The Dallas Mavericks played about as well as they possibly could in the first half of game 1, and yet the end result was a blowout in favor of the Nuggets.
That's a bad sign for the Mavs and their fans, wouldn't you say?
In the first half, both Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard were scorching on the offensive end. Dirk was taking it to Kenyon Martin in the early going, until Kenyon sent a message by lowering his shoulder and shoving The Big German out of bounds. The somewhat-dirty hit shook Nowitzki; from then on, he wasn't the same player.
Howard suffered an unfortunate injury to his "good" ankle, and similarly to Nowitzki, he struggled in the second half. But Dallas' struggles weren't about Kenyon's tackle or Howard's injury -- and that's the point.
The Nuggets beat the Mavs, convincingly, in game 1 because they are deeper, more athletic, more explosive, and simply a better team. The Mavs had to work extremely hard to score, whereas it seemed to come naturally to Denver. The Nuggets have so many weapons -- Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, J.R. Smith, and Nene, to name some -- and when they get rolling they never look back. That's the mark of a championship-caliber team; too bad the Los Angeles Lakers are in their conference.
Still, the Nuggets will continue to cruise against the Mavs. I'd be shocked if this series went to six games. Nuggets in four or five, book it.
Nene and Kenyon are too athletic for Erick Dampier, and Chris "Birdman" Andersen is one of the only big men in the league who is capable of shutting down Nowitzki. Birdman displayed that ability during the latter portion of game 1.
It's simple: the Mavs are going down. To be honest, I felt Denver performed below its optimal level in game 1, and yet they won by 14. I'm sorry Mark Cuban, no dice buddy.
I expect a similar outcome in the other Western Conference semifinal: the Lakers are too explosive and talented for the scrappy Rockets. The talk's been about the defensive prowess of Ron Artest and Shane Battier, but no defensive unit can guard the Derek Fisher/Kobe Bryant/Ariza-Odom/Pau Gasol/Andrew Bynum lineup. A lineup that talented would be dangerous in a streetball game, but its that much more dangerous under the command of "The Zenmaster" Phil Jackson.
Nuggets in five, Lakers in five.
How 'bout you?
("JFro," aka John Frascella, is the author of "Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land."
It's the first full-length book centered on Boston Red Sox's popular
general manager Theo Epstein. Preview or purchase it online at Amazon.com, Barnes
and Noble or Borders. It's currently stocked in Barnes and Noble stores
throughout the U.S.)