We’ve all seen this scene in just about every American sports movie ever.
In “Friday Night Lights,” it was coach Gary Gaines watching film of Dallas Carter, his wife’s eyes wrought with fear. In “Bloodsport,” it is Frank Dux seeing his friend beaten, embarrassed and taunted by the yoked Chong Li. In “Rocky IV,” it is Ivan Drago killing Apollo Creed in the ring.
It is a general realization that, for all the effort and success that we’ve already seen in getting to this point, there is still work to be done; hard, trying work.
In the Dallas Mavericks movie, it must have been last night when, after subduing the San Antonio Spurs in five games, Dallas returned to the locker room to remember their probable semi-finals-counterparts, the Denver Nuggets, pounding the New Orleans Hornets into submission by 58 the night before. It was a bit like the aforementioned “Bloodsport” scene, only probably more painful.
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The message was clear: these are not the same old Nuggets. The addition of Chauncey Billups has transformed this team into a juggernaut, systematically picking apart opponents in an ordered, though devastating manner.
That said, counting out Dallas would be downright illogical (unless, I suppose, your name is Charles Barkley). Dallas is undoubtedly playing their best basketball at the moment, which is good considering that they were 0-4 against Denver in the regular season.
Hopefully, in the postseason match-up, Dallas will have an answer for Chris “Birdman” Andersen. Andersen wreaked havoc in the frontcourt in each of the four previous meetings, forcing the Dallas points into shots and limiting the effectiveness of Mavs’ centers.
Carmelo Anthony has proven to be a Maverick-killer as well; Dallas will be charged with limiting the damage he is able to do in any given contest.
The x-factors seem to be J.R. Smith and Josh Howard, respectively. Smith went cold from the outside in the contests that remained close throughout this season. In Denver’s sole, big victory, a 10-point win, he had 25 points in 24 minutes.
The good news is that Denver has, probably, yet to see Josh Howard at full strength this year; Howard missed half of the contests in 2009 with injury, and was far from 100 percent in one of the games he did play. Further, Josh Howard, like the Mavericks, is playing better than anyone has seen all season.
The Nuggets are going to score points; there’s just no way around that. But their dominance has come from limiting Dallas’ offense effectively. In the last 8 meetings between the teams (of which Denver has won 7) the Nuggets have allowed Dallas to score 100+ only twice.
Much like Carmelo, Dirk seems primed to score a lot of points in this series; he averaged 30 per game against Denver this season, including a 44 point performance in Dallas’ 99-97 loss on January 13. The bench did contribute somewhat in that contest, as Jason Terry had 16, Brandon Bass, 10.
But Josh Howard sat out that game, injured. Could a healthy Howard be the missing link in this scenario -- the “x” factor?
It seems that we’ll find out very soon.
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