Rapper DMX once proclaimed in verse, "One more road to cross, One more risk to take, Gotta live my life...like there's one more move to make." The Nuggets put their basketball lives on the line once again tonight as the series has shifted back to Utah for Game 6. One more road to cross ... one more move to make: win in Utah and force Game 7!
Last night the San Antonio Spurs became just the fifth No. 7 seed in NBA history to win a first-round playoff series with their 97-87 Game 6 win over the Dallas Mavericks. The similar story line with the Denver/Utah series: The Spurs were up 3-1 (like the Jazz were), the Spurs got handeled in Game 5 on the road (like the Jazz), but then the Spurs took care of business on their home floor in Game 6 (like the Jazz will look to do tonight).
After the game, Nuggets Nation's favorite player (ha!) Manu Ginobili said the game was a Game 7 for the Spurs and they played like, "There was no tomorrow." The Nuggets should expect to see the best of what the Jazz have to offer tonight as Utah will no doubt play like this is their Game 7. If the Nuggets can withstand, match and then overwhelm the Jazz then they will force a real Game 7 at the Pepsi Center. Far easier said then done, especially in Utah.
With the Jazz wanting no part of coming back to Denver for said Game 7 let's take a look at what the Nuggets must do tonight (with random quotes!!) in order to push this series to the most exciting game in sports ... GAME 7. (Have I mentioned Game 7 enough? Let's focus on Game 6).
Lucius Washington: "Okay, we have got to get that car back onto the race track or our sponsors are gonna shit a chicken. Now I'm gonna ask you: do any of you guys wanna go fast?"
Ricky Bobby: "I wanna go fast!"
The above quote from Talledega Nights sums up what the Nuggets and Ty Lawson do best ... go fast. You could see Adrian Dantley and his staff in the role of Lucius as they got the "car" back onto the track with a game plan to play quick in Game 5. Lawson plays the role of Ricky Bobby as he always offers to "go fast" and creates the biggest advantage for the Nuggets against Deron Williams. Lawson was more aggressive with his own shot in the last game and he must continue to shoot with confidence and take shots if he's open. If his defender can't sag off of him, by respecting his shot, then he'll be free to just blow by them and either set up his teammates or get to the rim. This worked for the Nuggets in Denver and the staff must continue to push the team to go fast.
Zohan: "You know, you shouldn't jump around when this nice woman is holding a sharp pair of scissors. If you move she could slip and slice your jugular vein, on accident. There is no way to stitch the jugular. All of your blood will be on the floor in four minutes. I have seen this. I have done this. You don't want this."
I admit ... I'm reaching on this quote because I wanted to make the "You Don't Mess with the Johan" reference, but bear with me. Johan Petro has shown that he can be a productive player for the Nuggets. He stepped in and played admirably for Kenyon Martin during the regular season and now Petro will be asked to step in and replace Nene (who thankfully only has a sprained left knee and could possibly play in Game 7) and perhaps provide Chris "Birdman" Andersen with a little rest as well. The Jazz should be careful because Petro has the ability to cut the jugular with a different style than any other Nugget big.
It was sad to see Nene go down as he's been very healthy (from a major injury standpoint) the past two seasons playing in all 82 games this season and in 77 games last season. Tonight's game will be the first one Nene has missed all season, the Nuggets don't have experience this year dealing with Nene's absence so it'll be interesting to see how Dantley uses his rotation and how the players respond without their best inside offensive big man presence.
Petro played 20 minutes in Game 5 and scored 4 points, grabbed 6 rebounds (one huge offensive tip in) and had a block. Petro also committed 4 fouls and had 3 turnovers in his extended stint on the floor. It'll be important for Petro to stay out of foul trouble (good luck) and continue to use his incredible length to bother Carlos Boozer and whoever else he asked to defend. Petro's size also allows him to get to a lot of rebound attempts and his active motor and athleticism were nice to see at Pepsi Center on Wednesday. Plug in players, like Kyrylo Fesenko, can give their teams some new life and Petro will be thrust right into a key role tonight. Fesenko is no doubt bigger than Petro, but both guys lack killer offensive moves so it'll be an interesting battle down low.
Sidenote: It seems that K-Mart likes to get on Birdman and can often be heard yelling at Bird on the defensive end. I noticed last game that Melo likes to be vocal with Petro (not always kind words) and you don't see Melo getting too vocal on the floor, but it has been good to see him get on guys this season in a more vocal way on the floor.
This was my favorite quote from The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights. Kimbo is not the best UFC fighter around, but he can be deadly and he can end things quickly with just once punch. The same can be said for the role players in this series. If J.R. Smith, Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Wesley Matthews, C.J. Miles, Kyle Korver or somebody else catches fire they could be the difference maker tonight and could make the other team a "done dotta."
Smith has transformed into Swish just twice in this series. He scored 20 points in Game 1 and 17 points in Game 5, but in games 2, 3 and 4 Smith was practically a no-show. The Nuggets will need him to show something he has been lacking throughout his career ... consistency. J.R. transformed into Swish in Game 5 as he hit 4-5 from downtown. Typically Smith's hot shooting night means he'll cool off in his next game and the Nuggets can't afford that.
"The idea is not to block every shot. The idea is to make your opponent belive that you might block every shot." -Bill Russell
No, this isn't specifically for Birdman, although I guess it probably should be. I'm speaking more towards the Nuggets contesting each and every shot. Make the Jazz think and feel your presence on every single shot. Tonight I watched the Blazers, Suns, Spurs and Mavs hit shot after shot where players were left wide open. I still don't understand how guys get so wide open on corner threes, but I guess it's a part of the game. It would seem to me that if you stayed with your guy and didn't get suckered into the lane on drives (what are you going to do anyway if you do get sucked in? Reach in for a foul?) then you wouldn't have to watch your man bury open shots, but everyone falls for it.
In this series the Nuggets have been getting killed inside on open layups, the Jazz have gotten plenty of offensive putbacks when the Nuggets clear out of the lane trying to block shots and Carlos Boozer is living around the foul line hitting open jumpers. We saw in Game 5 that when Boozer works off the dribble his success rate isn't quite as high. On two particular plays ... Boozer attempted to back in and drive the lane, but lost control of the ball and fell down. On another play Petro ran at him and disrupted his natural catch-and-shoot rhythm causing Boozer to miss the jumper. Denver has given the former Duke forward and Cavs traitor far too many open looks from his favorite spots and that must change tonight. Just a little more closing on Boozer mixed with Petro's size and we could have a nice combination.
ELAINE: Who's faking?GEORGE: Nothing.ELAINE: Faking what?GEORGE: Nobody's faking.ELAINE: Ah! Orgasm?GEORGE: She's not faking!ELAINE: How do you know?GEORGE: I know. I can tell. It's one of my powers. Why, did you ever fake?ELAINE: Of course.JERRY: Really?GEORGE: You faked?ELAINE: On occasion.JERRY: And the guy never knows?ELAINE: No.JERRY: How can he not know that?ELAINE: Because I was gooood.JERRY: I guess after that many beers he's probably a little groggy anyway. (Jerry and George laugh)ELAINE: You didn't know.JERRY: What?ELAINE: You didn't know.JERRY: Are you saying...With me? ELAINE: Well...JERRY: You faked with me?ELAINE: Yeah.JERRY: You faked with me?ELAINE: Yeah.JERRY: No.ELAINE: Yeah.JERRY: You faked it?ELAINE: I faked it.JERRY: That whole thing, the whole production, it was all an act?ELAINE: Not bad huh?JERRY: What about the breathing, the panting, the moaning, the screaming?ELAINE: Fake, fake, fake, fake.JERRY: I'm stunned, I'm shocked! How many times did you do this?ELAINE: Uuuhm, all the time.JERRY: All the time?!
Ah, the legendary faking it Seinfeld dialogue. The NBA is full of floppers and every player in the NBA has a little trick or two up their sleeve to draw fouls ... whether a foul occurs or not. But the Utah Jazz, led by Deron Flopilliams, have turned things up a little bit in this series. Last season in the playoffs the Nuggets had to deal with Chris Paul throwing himself all over the floor and this season Flopilliams has incorporated major acting into his "game" in this series. Flopilliams has done a good job getting to the foul line as he leads all playoff players with 12.3 free throws per game and 61 attempts in the series (compared to Melo's 47 attempts and 9.4 per game). The Nuggets have to get back after made buckets and not allow Flopilliams to go coast-to-coast for And1 plays.
Also, the Jazz, instead of going for blocks, take charges when the Nuggets drive the lane. I can't blame Utah here because they virtually have no shot blockers. The Nuggets must continue to bull their way into the paint, but when they get there - a smart pass or change of direction must be made and contact must be avoided. The Nuggets have not done a great adjusting to the Jazz taking charges, but they must be aware of it tonight. In Game 5 the Nuggets did a little bit better of a job of avoiding offensive fouls, but they continue to plague the team and disrupt momentum and key possessions.
Sandy Lyle: "All right, we all need to look into our hearts and go, "Do I think this dude is gonna die in a few years or not?" Is old Leland here gonna fight off a man... who goes by the last name "Reaper," first name "Grim"? Or will this BASE-jumping, crocodile-wrestling, shark-diving, volcano-luging, bear-fighting, snake-wrangling, motocross-racing bastard die?" (if you haven't seen this ... click here for hilarity)
Along Came Polly, a very good ... bad movie! Right up my alley. Who better to close this preview out than a great Philip Seymour Hoffman character? It's all said above ... are the Nuggets going to fight off the Jazz? Are the Nuggets going to dodge the Grim Reaper trying to end their season? We'll find out soon enough.
Just one more road to cross ...
Photos courtesy of AP Photos and Getty Images