Nuggets vs Cavaliers: A Potential NBA Finals Preview

Sean StancillSenior Writer IMay 9, 2009

DENVER - DECEMBER 19:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers faces off against Carmelo Anthony #15 of the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on December 19, 2008 in Denver, Colorado. James scored a game high 33 points as the Cavaliers defeated the Nuggets 105-88.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The Nuggets and Cavaliers are the hottest teams in the NBA Playoffs, a combined 12-1 in the first two rounds. Both are in favorable positions to advance to the conference finals. Should the teams meet, here is a preview of the starting match-ups.

Chauncey Billups vs. Mo Williams

Williams seemed to struggle in Round One against a bigger, stronger guard, Detroit's Rodney Stuckey. His averages were down for field goals (44 percent vs. 46 percent in the regular season), three-pointers (32 percent vs. 43 percent), and free-throws (56 vs. 91).

Stuckey repeatedly used his body and plowed into Williams on offense. Even when Mo had Stuckey off balance and was able to draw contact, Mo suffered the lion's share of the blow.

Billups is similar to Stuckey in that he's a bigger guard, but their games are different. Billups will look to post up more and generate more open looks for his teammates. Stuckey was far more aggressive, which allowed Mo to anticipate his movements and draw offensive fouls.

Billups is also a far superior shooter, which will demand Mo to play tight defense. Against Stuckey, Williams was able to cheat and maneuver the Piston toward another teammate and concede the jump shot.

Mo will not be able to do this on Chauncey because Williams will be playing up on Mr. Big Shot. This will give the hometown hero the advantage in driving past him and to the rim, possibly causing contact.

Combine that with the fact that Billups has has played in 10 NBA Finals games and was named 2003-04 Finals' MVP, and the edge goes to the veteran.


Dahntay Jones vs. Delonte West

Jones was signed last summer to be the Nuggs' defensive stopper out on the perimeter. So far it's been a success. However, he will be tested against the offensive prowess of Delonte West. 

Jones has learned how to defend just about every type of scorer: slashers, marksmen, combinations. But this time he will be pitted against a different kind of player, a player who elects to get his team involved first but is capable of changing gears with a single dribble and getting himself going.
West is Cleveland's most important player aside from LeBron James, and when he gets into a groove, either assisting or shooting, the Cavs are fluid and nearly unstoppable.
Jones has the size, strength, and form to negate West. The question is, will he be able to hang with West around all those screens set by Big Z and Varejao?
I'm giving the advantage to West because of his savvy ball handling and improv when offensive schemes break down.

Carmelo Anthony vs. Anderson Varejao

I decided to transpose the match-ups between small forwards and power forwards because it's virtually impossible that Coach Karl and Coach Brown will allow their superstars and main scoring threats to go head to head. The potential for foul trouble would be too great.
I assigned power forwards to them because the power forwards are longer and bigger, which should negate big parts of each player's game.
Anthony has a history of lighting up the Cavs. Melo averaged 24.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in the Nuggets' two victories over Cleveland last year and 27 the year before.
The Cavs must throw the pesky Varejao at Anthony to combat Melo's aggressiveness. The fact that Varejao is an excellent flopper helps Cleveland.
You can also expect Delonte West to get time against Melo as West has defended the 6'8" Joe Johnson in the Eastern Conference Semis. However, Melo' is much more aggressive and creative than Johnson, which will cause foul trouble for the Cavs.
On a side note, Carmelo Anthony is 9-4 lifetime against LeBron, but who's counting?
I give the edge wholeheartedly to Carmelo Anthony.

Kenyon Martin vs LeBron James
Last postseason George Karl had Martin defend Kobe Bryant one on one. The move produced mixed results.
If the Nuggets meet the Cavs, Martin will once again be called on to defend the MVP of the regular season.
James' strength causes problems for everybody, but if Martin can at least stay in front if James and get a hand in LeBron's line of sight, perhaps it will cause a little confusion and James will misfire on shots.Not to mention that if he does this with a certain "Bird" circling the paint, the shot may get sent back and fall into the hands of a Nuggets' player.
The likelihood of this happening every time LeBron attacks the rim is completely far-fetched, but it may occur more often than you would expect. Of course, LeBron, being the kind of player he is, would adapt and find a new way to score.
The Nuggets will be okay with LeBron scoring, but they know they will be in for it if 'Bron begins to dish. In Game One of the Eastern Conference Semis James had 22 points at halftime in an inspired effort, but the offense seemed stagnant. His teammates were statues.
Against a smarter team like Denver, the Nuggets will be able to trap James, force the ball out of his hands and into the hands of his uninvolved teammates.
The Nuggets forced LeBron into 11 turnovers in two games. He got to the line only 12 times, well below his average of nine per game.
In order to foil this strategy, James will have to dish early and often.
As for Martin, he must use his length and strength to beat LeBron on offense. He may have to adjust to playing with his back to the basket. K-Mart's go-to move—a crossover to his left en route to a sweeping floater—has become far too predictable. If Dirk were a better defender he would be taking them back.
Against LeBron that may very well happen, so Kenyon must be resourceful with his movements.
This match-up goes to LeBron.

Nene vs. Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Nene has the mobility, agility, and athleticism to completely dominate Ilgauskas as he has against the stronger Erick Dampier in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Nene has scored 24 and 25 in the semis, and if he keeps setting new postseason career highs the Cavs' can expect a real battle.
Ilgauskas, much slower, can be lethal from mid-range. But Z has seemingly lost the touch in the playoffs. He went two-of-nine against Atlanta in Game One and three-of-six in the next game. For the postseason, Ilgauskas is shooting only 41.6 percent, 25-of-60, down six percentage points from his regular-season average of 47.2.
Where Z can really help Cleveland is on the boards and by not allowing the quicker Nene to get the first step off the dribble or get favorable position.
However, I still give the advantage to Nene.