Nuggets ponder their domination of Mavericks |

Nuggets ponder their domination of Mavericks

DENVER ” Now that the Denver Nuggets have won a playoff series for the first time in 15 years, the big question is what to make of their season sweep of their next opponent, the Dallas Mavericks.

Does it foreshadow anything? Reveal something? Mean much at all?

“A lot, it means a lot,” suggested Carmelo Anthony after experiencing success in the playoffs for the first time since leading Syracuse to the 2003 national championship. “Any time you can beat a team 4-0 in the regular season, it sticks with you. I’m pretty sure they’re going to come out fired up with that in the back of their minds. But in the playoffs everything starts off fresh and we’re going to be prepared for that.”

Chauncey Billups said Denver’s domination of Dallas in the regular season means nothing now.

“We had some success against them in the regular season, but they’re a lot different,” Billups said. “They’re probably one of the hotter teams in the NBA right now, in the playoffs. The 4-0 record that we had during the regular season doesn’t count at all. It’s the playoffs. It’s 0-0 right now.”

Billups noted that Josh Howard wasn’t as healthy in the regular season as he is now.

“He’s an All-Star. He’s back healthy and playing really well. I think they’re playing with so much confidence right now as a team,” Billups said. “They’re very well coached, got a great point guard (in Jason Kidd) that can run the show and get people shots and do what he has to do.”

Nuggets coach George Karl, whose team advanced out of the first round for the first time since his 2000-01 Milwaukee club made it to the Eastern Conference finals, sided with Billups, his wise sage who knows a thing or two about playoff basketball.

Denver beat Dallas by 3, 10, 2 and 2 points.

“It means nothing,” Karl said Thursday. “Every game was close. Jason Kidd didn’t play in one game. Howard didn’t play in a couple. They are playing the best basketball. They are a great home team. They’ve won every home game after the All-Star game except for the game that we beat them.

“There is a confidence that comes from winning all four games. But I think we respect how they’re playing and what they’ve done is bigger and more important than thinking about those four games.”

The Mavericks and Nuggets meet in the West semifinals beginning Sunday at the Pepsi Center following five-game dispatches of San Antonio and New Orleans, respectively.

Both teams’ triumphs followed years of playoff disappointments, early exits and roster shake-ups.

Billups, who led the Detroit Pistons to six straight Eastern Conference finals and the 2004 league title, helped Anthony finally experience playoff success after five straight first-round flameouts. Anthony averaged a personal-best 24 points in the series.

“I’m really happy for ‘Melo,” Billups said. “There’s been a lot of pressure placed on his shoulders since he’s been here with him being the best player on the team and pretty much the franchise player and him not getting out of the first round.

“It felt good to kind of help him along in this process.”

Behind Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen, the Nuggets relied on a relentless defense to open up their offense. J.R. Smith toned down his wild and crazy play with some spectacular stretches. Dahntay Jones excelled on both ends of the court while stifling All-Star Chris Paul, the NBA’s top point guard.

And Billups was Billups, setting the tone with otherworldly performances in Games 1 and 2.

Karl said he thinks Anthony, in particular, will play looser now that he’s gotten past being first-round fodder.

Anthony already looks more relaxed.

“I’ve got a gorilla off my back,” he explained.

Advancing to the second round meant a lot to everyone in the organization, but especially to four Nuggets who triumphed over personal drawbacks.

Nene overcame testicular cancer that threatened his livelihood and his life, Andersen bounced back after a two-year drug suspension and Martin’s fantastic year followed a spate of setbacks, including microfracture surgery on both knees and a bad back. Smith came back after a fatal car accident that claimed the life one of his closest friends.

All the tragedies and tribulations were pushed aside for a few moments Tuesday night when the Nuggets rejoiced over their accomplishment that was several frustratingly long years in the making.

“It’s a great feeling,” Smith said.

So great that he broke the cardinal rule of not looking too far ahead, declaring: “I can’t wait until we get to the finals.”

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