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Art Garcia

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Aggressive Nuggets hit another gear in Game 1 victory

By Art Garcia,
Posted May 4 2009 12:13PM

DENVER -- The difference in athlete paled in comparison to the difference in attitude. The Nuggets were everything the Mavericks were not in the opener of the Western Conference semifinals Sunday afternoon, starting with the way they view themselves.

"We've got a few sparkplugs around here," said Kenyon Martin, just one of the Nuggets living on the basketball edge. "I think you need that."

The Nuggets feed off emotion more than any of the eight teams still left in the NBA tournament, and once the powder keg went off in Game 1, they were well on their way to pasting Dallas 109-95 to take the early series lead.

The Mavericks looked rattled, even if neither side wanted to admit as much after. It's hard to argue the point when Jason Kidd turns the ball over eight times after netting just three in the entire San Antonio series.

"I don't think we got rattled in the sense of losing our composure," said Kidd, who finished with just four assists. "We just didn't get good shots and they scored off those turnovers."

The Nuggets sensed blood in the water during a second-half feeding frenzy, coming at the Mavericks in long and lively waves they didn't have to deal with in the first round. Dallas' chief one-on-one worry against the Spurs was Tony Parker.

Now the Mavericks have Martin and Nene and Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith and Chris Andersen to deal with. It's a combustible group that relishes its image as the league's foremost outlaws.

"We've got the most athletic team and the most wild team as well," Smith said proudly.

Denver's ringleader actually enjoyed Anthony getting in foul trouble in the first half. 'Melo on the bench for much of the second quarter let George Karl unleash his sharks. Instead of letting frustration fester -- the Nuggets didn't hide their displeasure with the calls early on -- the Northwest Division champs found another gear.

"In some ways it was fun when Carmelo got in foul trouble that we were allowed to go in another direction," Karl said. "I don't think they liked playing at a higher speed where we like to."

Nene romped through the lane and right past Dallas' lumbering center Erick Dampier in the second quarter, scoring 14. Nene's 18 points at the break tied a career-playoff high. The troubles Denver had in the first quarter with Dirk Nowitzki also vanished, as the Birdman took the baton from K-Mart.

Martin wanted Nowitzki all to himself before the series, but the former MVP scored Dallas' first 10 points on an array of jumpers. Martin's best defensive move in the first quarter was a forearm shiver that sent Nowitzki crashing into the baseline.

That a flagrant wasn't called played right into Denver's aggressive nature. Though the Nuggets downplayed the value of intimidation, it become obvious they were going to hit first. As the game continued, the open looks weren't there as often for Nowitzki.

Andersen forced Nowitzki into an awkward spin and airball in the second quarter. Finding himself wide open at one point in the second half, Nowitzki double-clutched, as if surprised by the space. He missed.

"We knew after watching the first round against New Orleans that they were physical," Nowitzki said. "We talked about protecting the ball a lot better. We were just awful there in the second half. They did a good job at having active hands."

Those active hands and everything else turned what was a close game to start the fourth into a rout. The exclamation point came off another Dallas turnover, when Nene stole a pass from Jason Terry.

Smith took the outlet pass from Anthony Carter, spun and whipped it over to Anthony for a two-handed flush that blew the lid off the Pepsi Can. The Nuggets had turned an 82-80 lead into 97-82 in about five minutes, playing to the crowd and to themselves.

Anthony scored 19 of his 23 in the second half. Nene finished with 24 on 9-of-13 shooting, almost all coming at the rim. Smith, Andersen and Carter reached double figures off the bench. Unlike the Mavs, they finished at a higher speed.

"That's just what we do," said Andersen, who added six blocks. "That's our style."

Nowitzki wasn't the only Maverick to tail off from a promising start. Terry had more turnovers (four) than made shots (three) after the break. Josh Howard, a spark himself early, turned his right ankle early in the second quarter and wasn't a factor from there.

Kidd's struggles were puzzling and welcome for Denver. The Mavericks began to lose their grip on the game in the third as Kidd began to lose his grip on the ball. His passes lacked zip and other turnovers were flat-out fumbles.

"They turned the ball over more than we did," Smith said. "I don't think we rattled them as much as they made little mistakes they couldn't correct."

As for the rest of the series, beginning with Game 2 back here Tuesday, Kidd sounded an ominous warning for Dallas' chances to beat a team that's deeper and more athletic.

"We have to play a perfect game," he said.

The Mavericks were anything but Sunday. Their 20 turnovers led to 25 Denver points, and they were destroyed (58-30) in points in the paint. The discrepancy in fouls (29-19) and points at the line (25-9) in what was a heated game from the tip stuck in the craw of Dallas coach Rick Carlisle.

"We are going to have to raise our level of aggression," he said.

The Nuggets did that in Game 1. They usually do.

If you have a question or comment for Art Garcia, send him an email.

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