Scouting update: Mavs-Nuggets, Game 5
It took four games for the Mavericks to get efficient offensive execution in the fourth quarter, and they let the Nuggets know they would not roll over and allow the sweep by holding on for the 119-117 win Monday. Dallas took advantage of Chris Andersen's absence and pounded the Nuggets on the boards, while Dirk Nowitzki took advantage of every defender Denver threw at him.
• The Nuggets' main focus for Game 5 Wednesday night will be on their defensive end. Giving up 119 points to the Mavericks on 50 percent shooting and getting destroyed on the boards will not be in the game plan. Andersen's return will be a large part of that, as "Birdman" missed Game 4 with a stomach ailment, taking away Denver's best shot-blocker, rebounder, defender and energy guy. Andersen also is a key defender on Nowitzki, so his return in Game 5 should help keep the big German in check.
Kenyon Martin has done an admirable job defending Nowitzki one-on-one in this series, but Denver's switching schemes take Martin off Nowitzki in screening situations, leaving Nowitzki with different, usually smaller, less able defenders on him.
In Game 4, Nowitzki backed down Carmelo Anthony, scored over Dahntay Jones and Linas Kleiza, went by Nene, and even had Chauncey Billups and Anthony Carter guarding him in the post on switches. He abused them all. If the Nuggets are content with this strategy, Nowitzki should have another monster stat sheet in Game 5. Denver's best adjustment would be to keep Martin and Andersen on Nowitzki as much as possible, refusing to switch other defenders onto him.
The Nuggets also must have better communication when Nowitzki is the ball-screener, as confusion reigned on two key possessions in the fourth quarter, with Nowitzki being left wide open on a slip and a spot-up after the screen. Billups must bark out the orders as the play is unfolding, and Denver would be well served to run another defender at Nowtizki so he is doubled on the catch on critical possessions in the fourth quarter.
• The Nuggets' transition defense must improve dramatically in Game 5, as they continued to allow midrange jumpers from Jason Terry and Josh Howard in the open floor, as well as letting J.J. Barea blow through all five defenders on two consecutive possessions in transition in the second quarter. This helped Dallas come back from a 13-point deficit. The Nuggets must get the ball stopped earlier in Game 5 to prevent the easy baskets that will keep Dallas in the game.
• Offensively, Denver has its best success pushing the tempo, and Billups will continue to look for his pull-up 3 in transition in Game 5. Expect him to be aggressive early, looking to get to the foul line as he did in Game 4. He will look to set the tone from the start in what he knows must be the closeout game of this series.
• Denver's best offensive action in Game 5 will run through Anthony, who is at his best coming from the left wing and catching the ball on the move at the top of the floor. With Howard still battling ankle troubles, Anthony will force him to move laterally as much as possible in Game 5. Anthony also will look to pull Howard up higher on the floor to attack him off the dribble, as he did late in Game 4.
• Look for the Nuggets to try to re-establish Nene on the offensive end, especially against Erick Dampier. If Dallas counters with a smaller lineup, the Nuggets should go to Nene anytime Nowitzki is matched up with him inside.
• Nowitzki's 44 points in Game 4 were impressive, but it was the way he got his points that has to encourage the Mavericks going into Game 5. Nowitzki clearly made up his mind to drive more and fade less, and he got layups, overpowered smaller defenders and got to the foul line 17 times. He punished the Nuggets for switching, and this must be his mindset for Game 5. Even if he sees more of Andersen, he should continue attacking. His fadeaway can be a part of his arsenal, but it can't be his primary option.
• The rest of the Mavericks have begun taking advantage of Denver's switches at other positions as well, with Howard posting Billups and Carter, Terry blowing by Nene and Barea dribbling past J.R. Smith on a switch.
Denver's switching scheme is an easy defense to play, as it isolates weaker defenders on better offensive players in certain situations. It is much less effective against a smart, disciplined offensive team. This is where Jason Kidd must take charge in the halfcourt.
In Game 5, Kidd must direct the attack and get the Mavericks into screening action, force the switches, then identify the most favorable matchup and go right at that defender. The Mavericks can put Denver at a disadvantage on every offensive possession, and they can dictate who guards whom and at what spot on the floor.
• Dallas also must continue to run, with Barea pushing on the dribble and Terry and Howard flying on the wings. Denver does not pick up the ball early; these players just guard the closest man. This allows for Barea to get to the rim and the Mavericks' athletic wings to attack mismatched defenders in the open floor.
• In addition, the Mavericks must have better communication after the rebound, as they had two middle-school turnovers in the backcourt that led to a monster dunk and a foul at the rim. Kidd and Barea must come back to the ball, and Dallas rebounders must be stronger and more decisive with their outlet passes.
• The biggest defensive problem the Mavericks must address in Game 5 is the run-out layups Denver continues to get off missed perimeter shots by the Mavs. Denver is running the shooter's defender down the floor, which puts him behind the defense when the Nuggets get the rebound. Dallas must rotate its perimeter player who is opposite the shooter, and he must get back as soon as the shot goes up. Terry and Kidd especially need to be conscious and prevent the seven points or so the Mavericks have given away in each of the first four games.
Dallas also must get to Billups earlier in transition, not allowing him his patented pull-up 3 on the break. The Mavs must prevent this easy option and take their chances with his drive.
• The Game 5 defensive plan must include better efforts by Howard and Antoine Wright to deny Anthony the ball. Once every three or four times isn't enough. If Anthony gets it going in Game 5, it will be lights out for the Mavericks. Anthony's defender must deny, front, fight and refuse to concede a single catch in the post, wing or top of the floor. Just preventing two catches per quarter takes 16 potential points away, and Anthony's attempt to receive a pass in Game 5 should become a fight for position and for the ball.
• The Mavericks cannot take a single defensive possession off in Game 5. Any lapse in concentration will turn into the quick scoring runs that can turn this game into a blowout. This must be their best defensive effort of the year -- every shot contested, everybody in the lane on drives, everybody on the glass.
• Andersen's return is key for Denver in Game 5. Birdman ignites the crowd, but he also will be a primary defender on Nowitzki, who is averaging 35 points on 53 percent shooting in the series.
• Look for Brandon Bass to see more minutes in Game 5. He has averaged 13.5 points in the past two games, getting four offensive rebounds and shooting 17 free throws. His quickness and athleticism are key for Dallas if the Mavs go to their smaller lineup.
Denver now is 7-1 against the Mavericks this season and has won 15 straight home games. The Nuggets are kicking themselves for letting Game 4 get away, but they have to feel confident they can close out this series Wednesday in their own building.
The Mavericks know every game in this series has been close going into the fourth quarter, which gives them a glimmer of hope in Game 5. But they can't afford to get down early, as they did in Game 4. There will be no comebacks on the road. Expect Dallas to put up a fight; however, the Nuggets' roster at full strength and Denver's raucous home crowd will be too much for the Mavs to overcome.
Nuggets win Game 5
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.