Scouting update: Mavs-Nuggets, Game 2
In Game 1, the Mavericks took an early lead, only to have Denver's bench bring the Nuggets back and the home crowd to life in the second quarter. Although the Mavericks hit jump shots and stayed close through the first three quarters, Denver's pressure began to take its toll, as the Nuggets forced 20 turnovers, had 15 steals and blocked 11 shots. It was an awesome display of firepower that sent a clear message to the Mavericks that they were not in San Antonio any more.
• When coach Rick Carlisle looks at the film of Game 1, his biggest concern has to be the Mavericks' sloppy ballhandling and head-scratching turnovers, eight of which came from veteran point guard Jason Kidd. Fumbles, mishandles, deflections and passes to no one poured gasoline on what became a roaring fire that allowed the Nuggets to turn a close game into a blowout.
• Denver's fast break and raucous crowd were ignited by steals that led to dunks and baskets in transition. Look for better ball protection in Game 2 from Dallas, with offensive players getting lower and keeping the ball closer to their bodies to prevent deflections on the pass. With Denver constantly reaching, the Mavericks can turn many of those steals and deflections into fouls. Dallas receivers must also cut harder to the ball to prevent run-throughs for steals.
• Another huge concern for the Mavericks is their jump-shot-happy, perimeter-oriented offense. It got them to the foul line only 13 times in the game, with Dirk Nowitzki getting only five free-throw attempts. Dirk saw four different defenders in the first quarter, six for the game, and faded away from every one of them. The difficult fades he shoots became almost comical in the second half.
• In Game 2, Dirk must be the guy to get to the basket and to the free-throw line. This will make Denver have to dig in and rotate defenders, force double-teams and slow down the Nuggets' fast break. Much like he did against San Antonio, Nowitzki should catch and attack quickly, which gets him moving to the basket with more of a chance to get to the rim and get fouled.
• Look for Erick Dampier to get some touches in the post, which will force the roaming Nene to defend inside. Dampier can use his size and strength, and this will also slow Nene from sprinting the floor for transition baskets, as he did in Game 1.
• Dallas must also take advantage of Denver's switching schemes, which create mismatches that Dallas failed to take advantage of. On a number of occasions, Nowitzki had Anthony Carter switch onto him, but Nowitzki never saw the ball. Instead, Jason Terry tried to attack Chris Andersen and had his shot blocked. Dallas must have better recognition of these situations in Game 2, and always attack the big vs. small matchup.
• Transition is also an area in which Dallas can take advantage, as the Nuggets often just pick up the nearest offensive player, creating mismatches all over the court. Dallas must make Denver pay for this in Game 2 by identifying the advantage and taking the ball to that matchup.
• When Denver starts applying pressure to the passing lanes, the Mavericks must look for backdoor cuts at the top of the floor, as well as on the wings and on the pinch post entry pass. The layups are there with good passer/cutter recognition.
• The Mavericks allowed their half-court offense to become nothing but isolations and one-on-one plays that turned into jump shots. This played right into Denver's hands. Look for more multiple option sets and better ball movement in Game 2.
• Defensively, the first area of concern is the Mavs' transition defense, as they picked up late or not at all in key situations. They were beaten down the floor by Nene and Andersen, and even failed to pick up Carmelo Anthony, who was left wide open for an uncontested 3 on one possession. A number of times, Mavericks players turned to the officials to beg for calls instead of turning and sprinting back on defense. They will get blown out again if this continues to happen.
• In the half court, the Mavericks had no answer for Nene, as he posted, flashed and rolled to the rim uncontested after ballscreens. Dampier isn't quick enough to prevent the drive, but can contest Nene at the rim. The answer in Game 2 might be for Dampier to step off and entice him to shoot the mid-range jump shot, keeping him off the foul line and taking away the crowd-pleasing dunks.
• The Nuggets were also able to expose the diminutive JJ Barea in Game 1, something the Spurs could not do in the previous series. Barea got posted by Dahntay Jones, shot over by Chauncey Billups and even gave up an offensive rebound to Carter. As much as they love Barea's offensive creation, Dallas might have to play Antoine Wright more with the first unit in Game 2, with Barea playing more when Carter enters the game off Denver's bench.
• Although the Nuggets got off to a poor start offensively, it was their defense early in the game by their starting five that should most concern George Karl. The Nuggets were often lethargic and confused, especially with the Mavericks' double ballscreen action in the secondary phase of their offense. This action creates confusion with Denver's switching scheme, and allowed ball handlers to turn the corner and Nowitzki to pop open for jump shots. In Game 2, look for a better effort from Billups and Jones to stay with the ball handler through the traffic, which will reduce the switching and big-on-small mismatches.
• Denver also left wing shooters unattended far too often in Game 1. With Dallas not attacking the rim in transition, Nuggets defenders can get to those shooters earlier in Game 2, as they can flare out as they cross half court rather than running back to protect the basket.
• In their half-court defense, the Nuggets gave Dallas trouble when they started denying hard on ball reversal at the top. They were not only able to prevent the pass, but even knocked down Josh Howard and Terry on their cuts. This gave the Mavericks fits, so look for more of this in Game 2.
• After Nowitzki had his way with the Nuggets' starting five in the first quarter, scoring 13 of the Mavericks' first 17 points, George Karl called on Chris Andersen. The Birdman frustrated Nowitzki into forced shots, blocked shots, and completely took the NBA's fourth leading scorer out of any offensive rhythm, limiting him to only nine points the rest of the way. If Kenyon Martin proves ineffective on Nowitzki in Game 2, look for more Birdman more of the time.
• The Nuggets also rattled Kidd into eight turnovers with extreme ball pressure in Game 1, and Denver's perimeter defenders have no fear of Kidd driving past them. Look for Billups and Jones to turn up the heat in Game 2.
• Going into Game 1, Denver knew Nene was going to be a primary option on offense, as his quickness gives him an advantage on Erick Dampier. Nene raced ahead of Dampier in transition, got away from him on pick-and-rolls and drove past him in the post. Expect more offensive aggressiveness from Nene in Game 2, forcing coach Rick Carlisle to change personnel or his scheme.
• What should please Karl the most about his offense in Game 1 was that his bench did much of the damage, as Anthony was saddled with foul trouble in the first half. Karl should also be thrilled that J.R. Smith did his work on attacking dribble drives, and not by floating around the perimeter firing 3s. When Smith attacks from the point, the Mavericks have a problem guarding him; look for more of Smith at the top of the floor on the dribble in Game 2.
• In Game 1, Billups and Anthony did not have to carry Denver's scoring load, which should strike fear into the Mavericks for Game 2. Look for both of them to play an increased offensive role as Dallas makes adjustments to prevent Nene from having another big night and the Mavericks try to make Denver play more of a half-court offensive game.
The Mavs have to get to the foul line 25 times. It's the best way for them to determine if they are attacking the basket.
J.R. Smith's shot selection often determines the effectiveness of the second unit.
The Mavericks allowed the Nuggets to turn Game 1 into a wild, rowdy party, and played right into that script with turnovers, jumpers, and a less-than-physical presence. The Mavericks must respond with toughness and aggressiveness, knock a few Nuggets down and turn the party into a fight. Denver will look to bring the pressure defense, send the bench in to provide the energy, and put the ball in the hands of Billups and Anthony in the fourth quarter of a closer, more physical game.
Prediction: Nuggets Win Game 2
Mike Moreau is the director of basketball for the Pro Training Center and The Basketball Academy at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He also serves as an NBA analyst for Hoopsworld.
Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.
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