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Art Garcia

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Rough and tumble Nuggets making postseason look easy

By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted May 6 2009 10:52AM

DENVER -- If success breeds imitation across the sporting landscape, and we all know it does, is there a revolution in the works from a band of Mile High flyers flaunting more color than the Birdman's tats?

The Thuggets would seem an unlikely band to orchestrate a paradigm shift to a sport that began with peach baskets almost 120 years ago. Witnessing their first two games of the Western Conference, heck their entire run through the Playoffs so far, lends credence to Prophet George Karl.

"The philosophy that no one is writing, in my mind, is when you get big, long, athletic players playing hard, the game of basketball is very interesting," Denver's coach/wannabe visionary said. "And that's what we're doing. We're not hitting anybody. We're just putting our athletes in position to be basketball athletic.

"What's wrong with that?"

The Mavericks have plenty to be upset about, though their worries should revolve around the score and not the antics. The bigger and badder Nuggets moved halfway to the conference finals after Tuesday night's 117-105 strike at the Pepsi Center, continuing an awe-inspiring string of postseason blowouts.

"I never saw that coming," said Carmelo Anthony, once again the catalyst in the fourth-quarter festival of dunks and 3-pointers despite playing with an upset stomach.

"Playoff basketball, you expect it to be close. You expect it to be a grind-it-out game. For some reason in that fourth quarter, we spread it out."

The series shifts to Dallas with a three-day break before resuming Saturday. The Mavericks are now in the unenviable position of having to do no worse than 4-1 from this point forward to advance.

Denver is 6-0 against Dallas this season.

"We have a while to sit on this one," Dirk Nowitzki said of another opportunity lost. "We have a while to figure this one out."

Karl's manifesto for a new brand of basketball drew a chuckle within the Dallas locker room. One player scoffed and added, "Is he a philosopher now?" That same player, though, pointed out that "all those Carolina coaches want point guards."

Those Powder Blue roots run from Chapel Hill to Denver, where Chauncey Billups has taken the reins of a group that had worn on Karl through the years. Dean Smith guys want to "play the right way," while the Nuggets were much dash and little substance.

What the Nuggets have become, in the words of the George the Seeker, is a "play-hard team," a "get-after-it team." Their success is built on suffocating teams defensively, using those active bodies to blanket the floor, protect the basket and cover up mistakes.

"We're an explosive team," Billups said after his 18-point, eight-assist effort. "We turn turnovers into points. We have a lot of big guys that can get up and down."

Thugs, they are not.

"We're aggressive athletically more than hits and elbows," Karl said. "We don't want the game to slow down. We don't want the game to get push and shove. We don't want the game to get slow and sloppy. We want the game to get going."

The Mavericks want to run, too, but at a controlled pace. Tuesday night had to feel like a football game where they do everything right and it's still not enough. For three quarters, they didn't turn the ball over, were solid defensively, played with poise and appeared to out-execute Denver. But for every 12-play drive resulting in a field goal, the Nuggets scored on the ensuing kickoff.

Jason Kidd said after the turnover-filled Game 1, Dallas would have to play a perfect game to win. The first half was pretty darn close, despite the foul trouble for several Mavericks early. Dallas outshot and outrebounded Denver, and had just five turnovers through 24 minutes. And what the sixth seed had to show for it is was a three-point deficit (58-55) at the break.

The spread didn't change through three quarters, so here were the visitors again in striking distance. The Mavericks were down just two a minute into the fourth Sunday, feeling they had a chance to steal one on the road. They lost by 14.

"We were right there against like we were the other night," said Nowitzki, the game's high scorer with 35. "And just things with this team get out of hand quick."

The Mavericks opened Tuesday's fourth with four straight misses and two turnovers, as Denver scored the first nine of period. So in a little more than three minutes, the three-point lead grew to 12. It wasn't long before it was 15. Then 19. Then a 2-0 series lead.

"We wore them down," Billups said.

Already at a disadvantage in the depth department, the Mavericks took an early hit when Josh Howard's bothersome right ankle limited the small forward to an ineffective six-minute cameo. So without their third-leading scorer, the Mavericks had to force feed Nowitzki and Jason Terry.

"Our margins for error are not great, especially with Josh not playing," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "There are things we can control we have to do better."

Nowitzki admitted the toll, both mental and physical, that facing so many capable defenders took out of him. Freshly-fined and perturbed Kenyon Martin, Nene, Chris Andersen, Anthony and even Denver's guards checked Nowitzki at times.

"They just make you work," said Nowitzki, who along with Terry scored just seven of their 56 combined points in the fourth.

Denver didn't have to force the issue. It felt the flow. J.R. Smith had the early hot hand. Nene continued to create havoc and pile up the fouls on Dallas' big men. Billups picked up after a spotty first half with 14 points in the second. Andersen spread his wings and flirted with a double-double.

And then there's Anthony, the Nuggets' Olympian and leading scorer, coasting for three quarters before putting on another finishing spurt to match his team's and Game 1. Melo scored 15 of his 25 in deciding quarter, giving him 29 in the two fourths. That's 60 percent of his scoring output for the series.

"We take a close game and turn it into double digits," Karl said. "Some of it is defensive intensity."

It's not revolutionary. Not yet.

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

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