Cherry Picking recaps yesterday's NBA playoff action.
Making their first appearance in the second round since 1994, it took the Nuggets the entire first quarter to get warmed up -- but once they did, the Mavericks never had a chance.
Oh sure, the Mavs managed to hang around for much of three quarters, and they even to retake the lead for a few brief moments midway through the third quarter, but the Nuggets had complete control of the game on both ends of the floor when it mattered most: Denver rode a 15-2 run early in the fourth and led by as many as 19 until the Mavs cried "mercy" and both sides emptied their bench.
Will Dallas improve over the rest of the series? It's possible, although Dirk Nowitzki (28 points, 10 boards) probably can't play any better, and there's no telling how Josh Howard will react after turning his right ankle (aka, his "good" ankle). Howard did eventually return, but it usually takes at least a day to determine how severe those types of injuries really are.
But even if the Mavs do manage to come out with a better performance, don't the Nuggets have room for improvement, as well? After all, Carmelo Anthony, plague by foul trouble early, didn't even play 30 minutes, and Chauncey Billups, who wasn't even in the game when the Nuggets made their move in the fourth, was held to just six points and six assists.
The fact that the Nuggets could impose their will on Dallas without either of their top options completely on top of their game bodes well for the remaining three to six games -- so well, in fact, I'm convinced they'll not only win this series but also the next, advancing all the way to the NBA Finals.
Am I getting ahead of myself? Well, obviously. But the more I see of the Nuggets in the postseason, the more I reject the notion that the Lakers are the clear-cut favorites in the West.
The Nuggets have as much size and depth as anyone, and better yet, they can intimidate on both sides of the floor, whether it's Billups finding his teammates or bombing from long distance, Anthony scoring from anywhere on the court or Chris Andersen and Nene making the opposition think twice about going into the paint.
Few teams can dictate the pace of a game as well as the Nuggets, and more importantly, few teams have the mental focus to close out. Instead of being awed by the relative newness of the second round, the Nuggets rebounded from a slow start and put a beating on the Mavericks that the final 14-point margin of victory doesn't completely reflect.
My colleague Tom Ziller floated the idea last week that the Lakers might have reason to fear the Nuggets, but I'll come right out and say it: in a seven-game series, the Nuggets will win. And by the time the second round is completed and we see the Rockets give the Lakers more trouble than the Mavericks give Denver, I doubt I'll be the only one saying so.
Until then, join me on the bandwagon now -- there's still plenty of room.
At first glance, Carmelo Anthony's line doesn't look all that impressive -- in fact, he didn't even lead the Nuggets in scoring -- but the more you look at it, the more you realize just how efficient he really was: he scored 23 points on just 10 field-goal attempts in only 29 minutes, finishing 7-10 from the field and 7-7 from the stripe. As if that wasn't enough, he did a little bit of everything else (five boards, four assists, two steals and two blocks), as well. [Box Score]
Joe Johnson is a stud, plain and simple, but all too often in Atlanta's first six games against the Heat he faded to the background, averaging just 15.5 points. During Sunday's Game 7, he put an exclamation point to an otherwise dismal series with 27 points, going 6-8 from beyond the arc while chipping in five steals, five boards and four assists. If the Hawks are going to have any chance of competing with the Cavs, this is the Joe Johnson we'll need to see in every game. [Box Score]
OK, so this one is from two days ago, but I think you'll still enjoy it. The more times I see it, the more I wonder if Brian Scalabrine could have cleared the rim in the first place -- the first angle makes it look like he was either going to get stuffed by the rim or forced to settle for a finger-tip layup.
On the Blockquote
Brian Schmitz in the Orlando Sentinel:
Coach Stan Van Gundy said finding a happy offensive medium between getting the ball inside to Howard and using an array of shooters always has been a challenge. The team won 59 games; so it's not as if Howard's in the way. The Magic had no choice but to play outside-in instead of inside-out with Howard absent.Mark Cuban on Twitter:
"The challenge for us, for two years offensively, has been, 'Can we get that kind of ball movement we had the other night and incorporate Dwight?'" Van Gundy said. "I know we can do either-or. A lot of times when we're getting that kind of ball movement, we're forgetting about going inside to Dwight and then when we're going inside to Dwight, we have to make sure we're not standing around.
The Dream Shake's grungedave:denv fans r wierd, near me, they spent more time yellin @ me that watching game
The winner of the Rockets/Lakers series will be the 2009 NBA Champion. Yes, I'm going there. I have no problems stating it. Whomever is fortunate to survive the war of attrition that will be the Rockets/Lakers 2nd round series... that's going to be the team that collects this from Mr. Stern in June.