Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Race for 8th

This from Jon Barry, in today's "Daily Dime" on ESPN: "If Dallas is out, it's Denver. I wouldn't say this is a sure thing, because as great as the Nuggets are offensively, they are equally bad defensively. Is the offense going to be enough? They've got a big game with Dallas at home Thursday. The loss of Dirk should light a fire under the Nuggets."

Barry is right about one thing - The Nuggets-Mavs game tomorrow is huge. But he's wrong - oh so wrong - about his evaluation of the Nuggets as a team.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that if the Mavericks were to believe Barry's analysis, they will surely lose to Denver. However, if they know better (and they have to, right?), they will likely win.


That is because the majority of NBA types completely misunderstand Denver. In fact, I just had a lengthy email exchange with a buddy about this and, as with Barry's comment above, it came in the context of discussing the Mavericks and whether they could still make the playoffs without Dirk.

Here was one salvo:

"I think Dallas will be okay if they beat Denver on Thursday. Consider that their game of the year. If they lose it, I think they will lose faith in themselves without Dirk and slide to 9th. If they win, I think they could actually find a second wind and then turn to a running game the rest of the way.

It is kind of interesting, because people kill Avery for playing such a slow pace, but I don't think he has a choice most of the time. Dirk is agile for a 7-footer, but he's not fast by any stretch of the imagination. Plus, he has to stop a lot to wipe that mop of hair out of his eyes (it isn't a coincidence that his best playoff performances came with the buzz cut). I am interested to see if Avery keeps pulling back the reigns now that Dirk is out or if he lets this team get out and run. Stackhouse is still a surprisingly good transition player, Terry has always shot better running into a jumper, and we all know that Howard is a monster on the break. And they've got Jason Kidd, who - despite losing 19 steps - is still one of the best at running the fast break in NBA history. Throw in Brandon Bass and even George (he's always been surprisingly good at hitting the corner three off a secondary break) and this team has the personnel to get up and down a little bit. Without Dirk to cater to (his only big value-add on the break is as a trailing shooter, something that has become less valuable every since he decided to stop shooting threes for whatever reason), Dallas should be able to run freely and see what happens.

All of that said, I would NOT run against Denver. The Nuggets - contrary to popular belief - are actually a good defensive team and a woefully inefficient offensive team. They only give up and score a lot of points because they play at a hellacious pace. If you force them to play slow, they will get plenty of stops but usually bog down completely on offense. It is far better to try to beat the Nuggets 88-82 than 118-112. The more possessions they get and the faster they shoot, the easier it is for them to bury their bad shots and turnovers. If Dallas tries to run with Denver, they will probably get annihilated. But if they force-feed Dampier and Bass, run a deliberate offense, and make the Nuggets impatient, I think they will win easily. Detroit can run with the Nuggets and win. So can the Lakers and Warriors and Suns. But the Spurs can't (and they know it - that is why SA and Denver always play games under 100, yet the Spurs used to play over 100 against Phoenix all the time - they are the best at knowing who they can and can't run with). And the Mavs definitely can't. So they shouldn't try."

How I can see that and 90% of the people who will read this post can see that, yet Jon Barry (who I like as an announcer, by the way) can not, is utterly mind-blowing.

That aside, I can't wait to watch the game tomorrow night. It will likely feature a clash of styles between two teams that are trying to avoid missing the playoffs - unthinkable to each of them when this season started. Meanwhile the Warriors host the Blazers immediately afterward in a TNT doubleheader that actually means something. Outstanding.

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