I still have a headache a few days later before our first game, but let's see what our usual preview article has to say.
"Last year, Denver went the limit in taking out the Dallas Mavericks because they had no one to match up against Jonte Jones. This year, they draw the Spurs, who they lost every single game to in the regular season, usually by five points or less. The games should be close again.
Paulinho Buboltz vs. Zelipe Gama
Buboltz may only be 20 years old and 5'11, but he plays much older and bigger. For the first time in his three-year career, he started all 82 games and had a career year of 16.3 points, 8.9 assists, 1.5 steals, even half a block a game. He's capable of breaking out for 20 points a game or 15 and 10 on any given night, though he's a better shooter than passer.
Gama, a 21 year old fourth-year from Spain, originally taken at 1.14 by Seattle in 2009, became the full-time starter for the first time in his career this season and was extremely effective, averaging 11.8 points, 7.9 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals. Not a great scorer by any means, but a pass-first PG whose 6'4 height makes his matchup with Buboltz more equal than it seems at first glance.
Ben Gordon vs. Joe Johnson
Gordon finished 3rd in scoring averaging with 26.6 points a game and showed a lot more 40+ nights than we've seen from him than any other year in his career. He plays good defense for a shooter and was voted as an All-Star starter this year, but played limited minutes due to a wrist injury. The big question with Gordon: Can he finally become an Allen Iverson? Denver's title hopes rest on that question.
Johnson averaged 22.6 points a game and is a dynamite passer for a SG, so good he could easily be the starting PG for the Spurs. More importantly for San Antonio's plans, he plays extremely good defense, which will be important as he tries to shut Gordon down. He also has 5 inches on the Nuggets superstar, 6'7 to 6'2, which plays to San Antonio's advantage.
Mehmet Okur vs. Shawne Williams/Julian Wright
The 33 year old Okur showed signs of a lost step this season, but still averaged 12.3 points and 6.4 rebounds. Very good all-around shooter with nice scoring instincts and his 6'11, 249 lbs frame gives Denver a big body to create matchup problems at SF.
Wright, a very good, balanced young SF with nice defense who averaged 12.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and a steal per game is normally the starter, but a strained abdominal muscle makes Williams the temporary starter. Although Williams averaged 10 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks as the Spurs first big man off the bench, the free-agent signee from the Pacers is a definitive downgrade from Wright and the advantage turns into a detriment for San Antonio.
Emeka Okafor vs. Tim Duncan
Okafor was an extremely shrewd pickup by GM Jestor early in the season, giving the Nuggets some more great defense, rebounding and shotblocking inside. Emeka can even score a little and he finished with 11.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and a steal a game in the regular season.
Duncan may be 36 years old and have diminished quite a bit in his skills, but he's still 7', 260 lbs and averaged 13.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in the regular season. His defense is as good as Okafor's and his size advantage over the Denver PF is huge, which will greatly limit Emeka's effectiveness.
Advantage: San Antonio
Dan Jacobson vs. Hilton Armstrong
Jacobson was Denver's greatest offseason acquistion, finally giving the Nuggets an excellent young C. 7'3, 290 lbs, Jacobson is a fine rebounder, an excellent defender and shotblocker and a steadily developing scoring touch, averaging 11.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game in the regular season. The X-factor: He was terrible in his rookie season in the playoffs, averaging just 2.5 points a game in 4 starts. He'll have to shake off those bad memories if the Nuggets want to advance.
Armstrong is one of the more underrated centers in the league. He averaged 10.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in the regular season, yet virtually nobody considers him even in the upper half of centers in the league. At 6'11, 235 lbs, he gives up a ton to Jacobson, so he'll need to rely on Duncan for help defense in containing Denver's monstrous young beast.
Joakim Noah is Denver's 6th man, but he's really there primarily for his great defense. Duez Walker, a rookie, is the first guard off the bench and has shown signs of explosive scoring touch, a real points-generator and offensive sparkplug at times. The Nuggets poured a lot of money into Al Thornton in free agency, but he's been a major disappointment. Shaun Livingston was a nice, quiet move at the All-Star break to give Denver a passer off the bench.
Julian Wright is a terrific man to have as a reserve, abominal pain or not, but the real story here is Chauncey Billups, who averaged 11.1 points and 5.1 assists off the bench and who last year at this time was playing for Denver. His knowledge of the Nuggets scheme and his incredible productivity are big reasons why San Antonio won all the regular season games.
Advantage: San Antonio
This is a big, big series for George Karl. Word out of the Denver organization is that if Karl doesn't deliver a first round victory, even against the Spurs, he's gone. San Antonio is the worst possible draw for Denver, as they have the big guards to shut down the Nuggets and Duncan to help compensate for Armstrong's lightweightness inside. The fact that San Antonio won all the regular season games and the do-or-die factor behind Karl will give the Nuggets a desire to win, but the Spurs are just too well-built to match up against Denver.
Prediction: San Antonio in 6"
Gee, thanks a lot guys. Thanks a lot too, for the NBA, for screwing me over on the All-Star game once again.
Oh well, nothing to do now but to go out and play the games.
36.1% vs 39.7% shooting. Can you say defensive scrum? It says something that Hilton Armstrong was Player of the Game with 15 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks and a steal and Tim Duncan's 14 points and 11 rebounds were the other big highlight. Our lone noteworthy performance: Duez Walker with 10 reserve points. This series has started ugly in a bad way.
Denver 70 San Antonio 80
50% to 53.8% shooting, a complete reversal of Game One. A reversal in the outcome too, as Paulinho Buboltz is on fire with a breathtaking 31 points and 13 assists, Emeka Okafor gets 21 points and 14 rebounds and Duez Walker stays hot with 11 bench points. Joe Johnson played great for San Antonio with 37 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks and Zelipe Gama had 17 points and 11 assists, the 17 points of which were matched by Chauncey Billups off the bench, but we go to Denver with a critical series split. More importantly, we've just proven we can beat the Spurs and on their own turf.
Denver 121 San Antonio 113
An absolutely sensational game to watch, an OT thriller with nice balance on both sides. In a reversal of fortune from previous years, our three big men were the stars for the home team: Dan Jacobson with 18 points and 11 rebounds, Emeka Okafor with 12 points and 15 rebounds and Mehmet Okur with 15 points and 14 rebounds. The Spurs countered with 13 points and 11 rebounds from Tim Duncan, the game's lone 20+ point scorer in Shawne Williams (21 points) and 15 bench points from Chauncey Billups, but it wasn't enough to keep us from seizing the series lead! Hilton Armstrong had an incredible 28 rebounds in the most impressive statistic.
San Antonio 91 Denver 94 (OT)
It's not an understatement to say the balance of the entire series hangs on this game and perhaps it's only fitting that for the first time this series, Ben Gordon breaks out and scores 27 points to go with Dan Jacobson's 16 points and 11 rebounds and Mehmet Okur's 14 points and 15 rebounds. San Antonio's biggest answer was Joe Johnson with 20 points and we frankly won this one far more easily than the final score suggests. We're in the driver's seat at a 3-1 advantage and I couldn't be more thrilled.
San Antonio 88 Denver 95
Houston swept the Kelvin Moody-less Timberwolves as expected, but they're the only sweep in town. A couple other 3-1 series, with all the rest knotted up at 2 a piece.
Back in San Antonio and I'd frankly like to end this series now, to avoid giving the Spurs any momentum back. But they aren't going to down quietly, as Joe Johnson scores 25 and Shawn Williams scores 20. We counter with 24 points from Ben Gordon, 22 points from Paulinho Buboltz and 14 points and 11 rebounds from Mehmet Okur. Unfortunately their bench outscores ours 19-7 and that's the difference-maker.
Denver 82 San Antonio 93
Boston took out Mateen Yeaton's Pacers in five games. Everyone else moves on to Game Six.
If we don't win here at home, we honestly don't deserve to win the series and George Karl wins a trip to coach somewhere else next year, even with Julian Wright back in the starting lineup. Karl knows it and from what I heard later, he gave his most inspiring, most passionate pre-game speech ever in the locker room, even better than in that famous series against the Rockets a few years ago. We come out fired up, Emeka Okafor in particular, who finished with 20 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks. Ben Gordon scored 26, Mehmet Okur continued his great series with 17 points and 11 rebounds and Paulinho Buboltz got two 13s in 13 points and 13 assists. We were absolutely merciless and the best the Spurs could do in response was 14 bench points from Chauncey Billups.
San Antonio 88 Denver 111
Damn does it ever feel good to crush the Spurs so emphatically to close out the series.
A lot of series ended in 6 games. Toronto beat Philadelphia, Detroit upended Milwaukee, Dallas beat Memphis and the Lakers finished off the Kings. Only Charlotte/Atlanta goes the distance and the Bobcats' bizzare lineup finally falls, 88-78 in Game 7 as the Hawks pull off the lone big upset of the first round.
Third straight year in the playoffs for me with Denver, third straight year we're playing Dallas during the postseason. I like our chances.
2006 Golden Scribe Nominee
2006 Golden Scribe Winner
Best Non-Sport Dynasty: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)
Rookie Writer of the Year
Dynasty of the Year: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)