Tell me you weren’t freaked out when the Kings were up 34-24 early in the second quarter. Denver was coming off of a very frustrating loss the day before and they looked flat and disinterested. I kept thinking to myself that they could not let Houston beat them twice. I wish I could say all of a sudden they cranked up the defensive intensity and just blew the Sacramento Kings out of the building, but I cannot. While they did blow the Kings away finishing the second quarter on a 33-13 run, but it was not because of their defense.
The Nuggets chose to switch almost every perimeter screen all night long and the result was mismatches and a fast start for the Kings. I realize there may be some readers who are new to my blogging after the introduction of the ESPN/TrueHoop Network so I will make sure everyone understands from the get go that I hate switching screens for the sake of switching screens. Why a team would ever intentionally create two defensive mismatches for themselves makes no sense to me. It makes even less sense than my wife buying a bunch of clothes for my daughter and then getting upset that we do not have any money. It also fosters a lazy attitude and I think it was a big reason why the Nuggets came out lacking energy.
Getting back to our 34-24 conundrum the key to the Nuggets rally was that the Kings flat out went ice cold from the floor. After earning their ten point lead the Kings missed eight of their next nine shots. Almost all of those nine shots were open jumpers. I cannot credit the defense with that change in events, but the flurry of misses by the Kings was all it took to get the running game going. As the offense began to put the pressure on Sacramento the defense slowly came to life. Denver began playing with more enthusiasm on defense and by the end of the quarter they began clicking on both ends of the floor.
The key to Denver’s ability to switch screens and overcome the self imposed mismatches was the guards did a great job of fronting the Kings big men and the Nuggets’ weak side big was always ready to help on the lob pass. On the rare occasions when Sacramento did get the ball inside the Birdman was ready to swoop in and challenge the shot. A dominant shot blocker will always alter many more shots than he actually blocks and that was true tonight for Andersen. He was credited with three blocks, but continually forced the Kings into taking shots at awkward angles and having to release the ball when they were not comfortable (either too quickly or too late when they were on the way back down to the floor).
As nice as it was to finally see a game where the Nuggets pretty much clinched a win well before the end of the third quarter I am afraid that all they did was what they were supposed to do. However, Denver once again took care of business against a non-playoff team and hopefully built some confidence up for their showdown with the Hated Utah Jazz on Sunday.
Holy crap, what am I going to blog about until Sunday?
Additional Game 43 Nuggets
- Dahntay Jones managed to separate his shoulder in pregame warm-ups (Chris Tomasson of the Rocky Mountain News shares that he “banged into someone”), but the silver lining to that cloud was that the Mythical Hustle Creature of Denver known as Renaldo Balkman was inserted into the starting lineup. I like the swapping of Balkman for Jones (even though the circumstances surrounding the change are unfortunate) as he gives the starting lineup some more size as opposed to when Jones and Smith were starting together. Plus we do not need to worry about watching Jones take 20 foot jumpers. Earlier this season I wrote that it seemed like Balkman was able to be productive no matter how few minutes he played or how many consecutive games he had recorded the DND-CD in the box score. I think I will have to retract that statement as he did not do anything of note in his time against the Magic the other night apart from his three point play immediately after checking into the game. Tonight I thought he posted a similarly vacant performance in the first half. However, he brought all the things Nugget fans have already grown to love about him in the third quarter. He recorded a couple of steals, grabbed some rebounds and once again showed his ability to stalk the rim along the baseline after receiving a great behind the back pass from Chauncey for a nice lay in. Needless to say I am excited about the prospect of seeing Balkman get some consistent minutes at least for a few games.
- J.R. Smith may have turned the ball over six times, but he had a great game. He showed that he can dominate without making a single three pointer. He took good shots, attacked the rim, was unselfish when he was in the lane and was an all around offensive force. The downside was I thought his defense was absolutely atrocious early on and it was a factor leading up to the Kings ten point second quarter lead. Fortunately as the game wore on he was able to raise his performance from despicable to tolerable. Defense aside when J.R. plays offense like he did tonight he is nearly impossible to contain. The turnovers are a problem though and if he can eliminate the silly ones, like the behind the back pass to Kenyon in the first half that sailed out of bounds when Smith had a layup of his own, he will be even more deadly.
- Linas Kleiza continued his savvy offensive play and after throwing up a couple of stink bombs from long range he deserves credit for changing his approach on offense. Tonight he scored a season high 27 points and every single point he scored was either at or near the rim or from the free throw line. The flip side of that coin is he did not make a single jumper all night, but his 11-11 performance on shots in the paint more than make up for it.
- I have been getting more and more frustrated with the play of Chauncey Billups lately, but tonight he seemed to break out of his funk. He was much more aggressive going to the rim and as a result earned eleven free throws. He was credited with only ten shots and it was nice to see compared to the recent games where he was forcing perimeter shots and his attempts were in the high teens.
- Anthony Carter played a very good game tonight. I have always been a supporter of his, but his high turnover rate this season made his play difficult to tolerate. He has turned that trend around as over the previous 12 games he has only turned the ball over more than twice one time. Tonight he was finding open teammates all over the floor and at difficult angles. His line of three attempted shots, ten assists and only two turnovers is as good a game as you could hope to get out of your back-up point guard.
- In the seven games Denver has played without Melo J.R. has been either first or second on the team in plus/minus six times. In fact, he has lead the Nuggets in plus/minus in four of the last five games. Oddly enough in the game he did not lead the team, he was dead last with a ghastly -22 against Orlando. Tonight he was a superlative +32. Even in the Dallas game where he shot 1-14 he was tops on the team with a +7.
- Johan Petro was able to display his wares for us in his first shot at playing in extended minutes as a Nugget. As a result I now withdraw my question as to why he did not see some spot minutes against Yao Ming yesterday. He looked to be physically overmatched against rookie Jason Thompson as he was forced to reach from behind and foul Thompson after getting pinned under the basket on a couple of occasions. He has decent hands and moves well. What else do you want from the last big on the pine?
- Sonny Weems did not show us anything we did not know about him from my little scouting trip to Broomfield, CO to view his home debut with the Colorado 14ers. He showed his ability to get in the lane and his inconsistent jumper. He certainly did not look out of place during garbage time even though he did not score despite getting five shots up in just six minutes of game time.
- Rocky made his half court backwards granny shot tonight. I have always wondered why a mascot intended to entertain kids can get away with such graphic pelvic thrusts every time after he makes that shot. Does anyone else find it disturbing? Do mountain lions have sex in public?
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 99.8 – Pretty fast even for a Denver home game.
Defensive Efficiency: Wait for it…here is comes…99.2! – That is right it is the first time the Nuggets have posted a single game defensive efficiency of below 100 since 1846. Just kidding, it only seems like it has been that long. They actually did it last at Dallas on December 15th. Keep in mind it would have been even better if not for the buzzer beating four point play to end the first quarter and Sacramento scored 11 points in the last minute and a half of the game.
Offensive Efficiency: 118.2 – Very good, even considering the competition.
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