Monday, May 04, 2009

Game 1: Nuggets 109, Mavs 95 (1-0)

Notes and Reviews of Game 1 in Denver ...
Welcome to Denver.

You are not playing the Spurs anymore, now are you? The Mavericks are playing a team in the Denver Nuggets that seem to have about as much in common with the Spurs as JJ Barea has in common with Dwight Howard. Not much.

These Nuggets are quite formidable. I do like how they compete. I really like how they defend. And I did not care much for how the Mavericks responded to that "in your jock" defense that Denver rolled out there. In case you are looking for elaboration, here is how Dallas responded to the Nuggets defense: They settled. They shot from further and further out. They passed with hope, but not conviction. They drove looking for fouls, not dunks. And, then they changed their shots because they were concerned about getting their shots blocked.

It is just one game, but we surely saw many of the signs that this is a match-up that will make the Mavericks uncomfortable. And if they respond like they did in previous series over the years where their comfort was in doubt, well, this season will be over in a real hurry.

The NBA is such a league of match-ups. It is not how good you are sometimes, but for many, it is more of a question of who do you get to play. Styles make fights. Well, after playing a series where they seemed to find many match-ups that worked; Erick Dampier looked like he could cause Tim Duncan '09 some issues, Michael Finley was trying to guard Josh Howard, etc - the Nuggets seem to have fewer difficult questions to answer. For instance, despite not having a real great plan for stopping Dirk (although if the Birdman is going to play like that...), the Mavericks are having far greater headaches wondering what they can possibly do to slow down Nene with Dampier and with Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith performing as wings who look to score, the Mavs seem short at least 1 and probably 2 players who can both defend and at least make you consider guarding them on the other end.

And what gives you most pause? Being blown out in the 4th Quarter, and Carmelo and Chauncey were not terribly huge factors. Oh dear.

Thoughts and Observations from a Game 1 that will require a regrouping effort for Tuesday:

* If you are getting 6-10 shooting and 15 points from Jason Kidd, you should be happy, right? But, you have to remember that it isn't about points with him. I have congratulated him for having a fine game when he ends up with 3 points, but now, I must say that he was lousy for big stretches yesterday. 8 turnovers from Kidd? Almost no transition hoops for the entire team? And the offense looked off kilter. It is a bit of a subjective art, rating Kidd's performance, but if we are going to credit the orchestration of this offense to his experience, poise, and wisdom after wins...well, you know that yesterday's complete and absolute meltdown in the final stanza has to fall at his feet. I know this goes without saying, but 8 turnovers from Jason Kidd (and 4 more from Jason Terry - your other veteran guard) will get you beat.

* Meanwhile, the match-up that is causing the most off-day angst among Mavericks coaches is that idea that Dampier can do anything against the long-haired Brazilian, Nene. I must tell you that my back-log of Brazilian post players is completely blank, but if there are any more 6'11, 250 pound monsters-in-the-paint available, I would like to acquire one (which is almost as dumb as typing "if there are more 7'0 Germans available"...). What a player, and what a clinic he put on Dampier. As Hubie Brown was properly pointing out that Damp has been a positive in this playoff, Nene and the Nuggets were going through their entire playbook on the pick and roll with all of the different variations to get Nene the ball. And, yes, Damp fell for every single one. I wrote in the preview for this series that Damp will not be able to cancel him out, but, gee whiz, dude, just try not to get embarrassed. That aspiration feel way short on Sunday, as Nene was awesome with 24 points and 5 assists! Did you see him run the court? What an athlete at center. The good news is that he doesn't look that great every night. The bad news is that he might not do that every night because he doesn't play Dampier every night. In this series, he does. For the Mavs coaches, they know they are screwed, because behind Dampier, the options are even worse.

* Can someone prove to me that shooting sleeves have any effect on the shot? Or is this the newest fashion fad that since Iverson did it, the rest of the league is following? By the way, if they do work, the Mavericks better get some, because they appear to have the lowest number of shooting sleeve wearers in the NBA.

* Dirk started out with great results. In fact, he looked flat-out unstoppable in the 1st Quarter, and as we thought, Kenyon had no real answer for Dirk other than the forearm shot out of bounds. But, when they put that crazy Birdman on him, all heck broke loose for Denver. I am quite interested in how this continues to develop, but in one instance George Karl had no plan for Dirk, and in the next he seemed to have Dirk's run contained. I thought Dirk played pretty well, but he has to be careful to not start looking for fouls when he is getting pushed around. Refs must be refs, players must be players. If you start to try to officiate, they will actually give you fewer calls.

* But, speaking of the refs, I would like to remind them that the Nuggets are pulling one of those cyclical NBA tricks that were pulled by the 1992 New York Knicks and other tough teams through the years. It is actually genius, but it eventually grows to hurt basketball before the NBA decides to make it another point of emphasis to get it back in line. It is the idea that if you foul every time, then the refs adjust and only call the most egregious fouls. The Nuggets play so over-the-top physical, that you could call fouls all game on them, but in the NBA, they never do. To make it even more comical, they then complain for even the most obvious call. Before long, the crowd is in a frenzy, and the refs back way off and let them do whatever they want on defense. Somehow, the Mavs were called for 29 fouls, and Denver 19! You watch that game again, and tell me which team was pushing the envelope of physicality. It isn't even close. I know that only the loser complains about refs, but the NBA would not let them take that defensive approach against the Lakers.

* Credit ABC with a shocking graphic: Only 5 players in NBA History average 25 points and 10 rebounds in at least 50 playoff games: Elgin Baylor, Hakeem Olajuwon, Bob Pettit, Shaquille O'Neal, and Dirk Nowitzki. I doubt that graphic requires further elaboration.

* Josh Howard was launching. He took 16 shots, and 11 of them were from outside of 15 feet. I realize he rolled his ankle, but please reference all of my playoff recaps to see my complete thoughts on Josh's importance to this offense. I don't care if he makes his launches. Actually, I do. Because if he makes his launches, he shoots even more. He must be determined to drive the lane or this team is doomed. And the more physical this series gets, the more he must set the tone for the offense by driving.

* Denver is very athletic. And very cocky. In order to get these guys to respect you, you must occasionally back them off. And with the blocked shots and the dunks, and then the Mavericks looking for fouls and are jacking up 3's - this thing just got out of hand. The pessimistic view? The Nuggets were playing Nuggets basketball and the Mavericks were playing Mavericks basketball.

* Can we stop saying Antoine Wright is a great defender? To be a great defender, you must occasionally get a stop. And to see JR Smith blow by him time after time, indicates that you might not be able to put him on the court. Because he doesn't make you guard him on offense. Is he the best defender the Mavs have? Maybe. Is he a great defender? Sorry. I don't see it.

* When a team gets blown out late in a game in Denver, aren't the announcers required to blame the altitude adjustment? Surely, ABC failed there.

* Keep an eye on the FG% differential. Like we wrote before Game 1, the Nuggets consistently shoot 6-7% better than the Mavs in the season series. Yesterday, the Mavs shot a fine 49%, but the Nuggets shot 55%. The bottom line, they are taking easier shots (dunks) and you are taking harder shots (22 footers). Also, they seem to be challenging your shots (11 blocks and 15 steals) and you are not (2 blocks and 10 steals). This is a trend that is most troubling.

* I need to know more about the Nuggets tattoos. Who has the most? What is the team total? I am fascinated. And to think they let Iverson and his ink get away for Billups. Here is one link I have found on the topic.

* Jason Terry's points in the last 6 games of the regular season: 18-21-18-13-22-23. And now, the first 6 games of the playoffs: 12-16-10-10-19-15. Totals? 115 to 82. A very noticeable difference.

* Various bottom lines: It is just 1 game. Let's all relax, and understand that a win on Tuesday changes the view about 1,000% But, this is not some wounded animal. This is a Denver team that is playing with great confidence and swagger and are going to attempt to bully the Mavs right to the golf course. When the Knicks and Pat Riley attempted to do this to the Bulls in 1992, Jordan and Pippen had to take their medicine and accept the bruises to get the points. But, I don't see Jordan and Pippen on this roster. Can this team, and its personality that shows they can be rattled with physical play, stand up to the bully? If so, you cannot leave that all to Dirk. In this city, people like to make it all about Dirk not being William Wallace and never hold his mates responsible. I am telling you that Dirk is Dirk and he fights his tail off most nights. But, if Damp is going to get rattled, and Kidd is going to look lost, and Josh and Jet are going to play passive basketball, then this series is over already. I know it is fun to blame your best player for everything, but the Nuggets are bullying Dallas "as a team". Therefore, the response must also be "as a team".

Game 2 is fast approaching.

No comments: