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By Kevin Rogers
**No. 2 Denver vs. No. 6 Dallas**
Series Price: Denver -200 Dallas +170
Series Format: 2-2-1-1-1
The Mavericks and Nuggets are each coming off impressive first-round series victories in five games, as the two teams meet up for only the second time ever in the postseason. The first instance was back in the 1987-88 playoffs, with Dallas knocking out Denver in six games behind Mark Aguirre to advance to the franchise's first-ever Western Conference Finals before getting bounced by the eventual champion L.A. Lakers in seven games.
The Nuggets dismantled the Hornets and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1994, when Denver pulled off the greatest first-round upset in NBA history, downing the top-seeded Sonics in five games. Interestingly, the losing coach of the Sonics is now leading this Nuggets team to the second round, George Karl. The obvious move that has catapulted the Nuggets into an elite team in the Western Conference was the acquisition of point guard Chauncey Billups back in November for Allen Iverson. Billups immediately restored calm to a team filled with chaos, a club that tried to get Iverson and Carmelo Anthony as many shots as possible. With Billups at the helm, Anthony reverted back to the top scoring option, averaging 22.8 ppg, but was even more impressive in four regular season games against the Mavs, putting up 31.3 ppg.
The Mavs went into the final week of the regular season as the eighth seed, but found a way to climb into the sixth spot and avoid the top-seeded Lakers in the first round. Dallas stole Game 1 at San Antonio, overcoming an early 13-point deficit behind clutch scoring from its bench. Jason Terry, J.J. Barea, and Brandon Bass combined for 39 points off the pine, helping ease the scoring load from Dirk Nowitzki's shoulders, as the league's fourth-leading scorer was in foul trouble. Despite a setback in Game 2, the Mavs went home and blew out the Spurs in consecutive games before finishing off San Antonio in Game 5 on the road, 106-93.
The Nuggets swept the season series from the Mavs, 4-0, but three wins came by three points or less. Denver won the first game on Nov. 7 at the Pepsi Center 108-105, in Billups' first game back with the Nuggets. Billups scored 15, while Anthony pumped in a game-high 28. The key to this game was converting from the line, or in Denver's case, just getting to the line. The Nuggets converted 37 of 40 free-throw attempts, while the Mavs missed just two free throws, but went to the charity stripe 16 times. A month later in Dallas, the Nuggets knocked off the Mavs by 10 (98-88) as 2 1/2-point underdogs. Denver held Dallas to a season-low 35 percent shooting from the floor, despite the Mavs draining 10 three-pointers. This was the first game back from an ankle injury that kept Josh Howard out of the Dallas lineup for 11 games. Howard scored just seven points in 14 minutes.
The Nuggets would then take a pair of two-point contests from the Mavs, first a 99-97 decision in Denver on Jan. 13. Billups drew a shooting foul from Terry in the final seconds, then knocked down a pair of free throws to win the game. The Nuggets had to pull out this victory without Anthony, as he missed the game with a hand injury. Nowitzki scored two points below his season-high with 44 points, but the Mavs did cover as six-point 'dogs. The final regular-season meeting came Mar. 27 in Dallas, with the Nuggets pulling out another close victory over the Mavs, 103-101. Anthony was huge down the stretch, hitting a key bucket in the final minute, scoring 43 points and pulling down 11 boards. The Mavs stayed close despite another horrible shooting night against the Nuggets, hitting 35 percent of their shots from the field. The Mavs played this game without Howard and point guard Jason Kidd.
The Mavs went nearly two months consistently hitting the 'under' as road underdogs, doing so in 10 of 11 games from late January until the end of March. That streak has blown up, with Dallas going 'over' in their last four as road 'dogs, including all three at San Antonio. Denver's two victories at Dallas defied history, improving the Nuggets record in "Big D" to 4-17 SU the last 21 visits to the Lone Star State dating back to the 1997-98 season. Keep an eye on the Nuggets the first two games at the Pepsi Center. Denver is 12-5-1 ATS this season as a home favorite off a home win. Dallas, meanwhile, may be a good fade in the opener on Sunday, as the Mavs are 2-7 ATS off a three-game win streak, including an 0-6 ATS mark on the road. Both these coaches are playoff-experienced, with this being Karl's 18th postseason appearance with his fifth team. It has been awhile since Karl has advanced past the first round, doing so last in 2001 with the Bucks, taking Milwaukee all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Rick Carlisle advanced to the second round for the fifth time in six playoff trips, also moving on with the Pacers and Pistons earlier this decade.
Don't let the fact the Nuggets beat the Mavs four times this season and Denver beat New Orleans by 58 points less than a week ago that this will be a quick series. However, the Mavs were held to a season-low 35% shooting from the field twice this season against the Nuggets. Also, not to discount the dismantling Dallas did to San Antonio, the Spurs still played without Manu Ginobili. I'll take the Nuggets to win in six games, as Denver just needs to win one in Dallas and three at home to claim this series.
If you want to back the favored Nuggets, you'll have to lay -200 (Bet $200 to win $100). VI NBA Handicapper Joe Nelson feels Denver may be a bit overvalued going into this series due to their season sweep of Dallas, but Nelson feels this should be a quality series. "Both Dallas and Denver benefited from facing undermanned and less than healthy squads in round one of the playoffs but both were impressive enough to conceivably be a threat to the Lakers should they match-up in the Western Conference Finals," Nelson said. For the Mavs to move on to the Western Conference Finals, Dallas is plus-170 (Bet $100 to win $170).
Re: Nuggets-Mavericks Preview
by Josh Nagel
No. 2 Denver Nuggets (-215) vs. No. 6 Dallas Mavericks (+185)
Records: Denver (58-29, 49-37-1 ATS, Dallas 54-33, 44-43 ATS)
Season series: Nuggets won, 4-0
Overview: Both teams advanced by disposing of first-round opponents that failed to offer more than two legitimate weapons in their lineup. The surging Mavericks defeated the aging and wounded San Antonio Spurs, who suffered from the absence of Manu Ginobli and the ailments of forward Tim Duncan. The Spurs, despite an excellent effort from Duncan and Tony Parker, couldn't keep up with the Mavericks, who pulled away late in three of their four wins to take down the series.
The underappreciated Nuggets blasted the New Orleans Hornets, who got very little contribution from any player not named Chris Paul. All-Star David West was merely average, and Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler did little to help the cause. Thus, a five-game drubbing that included a record-setting 58-point road win by Denver in a lopsided series that saw each Denver win come by at least 15 points.
Denver presents Dallas with a similar problem that the Mavericks gave the Spurs. The Mavericks have weapons, but likely not enough to keep up with the Nuggets over the course of the series. The good news for Dallas fans is that the Mavericks continue to improve and likely have not reached their ceiling for potential, but there's a good chance they won't realize their potential until next year.
What the Mavericks have gained in defense, a valuable addition under Rick Carlisle, they appear to have lost in road toughness. This used to be a strength, but Dallas now struggles mightily on the road against winning teams.
Denver won all four meetings this season, although the last two were decided by exactly two points and another was decided by three. The Nuggets posted just one double-figure win, 98-88 in Dallas on Dec. 15.
Value: Nuggets. There's likely a bigger gap between these two teams than the money line suggests. Although Dallas has the more playoff-tested team and continues to improve, the Mavericks would have to win at least one game in Denver to take the series, and this seems unlikely.
What's more, Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony and friends appear determined to prove that their ascent to the No. 2 seed in the West was no fluke. The Nuggets can be erratic and maddening, but they've also proved throughout the season that they are better than the Mavericks. Expect more of the same.
Prediction: Nuggets in six games.