Commentary

Is there some truth to that chant?

Originally Published: May 6, 2009
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Chauncey BillupsDoug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThrough seven games of the playoffs, the Nuggets have a +21 margin of victory.

DENVER -- It wasn't the most imaginative chant in the history of NBA fandom. It didn't last long, either.

However ...

You were instantly moved to wonder, as the Pepsi Center shook late Tuesday night, if the brief message from the raucous locals will ring in the Dallas Mavericks' ears from now until the weekend.

You can't beat us, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap. You can't beat us, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.

Two games into a series is generally way too soon for such proclamations, but it's hardly a premise without merit this time. Not after the Denver Nuggets drained more life out of the Mavericks in a Game 2 that looked a lot like Game 1, with the hosts using their superior depth, length, athleticism and aggression to turn a taut game into a fourth-quarter runaway, ultimately settling for a 117-105 triumph after going up by as many as 19.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle dared to start this fourth quarter with James Singleton, Brandon Bass, J.J. Barea and Antoine Wright joining Jason Terry, hoping to pump Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd with some bonus fuel for the anticipated frantic finish. By the time Nowitzki and Kidd were sent back in, after just 59 seconds, Denver had bumped an 86-83 lead to eight. The Nuggets then turned up the pressure one more notch and -- after Nene got loose for yet another fast-break dunk with 6:28 to play -- Denver's lead had reached 17.

Which launched the locals into song.

You can't beat us, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.

"Our margins for error are not great, especially with Josh not playing," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.

"Things with this [Denver] team," Nowitzki lamented, "can just get out of hand quick."

"Right now," Nuggets coach George Karl said, "our team has a way of elevating itself in the second half."

Mark that down as merely one of the many problems confronting the Mavericks as this second-round series shifts to Dallas.

The Mavericks are 0-6 against the Nuggets this season if you include the regular season. They've been outscored by 16 points in two fourth quarters so far this series. Josh Howard played just six-plus minutes in Game 2 because of his two bad ankles. And Nene -- whom Dallas understandably doesn't want to double-team when the rugged Brazilian is flanked by Carmelo Anthony (25 points), Chauncey Billups (18) and J.R. Smith (21) -- has rumbled for 24 and 25 points in the past three days ... after never before scoring 20 points in a playoff game.

Dallas came to Denver dreaming of stealing one game to finally put the Nuggets under some duress in these playoffs, after they throttled banged-up New Orleans in what amounted to a five-game sweep. The Mavs are instead forced to spend the next three off days, thanks to an unusually long break until Saturday's Game 3, trying to convince themselves that the extra time off will heal Howard so they can come back from two crunch-time pummelings.

The Mavericks' ball movement was much better, Terry looked a little bit more like the NBA's newly minted Sixth Man Award winner with 21 hard-to-get points, and Denver's six-deep assortment of Dirk defenders failed to stop Nowitzki from totaling 35 points and nine boards. On a night when the Mavs uncharacteristically clanked seven free throws through the first three quarters, they even became the first team this postseason to crack the 100-point barrier against the Nuggets.

Without a win here, though, Dallas wasn't going to be able to test its theory that Denver's first dose of adversity in 2009 might lead to the some of the in-house volatility that Karl's team was known for pre-Chauncey.

"This is a team that was an expert in being volatile," Karl confirmed.

Yet you also wondered on this night whether it's unfair to these Nuggets to keep waiting for the implosion. It just might be that these Nuggets, with Chauncey, can be just like Houston. Or more.

A greater threat to the Lakers than even the Nuggets believed, in other words, now that the pressure of getting out of the first round has been lifted.

Billups has historically struggled to find his offense when guarded by Kidd, but he finally managed to work himself free in Game 2 to splash home four 3s in the second half. Karl, though, didn't want to talk about any of that. He raved again about the defense Denver got off the bench from Chris Andersen and Anthony Carter and marveled at Nene's ability to find "the hole in the window" every time he goes inside, but spent much of his postgame address thanking the Nuggets' hometown hero for what he's done to balance Denver's wild side with some steadiness.

"You don't understand how good he is running the team," Karl said.

"He's the head coach a lot."

To do so back in Denver, winning every game by double digits after all the grind of all those uglyball years in Detroit, Billups admits even he's getting caught up in the hoopla.

As Billups said after finding out that no team in NBA history has ever posted a higher average scoring margin (21.0 points) after seven playoff games: "It's like a storybook, man."

"They have every reason to be thrilled," Carlisle said. "They've really done whatever they've wanted this whole playoffs. I can understand why they're pleased."

Be advised that Carlisle made that observation on the morning of Game 2, hours before he would see Kidd's clutch triple at the halftime buzzer -- as well as some flashes of effectiveness from new starter Antoine Wright and energetic backup center Ryan Hollins -- wind up providing no insulation from Howard's early exit. Or the uncomfortable serenade at the end from the Denver chanters.

"I think it's a top-five building right now," Karl said of the so-called Can, which will soon be housing a final-four team unless the Mavericks can beat the NBA's foremost front-runners four times in five games.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics