Thursday, May 14, 2009

Game 5: Nuggets 124, Mavs 110 (4-1)

Game 5 Notes ...

8 preseason games, 82 regular season games and 10 playoff games later - 100 in all - the 2008-09 Dallas Mavericks are nothing but a memory.

59 of those 100 games were wins this year, so you certainly enjoyed some reasonable quality along the way. But, it is now over.

It feels a bit different this year than the previous few. 2006 was a heartbreak that will never heal. 2007 was an ambush to the senses that resembled an assassination. No warning, just quick and lethal - the so called best team in the NBA was not. 2008 was the realization of reality. The team's window might have closed, and Avery Johnson was the one thing that dysfunctional team could agree on: He had to go.

But here in 2009, it seems different altogether. Perhaps it is because the bar was lowered down to more realistic levels, but given that many didn't expect them to make the playoffs 60 days ago, a season that contained a series win over the hated San Antonio Spurs doesn't seem that painful. Maybe it was the long death of the Nuggets series - one that you kind of knew was coming 9 days ago when Game 2's route was on - but for whatever the reasons, it is hard to imagine too many shed tears last night after Denver finished off Dallas in Game 5. Like a relative dying after a long battle with a disease, we certainly had a chance to come to terms.

Denver was better. And not by just a little bit.

You could make a reasonable case that Dallas had the best player in the series, but we all know that while basketball has some 1-on-1 tendencies, a 48 minute game and certainly a 7 game series comes down to who has the better team. Who has the better #2 scorer? Who has the better shot-blocker? Who has the better back-up Point Guard? Who has the better #3 scorer? Who has the better post defense? Who has the better 6th man? Who has the better team?

There is no question that Denver is the answer to most of those inquiries. And to the victor go the spoils.

Game 4 and Game 5 was not so much about winning the series as it was showing fight and heart. The idea that you could win 4 straight games against a team that you had lost 7 straight against this season was a long-shot that was never going to happen. But, would they earn some respect for the way they clawed and scrapped to delay the inevitable? I guess that is for the NBA to decide. But, I appreciated it. I have seen this team go down without a fight (Game 6 in Golden State '07, Pretty much the entire series of New Orleans '08), so while it doesn't really mean anything in the record books, I was happy to know that Dirk wanted a Game 6 and was ready to fight hard to get it.

But, another season ends without a parade for Dirk and his mates.

Thoughts and Observations from the last dance of 08-09:

* The best and worst of Josh Howard was there for all to see in Denver. He came out scoring and flying around and making plays early. Then he committed a dumb foul after a miss, missed an amazing 3 out of 3 free throws to help spark a Nuggets run, took a technical foul when he lost his composure, and pretty much was a 2nd half non-factor. One of these days I will actually research the shooting performances of Josh based on his first 3 point attempt. If he makes his first, it is my premise that he then feels like he is in "the zone" and will jack many more. He did. 5 more. And missed each and every one. Really the one guy who can be a slasher becomes more and more a perimeter player with each passing year. He will now get his ankles repaired and we can wonder what the mystery of J-Ho will bring us in the future. He can be the most exciting player and the most frustrating player all at the same time. He makes me crazy.

* Carmelo is surely coming into his own. His finger roll last night will be a mainstay on highlight films for years, I should think. He is a lethal scorer, and while his next series will put him to a much better test, I am quite sold. I question how much he was tested in this series because he was often allowed to be on the periphery while his mates took turns torturing the silly Mavs defense. He was not asked to score on possession after possession like Dirk was on the other end, so I am not positive he was the best player in this series. But, that might just be because he didn't have to be. He was saving his energy for the Lakers.

* About that Mavericks silly defense: So, really? You decided after 4 games to attempt to play a line-up where you just try to outscore them? 34 and 35 point quarters in the first half gives up an amazing 69 points! Easy baskets, dunks, and open 3's. I know a coach can only do so much, but please dump the zone back in the trash. I have seen enough zone defense possessions ending with Carmelo or JR Smith standing weak side with a wide open 3 to last me for a while. In the NBA, a zone can throw you off if you are not prepared for it. But, in a 7 game series, you work on beating the zone for 15 minutes in a practice, and you make it look stupid. Mission accomplished there.

* Erick Dampier's greatest moment? His free-throw line jumper where everyone in the entire arena stopped for a brief pause and wondered if he was really going to attempt a 16 footer. I stood in my living room pondering this moment in time. He then decided that he was going to shoot. His defender backed off to double-dare him. The arena was quiet. Then, he did. He knocked it down. And then, like a 2nd grader who made his first basket, he tried not to smile and wave at his family on the way back down the court. Sorry, he remains worthless to this team's future. But, he does become an attractive expiring contract!

* Sometimes, the media over-rates the hometown guy who brings a team together. Chauncey Billups is not a good example of "that guy". I don't think you can over-rate what he does. He makes the Nuggets make sense. He takes and makes the big shots. He makes key plays. And most importantly, he brings the knuckleheads together. 28 points, 12 assists, and 7 rebounds. I would like to apologize to him for thinking that Jason Kidd could play him to a push. Kidd was badly out-played.

* I am interested in the NBA bench player who has plenty of ability in his limited minutes. Most message boards and phone-ins would then take a player who is good for 18 minutes and ask why he shouldn't play 36? Brandon Bass, JJ Barea, Chris "Birdman" Anderson, etc. I think in all 3 of those cases, they are text-book examples of "less is more". When they play too much, you quickly see the issues. Bass is better with high energy - and he cannot play with that high energy if you over-expose him. And he is too small to play big minutes. Love a bench guy. Birdman has an amazing foul-per-minute pace, and is way better at home. Classic bench energy guy. And sweet little JJ needs the right opponent to make an impact. I think he is a fine back-up PG, but please save your "JJ to start" emails. All 3 are useful parts, but in the NBA, you need those useful parts of your bench. You must be careful not to over-expose.

* Antoine Wright is worth keeping around. But, if that dude takes one more bad technical at just the wrong time I am going to lose patience. Playing Denver in Denver is tough enough, dude. Let's not make it tougher. Low basketball IQ's on this team are everywhere. On the other hand, if you are going to get in a fight with someone, JR Smith would be an inviting target for a punch.

* Match-ups you had to win (or at least tie) if you had any chance in this series: Kidd vs. Billups. Terry vs Smith. Nene vs. Dampier. 0-3. By the way, not that he needs the money, but how much money did Kidd make in the Spurs series? And then did he lose it all back in the Nuggets series?

* Hey TNT: When you are doing a game, please keep the following idea in mind - I care why players are getting technical fouls way more than I care which old guy has had Nuggets tickets for 40 years. How they have no footage nor comments on Howard's or Terry's technicals, and yet have 3 references to the white dude with money in Row 4, is beyond me. Heaven forbid we cover the relevant and pertinent information, but, please.

* Although I did not have a microphone between Kenyon and Dirk in the post game handshake, I swear Kenyon admitted to what we all knew already: Dirk kicked his ----ing (butt). Check the tape and tell me I am wrong. At least Dirk was ready for a street fight. Kenyon will be very happy to go mess with Pau Gasol now.

* Carmelo's 3 off the inbounds with 2 seconds on the shot clock was the dagger. Combined with Wright's technical at the same moment, it took a 6 point lead and made it 10, at 107-97. Ballgame. What a shot, and at quite a moment.

* So, at the risk of writing the exact same final paragraph that I did in the 2007 and 2008 final wraps, the ball is now passed to Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban. I don't know if they realize it yet, but this 2006 NBA Finals group (Dirk, Jet, Josh, and Damp) is not going to ever win the title as presently constituted. They had a nice year, but are miles from the ultimate prize. You have a 1st team all-NBA player, but his clock is ticking. Dallas is built as a perimeter team that gives up too many easy baskets. They are not tough in the paint on either end of the court, and have very few young pieces that could grow into key spots in the roster. With Jason Kidd now a free agent, this team has a number of decisions to make. They apparently have an owner who is a buyer while the rest of the league is selling during this economic disaster in the NBA in most cities. Just like in 2007 and 2008, I think this team needs a massive over-haul of personnel in 2009. Of course, they ignored me in 2007 and 2008, so I am not counting on wholesale changes. But, they need them. They need to try to build a roster that can take advantage of Dirk's remaining prime. But, will they? If not, just trade Dirk already and let him get a ring by helping a team that could use his mighty skill.

Your move, Mark Cuban.


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