4

Thuggets 2, Mavwimps 0

Already being out-jumped, out-run, out-dunked and out-funked, the Dallas Mavericks last night became a desperate team suddenly out-manned.

And after another thorough loss to the Denver Nuggets - this one 117-105 in Game 2 of the NBA's Western Conference Semifinals - it's inevitable the Mavs will soon be simply out. With Dallas swimming upstream against Denver's superior physicality and athleticism - I'll say it, the Nuggets are the best in the West right now - it became an unfair fight when Josh Howard left the game because of two aching ankles.

If Howard - who was hobbling so bad he was reduced to a defensive liability forced to settle for long-range jumpers on offense - can't play in Saturday's Game 3 this series is over. But, honestly, it's over regardless. I repeat, Nuggets in 5.

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The scariest thing about the 12-point loss? The Mavericks didn't play poorly.

Until the fourth quarter.

Behind Dirk Nowitzki's gutsy performance and a bench briefly taking up the slack caused by Howard's first-quarter departure, the Mavs trailed only 86-83 entering the fourth. But with coach Rick Carlisle inexplicably resting Dirk and Jason Terry and Jason Kidd at the same time, his team started the quarter with a missed 3-pointer and a grade-school traveling violation by sporadically used sub James Singleton.

The result? By the time Nowitzki re-entered the Nuggets had rattled off a 9-0 run and the rout was on. By the end the Thuggets were dunking and dancing and dominating their way to a 2-0 series lead that must feel to the Mavs like 20-0.

Dallas trailed Game 1 82-80 early in the fourth and Game 2 86-83 early in the fourth. Both times the Nuggets left the Mavs in their dust.

Denver's best player last night: Nene.

Dallas' chance without Howard the rest of the series: Nay, nay.

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