(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Now the Nuggets have officially wrapped up the Northwest Division and clinched the second seed in the Western Conference, and the Dallas Mavericks have garnered the seventh seed at the moment, here's what to expect of who from the two squads once postseason play begins—from the perspective of the Denver Nuggets.
Key Contributor: Carmelo Anthony
It's no secret that every team has a star, and the star must play well in order for the team to stand any chance of victory.
For the Nuggets to be successful in the playoffs and to move past Dallas in the first round, Carmelo Anthony must continue his torrent hot streak against Mark Cuban
This season Anthony averaged 31 points and nine rebounds in the three of the four games while shooting blistering percentages of 50 percent from the field and over 65 percent from long-range.
At the halfway point of the first quarter, Carmelo scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds and accounted for 10 of the Nuggets' first 12 points of the game enroute to a 43-point, 11-rebound performance, his second game with over 40 points and 10 rebounds on the year.
Melo should continue to shred the Mavericks in the playoffs as he has done for this season and the last five before them.
How's this for a stat? Since 2005, Carmelo has scored 20 or more points in nine of the 10 games he's played against the Mavericks, and 11-of-14 for his career since 2003.
The X-Factor: J.R. Smith
Smith is extremely multifarious and score the basketball in a variety of ways. He's an excellent finisher around the rim, a modest mid-range shooter, and an absoulte assasin from three-point range.
His athlectism is unrivaled by any player on the opposing squad and he can get to the rim without effort by using a series of hesitation moves and hand-brake dribbles but the key to beating the Mavs' this season has been the long ball.
In the two games in which their score was decided by three points or less during the first half of the season (108-105 and 99-97) Smith failed to connect from long distance, missing one and three shots from behind the arc respectively, and the Nuggets squeaked out with an average win margin of 2.5.
In their only victory in double-digits over the Mavs' in December, Smith sunk two three-pointers and finished with a game-high 25 points in 24 minutes of action and Devner finished with a win margin of 10.
More importantly, the Nuggets are 12-4 this season when Smith scores 20 points or more.
Wild Card: Chris "Birdman" Andersen
Birdman is averaging 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game in his last two contests against the Mavs', and if he can make his presence felt by sending away a few shots early in the game and altering the shots of the inside-outside tandem of guards JJ Barea and Jason Kidd, the Nuggets will have secured their first step towards postseason advancement.
Andersen has also done a phenomenal job of keeping the opposing big men off the bench from wreaking havoc on the glass. In their last two match-ups, Andersen only allowed 12 rebounds from the combination of Ryan Hollins and Brandon Bass, and only eight boards the previous game to the Mavericks' chimera of James Singleton, Bass, and the 7'1 Desagna Diop.
Focus Point: Team Defense
The Nuggets have won seven of their last eight games against the Mavs, allowing Dallas to score 100 points only twice. And the Denver wings have done a fantastic job chasing likely Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry off the three-point line and on to the perimeter and contesting every shot; this season Terry has gone 10-for-29 from long distance.
Denver also held Dallas spark-plug Josh Howard to five-of-20 shooting this season and held the NBA
's second-leading first-quarter scorer without a field goal in both of his games versus Denver.
Howard is the catalyst to their offense, and if he can effectively score the basketball by penetrating through traps or by pulling up for uncontested jumpers it will open his other side of his game as the Mavericks' third distributor.
Forwards Linas Kleiza and Renaldo Balkman will most likely be assigned the task of keeping the fleet-footed forward in front of them which is easier said then done.
Key Injuries: Kenyon Martin
The playoffs begin Saturday April 19.