(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Now the Nuggets
have all but defeated the Hornets
in their first-round series highlighted by the 58-point shellacking exerted by Denver
in Game 4, the Nuggets can just about look ahead to their next opponent.
Which just so happens to be the Dallas Mavericks
who defeated the Spurs Tuesday night to advance to the second round for the first time since 2006 when Dirk and Co. made their run to the NBA Finals before being dissected by Dwyane Wade.
The Nuggets swept their regular season matchup this season 4-0 but as you know the playoffs are an entirely different realm.
Here are the keys for the Nuggets heading into the second round against the Mavericks:
Expect Fireworks From Carmelo Anthony
Its 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.
That being said Chauncey Billups really carried the Nuggs' in their first round matchup and in the second round he will be defended Jason Kidd and JJ Barea, who are very pesky defenders in their own right. Add in the fact he's not as young as he used to be and shouldering the load for two-straight series is unlikely.
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% from the field and over 65% from long-range.
At the halfway point of the first quarter, Carmelo scored 8 points, grabbed 4 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 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 9 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 3 points or less during the first half of the season (108-105 and 99-97) Smith failed to connect from long distance going 0-1 and 0-3 from behind-the-arc respectively and the Nuggets squeaked out with an average win margain of +2.5.
In their only victory over 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 margain of +10.
More importantly The Nuggets are 12-4 this season when Smith scores 20 points or more.
The 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 8 boards the game before to chimera of James Singleton, Brandon Bass, and the 7'1 Desagna Diop.
Focus Point: Team Defense
The Nuggets have won 7 of their last 8 games against the Mavs only allowing Dallas to score 100 points 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 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 5-20 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.