career playoff high for the second game in a row, as the Mavericks have yet to find a way to stop him.  Even so Nene cannot claim all the credit as seven of his eight made baskets were assisted showing that the Nuggets did a great job of feeding him the ball in position to score. 

J.R. Smith also had a big offensive night.  When J.R. entered the game Denver had scored only seven points in the first six minutes of the game (thanks to a barrage of missed layups and even a missed dunk from Nene to start the game).  J.R. scored eight points himself over the final six minutes of the quarter and added two assists as well.  Smith would go on to score another nine points in the second quarter before taking what I believe was the worst shot of his career to [not] close out the first half.

Instead of running the clock down to virtually nothing, there was a fraction of a second difference between the game and shot clock J.R. launched a 30 foot three pointer with five seconds left.  The shot missed badly allowing Jason Kidd to drive up the floor and hit a 30 footer of his own at the buzzer.  Had J.R. even just waited another couple of seconds he could have thrown up that horrible shot with no harm done other than to the paint on the rim.

Denver did have some offensive issues such as a determination to take a lot of three pointers.  The Nuggets shot 28 threes.  It was the third most three point attempts for the Nuggets this season behind the 31 they shot at Philadelphia and the 29 they chucked up against Sacramento in game 81.  Carmelo himself took eight, yes EIGHT, three pointers making only a singular one.  Overall Denver was 8-28, good for 28.6%, from downtown and it would have been a lot worse if Chauncey had not caught fire and made four of five in the second half.  He even made a corner three, which is not his specialty.  Even so Denver still managed to shoot 50.0% for the game thanks to their 31-50, 62.0%, performance from inside the three point arc.  When you are dominating the paint the way Denver was how is it at all acceptable to shoot 28 threes?  I have no idea what they were thinking.  Along with the great shooting from the realm of the two point shot Denver also earned 40 free throws of which they drained 31 equating to 77.5%.  As you will see later even with the ridiculous amount of three point attempts the Nuggets put together some pretty good offensive numbers.

Unlike their efficient offense the Nuggets played their worst defensive game of the season.  Dallas was much more aggressive with the pick and roll and they continually hurt the Nuggets in the middle of the paint on a handful of occasions.  I think the Nuggets’ scheme played as big a role in the Mavs’ solid offensive performance as the Mavs adjustments did. 

Throughout the course of the entire season I have expressed my displeasure with switching screens.  I am not saying switching should never be utilized, but when switching screens is your primary tactic in defending ball screens you are bound to play with less aggression.  Karl likes to talk about how zone defenses are weak, but switching screens is every bit as weak as playing zone.  The Nuggets switched screens more frequently than they did in the first game of the series.  In fact they switched in instances where it was completely unnecessary and it cost them. 

The Nuggets’ 115.8 Defensive Efficiency was by far their worst of the postseason and it was the first postseason game where they gave up more than 95 points.  The TNT analysts were still giving the Nuggets credit for their defense, but Denver will struggle to win a game in Dallas if they play defense like they did tonight.

Now Dirk had a great night and I have to recant my belief that anyone on the Nuggets can slow him down one on one.  I have known for a long time that Kenyon struggles against taller or thicker players in the post, but for some reason chose to ignore that fact when I said he could contain Nowitzki.  I suspected Birdman’s success was more of a fluke than reality.  Really Nene might be the best option of the three especially since Dallas made the intelligent decision to post him up more.  The issue with having Nene cover Dirk is the potential foul trouble.  Nene has been such a force on offense I would hate to see him loose time due to foul trouble.  Dirk totaled 35 points on 11-20 shooting and accounting for a full one third of Dallas’ points.  While Dirk hit on 55.0% of his shots, the rest of the Mavs shot a pedestrian 44.8%. 

As painful as it can be to watch Dirk torch the Denver defense there is a lot of merit to letting him have success while maintaining a solid grip on the rest of the team.  Jason Terry did manage to score 21, but it took him 18 shots to do it and it was a very quiet 21.

Overall, it was another good performance from Denver and the fact they could still run away with the game when there were no indications they would be able to do so is encouraging.  All along I thought the Nuggets would win, but Dallas played them close enough for most of the game to put an ever so tiny smidge of doubt in my mind.

As far as the big story of the series, the physical-ness of the Nuggets and the un-physical-ness of the Mavericks I thought Dallas showed some guts in tonight’s contest although they rolled over in the end.  They played more in the lane than in game one, earned more free throws and made a couple of strong plays to stop easy buckets (one of which earned Kenyon a silly double technical).  They showed a little toughness, but not nearly enough to swing the series in their favor.

The refs called a tighter game and Dirk received the benefit of the doubt on a couple of calls that produced free throws as he took 13 free throws in game two.  Looking at the two major areas the Mavericks believed they could improve on from game one to game two, they really were successful.  They shot 17 more free throws as they went to the line 30 times and they cut their turnovers almost in half only coughing it up 11 times as opposed to 20. 

Sadly for Mavs fans the reduction in turnovers did not make a dent in the Nuggets’ fast break points.  The nine fewer turnovers only helped cut Denver’s fast break points down to 25.  Not much of a difference.  Plus their 30 free throws were still ten fewer than the more aggressive Nuggets shot.  The game was called much more favorably for Dallas’ style, but as we found out a tighter whistle may earn them more free throws, but it will get the Nuggets to the line more frequently as well.

There may have been far too many threes shot and the defense looked to have sprung a few leaks during the middle two quarters, but those complaints pale in comparison to the fact that the Nuggets are up 2-0 in the Western Conference Semifinals and are riding a 15 game home winning streak.

Additional nuggets and game stats will be posted tomorrow.  I need some sleep.

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2009 NBA Playoffs Round 2 Game 2: Denver Nuggets vs Dallas Mavericks Game Thread

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.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

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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.

Offday Offerings – Where Men are Men and Mavs are Mavs

Olivia Newton-John had the right idea (Let’s Get Physical)

Dallas’ reaction to the Nuggets’ physical play is exactly what the Nuggets should want it to be.  Instead of talking about how they need to match the Nuggets’ physicality Carlisle is talking about sending video to the league of the fouls that were not being called.  Mavericks fans get grumpy if you call their team soft.  Well, I have read a handful of articles from the Dallas Morning News, but I did not see a quote anywhere where a Mavs player said we need to welcome that style of play and see how they like it.  I am sorry, but the response the Mavs have given of please call these plays a foul from now on is not how a strong fierce team reacts to getting manhandled the way they were in game one. 

There is an article from Jean-Jacques Taylor who says he wants to see a Mavs player put a Denver player on their butt and implement the no layup rule. 

Carmelo Anthony would be a fine victim. So would Chauncey Billups. Or if they’re really feeling bold, they could send Kenyon Martin crashing to the ground.

If he thinks a hard foul will prove to Denver that the Mavs are a tough team and should be respected, I have news for Mr. Taylor.  Tyson Chandler tried to do that for the Hornets in the first round.  There was one specific play where Chandler gave Nene a forearm to the ribs on a shot attempt.  It was almost exactly the same hit Kenyon gave Dirk except for the fact Nene was in the air.  Did the Nuggets care?  No, because they knew it was a fake show of toughness.  In fact Nene made the shot.  What shows more toughness a shot to the ribs or scoring on a play where someone gives you a shot to the ribs?

You do not prove physical toughness by hitting someone hard once.  You prove it by playing with intensity and physicality for 48 minutes.  Knocking a Nugget player down may make the Mavs and their fans feel better, but it is not going to transform them into a tough physical team.  It is simply not in their team DNA.

Kenyon has been upgraded

As I am sure everyone has heard by now Kenyon’s forearm shiver to Dirk has been upgraded from a technical to a flagrant one and has lightened Martin’s wallet by $25,000.  As Marc Stein explains in his excellent article on the NBA’s decision once a player surpasses three flagrant foul points (flagrant ones are worth one point and flagrant twos are worth two points) they are suspended for the next game.  Kenyon now has one flagrant foul point, as does Chauncey.  There is good news here though.  That technical would have been Kenyon’s third in six games.  After seven technical fouls a player is suspended for the next game.  I am more worried about Kenyon getting seven technicals than four flagrant foul points.  With the technical from game one against Dallas upgraded to a flagrant one Kenyon remains at two technicals. 

As far as the decision to upgrade the technical to a flagrant, I really do not have a problem with it.  It was excessive contact and the fact that Kenyon delivered the blow after play had been stopped by his original foul is incriminating.  And as everyone has pointed out who has sounded off on the topic Kenyon does have a bit of a history of creating extra contact, which probably counted against him.

Stick with what was working

The Mavs really got away from the high screen with Dirk that worked so well to start the game.  There is no penalty for running the same set over and over.  Certainly other players need to be involved, but I would have made sure Dirk shot the ball 30 times instead of 22.  As the game wore on Dallas ran down screens and cross screens, sometimes for Dirk, sometimes with him as the screener and those played into the Nuggets’ hands.  They put Dirk in a one on one situation with Kenyon Martin or Chris Andersen who both did a very good job against him.  In the middle of the fourth quarter when they went back to the high screen with Dirk and Jason Terry, more often than not Terry kept the ball for himself.

Kidd’s passes to nowhere

Jason Kidd was terrible.  Not only did he make three or four mind numbingly bad passes either directly to Nuggets players or Nuggets fans, but who would have ever thought that Kidd would be guarded by Carmelo Anthony and never once attempt to drive on him.  Dallas fans are taking solace that Chauncey did not have a particularly good game either, but as I pointed out in my preview, Dallas needs Kidd to play at a high level much more than Denver needs Chauncey to.  The fact that he looked slow and almost afraid of hanging onto the ball is not a good sign for the Mavs. 

Of course, it was only one game and Kidd is probably almost as likely to have zero turnovers in the next game as he is to cough it up eight times again, but in the regular season Kidd did average more turnovers against the Nuggets (4.0) than any other team in the league save Orlando (5.5).  If you add the eight turnovers from game one to his 12 turnovers in three previous games and that bumps his average up to 5.0 against Denver this season.  We saw the Nuggets forcing Chris Paul into numerous turnovers this season and during round one.  Teams struggle to play efficient offense when the point guard is struggling to hang onto the ball.  If Kidd cannot take care of the rock it will really hurt the Mavericks.  Not only will their offense be weaker, but the turnovers can lead to easy baskets thus also affecting the Mavs already average defense as well.

Opportunities in transition

In addition to getting away from the high screen with Dirk the Mavs let the Nuggets off the hook by not being aggressive in transition.  I harped on this in the first round and I am going to keep going, but only if you guys promise to keep it to yourself.  The Nuggets did do a good job of retreating and I think on many occasions the Mavericks’ guards saw Denver’s big men back and decided to pull the ball out.  The Mavs should not fall for that optical illusion.  Even if the Nuggets are back, they are still susceptible to giving up open shots especially after a drive and dish or if the opposition runs some kind of quick screen and roll action.  Too often the Hornets and now the Mavs have played into the teeth of the Nuggets defense and right now that is a losing proposition.  Plus if you want to get some free throws having a quick guard with momentum challenge a big at the rim in transition is a pretty good tactic.

 The NBA where where did the backboard go happens…

Thanks to Rob at The Two Man Game for posting this video.  I have watched it over and over and it is hilarious every time.  It may be the worst footwork I have ever seen.

Home court in the WCF?

Perhaps the biggest news story today, other than my church softball team doubling last year’s win total after just two games, was the Los Angeles Lakers game one loss at home to the Houston Rockets.  I have pointed out previously that the winner of game one wins almost 80% of seven games series.  There are many games remaining to be played, but you cannot stop me from dreaming of a Nuggets/Rockets Western Conference Finals matchup where the Nuggets would possess home court advantage.

2009 NBA Playoffs Round 2 Game 1: Denver Nuggets 109 – Dallas Mavericks 95

Box Score | Highlights

Once again I simply do not know where to start.  There were so many great storylines for the Denver Nuggets during their game one 109-95 win over the Dallas Mavericks I do not think I can do them all justice.

Carmelo was in foul trouble for much of the game, but came alive in the fourth quarter.  George Karl went small in Melo’s absence and it worked marvelously.  Nene was simply a beast in the paint.  The play of Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Anthony Carter off the bench was nothing short of amazing and of course the team defense played by the Nuggets was exceptional by the end of the game.

I have to start off with the defense.

As was pointed out before the series started defending the Mavericks will be much more difficult than shutting down the Hornets.  Early on the Nuggets’ plan to switch the high screen set by Dirk Nowitzki seemed disastrous.  Dirk started the game 6-6 from the floor and despite the switching Dirk was getting very open looks and the Nuggets were clearly struggling with matching up with him.

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.

Aside from Kenyon’s hard foul on Dirk I had a difficult time picking out exactly why the Nuggets defense was able to improve so much between the first 12 minutes and the final 12 minutes.  To me the other keys that led to the defensive awakening were the play of AC and Birdman and I think it took the Nuggets a quarter or two to adjust to the completely different scheme from what they implemented against New Orleans. 

There was a lot of talk about how Kenyon and Dirk would matchup in this series, but it was Birdman who played Dirk the toughest.  Andersen has the length to challenge the shot and for some reason Dirk never really challenged him with the dribble drive.  There were two instances where Dirk tried to drive on Birdman.  On one Andersen drew a charge (more on that later) and on the other Dirk blew past him into the lane, but simply dropped the ball as he tried to gather it to shoot.  I still think Kenyon is the best option to defend Dirk, but it was very encouraging to see how well both Bird and Nene stuck with him.  Plus the guards, even J.R., became very physical with him.  The plan to single cover Dirk no matter who it was on him worked very well to start the series. 

Regarding AC, before the series started I pointed out that I thought AC would play a bigger role than Dahntay Jones because he was a much better matchup for the Nuggets to check Jason Terry.  That certainly proved to be the case in the second half as Carter hounded Terry all over the court and even forced a couple of turnovers when Terry tried to run him off of the baseline double screen. 

Offensively Denver was spectacular, or at least after the first quarter they were.  With Melo in foul trouble players like Nene, J.R., AC and Birdman all stepped up and produced very efficient games. 

Nene ran the floor well in both directions as he was threw down two fast break dunks in the second quarter and also did a good job of retreating in transition, as did all the Nuggets, to prevent the Mavs from running on them.  The Mavericks had no answer for Nene in the lane.  Dampier was too slow and no other Mavs player is strong enough. 

With Melo on the bench for much of the second quarter Nene piled in 14 big points to keep Denver in the game.  Nene scored on an easy dunk after a pick and roll with J.R. thanks to a beautiful bounce pass from Smith and he made a layup off a drive and dish from Chanucey where he drew  a foul after elevating over Dampier who hit him on the arm as Nene finished at the rim with the left hand.  Nene also scored off a really nice set I did not remember seeing this season where he set a screen for Chauncey on the left wing, but instead of driving Chauncey threw a pass across the floor to AC.  Nene then rolled off the screen and AC delivered the pass for an easy lay in.  It was a beautiful play. 

J.R. started out by launching a couple of long jumpers, but soon after that switched into attack mode and the Mavs could not keep him out of the lane.  J.R. penetrated in transition, off of isolations, off of screens and he even split the double team a couple of times.  The result was a handful of nice finishes at the rim and six assists.  J.R. took 13 shots and only two of them were three pointers.  It was only the third time all season that J.R. attempted more than ten shots while putting up two or fewer threes. 

Carmelo had a very frustrating first half as he only played 12 minutes in the first half.  Still when he was in the game he was aggressive offensively.  Melo was credited with 10 shots, but he had another three attempts that resulted in free throws that were all at the rim.  That makes 13 shots and seven of those 13 were at the rim.  He also finished the game with four assists continuing his solid passing performance.  Melo came alive in the fourth quarter when he no longer had to worry about fouling out.  After going at the rim he began hitting his jumpers splashing two three pointers.  He made the first one from the right wing as no Mav came out to cover him off an inbounds play and the second was on the left wing in transition that basically iced the game putting the Nuggets up 106-89 with 2:49 remaining.

Carmelo only attempted ten shots, which I am willing to bet is a career playoff low, but he scored 23 points on those ten shots.  It was a highly efficient afternoon for Melo even with limited minutes.

The Nuggets have to feel very good about how the game went.  Carmelo and Chauncey were non factors offensively up until Melo’s fourth quarter explosion.  Dirk scored his points, but the Nuggets seemed to get a handle on him after his hot start.  Anthony Carter did a great job on Terry who finished the game a -20.  Dallas had good scoring games from Dirk and Howard and Terry shot a solid percentage, but it was not enough for Dallas to hang with them for 48 minutes. 

It has been amazing to see this team become aware of how good they can be in the playoffs.   They are very confident and they should be.  Denver is almost unbeatable at home.  As Karl was quoted saying during the broadcast Denver just wears teams down when they play in the Pepsi Center.  The opposition may be able to hold them off for 36 or 38 minutes, but sooner or later an onslaught is coming and there is nothing the visitors can do to stop it.  The Nuggets are up to 14 straight home wins and with their game one win are very solid favorites to win this series.

Additional Round 2 Game 1 Nuggets

  • I watched portions of the game trying to discern the defensive strategy of the Mavericks and it was not easy.  They seemed to try to have their big men hedge on screens, but Dirk generally laid back in the lane, but as the game wore on he stepped closer and closer to the screen until in the fourth he was hedging as well.  There is no originality in the Mavericks’ scheme and I have to give Karl and his coaching staff credit for the way they are playing defense.  The easy way out is to play vanilla by the book defense.  You need to double or triple team Dirk as the Spurs did because he is too good to risk being covered by your guards.  Karl is showing that he will do what he thinks is best no matter how silly it seems to the commentators or other observers.  Early in the game Hubie Brown was almost pleading with Karl on the broadcast to stop switching, but Karl stuck with it and in game one, it really paid off. 
  • Apart from the defensive scheme Karl coached a marvelous game.  I really cannot take issue with anything he did.  After the game he spoke about how with Melo in foul trouble he had to try something that he probably would not have tried otherwise and that was the small lineup of Billups, Carter and Smith.  The small combo ended up being very effective.  If Melo is playing 40 minutes, that group does not get out on the floor together.  He gave Kleiza a shot to play, but when he realized what a liability he was it was back to the bench for the remainder of the competitive portion of the contest for LK.
  • I was really glad to see both Howard and Dampier were able to return from their ankle sprains.  I would almost rather have Denver lose than be told the only won because Howard was out. 
  • I have not really mentioned the disparity in fast break points.  Denver scored easy bucket after easy bucket, especially in the second half when Dallas could not hold onto the ball.  Dallas on the other hand almost never looked to run.  There is no way Dallas will be able to score enough points against the Nuggets’ half court defense to win this series.  It seemed the Nugget bigs did a good job of retreating into the lane and the guards found their counterparts early on as well.  If Denver has fixed their transition issues that is just another reason for the league to take notice of how well these guys are playing.
  • Mavs fans were irate with the free throw discrepancy and if I were them I probably would be too.  There is a reason for Denver shooting almost three times more free throws than the Mavs did and the proof is in the points in the paint.  Dirk was the only Mav who ever attacked the rim.  While he did draw a lot of contact, but he was also constantly flailing and it certainly looked like on several occasions he was accentuating contact.  After watching Chris Paul grow frustrated that he was not getting the silly calls he had been drawing during the regular season and today Dirk not getting many calls when he was hoping for them I think the refs are under instructions to not reward flopping or dramatics.  The Nuggets are a team who rarely flop or wildly gesticulate in an attempt to draw fouls.  I think their more physical approach is being recognized by the officials and they are getting calls specifically because they are not trying to trick the refs into calling anything.  Maybe I am crazy, but it makes sense to me.
  • Dallas was clearly ready for Linas Kleiza.  Even though Dirk was on fire as soon as he checked in and stated attempting to cover Josh Howard Dallas started feeding Howard and letting him go to work on poor LK.  The result was Howard scored some easy points and Kleiza made a good argument for why he should be watching from the bench.
  • With 7:16 left in the fourth quarter Dirk was bringing the ball up the floor while Andersen was running beside him.  Dirk chose to slam into Birdman to draw a foul.  On the same possession the Mavs entered the ball to Dirk at the left elbow and Birdman drew a charge when he read (or guessed) Dirk was going left.  The only place I believe in karma is on the basketball court and the fact that Dirk was charged with an offensive foul seconds after he drew the lame foul on Birdman was just beautiful.
  • At the 6:02 mark of the fourth quarter Jason Terry drove into the lane and tried to squeeze a pass between Nene and Birdman.  It was a pass that was doomed from the point it was conceived in Terry’s mind.  Nene collected the loose ball and threw an outlet pass to J.R.  As Smith brought the ball up the sideline Karl was right next to him waiving his arm encouraging Smith to run.  Smith dribbled over the half court line, passed to Carter on the right win and kept running up the middle of the floor.  Carter fed it back to Smith who drew Josh Howard to him on the pass in the middle of the lane.  Smith then made a nice behind the back pass to Melo who was hanging out on at the left side of the rim for a dunk.  It put the Nuggets up 17, sent the crowd into a frenzy, forced the Mavs to call a timeout and triggered Rocky’s pelvic thrust celebration.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  94.6 – Average regular season home game pace, 95.1.

Defensive Efficiency:  100.4 – Dallas shot 48.8%, but Denver forced 20 turnovers and only sent the Mavs to the line 13 times.

Offensive Efficiency:  115.2 – Very good considering the slow start, limited minutes from Melo and Chauncey’s veritable no show in the scoring department.

Featured Blogs:  The Two Man Game | Mavs Moneyball

2009 NBA Playoffs Round 2 Game 1: Denver Nuggets vs Dallas Mavericks Game Thread

Game day is finally here so I thought I would pass along some encouraging stats to help calm the nerves. 

As I am sure you all know the Denver Nuggets are riding a 13 game home winning streak.

According to Elias the Nuggets have ten straight wins in game one of a playoff series where they possess home court advantage.  The only team who has a longer active streak of home court game one wins in a row is the Chicago Bulls with 18.

A team who swept the regular season series of at least three games against a playoff opponent has never lost the postseason series (25-0).

No team has won more than one game one on the road in any single postseason since 1999 when the Knicks did it three times (Dallas won game on in San Antonio).

The team that wins game one in a seven game series goes on to win that series 78.9% of the time.

I think it is safe to say the Nuggets have a lot going for them both on the floor and from a historical standpoint.  They just need to get the job done.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Featured Blogs:  The Two Man Game | Mavs Moneyball

Mark Warkentien Awarded 2008-09 NBA Executive of the Year

According to the NBA Mark Warkentien has been named the 2008-09 NBA Executive of the Year.  He received nine votes from an electorate comprised of the other 30 NBA general managers.  Cleveland’s Danny Ferry was second with seven votes.

Warkentien released a statement on the award through the Nuggets.

“I proudly accept this award on behalf of Stan Kroenke and the entire Denver Nuggets organization,” Warkentien said. “This is a team honor that is a tribute to Mr. Kroenke’s leadership and vision for this season’s team. Our front office, coaching staff and players share equally in this award, and to be recognized by our peers throughout the league for our accomplishments during this special season is greatly appreciated and unexpected.” 

Interestingly Rex Chapman also received a vote giving the Nuggets’ front office ten of the 30 votes.  I wonder if Kevin McHale cast that vote as Chapman came to the Nuggets from the Timberwolves.

I could be wrong, but I do not remember a season where a team was able to shed as much payroll as the Nuggets did yet go on to have such tremendous success.  It was less than a year ago that Nuggets fans were in an uproar about the Marcus Camby trade and Warkentien was widely mocked for his comment that running an NBA team is like playing chess as opposed to checkers.  I think it is safe to say he has been vindicated. 

Now is not the time to go over all the steps that were taken to get to where they are so I will conclude by offering my most sincere congratulations to Mark Warkentien and the rest of the Nuggets front office on a job well done and for this well deserved award.

A couple of notes on the award:  The only other Nuggets executive to win the award was Vince Boryla in 1984-85 and before Danny Ainge won last season over the previous 11 seasons only one winner of the executive of the year award put together a championship team and that was Joe Dumars in 2002-03.

Denver Nuggets/Dallas Mavericks Round 2 – Final Thoughts

A few final thoughts before we tip off what should be a great second round series between the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks.

There has been some discussion about where the Nuggets’ heads are at and if they might not have the mental fortitude to win this series.  If we are questioning one team or another’s mental fortitude I have to question Dallas’.  Just three seasons ago they blew a 2-0 lead in the NBA finals.  Two seasons ago they were crushed physically, mentally and spiritually by the Golden State Warriors.  Last season they were dismantled by the Hornets.  Are we to believe that a easy win over a diminished San Antonio Spurs team has erased all of those demons?  If Dallas does not win one of the first two games, and maybe if they lose the first game, they may start questioning themselves. 

Dallas fans are pointing out Dirk averaged 30 points a game against the Nuggets and Kenyon Martin as proof that Kenyon cannot handle Dirk.  I have news for them.  Dirk went off for 44 in one contest and was great.  In the other three he averaged a respectable 25.3 points, but he only shot 38.5%.  I guarantee you if Dirk has two big games this series, but shoots under 40% in the other five Denver will win.

It will be interesting to see how the Nuggets match up with the Mavs backcourt.  While participating in the chat with Rob from The Two Man Game I started wondering about how well Dahntay Jones might be able to handle Jason Kidd (I know I am a little slow sometimes). 

According to the Mavs game notes J.J. Barea is slated to start alongside Kidd.  I think in that situation I would rather have Billups on Kidd and Jones on Barea, but if Kidd is on the floor with Antoine Wright I suspect Jones will cover Kidd and Billups will check Wright.  However, with Kidd being primarily a spot up scorer I worry about Jones losing track of him trying to apply pressure somewhere else.

Everyone seems to expect a very close series, but almost everybody is picking the Nuggets to win it.  That has to be good right?  As a Nuggets fan I am not sure how to handle being a favorite all the time, but I think I can get used to it.

Other Previews/Links

Ball Don’t Lie preview featuring Pickaxe and Roll, Mavs Moneyball and the always insightful Kelly Dwyer

Great breakdown by Chris Dempsey of Kenyon vs Dirk

Benjamin Hochman on experience and how the Nuggets have made a major turnaround from postseasons past (Kenyon’s suspension and last season’s “we quit”)

The Nugg Doctor weighs in

Mavs Moneyball preview

And in case you missed it my initial thoughts on the series 

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