Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. Sometimes, unfortunately, so is foresight.
On Friday, May 1 I picked the Denver Nuggets to eliminate the Dallas Mavericks in five games. Last night it came to pass, in the form of Nuggets 124, Mavs 110.
Dirk Nowitzki was as gritty as he was great. But Jason Terry never arrived, Josh Howard spent the series hobbling and the Mavericks had no answers for Denver's relentless energy and superior athleticsm. And, lest we not forget, the biggest singular play was referee Mark Wunderlich's series-shifting non-call.
"In the end," said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, "they were the better team."
THEN: I sincerely hope I'm wrong about this, but I have a feeling we're all about to get really pissed. Watching the most athletic - and by far the most animated and arrogant - team in the NBA knock the Dallas Mavericks out of the playoffs could be very painful.
NOW: Painful indeed, accentuated by the Mavs initially not retaliating to Kenyon Martin's shove six minutes into the series and, in the end, succumbing to another case of Whine Flu.
THEN: It won't take long for you to cringe at the stylings of J.R. Smith, a fantastic reserve guard who dilutes his talent with animated gyrations after every single basket he scores.
NOW: Actually, I have to give J.R. credit. Relatively speaking he was a great player on his best behavior. Bastard. While his reputation improved, owner Mark Cuban's took a severe hit.
THEN: I hope you enjoyed the Mavs-Spurs series. Now totally forget it. Because in style and substance, this matchup will look like a different sport. Unlike the San Antonio series, the faster the pace against Denver the worse chance Dallas has of staying in games. The Nuggets flourish ad-libbing in the open court. They will be quicker, faster and jumpier at every position. If this were a dunk contest, I'd confidently predict a sweep.
NOW: The Spurs averaged 90 against the Mavs in five games; the Nuggets 115. The end. Watching Denver run up the court, it's hard to realize it was the same Dallas defense in the first two rounds. In Game 3 against the Spurs, the Mavs allowed 67 points. In Game 5 against the Nuggets, the Mavs allowed 69 points - in the first half.
THEN: Jason Terry is the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year. In a series that should provide an open-court, up-tempo pace to his liking, he needs to play like it.
NOW: Oops. You can blame the Mavs' demise on several deficiencies, but none more glaring than Terry's lack of production. The NBA's Sixth Man of the Year was only 25 of 63 in the series (12 of 33 3-pointers) and averaged just 15 points. With Terry on the court against the Nuggets, the Mavs were outscored by a whopping 56 points.
THEN: Given the amped-up speed and quickness of this series, Josh Howard's gimpy ankle is going to be a factor. He has to play Carmelo Anthony to a draw for Dallas to have a chance. Unlikely.
NOW: In the first quarter of Game 1, ankle became ankles. In retrospect, that was the series. Though he played valiantly and not all that poorly, a hobbled Howard was no match for Carmelo.
THEN: The Nuggets likely won't double-team Dirk Nowitzki like the Spurs did, but more so rely on the length and athleticism of Dallas native Kenyon Martin to frustrate him. Denver's Chris Anderson will also try to bait and badger Dirk out of his game.
NOW: George Karl stuck to his strategy. His singluar defensive ploy allowed Dirk to score 28+ in all five games. But it also resulted in a 4-1 victory.
THEN: Denver's Nene can run circles around Erick Dampier. If guarding Tim Duncan was a 33rpm vinyl record, Nene will be a 78rpm.
NOW: Watch the Western Conference Finals - when he has to match up against the likes of Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum or even Lamar Odom - and you'll realize that it's not that Nene is that good, just that Dampier is that bad.
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THEN: Because of Denver's size, look for J.J. Barea's effectiveness to be reduced and the roles of Brandon Bass and James Singleton to be increased.
NOW: Barea had his moments, but nowhere near the impact of the first round. Bass was Dallas' second-best player the last two games, but Carlisle turned to him too late. When Dallas needed athletic help off the bench, Singleton, Ryan Hollins and Gerald Green flopped.
THEN: I'm afraid the Mavs don't have the manpower or the moxie to keep this series from deteriorating into a playground style they can't win. Nuggets in 5.
NOW: Already with deficits because of Denver's athleticism, depth and home-court advantage, the Mavericks needed the breaks in this series. Instead, the two defining moments both went against Dallas: Howard's injury and Wunderlich's whistle.