This is the game of the year. It's like Colts-Patriots was for a few years in the NFL - whoever wins this game is probably going to win the championship. However, unlike the Colts and Patriots, we really like both of these teams (this is a Scott and Jon collaboration).
Before each home game, the Austin announcer yells "Get ready to run with the Toros." This makes sense, as the team averaged 100.6 possessions per game during the regular season, but Colorado is the opponent best-equipped to run with them.
The two teams are very familiar with each other, having faced off seven times in the regular season as they jockeyed for position atop the Southwest Division. These were the best two teams in the league this year. Both teams are better at home than on the road, with the 14ers tying Idaho for the best home record in the league at 20-5, though the 14ers have actually only lost four in Broomfield though, as one loss was a "home game" at the Showcase, when they lost a close one to Austin.
We went uber-long today (blame Jon). Scary thing is, game 3 of the championship game is going to be about 4x longer. Luckily, we're amazing writers.
First, the road team, via Jon L:
Overall, Austin's guard play could stand to improve, but the Toros made it this far with a shaky backcourt, in part because Marcus Williams will one day devour us all. Williams handles the ball a fair amount, and over his last ten games he's averaging just under 5 turnovers a game, up a little bit from his total average. He's also a threat to collect a triple double on any given night, as he did in his last regular season game with the Toros.
Malik Hairston continues look like he wants the Spurs to regret dropping him from their roster in favor of Williams. Over the past three games Hairston has shot 55 percent, including 57 percent from long-range. He's also an excellent free throw shooter, and while he's not the quickest defender, Hairston has collected two blocks in each of his last five games.
Dwayne Jones is Austin's main defensive presence, a solid interior defender who's also one of the top two rebounders in the league (it's either him or Richard Hendrix).
After that it gets a little tricky. Where Colorado has multiple scoring options and a deep bench, Austin relies on a few key players and looks for different reserves to contribute every night. It's really gotten to the point where no one outside the locker room knows what lineup coach Quin Snyder will put on the floor. One night Ezra Williams may be out there shooting threes, and the next he's in street clothes while Fred Gibson plays his first D-League game in over a month.
So here are some quick (for me, anyway) notes about players you may or may not see tonight:
Squeaky Johnson is the team's official starting point guard, even though Williams is just as likely to initiate the offense. While Johnson's a streaky three-point shooter, he also does a good job taking care of the ball.
Stanley Burrell is the other guy who plays, more often than not. He's another streaky three-point shooter, and while he's not an elite defender he's a solid one, usually doing a good job of staying in front of his man rather than going for steals.
Eric Dawson has seen some starting looks recently. He's a 6'9" center forced to play out of position half the time, and while he does a decent job backing up Jones, he's not as good playing alongside him. There are stretches where he falls in love with his midrange shot when he really shouldn't.
Ryan Bright may also see some action. He's a hustler who will occasionally rack up steals or blocks, and generally acts like a pest. The Toros play pretty well when he's in the lineup, but most of his skills are as a frontcourt-type guy, and it may be a matter of time before his lack of height catches up with those.
Here's where the grab bag starts. Ezra Williams hasn't played a whole lot in the last month, but he's another streaky three-point shooter who plays well with Marcus Williams. Jamaal Thomas is a solid but real, real skinny small forward who doesn't really produce a whole lot unless he's playing a lot, and even then it's almost a guessing game for when he'll get hot. I didn't mean for that sentence to rhyme as much as it does. Gibson is an athlete who doesn't really do much other than athlete around. Serge Angounou has a nice looking jumper, but he's a 6'8" center who can't stay on the court for very long without fouling. I suppose it's possible Ian Mahinmi will play one of these days, but doubtful. If he does, just know he's good, and the heir-apparent to Fabricio Oberto!
And now, for the 14ers, via me:
Of course, as per usual, we're start with my current man crush, Josh Davis (p.s. I think it's mutual. OMG, I swear he winked at me during the last Futurecast!) Anyway, Davis is an all-around combo-forward with experience in the league. He can shoot, he can play inside, he can rebound, he can play defense, he can save baby kittens from really tall trees, he can spell 'loser'. In his first playoff game, Davis finished with 35 points and eight boards, proving to be a ridiculous matchup issue.
Dominique Coleman is next, but only because Jon threatened to quit if we didn't both fall in love with 'Nique. Coleman's another do-a-lot type of player. What can't he do? Make great decisions shooting-wise. Not that he's not a good shooter, he is, but sometimes I'd rather see him not take every shot just because he's open. He can rebound very well, as he had a game high 13 against Erie, to go along with his 19 points. He also is excellent on defense. Malik Hairston, watch out.
Next up, Eddie Gill. I never fell in love with his game, personally, but there's probably not many point guards that could run this offense better, and none in the D-League. He's the smartest point guard in the D-League and can still get up and down the floor, even if he is as old as Mae Young. His lone downfall is his shooting from the field, but a lot of his misses come when he gets trapped on the drive and just kind of flips it up rather than turn it over.
Billy Thomas is a shooter. Once again, he's rather old (he played for Kansas before they were known for being upset) but he gives Colorado another smart vet on the floor that can D up. He's not going to fill up the box, but he will shoot like nobody's business. Once in awhile, he'll make it.
Joe Dabbert's going to have some trouble defending Dwayne Jones. Dabbert's a vet, he's crafty, he wears a shoulder bandage, he's not the 6'10" he's listed at. He'll frustrate Jones, possible getting him in foul trouble with a couple charges taken, but only because Jones should notice right off the bat that he's the strongest guy on the court.
Sonny Weems, yes, he of the NBA, comes off the bench for Denver. He has hops. He can score. He plays defense. There isn't really a part of his game I'm down on - he's basically in the D ust to polish up rather than watch the Nuggets play every night.
John Lucas is the best back-up point guard in the D-League. Bar none. He's pretty small, but is a good change of pace that's recently spelled Gill and got hot from beyond the arc. It should be fun watching him and Squeaky go at it.
Trey Gilder is NBA draft eligible. Indications are, he'll get drafted. He's a long, wiry 6'9, 126 pound ball of energy, throwing down alley-oops when he gets the chance. He's a pretty good rebounder, but it's because he relies more on his length and athleticism as opposed to getting good position and boxing out.
They also have three other players on their bench, but we probably won't see them tonight. One of them is Kentrell Gransberry though, and he Twitters. His name - Badazzazzz - Discuss.