Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, front, of Germany, looks for room to shoot as Denver Nuggets forward Nene, of Brazil, defends during the first quarter of Game 1 of an NBA basketball Western Conference semifinal series in Denver on Sunday, May 3, 2009. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
So, the Dallas Mavericks want to toughen up to hang with the NBA’s new “Bad Boys”?
Dirk Nowitzki knows better.
“I don’t think we can play as physical as them. We don’t have the personality for it,” Dallas’ center acknowledged Monday, 24 hours after getting knocked around like a pinball in a 109-95 loss to Denver.
The rough-and-tumble Nuggets were quicker, stronger, tougher and much more athletic than the Mavericks in the opener of their second-round series that left Dallas’ players grabbing more bags of ice than usual and their coach threatening to rat out the officials to the league.
On Monday, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle backed down, declaring: “The officials didn’t lose the game for us yesterday. We lost the game because we turned the ball over too much and we were too soft in our physical disposition.”
So, the Mavericks have been searching for ways to match Denver’s aggression.
The thing is, the Mavericks are a team of jump-shooters, they don’t attack the rim like the Nuggets do.
So, Nuggets coach George Karl is expecting the Mavericks to tighten the screws in other areas in Game 2 Tuesday night.
“I think they can fine-tune some little things, but if they’re going to change their personality on who they are, I don’t think that’s the way to beat us,” Karl said. “I think you’ve come here, you’ve built yourself on some damn good players playing a style, and you can tinker with that, and I think they will.”
Carlisle didn’t tip his hand, but Karl said he expects the Mavs to put Antoine Wright or James Singleton on the floor more often to keep a defender on both Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith.
The Nuggets forced 20 turnovers in Game 1, outshot the Mavericks 36-13 from the foul line, outhustled them 29-4 on fastbreak points and outmuscled them 58-30 in the paint.
So, why not drive to the hoop more often?
“We don’t have the personality they do physical-wise,” Nowitzki said. “We’ve just got to pick it up a little bit in that area, be stronger with the ball, even if we have a smaller lineup out there. Just got to get ready. If you’re ready to be hit and not be surprised by it, I think we’re better off.”
Plus, one of Dallas’ best slashers is Josh Howard, who is now playing on two sprained ankles that limit his cutting ability.
The Mavericks say they have to ratchet up their aggression, but will buffing up their game play right into the Nuggets’ hands?
“Our big expression is they are jump shooters, we are scorers,” Karl said. “We want to make them try to penetrate and try to be scorers and make decisions.”
And more mistakes.
Dallas sixth man Jason Terry said the Mavericks have no choice but to stand up to the bullying.
“That’s the type of game that’s going to win the series,” Terry said. “If you look at winning, championship basketball, it’s all about who’s the aggressor. Coming off the San Antonio series where we were the aggressor, we came in here and we were kind of on our heels.”
“Look for us to be in the attack mode from the tip tomorrow night,” Terry said.
“We’re going to be a lot more aggressive tomorrow, too,” countered Nuggets floor leader Chauncey Billups.
Karl said he knows the Nuggets are going to get Dallas’ best shot in Game 2.
“My whole feeling is tomorrow night will be as hard as Dallas will play against us unless we have a Game 7,” Karl said. “I think they all know how important the game will be. I don’t think they want to try to win four out of five games against us.”
Karl, however, laughs at the notion that the Nuggets are the NBA’s new Bad Boys like Bill Laimbeer’s Detroit Pistons of the 1980s, even though Kenyon Martin was fined $25,000 for throwing Nowitzki to the floor in the first quarter Sunday.
“I think we’re an aggressive team,” Karl said. “I kind of think it’s funny that we’re being called the bully, tough-minded team that last year was labeled the emotionally chaotic, dysfunctional team.”