(2) Denver Nuggets v (6) Dallas Mavericks
This should be an entertaining series for any fan of the ‘old guard’.
With the San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Hornets and Utah Jazz all bowing out in the first round, we won’t get to see young star point guards Tony Parker, Chris Paul and Deron Williams battle it out until next season.
However, the match-up that will see veteran playmakers Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd go head to head in this Western Conference semi-final is bound to be an exciting one.
The pair had their battles back in 2003 and 2004 when the Detroit Pistons and New Jersey Nets fought for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.
Kidd will welcome the challenge of containing the slower Billups after having had to chase Tony Parker around in the first round. The Frenchman got the better of the head-to-head match-up averaging 28.6 points and 6.8 assists but, luckily for the two-time Olympic gold medalist and his Mavericks, the Spurs showed just how thin and limited they are with Manu Ginobili sidelined and Tim Duncan not at 100 percent. In losing the series 4-2, Gregg Popovich’s men failed to make it past the first round for the first time since 2000.
As for Billups, he will need to continue his hot shooting from three-point range to keep the Dallas defense on its toes. The 2004 NBA Finals MVP connected on 19 of 29 attempts from beyond the arc as the Nuggets brushed aside the New Orleans Hornets in five games to make it through to the second round for the first time since 1994.
The other match-up worthy of interest will see Carmelo Anthony against Josh Howard. This one may not live up to the expectations though as Howard is still playing with a troublesome left ankle injury which will require off-season surgery.
Dirk Nowitzki will have to dig deep into his bag of tricks offensively as Kenyon Martin, Chris Anderson, Renaldo Balkman and Linus Kleiza are all expected to take turns in trying to slow down the 2007 MVP. The plus side for the German All Star is that, Kleiza aside, the other three won’t be too hard a cover for him on the defensive end.
Coaching strategy will be at a premium and we might see changes in both teams’ starting line-ups. Rick Carlisle tweaked his backcourt by going small against the Spurs, playing the lightning quick Jose Juan Barea alongside Kidd. Meanwhile George Karl’s decision to put defensive specialist Dahntay Jones on Paul proved an astute move.
Having Jones guard Kidd or Barea might not make much sense in this series, so Karl might get the Duke product to come off the bench and guard Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry.
These two teams look evenly matched on paper but there is more uncertainty on Dallas’ side. Will Howard’s ankle hold up? Can Kidd handle another long series against another premier and younger point guard? How much can be expected from the bench other than Terry (Brandon Bass, Antoine Wright).
Based on their first round series, the Nuggets look younger, more energic, athletic and with a slightly better eight to nine man rotation.
Trivia: These two teams last met in the playoffs way back in 1988, again, in the second round. The Dallas Mavericks, then led by Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman and Derek Harper got the better of the Alex English-led Denver Nuggets, winning in six games to set up a conference final clash with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Verdict: Nuggets to win in 6.