The one and only Vanilla Ice is in town tonight to celebrate the marketing event that is 80’s night at the Pepsi Center. I can get a kick out of Vanilla as anyone, but I would much rather the Nuggets observe December 15, 2008 night.
Why December 15, 2008? That was the last time the Nuggets played defense at the level required to achieve the kind of success we all want for them. That was the night they defeated the Dallas Mavericks with their defense. It was the last time they posted a defensive efficiency rating below 100 and the last time they held an opponent below 40% shooting. The most disturbing stat of all though is since December 15, 2008 they are 1-5 against playoff caliber teams.
Tonight Denver has another chance to reverse that trend.
The one thing that I find encouragement in is the Nuggets have been switching on screens less frequently, but tonight the big men are going to have to really step up and aggressively jump Chris Paul when he is coming off the screen. Last night they were very lax and allowed Russell Westbrook and Earl Watson were able to penetrate far enough that the defense had to collapse resulting in either easy baskets for a cutter (Chris Wilcox) or their shooters (Kevin Durant and Jeff Green). They need to force Paul away from the paint towards the sideline, but still make sure he cannot cut behind them and “split the double team” and drive directly into the lane. It is not an easy task, but it is one that Nene, Kenyon Martin and, to a lesser extent, Chris Andersen are capable of accomplishing.
The Nuggets once again catch a break as Tyson Chandler, who missed the previous game in Denver, is suspended for elbowing Joel Przybilla in the chest last night.
In that first meeting Denver fell behind by double digits in the third quarter and came back to take the lead late in the game 92-89 with just over two minutes left, but then the Hornets got a couple of lucky breaks. After a great defensive possession by the Nuggets Chris Paul made a three pointer from at least ten feet behind the arc and on their next possession after the Nuggets deflected the all away and seemed posed for a fast break it somehow bounced to Rasual Butler who passed to an open Peja Stojakovic for another three that put the Hornets up three. Those six points swung the game back in favor of the Hornets; however, they still needed a three by James Posey with 19 seconds left to pull out the win. New Orleans also needed a 7-8 shooting night from Rasual Butler, a 39.7% marksman for his career. However, on the Nuggets side J.R. Smith torched his original NBA team for 32 points including five three pointers.
The biggest difference between that game and tonight is the Denver Nuggets are clearly not playing at the same level as they were at that point in the season. There is no reason that they cannot get back to that level, but they have to collectively want to.
Previous Matchup: Game 16 – Den 101 NOH 105