Month end at work = pathetically un-insightful preview, but you guys are used to those.
Charlotte has been very respectable lately, even accomplishing something the Nuggets are incapable of doing and that is beating the Lakers at Staples Center. However, Gerald Wallace suffered cracked ribs and a collapsed lung in that game. Fortunately he was discharged from the hospital today.
However, the news is not Charlotte coming to town, but Carmelo Anthony returning to the court for the first time since January fifth. Melo apparently has been working out (he looks pretty svelte in this picture) and reports are his shot is looking as good as ever. We will see tonight.
Update: One more quick note. With the return of Melo J.R. goes back to the bench, and hopefully that means that J.R. can soak up some of Dahntay Jones’ minutes. Adding Melo and reducing how much Jones we get should be a pretty good recipe for improvement.
Previous Matchup: Game 7 – Den 88 Cha 80
Featured Blog: Queen City Hoops
And it is…Chauncey Billups. See the complete list of reserves over at Yahoo! Sports.
Congratulations to Chauncey.
The only selection I have a problem with is David West. It is nearly a crime that West was voted in over Al Jefferson. Then again we know coaches are not the best judges of ability. They awarded Marcus Camby the Defensive Player of the Year award when he could not even play one on one defesnse against most of the other centers in the league.
First of all, Carmelo will indeed return tomorrow night against the Charlotte Bobcats.
The Honeymoon is over
Please do not take this post the wrong way. The Nuggets are in first place in their division and that is due to the presence of Chauncey Billups. He has brought the mindset that every game counts and I think that is the reason why the Nuggets have not lost a game to a sub .500 team since he started suiting up. Denver still has the problem of playing down to their competition, but not for all four quarters as was the case in the past.
It certainly appears to me, as an outsider, that he has had a very positive influence in the locker room and from a chemistry standpoint. Against the Jazz the other night Scott Hastings pointed out how J.R. Smith sought Chauncey out, who was on the bench at the time, to ask him a question during a break in the action. The players obviously have a deep respect for Chauncey, as well they should.
Chauncey has also brought some good things to the court. He generally plays very good position defense and is only out of his element when faced up against the quickest of point guards. (By the way, I thought it was interesting that he was matched up against Chris Paul very rarely last night.) He is not shy when it comes to directing the offense. He will direct traffic and work to get Nene or J.R. or Kenyon the ball in a position to score.
I have written this several times before, but when the opposition cranks up the defensive intensity as the game moves along Denver surrenders to the pressure. Instead of increasing their offensive effort and determination, they take what the defense gives them which is long jumpers.
When those times arrive, Denver needs a player on the floor to demand that they change their ways. The fans continuously clatter for George Karl to call timeout after timeout to remind the players to force the ball inside. Karl took a timeout early in the third last night and the result was they entered the ball into Nene in the post and he hit Kenyon who cut straight to the rim for an uncontested dunk. Problem solved right? Not exactly. The Nuggets went right back to their perimeter ways.
At that point Chauncey has to be the coach on the floor. His is the voice everyone will listen to in moments where the Nuggets must respond. The problem is that in big moments his alter ego, Mr. Big Shot, overpowers the unselfish pass first point guard persona that he has developed over the years of bouncing from team to team. My biggest problem with Allen Iverson was in big moments he relies only on himself. I think with AI part of that is from his background. Life has taught him that he is the only person capable of taking care of himself. I do not know what is behind Chauncey’s need to rely on himself more than his teammates.
As I said, we owe Chauncey a great deal for how he has changed this team. However, that does not mean I will settle for poor decision making and look the other way when the same problem continues to nag this team.
Judging by the comments after last night’s game I am not the only one to feel that way.
Melo not the only one missing time
Carmelo has been aiming for a return to the court on Friday. If he does return to play against the Charlotte Bobcats that means the Nuggets will have gone 6-4 in the games he missed. Playing .600 basketball without a talent like Melo is pretty good. On the other hand, it was not only Melo who missed those games. Check out this list:
Miami: No Daqueen Cook – Seems insignificant, but that game was close with 4:00 left. Another offensive threat could have made a big difference for the Heat.
Detroit: No Rip Hamilton or Rasheed Wallace – Denver lost anyway.
Dallas: No Josh Howard – Of course he sucks anyway, but not as much as Devean George.
Phoenix: No Shaquille O’Neal – I would have expected the Suns to win that game with O’Neal on the floor.
Orlando: No Mickael Pietrus – OK, that one is a so what.
Houston: No Tracy McGrady or Ron Artest – Another game the Nuggets lost anyway.
Sacramento: No Shareef Abdur-Rahim – Kidding, only kidding.
Utah: No Carlos Boozer or Andrei Kirilenko – Maybe those two would have helped keep the game closer.
Memphis: No Darko Milicic – He must have been sitting next to Shareef.
New Orleans: No David West or Tyson Chandler – Hornets roll anyway.
Looking over that list do you still feel that good about the Nuggets going 6-4? They only beat three western conference playoff caliber teams in those six wins and all three of those teams were missing former all-stars from their lineup. To make matters worse out of the Nuggets four losses, three of those teams were missing two significant pieces of their rotation.
Winning six of ten games was not a disaster, but it was not a great accomplishment either.
By the way, Denver gets Carmelo back, but Charlotte is playing without Gerald Wallace after his torso was pretty much crushed after a hard foul by Andrew Bynum the other night. The run of injured opponents comes to an end though on February third against the Spurs.
AK-47 under the knife
Andrei Kirilenko is going to have surgery tomorrow (Friday) morning to remove a bone fragment from his ankle.
The Jazz will be without Boozer for another week or so and Kirilenko will be gone a little longer than that. That will make for a tough February for the Jazz, although they do play eight of their 11 games at home, but if all goes well with Kirilenko’s procedure the Jazz will be healthy for the final month and a half of the season.
Eastern Conference All-Star reserves
As good as the east is, pickings are slim, especially at forward.
Center: Chris Bosh – Sorry Emeka.
Forward: Danny Granger – I love his game. He plays D too.
Forward: Rashard Lewis – A much better all around player than he gets credit for.
Guard: Devin Harris – Dallas fans better hope they get something good with Kidd’s expiring deal.
Guard: Joe Johnson – I have always liked his game from the first time I saw him in summer league for the Celtics.
Wildcard: Jameer Nelson – he is playing at a level even Dick Vitale could not have predicted when he was initially drafted by the Nuggets and shipped off to Orlando. He gets the nod over Rondo for being a more capable offensive player.
Wildcard: Vince Carter – I like having flashy players in a flashy game, plus he has not had a recurrence of the “jumper’s knee” injury that caused him to miss time in Toronto. I think we all expected it might come back after the Nets dumped Kidd and Jefferson.
Toney Blare was at the Nuggets/Hornets game last night and has a couple of interesting notes from the game that we could not have picked up on over the boob tube.
Wow, am I embarrassed to be a Nuggets fan after that big turd they dumped on the city of New Orleans in the fourth quarter. I cannot communicate how frustrated I am at that performance without using words that I do my best not to utilize. I guess the best way to express my anger is simply to share that for the first time all season I shut the game off before the end of the game.
In my mind this was a must win game. I honestly believe there is no way Denver can hope to split the season series now with New Orleans unless the Hornets happen to play the last game of the series without Chris Paul. Maybe Denver could pull off a win if David West, Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic are all out, but I bet it would be close.
The thing that really scares me about tonight’s game is that the Nuggets proved that they were not mentally strong enough to win. You can talk all you want about back to backs and how well they ended up doing without Carmelo, but in a game of this magnitude you cannot pack away your brain and lay down like that. For all the excuses Nugget fans can produce I think the fact that New Orleans was playing without their second and third best players trumps them.
With two minutes left in the third quarter Anthony Carter was called for a back court violation. George Karl went absolutely crazy for the first time this season resulting in a technical. Carter’s response was not as demonstrative as he rolled the ball down the floor away from the refs, but the result was the same as he was called for a delay of game, the Nuggets’ second and thus a technical. At that point I figured that Denver was either cracking or they would play inspired basketball. Well, it turns out the call was a correct one and it proved to be the first cracks in the Nuggets’ mental dam break that would occur just a few minutes later. The frustrating thing is didn’t Carter know he bounced the ball off of his own foot? He cannot allow himself to pick up the delay of game technical there.
For most of the night the Nuggets’ offense was inept. If either J.R. Smith or Kenyon Martin were not going to the basket you could pretty much expect a bad shot to be hoisted up. I continue to look for Chauncey Billups to take control of the offense and demand a good shot when things start going down the drain and Denver begins standing around on offense. Instead again he was one of the leading culprits in long range artillery barrage the Nuggets assaulted the basket with. I wanted to throw my television through the wall when with the Hornets on a 10-0 run Chauncey chose to slowly dribble the ball up the floor and, with Peja on him mind you, launch a three. The fact that he was clearly not shooting the ball very well, he was 1 for 4 from long range at the time and finished 1 for 6, only exacerbated things. Instead of deciding to run the offense in an attempt to get a good shoot he switches into Mr. Big Shot mode and becomes a part of the problem.
Name for me another top notch point guard who will take that shot? Chris Paul never would. Deron Williams wouldn’t. Maybe Steve Nash would take that shot, but not as frequently as Chauncey seems to.
The offense was stagnant and lazy and Denver lost this game on that end of the floor.
Denver’s defense was pretty good for most of the night until they closed up shop early in the fourth quarter. They forced Paul into a tough shooting night and only three of his ten assists were at the rim. Most of them came on long jumpers. The Nuggets did a pretty good job containing Paul coming off of screens. They switched a little too much for my liking early on, but in the second quarter they stated to play the ball screens more stoutly as Nene was hedging and Anthony Carter did a good job of fighting over and recovering. They avoided switching as much as possible after the first quarter, but they never ran the aggressive trapping defense that worked so well against Deron Williams and Utah.
We have talked about it before. When a key player or players are out the team as a whole must step up and fill that void. The Hornets played intense defense, they fought for every loose ball going to the floor far more frequently than Denver did, they ran their offense and when open shots presented themselves, they made them.
Sure this was only game 46 of an 82 game season, but we play the regular season to learn things about the teams. Tonight I did not care for what I learned about the Nuggets.
Additional Game 46 Nuggets
In Depth Make Your Head Spin Game Stats
Pace Factor: 89.1 – Slow.
Defensive Efficiency: 105.5 – Not bad, they should have done better with the Hornets missing West, but they lost this game on the offensive end of the floor.
Offensive Efficiency: 90.9 – The lowest single game efficiency rating of the season surpassing the 92.6 they posted against the Magic five games ago.
Hey look everyone my ESPN colleague John Hollinger agreed to put together the game preview for today. OK, Hollinger has no idea who I am, but you should check out his Per Diem article for today to get all the key elements of tonight’s matchup between the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Hornets.
Hollinger is very high on both of these teams and his projections call for Denver and New Orleans to finish second and third in the west with very comparable records. If the seeding holds they would face off in the semifinals and the tiebreaker could determine who has home court and potentially who makes it to the Western Conference Finals. Thus the final two games of the season series, both in New Orleans, are huge games for both teams. The winner of tonight’s game will be assured that they cannot lose the season series as they will be up 2-1 with one game left.
I do disagree with Hollinger’s belief that Chauncey needs to play Chris Paul to a draw in order for the Nuggets to win. Of course Chauncey has to play well, but I think the key to the game is how badly the rest of the Nuggets roster can out produce the other Hornets. Denver has a big advantage at every position other than the point and small forward (although if Dahntay Jones can play solid defense on Peja Stojakovic that matchup will even up a bit as Peja does little if he is not scoring), including the bench.
The two players that worry me not named Chris Paul are Hilton Armstrong, who has had two good performances against the Nuggets in limited minutes, and Rasual Butler who always seems to put up big numbers against Denver. Also, I would also be remiss if I did not mention former Nugget James Posey. In both of the first two games he hit big threes in the last couple of minutes. Hopefully he will not have the opportunity to do so tonight. Even so Denver should be able to control the paint and hopefully as a result, the game.
Your favorite NBA team is only a single solitary game out of the playoffs in a very strong conference despite the fact your two best players have missed a combined 47 games and counting and you respond with this and this.
I cannot say I am not enjoying it though.
The nice thing about playing a team as bad as Memphis is even after mailing in the first 18 minutes of a game against them, you are only down eight. If Denver plays that badly against a good team they might have been down 20 and in need of a miracle to earn a victory.
The turning point in my mind was when George Karl decided to implement a trapping defense after a Memphis timeout with 5:51 left. Whenever Mike Conley came off of a high screen they would jump him and push him back towards mid court. The defensive energy increased from that moment and the Nuggets started forcing turnovers and getting out on the break. In the two possessions after they started trapping the pick and roll they had back to back three point plays off of steals, one by Chauncey Billups and the other by Linas Kleiza.
Before that the Nuggets were just going through the motions on defense as they are wont to do from time to time. They would go through a couple of rotations and then the last guy would be late. O.J. Mayo started off red hot, just like the first time he played the Nuggets and you could tell early on that not only were the Grizzly players looking to impress their new coach, but they were getting that feeling that they just might be able to keep their nine game losing streak from reaching ten.
Denver did take control of the game in the second quarter though and there was only one time where I sat forward on the couch a little bit and that was when the Grizz cut the lead down to four at 78-82 with 7:23 left in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets made sure I could recline once again though as they held the Grizzlies scoreless for the next 5:10 during which time they bumped their lead back up to 18.
This game does not deserve too much discussion. After starting slowly the Nuggets matched the Grizzlies intensity and ended up winning the game rather easily. Hopefully they were able to get the turnovers and bad decisions out of their systems as they will need to put forth a complete effort in order to get a win tomorrow night against Chris Paul in New Orleans.
Additional Game 45 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 101.6 – A very fast pace thanks to the 53(!) combined turnovers. The previous season high for combined turnovers was game six when the Nuggets, and you guessed it, the Grizzlies each accumulated 22 turnovers.
Defensive Efficiency: 83.7 – That is a new single game low topping the 85.9 they posted against, you guessed it, the Grizzlies the first time they played. A big key to earning such a good rating was their blocked shots. Denver blocked 15 shots, if you assume that Memphis would make 40% of those shots that were blocked that is another six made shots and 12 more points. Those blocks also helped hold Memphis to 37.5% shooting, the first time Denver held an opponent to sub 40% field goal percentage since their December 15 game at Dallas. The Nuggets have now compiled sub 100 defensive efficiencies in each of their previous three games.
Offensive Efficiency: 98.4 – The Nuggets actually shot the ball alright making 44.4% of their shots and 39.1% of their threes, but their season high 27 turnovers just killed their efficiency.
Featured Blog: 3 Shades of Blue
The Memphis Grizzlies are in the midst of a league worst nine game losing streak. Even the Washington Wizards only have a three game losing streak. They will have their third head coach in their last four games as Johnny Davis filled in for two games while newly hired head coach Lionel Hollins could psyche himself up enough to jump onboard a sinking ship.
The only thing that worries me is that the Grizzlies will put forth a strong effort to welcome their new leader. Denver has done a great job of not taking the bottom dwellers of the league too lightly and the only loss to a sub .500 team this season remains their defeat at Golden State in the fourth game of the season which was after they acquired Chauncey BIllups, but before they could get him in uniform.
Should the Nuggets start Dahntay Jones and J.R. Smith together the two of them will be responsible for guarding O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay. I would probably assign Rudy to Dahntay and let J.R. try his luck with O.J. Mayo does not shoot very many free throws and plays more of a perimeter game. He has not shot more than six free throws in his last 19 games and he has nearly as many games where he played 30 or more minutes without shooting a free throw (two) as he has games with more than four free throws (three) during that span. I trust J.R. can hang with Mayo without getting into foul trouble. Likewise Gay does not get to the line much. In his 11 January games he has six games where he has shot either zero or one free throws and he has attempted more than five only once.
As long as the Nuggets play with the defensive focus and intensity they brought against the Jazz on Sunday night they will be just fine tonight.
Offensively Denver has advantages all over the floor. Chauncey is too much for Conley. J.R. can score on anyone. Nene should be able to blow by Marc Gasol at will and Kenyon should be able to overpower and out-quick Darrell Arthur.
The Nuggets did have a monkey wrench inserted into their travel plans though as their plane experienced mechanical problems delaying their departure from 2:00 PM yesterday until 9:00 PM. As a result they cancelled their shoot around this morning. They still got into Memphis before they would have if it were a back to back night so I do not think the flight delay will cause much of a problem.
Previous Matchup: Game 6 – Den 100 Mem 90
The Nuggets are flying high right now after downing the Utah Jazz, but no one is higher than Nene today. Both Denver papers have hey, look at how well Nene is playing stories (the Rocky version by Dave Krieger can be found here and for the Post version by Mark Kiszla click here).
Apparently no one remembers this, but Nene showed us what he could do back in 2007. From February through April he posted very similar numbers (look at his splits for those months, they are amazing). Then in the playoffs Nene battled Tim Duncan practically to a draw in the Nuggets five game dismissal at the hands of the Spurs.
Now I am not saying he is the same player today as he was in 2007. Clearly Nene is much more polished and efficient than he was then. His touch around the rim has improved greatly as has his jumper. But for people to act like his play is a revelation that came out of left field is either ignorant or they are being disingenuous to try to play up an angle.
Denver and the All-Star game
I am probably going to take some serious heat for this, I cannot vote Carmelo Anthony into the All-Star game. I think he has just been too inconsistent. His shooting percentage is comparable to his first two seasons in the NBA, which is not good, his rebounding has leveled off after last season’s increase and his assists have dropped off from where they were earlier in the season. Add in the fact he has missed a quarter of the Nuggets’ games and I just cannot put him on the team.
Who would I fill the rest of the Western Conference team with? I am glad I asked.
Center: Al Jefferson – I really want to put Nene here, but the fact is he is the third option on offense for the Nuggets and Jefferson has been carrying the Wolves since he arrived.
Forward: Dirk Nowitzki – Dirk has been amazing even while this franchise crumbles around him.
Forward: Pau Gasol – Another spot to consider Nene and Melo for, but Gasol’s offensive versatility is a huge key to the Lakers’ success.
Guard: Chauncey Billups – I have more moments cursing a decision by Chauncey than I expected to when he first arrived, but his arrival has made the Nuggets a more serious team on and off the court.
Guard: Brandon Roy – When you watch him play you swear you could do a better job guarding him than whoever Roy is abusing, but that is just because Roy makes it look so easy. He is the heart and soul of the Blazers.
Wild Card: Kevin Durant – He has been amazing (look at his splits in December and January) and if you do not want to see him play on this stage, I have to question your sanity. Plus this team is missing a swingman without Melo.
Wild Card: Tony Parker – Gosh I wanted to put Nene here, but I just couldn’t. I am even willing to risk seeing his annoying wife with her doofy puppy-dog-looking-at-a-rubber-ducky-squeeze-toy look on her face over and over again during the game.
Your Top Seeded Denver Nuggets?
George Karl has not given up on catching the Lakers. I may not agree with him, but his aim high attitude sure beats the I hope we can split these four games and as long as we win ten games this month I will be happy attitude we have heard so much of in the past.
Why the Washington Wizards Suck
This is from Ben at Blazer’s Edge (of which I become more and more convinced is the best team centric blog around) who was fortunate to watch the Wizards attention to detail, or lack thereof, before they faced off with the Blazers last week.
It’s difficult to imagine a team caring less about winning or playing the game the right way than the 2008-2009 Washington Wizards.
It started with the most lackadaisical warmup routine I’ve seen this year, starring an assistant coach who was practically begging Nick Young to focus for 5 seconds so he could hit at least 1 15 foot jump shot out of a series of 7. In the co-starring role: 7 footer Javale McGee, who, while practicing complex crossover dribble moves on the perimeter unguarded, was challenged by a teammate to make a 3 pointer for $100. He attempted to take up this bet but, before he could launch a shot, found himself running across the court to track down the ball that he had managed to dribble off of his own foot.
This scene was followed minutes later by another Wizard firmly declaring, “male sperm swim harder than female sperm.”
Later, the crowd was treated to Deshawn Stevenson, who had scratched himself from tonight’s contest due to lower back pain, shimmy-dancing in his seat (through the pain?) during multiple timeouts.
The Wizards committed 27 turnovers, most of them unforced; many were taken the other way for uncontested dunks. They scored 31 points in the first half. They demonstrated a practiced ability to hit meaningless jumpers during garbage time (from the middle of the 3rd quarter on) so that the game wouldn’t look like a complete embarrassment in the final box.
Thank God the Nuggets still have two games against these guys this season.
Additional Game 44 Nuggets
I am going to keep this short so as to avoid going to bed too late to start the work week as I had to watch the replay due to a DVR malfunction. Fortunately the game started at 6:00 instead of the typical 7:00 so the replay was on an hour earlier as well. Anyway, on to the game.
Is there anything more enjoyable than watching the Denver Nuggets pound on the Utah Jazz?
What made it even better was the fact that they played very good defense. The Jazz did score quite a few easy baskets as they tabulated 54 of their 97 points in the paint, but the way they execute their offense you know that Utah is going to score some easy hoops. Do not let the handful of open layups Utah earned take away from the way the Nuggets defended.
The Nuggets defense started off a little sluggish, but once Chris “Birdman” Andersen checked in with 2:50 left in the first quarter they really clamped down. The Jazz run a lot of tight screens and cuts right in the lane in front of the rim. That allowed Andersen to basically guard the rim without worrying about a defensive three second violation. His presence deterred the Jazz from entering the ball in the lane.
When Andersen entered the game Anthony Carter switched over to cover Deron Williams. Williams checked out about a minute later and Carter switched over to Kyle Korver, which is a pretty good matchup for AC.
Carter had entered the game previously when J.R. Smith picked up his second foul with 4:36 left in the first quarter. It seemed like a disappointment at the time as Smith was dominating on offense, more on that tomorrow, but his defense was just deplorable. Utah may be the worst stylistic matchup for J.R. because of the constant motion. He has improved on defense over the past couple of seasons, but he still lacks the positional and spatial awareness needed to defend the Jazz. As we all know Carter is a much more savvy defensive player and he did a more than adequate job on Williams.
It seemed like the Nuggets became more and more comfortable on defense as the game wore on. They did allow the lead to fluctuate in the second half, but the Jazz would never get closer than ten points after Chauncey started the second half with a three to put Denver up by 12. Some of that could have been due to fatigue by the Jazz though too as they played last night in Salt Lake City and reportedly did not get to fly into Denver until today. The Jazz are now 1-10 on the second night of back to backs and Denver is 6-0 on Sunday this season.
That is all for now, but I promise a more in depth post tomorrow including a quote from Chauncey explaining why he will never surpass the franchise record of most shots without a miss in a single game that Nene tied tonight by going 12 for 12.
Mind Boggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 97.3
Defensive Efficiency: 99.7 – That is right, after 18 straight games where they posted a defensive efficiency of over 100 they now have back to back games of sub 100 defensive efficiency ratings. It is one thing to do that against the Kings, but another all together to do it against the Jazz. Plus Denver held the Jazz to 40.5% shooting. That is their best mark in that category since the December 15th game where they held the Mavericks to 34.9% shooting.
Offensive Efficiency: 120.3 – Superb.
Featured Blog: SLC Dunk
Once again the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz face off with both teams missing an all-star. Carmelo Anthony will miss his eighth straight game for the Nuggets and Carlos Boozer will miss his 32nd straight game for the Jazz.
Paul Millsap has put up huge numbers in Boozer’s absence putting up over 18 points and 11 rebounds. They are not hollow numbers either. A quick perusal of 82games.com shows us how effective Millsap has been. The Jazz (Jazz’s?, Jazzs’?, Jazz’?) offensive efficiency with Millsap on the court is 4.9 points better than when he is off the court and their defensive efficiency is 6.3 points better with Millsap on the floor than without him. Boozer’s on court/off court efficiencies pace in comparison to Millsap’s. The combination of Millsap’s net efficiency is +11.1 while Boozer is a -4.6. Millsap’s production has Jazz fans, and probably their front office, wondering if they should ship Boozer out of town by the trade deadline.
The Nuggets have not been quite so lucky in replacing Melo. Both J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza have been very inconsistent in his absence. Both had great offensive games against the Sad-ramento Kings. Hopefully they can both build on those performances.
From a matchup standpoint I think I would like to see Nene guard Millsap as I think he might be a little too strong for Kenyon. I think Kenyon is also better suited than Nene to cover Okur when he is on the perimeter. Okur does have an underrated post game though and Kenyon would have to make sure he keeps Okur from getting good position when he goes down to the block.
Deron Williams has typically had big games against the Nuggets. The scuttlebutt is that Dahntay Jones will return tonight from his slightly separated shoulder he suffered during warm-ups against the Kings (and the same article says Melo is shooting without pain and should hit his goal of playing Friday against the Charlotte Bobcats). If Jones returns to the starting lineup look for him to guard Williams. He has done a good job of playing physical defense with Jose Calderon and Chis Paul and hopefully he can do the same against Williams.
The Jazz played a tough game last night against the Cleveland Cavaliers and they continue to struggle on the road. Even George Karl has give his blessing on calling tonight’s January matchup a big game (although he did not actually call it a big game himself). If the Nuggets lose tonight they basically have no chance at winning the tie breaker or even just splitting the season series.
Oops, I forgot the links that no one ever clicks on…
Featured Blog: SLC Dunk
Previous Matchup: Game 1 – Den 94 Utah 98
As a Denver Nuggets blogger I realize that I will probably not get a lot of Nuggets fans bookmarking my blog and coming back for more if I make a habit of defending George Karl. Nevertheless, I think he is being unfairly skewered by fans for some comments he made to the Denver Post. And I am nothing if not a man who will fight for justice.
George said the following in the aforementioned Post article:
“I’m not a zone guy,” Karl, a man-to-man master, admitted. “I think you should have one out there, but I don’t know how it works or why it works — but I know it does work. At least in man-to-man, when something goes wrong, we know who made the mistake and I can yell at someone or direct someone. In zone, I don’t have any idea.
“I don’t know exactly where we’ll go with it, but our basketball I.Q. is stronger than it was last year — and our size is bigger — so maybe we can tinker with matching man-to-man and zone in the same possession.”
A lot of those who have read that quote are going crazy about Karl saying he does not understand how or why the zone works. You can be rest assured that George Karl knows the principles, strengths and weaknesses of a 2-3 zone defense. It is somewhat of a gimmick defense in the NBA. The only coach I ever remember anyone ever saying was successful in creating original and effective zone schemes was Flip Saunders when he was in Minnesota. Zone defenses have so many gaps and holes in them it is kind of surprising when they are effective at the NBA level.
The comment about not knowing who to blame for a breakdown may sound ignorant, but I can see where he is coming from. In a straight zone defense no one is responsible for any single opponent. If a guard catches a swing pass and the weak side guard catches a pass, drives down the lane and scores over whoever is playing in the middle of the back line who is responsible for giving up the bucket? Was it the guard who was not able to recover from his help position and choke off the penetration? Was it the big in the middle for giving up the basket? Was it the weak side forward for not helping on the drive? There is a collective responsibility and thus as Karl said, no single player to instruct.
The article starts off by saying that Karl is not a zone guy. At the NBA level I am not either. Show me which one of the top defensive teams in the NBA play zone defense? When you play good team man to man defense there is no need to play zone. None at all. As a side note the Nuggets did indeed play a couple minutes of zone defense in one game (I think it was against the Pistons, but cannot remember for sure) and it was not terrible, but it was not very effective either.
The interesting part of the quote above was where Karl talked about mixing man and zone together. If he is talking about what I think he is I am on board. How can you play man to man and zone? It sounds like a contradiction, but you can run a man to man defense and utilize zone principles. The first time I have really noticed this tactic was when the Celtics started running it last season (and oh by the way, they were statistically one of the best defenses ever last season). Since then I have seen the Nuggets run it from time to time, but primarily against dominant perimeter players.
Instead of trying to explain it to you with words I have put together a little video segment so that you can see it in action.
As Karl noted in the Post article the Nuggets have good size and athleticism and this style of defense is ideal for their personnel. This style of defense can help reduce the danger of penetration from the wing as well as slow down the pick and roll. This is not a new concept for the Nuggets, but they have not used it much this season. If they can put it into practice along with their improved rotations and overall awareness from earlier in the season they have a chance surpass the defensive standard they set during the first month of the season.
I tend to get a little too game recap heavy during the season. Now with the Nuggets not playing until Sunday and the All-Star break coming up in three weeks we will have some open days to look at some deeper issues.
We are more than halfway through the 20080-09 season. Denver has already surpassed all preseason expectations, but how far can this team really go? In almost any style of power ranking you can find whether it be stat based or intuitive the Nuggets are always hanging around in the vicinity of the top five. It seems to be a real possibility for this team to be a participant in the Western Conference Finals for the first time since the 1984-85 season.
At this point in the season the general consensus is this version of the Denver Nuggets is much better than last season’s squad and some have said that they are the best Nuggets team we have had the pleasure of cheering on in 20 years. In fact I am pretty sure I have said that myself, but is that really true? Are we watching a special Denver Nuggets squad or are we heading towards another first round flame out?
There are two primary reasons why most of us consider the Nuggets to be a much improved team. One is their supposed increased dedication to defense and the other is the return of Chauncey Billups playing the role of conquering hero. Let’s take a look at these two presumptions.
The Nuggets began the season with a vigor and attention to detail on defense that had been lacking in previous seasons. For the first month or so of the season they were statistically one of the top defensive teams in the NBA. They regularly held their opposition to a shooting percentage of below 40% and there were several games you could point to where the Nuggets won with their defense. It really seemed like something had clicked with the team and they were going to go from a mediocre defensive team to a very good, if not great, one.
However, it has been a while since you could say that the Nuggets won a game with their defense. It has been 19 games (December 15, 2008 at Dallas) since they held a team to below 40% shooting after accomplishing that feat nine times in their first 24 games. Over those 19 games their defensive efficiency is a putrid 112.2. That would place them as one of the bottom five defensive teams in the NBA. Denver has allowed their opponents to shoot 47.2% over those 19 games. Once again, that would put them near the bottom of the league.
Things look even more bleak when you compare this team to last seasons’ squad which was a team that could not slow down, let alone stop, a quality offensive team when it mattered most. This season Denver is holding their opponents to a lower shooting percentage (44.4% to 45.7%), but their defensive efficiency is actually worse (107.0 to 106.3). When you consider the downward trend the Nuggets are on it seems laughable to consider them a stout defensive group. That supposition seems to be as accurate as a Linas Kleiza pass into the post.
The second presupposition that has led us to believe the Nuggets are improved from last season’s version is the presence of Chauncey. We all know his resume. He is Mr. Big Shot, the former NBA Finals MVP. His presence in the locker room demands respect and his play on the court is regularly phenomenal. Denver raced out of the gate once he arrived winning 16 of Billups’ first 20 games back in the Mile High City and the NBA took notice. Could those 20 games have misled us?
Chauncey has definitely made a mark on the Nuggets, but it has not been the mark we expected. Billups was supposed to raise the Nuggets defense to another level and early on he did. The funny thing is Chauncey’s impact has actually made this team more of an offensive force than a defensive one. The Nuggets offensive efficiency has been steadily climbing throughout the season. During those 19 games where their defense has fallen apart their offensive efficiency has been a stellar 112.5. As bad as their defense has been is how good they have been on offense.
I think we all hoped adding a “true point guard” in place of a ball dominating shooting guard was going to help improve the Nuggets offense, but I do not think anyone expected this much improvement. Even so, there have been a few issues that are cause for concern, the most significant one being recent stretch of games where the Nuggets have become strictly a jump shooting team in the second half resulting in the evaporation of some pretty big leads. Even so Denver’s offense has been very good, but I do not believe it is good enough to carry them past the first round as long as their defense resembles a sieve.
There are a couple of other reasons why some of us have prematurely put the Nuggets in the upper echelon of teams one of which is their apparent ability to pull out close games. The problem with using close wins as a barometer is there is not one person who studies this stuff in a logical fashion who believes that teams can consistently pull out wins in close games. Over time nearly every team will lose as many close games as they win. The Nuggets may continue to pull out more than their fair share of close games, but to expect it may be somewhat naïve.
Another reason why I think the Nuggets may be a tad overrated after the first half of the season is due to preseason prognostications that had Utah as an elite team, Portland as a contender and Denver chasing ping pong balls. Utah has not been as dominant as most expected even though they have the very same record after 43 games this season as they did last season, 25-18, making them seem to be somewhat of a disappointment. The Trail Blazers have been very good, but are not the dominant team some projected them to be. The fact that Denver leads the Northwest Division when no one saw it coming before the season started makes them seem like a bigger success than they actually are.
Right now the Nuggets have a 28-15 record. At this point last season they were only two games worse at 26-17. Denver’s projected win total based on their current scoring margin is 50.4-31.6. Rounded off that equates to 50-32 which is also known as their record in 2007-08. I am afraid the closer you look at it this season’s team is looking more and more like last season’s right down to the slow season long fade on defense.
This post may come across as pessimistic and disappointing. We all want to believe that we are witnessing a special season. Please know I am not saying to give up on the season or that Denver is destined for their sixth straight first round exit. The Nuggets have proven they can play quality defense. The fact that they have improved significantly on offense, even with Carmelo missing a handful of games and fighting through a poor shooting season by his standards, is encouraging. If they can just recapture the defensive focus and style that they began the season with, they will be deserving of the lofty rankings they are receiving from fans and media alike. However, to do so they must get back to pressuring the ball, challenging shots and actually working to stop the pick and roll. No more switching or allowing the dribbler to do what he pleases after coming off the screen.
Denver has the talent and personnel to be a Western Conference Finalist, but they are dangerously close to the blueprint they laid out in previous seasons that resulted in five straight first round exits. How far they go will depend on recapturing their defensive esprit de corps and Chauncey’s ability to demand the offense avoid depending on jumpers when the going gets tough. I have no idea if they can get back to playing the style of ball that lead to many people believing that they are a top six or seven team, but I do think we are in for another entertaining and hard fought second half.
There are numerous ways to defend screens in the NBA. You can trap, show and recover, hedge, lay back and guard the rim or attack and rotate. The worst of all the options is the straight switch although lay back and guard the rim is pretty bad itself. There are some situations where it is appropriate to switch screens such as with two seconds or less left in a game when you just need to make sure you can challenge the shot. Switching nearly every single perimeter screen for an entire game is pure lunacy.
For some reason the Denver Nuggets chose to do exactly that against the Sacramento Kings.
The result was a disinterested defensive effort, mismatches galore, foul trouble for Nene and open shot after open shot for the Kings. Fortunately for the Nuggets after the first 15 minutes of the game the Kings grew board from making so many easy shots and started daydreaming about the end of the season.
The idea behind switching is that you never allow your opponent’s perimeter shooters to be left open coming off of a screen. For some reason the Nuggets version of the switching defense had the opposite effect. Denver’s bigs were so eager to help when a guard was stuck playing defense in the post the Kings were rarely able to work the ball inside. Denver’s guards did a good job of fronting while the weak side help, particularly Kenyon Martin, did a great job of tipping or intercepting the lob. The bad news is Sacramento was able to get open jumpers from fifteen feet and out whenever they wanted. Against a better offensive team Denver would have been lit up.
I have put some clips together so that the Nuggets themselves can demonstrate the folly of switching screens.
If going into the possession you know you are going to switch screens you might as well start off in the mismatch and when the screen is set you can switch into a normal matchup. Needless to say I hope this is the last time I have to watch Denver use this tactic.