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Was this Game 6 of the Hornets' series?...

Nuggets/Mavericks Game 1 Recap...

(Photos courtesy of Denver Stiffs reader Mordecai)

It's official. The Nuggets are now undefeated (I think) when John Elway greets the crowd before tip-off.

With the way the fourth quarter went down, the Mavericks' uniforms might as well have read "Hornets" above their numbers. Similar to what we witnessed in several of the Pepsi Center games during the prior series, the Nuggets starters played fairly even with the opposing team's starters (thanks largely to the best first half of Nene's career) until the Nuggets bench play kicked in and wore the opposition down.

Anthony Carter (yes, that Anthony Carter who continues to get unfairly derided by some of this blog's readers), Chris "Birdman" Andersen and J.R. Smith opened up this game for the fourth quarter rout that did the Mavericks in. Carter's timely steals, forced turnovers, big layups and - gulp - made jumpers were indispensable. Birdman did his usual Birdman routine with a mere six blocks. And J.R.'s fearlessness paid immediate dividends for Denver as he confounded the Mavericks defense with his now routine play of splitting the double team by himself.

Having watched the game in person, I didn't realize that the Mavericks mustered only 13 free throw attempts compared to the Nuggets 36 until I read the box score. In the first half, it seemed like the Nuggets were being strangled by bad calls. But the refs couldn't have been that bad with a 36-13 free throw attempt disparity favoring the Nuggets.

As noted in the Denver Stiffs preview of this series, the Mavericks just don't have the firepower to contend with the Nuggets. That being said, I must admit that there were a few moments during this game where I looked at the Mavericks lineup on the floor of Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry and said to myself: "Geez, all of these guys have finals experience, look healthy and maybe I underestimated them. There's no way we're blowing these guys out." But the Nuggets managed to wear them out nonetheless.

On schedule with Denver Stiffs' 4-1 series win prediction, the Nuggets continue to look damn good after shaking off a rusty start. But it's only one game and these Mavericks have been through worse adversity in the past. Time to focus on what will likely be an even tougher Game 2.

On a side note, I attempted a stop-and-chat with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban whom I had emailed my series preview on Friday. He said he got the email but I could tell he wasn't up for chatting. So I said: "I'd love to wish you good luck, but I'd be lying."

Nuggets/Mavericks Game 1 Preview...

Entering Game 1 today, the Nuggets and their fans must be mindful of how pissed off the Mavericks are at Denver.

Two of their four matchups during the regular season featured controversial calls and heated incidents between players and even the Mavericks owner.

The two teams met most recently on March 27th in Dallas. In that game, Carmelo Anthony (who torched the Mavericks for 43 points, including five in the last minute) missed the second of two free throws with 1.2 seconds left. The Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki seemingly had the rebound, but tripped on Dahntay Jones' foot and never held on to the possession. Furious over not getting that call, Nowitzki and his teammates refused to leave the floor as the fans booed the Nuggets and the refs mercilessly. And earlier in the game, the Mavericks Antoine Wright - perhaps due to an incident from an earlier game with the Nuggets (see next paragraph) - got entanlged with the Nuggets bench and the refs had to break it up. "I don't know what he [Wright] said or how he said it, it's still no right to come into our territory," said Nuggets head coach George Karl after the game.

And in their January 14th matchup at Denver, Chauncey Billups drew a tough call on Jason Terry with just 2.2 seconds left by kicking his leg out at Terry. For Nuggets fans, that was a great veteran move. For Mavericks fans, a non-call. Fair call or not, the ref's whistle gave Billups two free throws to seal the Nuggets' victory. At halftime of that same game, the infamous Mark Cuban vs. J.R. Smith incident occurred when Mavericks owner Mark Cuban confronted Smith for allegedly throwing an elbow at Wright during the first half. The NBA fined Cuban $25,000 for his boorish behavior and again, Karl came to the defense of his player with tough words. "...don't mess with my players..." Karl said after the game and "...after the game, he's an owner. During the game, he's a fan." (You can read the full quote here).

Throw in a three-point loss at Denver in Billups' Nuggets debut and a 10-point loss at Dallas in December, and you can see why the Mavericks may have an extra level of anger/intensity entering this series with our Nuggets.

The Nuggets simply need to be aware of it and not let the Mavericks bait them into bad calls, a lack of focus, unnecessary technical fouls or all of the above. Given that both teams have been off for several days now, I expect a rusty first half as these two teams feel each other out followed by an intense, physical second half that conjures up memories of four rough-and-tumble regular season games.

On a side note, I'm scheduled to appear on 104.3 The Fan's pre-game show at around 11:20am today. Hopefully you can listen in and I'll see you all at the game!