Finally, after about two weeks, we have reached the second round of the playoffs! Let’s break down the first match up of the second round which pits the Dallas Mavericks against the Denver Nuggets.
Big Men: Denver starts Kenyon Martin and Nene Hilario (I guess now he just goes by Nene) while Dallas begins their games with Dirk Nowitzki and Erik Dampier. Dampier and Nene basically cancel each other out. They do their best to rebound and protect the basket on defense, and not much else. Nene is probably more talented, but that’s not going to make too much of a difference in this series. On the flip side, the other match up has the potential to decide the series. Dirk Nowitzki is just two seasons removed from his MVP and he has been phenomenal this season playing with Kidd. Martin is a player who after both of his knees being repaired by micro-fracture surgery has reinvented himself as a defensive ace. The reason Denver beat New Orleans so easily is probably because Martin shut down David West by himself. Without West creating double teams, the Hornets role players had to take much tougher shots and could never get into a rhythm. Can Nowitzki be bullied like that? Absolutely, he can. Ask him what happened when the Warriors put Stephen Jackson on him two years ago and see how happily he answers that. If Dirk can’t score on Martin, the Mavs could get swept; so as I said before, this is probably the key match up that decides the whole series.
Swingmen: Dallas has a finally healthy Josh Howard and Jason Terry vs. Denver’s Carmelo Anthony and Dahntay Jones. (Author’s note: Antoine Wright and Jose Juan Barea have both taken turns starting for the Mavs in these playoffs, but since Terry gets more important minutes than either of them, we’ll pretend he’s the starter.) Melo has to shake off his bruises and go right at Howard. Meanwhile, Howard basically has to do the same thing in an effort to slow down Denver’s best scorer by making him work on defense. He also has to push the envelope even more if Dirk is getting killed by Martin. Meanwhile, Terry isn’t going to be able to get Jones off of him on defense. This guy just helped hinder the great Chris Paul all series long, and should do the same to The Jet. Honestly, that’s probably a big storyline here. The Mavs were able to score on the Spur’s overrated defense (overrated for this season) all day long. However, in Kenyon Martin and Dahntay Jones you have two guys who are actually capable of shutting down Terry and Dirk. Stay tuned.
Point Guards: Denver’s Chauncey Billups vs. Dallas’s Jason Kidd: Both of these guys have seen better days, but both of these guys have also clearly rejuvenated their teams this season and led to them to play better than expected. Billups is the perfect match up for Kidd because even if he does occasionally blow by him, Kidd’s help defense will have time to rotate onto him. Expect both to have their clutch moments and get their teammates involved. This is going to be a match up for the ages as these two old timers fight for one last hurrah against each other. There actually is some old history here too. Back when Kidd played for the Nets and Billups for the Pistons, their teams met in 2003 and 2004. In the first series Kidd averaged 24, 10 and 6 while holding Billups to less than 30 percent shooting. In 2004, Billups outscored Kidd 22-0 in game 7. So with both guys getting older, this is probably their last chance to settle their old scores. Either way, NBA fans are going to win.
Coaching + Bench: George Karl and the Nuggets Bench vs. Rick Carlisle and the Maverick Bench: Unless Martin absolutely shuts Dirk down the entire series, this is what will decide the series. Chris Anderson will come off the Nuggets bench to give the Mavericks fits whenever they try to score inside. He’s not a great defender by any stretch, but his blocks have the ability to completely change the momentum of a game. On the flip side, I’m not even sure if JR Smith understands what defense is. There is a 50 percent chance he just thinks that it is his chance to rest in between offensive possessions. As a result, Terry has to attack Smith and make the rest of the Nuggets rotate. I’d tell you what Smith has to do, but I’m not sure it will matter, because there is a 100 percent chance that the only thing going through his head is, “I am JR Smith Mother Fu(I think you get the point; we’ll move on with the same blank facial expression on George Karl’s face after Smith jacks up another 3.) Another scorer that the Nuggets can utilize is Linas Kleiza who is secretly is the best back up small forward in the NBA. If it wasn’t for Melo, Kleiza would be a household name by now. Anthony Carter will make smart passes, not shoot much, and generally play well enough to give Billups a small rest here and there.
On the Mavericks side, Jose Juan Barea has to give his team a boost whenever he is in the game and score in bunches. He is this year’s version of Jannero Pargo (who played for the Hornets last year.) That is to say when he scores and is on, his team probably isn’t going to lose. Against a team that has the potential to shut down both Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki, that is exactly what Barea has to do. There actually isn’t that much help from the Mavericks bench. Brandon Bass is basically the only other player with a good chance to alter this series by basically being a poor man’s version of Chris Anderson for the Mavs. Rick Carlisle can also count on Antoine Wright to play acceptable defense for 15 minutes a game. Basically that means Carlisle has to hope that his starters have one last great series in them for the year, because Denver has the decided advantage in the depth department.
Final Verdict: Denver can shut down Dallas’s top two scorers in Nowitzki and Terry and is deeper as well. Billups has turned this Denver team into quite the well oiled machine. That being said, I think Dallas puts up a better fight than people expect. Look for Kidd and the Mavs to push Denver to 6 games before losing.