2008-09 Game 43: Denver Nuggets 118 – Sacramento Kings 99

Box Score | Highlights

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.

Featured Blog:  Sactown Royalty

2008-09 Game 43: Denver Nuggets vs Sacramento Kings Game Thread

After six straight games against playoff caliber teams Denver gets to face a team that will definitely not be in the playoffs.  However, do not be fooled.  Teams like Oklahoma City, Minnesota and Sacramento are really showing some spunk and Denver cannot afford to come into tonight’s matchup against the Kings with the expectation that they can get a win just by having five guys on the floor at the opening tip.

While the Nuggets demolished the Kings in the first meeting 118-85 do not expect another such blowout tonight.  Sacramento has won a game in Denver each of the last three seasons and they will not be intimidated coming into the Pepsi Center. 

Kevin Martin is back and raining points down upon the opposition like Mark Cuban rains childish behavior upon the NBA.  Since his return ten games ago he has averaged 27.6 points and the Kings have been much more competitive.  Sacramento has lost at Detroit by six, at Indiana by five, against Miami by four in overtime and they beat Dallas by seven.  The only blowout they were subjected to was a 32 point drubbing at the hands of the Orlando Magic, which is completely understandable the way the Magic are rolling along right now.

The other player that frightens me is John Salmons.  He is a playmaker and has had some big games against Denver in the past.  He can get in the lane, has good size and is strong enough to finish at the rim.  I think of him as a poor man’s Brandon Roy and in close games between Salmons and Martin Sacramento is dangerous.

Also, Sacramento has been playing Jason Thompson quite a bit and he had a lot of success against the Nuggets in their first meeting.  Thompson put up a 22 and 11 in their previous game against Milwaukee (on only five shots). 

While I expect the game to be close, Denver should definitely end up victorious.  I fully expect Denver to dominate in the paint as the Kings have no answer for Nene or Kenyon.  The Kings have only won three of their 20 road games this season and had a 12 game road losing streak before squeaking out a triple overtime victory against the Warriors last Wednesday.  However, if the Nuggets play lackadaisical defense for the first half or longer as they have been lately the fourth quarter will be much tighter than it should be.

Featured Blog:  Sactown Royalty

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Sacramento Kings Game Notes

Previous Matchup:  Game 21 – Den 118 Sac 85

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2008-09 Game 42: Denver Nuggets 113 – Houston Rockets 115

Box Score | Highlights

Things in my home that nearly met their demise over the last couple of minutes of the game between the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets:

  • My shoe that I spiked on the floor
  • The wall my shoe hit
  • The light that my shoe almost hit after it bounced off the wall
  • The clothes hamper
  • My television screen after I repeatedly punched Bennet Salvatore in the face
  • Any remaining self respect I may be clinging to

I am very upset at the refs for the way that game was called, especially the fourth quarter, and George Karl wanted to hang the loss on their heads, but Denver just did not make the plays down the stretch. 

Consider these factors:

  • They missed three layups (two of which were completely wide open unmolested attempts) in the last 1:29
  • They missed two free throws with 2.2 seconds left 
  • They turned the ball over 20 times compared to Houston’s eleven

The Nuggets lost the game on defense in the first half and offense in the second.  Really I thought the defense started to improve a little in the second quarter, but realistically the biggest reason for the Nuggets defensive improvement was the Rockets stopped hitting threes.  The Nuggets second half offense once again pretty much folded in the face of increased defensive intensity by the opposition.  Had J.R. Smith not exploded in the fourth quarter Denver might have lost this game by 15.  Even with J.R. catching fire the Nuggets second half offensive efficiency was a lowly 94.6. 

Keep this in mind.  During a game where Yao was in foul trouble and Nene was having a field day in the post Nene did not shoot the ball from the 5:01 mark of the third quarter until there was only 1:55 left in the game.  I know Nene did not stop posting up.

Chauncey has to make sure that Nene keeps getting the ball.  Instead Billups was busy making poor decisions.  In the second half Chauncey was 1-7 from the floor, with four assists and four turnovers.  The four assists sounds fine until you put it into the context of the game.  He notched his eleventh assist with 4:37 left in the third quarter.  He was on pace to finish the game with 16 or 17 assists, but he only tacked on one more in the last 16:37.

Two things I will throw out in Chauncey’s defense are that there were three times I can remember that Chauncey went up for a jumper and was fouled where there was no call.  Twice the defender had a hand on his arm after he swung through and took the shoot (the first two times this season I have not seen that call made) and on another he elevated for a jumper and the defender ran into his legs from behind forcing him off balance in the air.  The contact was minimal, but it was clearly a foul because like a touch on the elbow, no matter how slight, it affects the shot a great deal.  The other thing I will say in his defense was he made a great pass to Kenyon on the last possession of the game that resulted in Martin’s chance at a game tying layup.  I am not sure if the play was designed for Chauncey to take the shot or if he was a decoy in an attempt to get Kenyon open, but it was a great design and was run nearly to perfection although we are left with the realization that no matter how crafty or pretty a play may be if the ball does not go in all is for naught.

The Nuggets let this one get away and I hope that they focus on the plays that they failed to make instead of the plays they believe the refs took away from them.

Additional Game 42 Nuggets

  • When both team’s fans think that the referees were absolutely atrocious you know the refs were either really good or really bad.  I think it is safe to say that the refs were really bad (even though the picture up at The Dream Shake of Yao blocking J.R.’s shot is a poor example of a bad call because before Yao blocked the shot cleanly he definitely fouled J.R. with his body on the way up).  I want to reinforce that I am not blaming this loss on the refs, but I would like to see Nene allowed to slam into his defender the way Yao was today.  I will say that Bennett Salvatore and Violet Palmer should never be paired together.
  • This was not the first time they officiated the same game for the Nuggets this season.  They worked the Memphis game where there were 61 fouls and 83 free throws taken.  Apparently they cannot make their mind up if they want to call everything or almost nothing.
  • Apart from Yao’s 31 points the Nuggets forced him into six turnovers and held him to three boards.  That has to count for something right?  OK, maybe not.  I will say I really miss the stoic Yao Ming from when he first joined the league.  This whiny cry baby version is really annoying.  I think he has been around Dikembe Mutumbo too long.
  • Chris Andersen deserves a medal, or at least a hot fresh chocolate chip cookie, for the way he fought with Yao in the post in the fourth quarter.  Once again he did the best job of the Denver big men in making things difficult on Yao.
  • Denver’s transition defense was just abismal in the first half as they allowed Rafer Alson and Von Wafer to fly up the court to the rim over and over again.
  • Dahntay Jones and Chauncey both deserve some recognition for their steals against Yao late in the game.  Jones ran along the baseline and tapped the ball away on one possession while Chauncey dug it out when Yao came across the lane too close to the elbow where Billups was stationed. 
  • I think we can all agree that Kenyon really has no business trying to cover Yao.  Maybe today would have been a good time to give Johan Petro a couple of minutes against the big man to see what he could have done. 

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  96.9

Defensive Efficiency:  118.6 – Not good, but the 105.1 in the second half was not atrocious.  It is clear as long as Denver continues to go through the motions on defense for at least one half every game they are going to struggle.

Offensive Efficiency:  116.6 – That would be great if it were not for the previously mentioned pathetically inept 94.6 rating in the second half.

Featured Blog:  The Dream Shake

2008-09 Game 42: Denver Nuggets at Houston Rockets Game Thread

The Nuggets have a chance to put the somewhat embarrassing loss against the Orlando Magic behind them as they have a special MLK Day matinee in Houston. 

The Rockets are more banged up than the Nuggets are as they will be playing without both Ron Artest and Tracy McGrady and according to the Rockets’ game notes Shane Battier is battling inflammation in his left foot.  The Nuggets cannot take Houston lightly as they still have some jitterbug guards in Rafer Alston and Aaron Brooks who can play the drive and kick game that has frustrated the Nuggets in the past.  They still have good spot up shooters in Shane Battier and former Nugget Von Wafer.

Wafer has been playing very well since being moved into the rotation on January 2nd.  He scored 18 points in only 12 minutes that night and has been averaging 16.3 points per game since then.  Today he will start his eighth straight game which will also be his eighth career start.

The Nuggets are going to have to close off the driving lanes and the big men will have to work on pushing Yao Ming as far away from the basket as they can.  The Rockets have done a good job of slowing the Nuggets running game as Denver has put up only 13 fast break points in each of the first two games against Houston this season.  Obviously, Denver will also have to work to earn good shots and not settle for the easy jumpers. 

Look for Nene to bounce back from his disappointing night against Dwight Howard.  The last time he was held to single digit scoring he put up huge numbers for two straight weeks.

This is the second time this season Denver is playing in an early game.  The first time in New York they did not seem to be bothered by the morning start time although they did not really hit their stride until the second quarter. 

This is a very winnable game for the Nuggets and hopefully they can put forth a good effort.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Previous Matchups:  Game 18 – Den 104 Hou 94 | Game 25 – Den 96 Hou 108

Featured Blog:  The Dream Shake

2008-09 Game 41: Denver Nuggets 88 Orlando Magic 106

Box Score | Highlights

There were a lot of people who were discounting Orlando earlier in the season because they believed the Magic’s incredible record was based solely on an easy early schedule.  There is no way you can make that case anymore.  Having watched most of their victory in Los Angeles Friday and their relatively easy dismissal of the Nugget last night I believe these guys are contenders.

They receive a great deal of credit for their three point shooting and offensive explosiveness, but it is their defense that really amazed me.  It is easy to say that Denver played a lazy offensive game and did not try hard enough to get into the lane.  From what I saw the Nuggets were trying to get to the rim, but Orlando just would not let them.  Whether it was J.R. or Chauncey they always ran into a wall of defenders as soon as they hit the free throw line. 

The Nuggets inside presence was completely negated thanks to Dwight Howard, foul trouble and poor shooting.  When Nene was in the game he had a very difficult time scoring over Howard.  You could tell he was not comfortable shooting over someone with such incredible physical gifts.  Nene also suffered from foul trouble, but I think all of the fouls that were called on him were fouls.  I did like seeing Nene get in Howard’s face a couple of times, but his game did not back up his bravado.

I remember wondering to myself how the Nuggets were managing to score at all even as early in the game as three minutes into the second quarter when they were ahead 31-29.  When Orlando built up a nine point lead with a buzzer beating heave at the end of the third quarter by Hedo Turkoglu it seemed that it was an insurmountable lead. 

I can handle the Nuggets’ lack of offense by the Nuggets because Orlando simply played stellar defense.  What was frustrating was the way they completely dissolved in the second half defensively.  The collapse was highlighted by Denver’s complete lack of understanding and/or desire to defend the pick and roll.  The guards seemed disinterested in fighting through the screen and the bigs were more worried about not giving up a dunk to Howard than they were about stopping the ball.  Nene was especially guilty as on most instances he never even went near the ball handler. 

The other issue was simply Jameer Nelson’s ability to blow past whoever was guarding him at will.  I have never thought of Nelson as a fast player and expected Billups or Anthony Carter to be able to keep him out of the lane, but he blew by them even without the benefit of a screen.  

There was some discussion in the game thread as to whether or not the Nuggets were on the Magic’s level.  Some thought with Melo we were better, but I have to disagree.  I think you have to put Orlando in the same class as the Cavs, Celtics and Lakers.  They are a very formidable squad.

Even with the loss last night you have to consider this to have been a successful homestand.  To finish 5-2 against mostly playoff caliber teams was impressive, especially considering that they lost Melo for the final five games.  As I wrote earlier the Phoenix win was what made the homestand for me.  That was a good win against a very hot team.  And the fact that Denver was able to hang with Orlando for the first 35 minutes last night was even somewhat impressive. 

Tomorrow Denver faces another tough game, this time on the road against the Rockets.  Houston is even more banged up than Denver as I do not believe Tracy McGrady or Ron Artest are going to play.   Make note of the special Martin Luther King, Jr. Day start time of noon Mountain time.

Other Game 41 Nuggets

  • Halfway through the season Denver is on pace for a franchise record tying 54 win pace and they have a 2 ½ game lead over Portland and a three game lead over Utah.  I also think the second half of their schedule is a little easier than the first half.  Of course, Portland’s might be even easier though.
  • I railed on the big men for their poor defense, but Chris Andersen did a pretty good job hedging on screens and defending Dwight Howard.  He really worked to keep him from getting too close to the rim and he also has the length to bother Howard’s little running hooks he likes to throw up.
  • I would never front Howard.  I would force him to make a move from the post to score every time he gets the ball.
  • One key to the game was Kenyon Martin’s inability to score on the block against Rashard Lewis.  Lewis is a natural small forward, but I have seen him do a good job defending players like Kenyon Martin and LaMarcus Aldridge.  His ability to guard power forwards in the is a huge key to Orlando’s ability to play they style they love.
  • Chauncey Billups scored nine points in the first five minutes of the second half and it looked like he might catch fire and keep the Nuggets in the game, but he did not score again for another ten minutes and he only scored four more points after that.
  • Linas Kleiza continued his strong offensive effort as he was the most successful Nugget at attacking the rim and he appears to have broken out of his dreadful shooting slump draining three of the five long bombs he attempted.
  • Sonny Weems and Johan Petro saw their first action in the closing minutes.  Weems made his first two shots as an NBA player and is posting a team best 35.65 PER.  If he does not end up on the All-Star team it will be a dire miscarriage of justice.
  • Renaldo Balkman saw some minutes last night and announced his presence with authority as he threw down a big dunk complete with a barrel roll as he did a little acrobatic summersault off the rim.  Unfortunately that was the highlight of his night.  He did little to differentiate himself on either end of the floor and even contributed to the jumper happy offense by missing a couple of 17 footers.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor – 95.0

Defensive Efficiency – 111.6 – Not atrocious, but not good.

Offensive Efficiency – 92.6 – Yep, the lowest single game rating of the season surpassing the 93.2 they vomited up in the game against Cleveland in Denver.

Featured Blog:  Third Quarter Collapse

2008-09 Game 41: Denver Nuggets vs Orlando Magic Game Thread

I am not sure if I will have time to put up a preview so here is the post for the game thread.  I will say that Olrando is playing so well right now that you just have to hope they have an off night from behind the arc in order to beat them.  

After beating the Lakers last night in LA hopefully Orlando will roll into town a little full of themselves and take the Melo-less Nugets lightly.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Featured Blog:  Third Quarter Collapse

2008-09 Game 40: Denver Nuggets 119 – Phoenix Suns 113 OT

Box Score | Highlights

For me the Denver Nuggets’ victory last night against the Phoenix Suns made the entire homestand.  The Loss to the Pistons still irks me like a tiny pointy rock in my shoe, but I honestly went into the game against the Suns expecting a loss.  It was not only the fact that Denver pulled out another close win against a quality team, but the fact that they did it with their defense in the second half. 

After a first half that saw the Nuggets lacking in intensity and suffering from some self inflicted mismatches they really worked their tails off in the second.  For the first time in a long time it appeared everyone was on the same wavelength defensively.  They were scrambling, rotating, covering for one another and they really locked down on a very good offensive team.

There was some bad news though as after starting out the third quarter working for good shots, Denver returned to the perimeter dominated offense that was their downfall against Detroit, and almost their downfall against the Mavs.  The two worst instances included J.R. taking a step back jumper with his feet on the three point line with only 39 seconds left and the score tied at 103.  After he had gotten in front of Leandro Barbosa with a shot fake and had nothing ahead of him but unfettered hardwood.  The second shockingly bad shot was a 30 foot three pointer in overtime with the Nuggets up five.  What made it so bad was that there were still ten seconds on the shot clock.  The shot was bad, but what really bothered me was the fact he did not burn more time. 

In Chauncey’s defense, he was not only sick having left shoot around early in the day, but he played a season high 45 minutes.  Mr. Big Shot certainly tried to live up to his name as he hoisted ten threes during the 45 minutes he was on the floor, but he came up a bit short as he only made one.  The sad thing is Billups was 5-8 on two point shots and it looked to me like anytime he had his balance and was not fading he shot very well (from inside the arc that is). 

Orlando comes to town Saturday night and with them comes the chance for a 6-1 homestand and a 4-1 record without Carmelo Anthony.

Additional Game 40 Nuggets 

  • I briefly mentioned self inflicted defensive mismatches in the first half.  George Karl played three guards for much of the first half and when Phoenix went big with their swingmen both Denver found themselves struggling against Grant Hill and Matt Barnes.  One important factor in the Nuggets win was Barnes fouling out with 5:45 left in the game.  As a result Terry Porter went small with Barbosa, Steve Nash and Jason Richardson. 
  • Kleiza played a great game.  He was almost always moving without the ball on offense.  He made crisp, quick cuts to the basket and it is motion like that which can dislodge the defense.  He only attempted two threes and he ran the floor better than any game since his 43 point outburst against the Jazz last season.  I even saw him make a couple of nice defensive rotations.  He certainly played a style that would release him from his slump.
  • J.R. on the other hand had a very up and down game.  When he attacked the rim he was special.  He ended up with seven assists and did a very good job of setting his teammates up for easy looks.  On the other hand, he continued to shoot far too much from the perimeter and I am talking more about long twos than threes.  He shot three of nine from deep, but only shot three of nine from inside the arc.  He forced quite a few 18 to 20 footers that were unnecessary.  He did make probably the biggest three of the game tying it at 103 with 1:23 left that would prove to be the final points in regulation.
  • I also thought J.R. played some pretty good defense, especially in the second half.  He was active and attentive as he made the right switches and rotations.  He also did as good a job as he has all season on cutting his man off on the drive.
  • I cannot ignore the work of Nene and Kenyon Martin defending pick and rolls in the second half and overtime.  They did a great job of not just hedging, but forcing the dribbler backwards or parallel to the rim.  Their attacking style was a big key in holding the Suns down as the game wore on.
  • I swear this next fact is true.  Kenyon Martin and Andre Miller have combined to shoot 45% on their three point attempts this season.  That is almost as amazing as having an airplane float on a river until all the passengers can be safely rescued.
  • For maybe the first time in his career Chris Andersen did not go for a pump fake.  The result?  He forced Grant Hill to travel.  If Andersen can learn to stay on the floor more often he can greatly increase his effectiveness.
  • There was a lot of discussion about Shaq choosing to sit out last night.  The argument was he should play against Denver and then sit out against the Timberwolves because Minnesota is the lesser team.  I think Shaq is handling it the right way.  Assuming he wants to play against Boston on Monday that means he should have sat out last night against the Nuggets and Sunday against the Raptors.  That would give him two days off before the game in Minnesota and then two more days off before the game in Boston.  I do not think you want to get into the game of proclaiming Minnesota is worse than Denver so Shaq is going to sit that game out.  That decision making process will only serve to inspire the team he is sitting out against to play harder. 

Mind Boggling Game Stats

Pace Factor – 100.4

Defensive Efficiency – 101.9 – I did not calculate their second half and overtime defensive efficiency, but at halftime they were over 116. Phoenix only scored two points from 1:49 of the fourth quarter to 1:23 of overtime.  That is more than five minutes.

Offensive Efficiency – 107.3

Featured Blog:  Bright Side of the Sun

2008-09 Game 40: Denver Nuggets vs Phoenix Suns Game Thread

Tonight the Nuggets continue their seven game homestand against the Phoenix Suns.  To preview the game Phoenix Stan over at Bright Side of the Sun invited me to do a little podcast.  (By the way, it was recorded on Tuesday afternoon before the Mavs game so that is why there is no mention of that collapse.)

Update:  George Karl has been informed by the Nuggets front office that J.R. Smith has not been suspended for his elbow jab at Antoine Wright and he will be in the starting lineup tonight.  Also, the same article says Chauncey went home sick from shoot around, but is expected to play tonight.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Previous Matchup:  Game 27 – Den 101 PHX 98

J.R. Smith and His Elbow

I did not really want to post this and make too big of a deal out of it, but thanks to Mark Cuban’s histrionics after the game last night Cuban’s crusade to get J.R. in trouble with the league has been well documented.  Just so everyone knows what Cuban is talking about here is the clip.

As I said during the video, I am not sure J.R. intended to actually hit Wright.  They were close enough that I would think J.R. could have made contact if he intended to.  Of course, he had a horrible shooting night and maybe his poor shooting spread to the point where he was inaccurate with his elbow too.

Offday Offerings – Rainy Day for J.R. Smith

January 13, 2009 is not going to go down as one of J.R. Smith’s favorite days.  He had a hearing scheduled in New Jersey yesterday for a traffic accident.  We wondered if that would interfere with his availability to play in last night’s game against the Mavericks.  Yesterday afternoon word broke that he did not go to New Jersey.  No explanation, just that J.R. was going to play. 

Today news came out that he was required to show up and now has a contempt of court charge staring him in the face.  According to the reports his lawyer is taking the fall.  There is good news here though.  The hearing was rescheduled for February 17 the last day of the All-Star break.  Even if J.R. has to spend the night in jail, which I believe would be the maximum sentence from the contempt of court charge, he can easily be in Philly for the Nuggets game against the 76ers on the 18th.

J.R. may have fought the law and came out on top in that situation even if he pays a fine or faces a night in the slammer for the additional contempt of court charge.

After sundown his night only got worse.  He shot 1-14 from the floor and apparently has made a new enemy in Mark Cuban.  Cuban was upset about an elbow that J.R. threw at Antoine Wright at the end of the half.  I did not notice it during the game, but I went back and looked at it and here is what I saw.  Chauncey took a shot as the clock wound down and J.R. dove into the lane in case there was a rebound.  As he ran towards the paint Wright put both hands under his right arm on his ribs and shoved him.  J.R. then did indeed throw an elbow in the direction of Wright’s head.  The question in my mind is did he intend to actually make contact with Wright’s face? 

The two were in pretty close proximity and I believe if J.R. wanted to pop Wright in the face with an elbow, he could have.  I think the act of the short thrust with his elbow was more of a warning shot than an attempt to inflict harm. 

What will come of it?  I can see J.R. getting fined for the gesture, but I do not think he should be suspended for what he did.  Heck, I make motions like that towards my wife all the time and no one has fined or suspended me.

Fun With Cuban

Cuban has promised to go to the league and have J.R. fined or suspended for thrusting his elbow towards Wright.  There apparently was some back and forth between Cuban and Smith both before during and after the game.  Henry Abbott over at TrueHoop has the concise breakdown of the gamesmanship between Cuban and J.R. from the Chris Tomasson blog post in the Rocky.

Karl was very outspoken about the inappropriateness of Cuban speaking directly with J.R. after the first half and I agree it is a slippery slope.  Making conversation is one thing, but it is my understanding that the rule of thumb is coaches and other team officials/employees are not to speak directly with opposing players.  I remember the night of the fracas in the Garden Karl was upset that Isiah Thomas spoke directly to Carmelo warning/threatening him not to go in the lane after he ordered the code red that triggered the brawl. 

As far as Cuban going on the court to menace the referees after the game, obviously he is going to make a large contribution to the league coffers for that.  My problem is not with him being on the court after the game.  He is not a fan, he is an owner and the rules for fans leaving their seats do not apply to him in my opinion.  To me the problem arose when he lost his mind and acted like a child (or like I was acting in my home when the Nuggets were down four). 

Move Over Horse

Before last night Dan Issel owned the record for most points in a game by a Kentucky player.  In fact, he was second on that list as well.  Today instead of being first and second, his name is now second and third.  Jodie Meeks poured in 54 points at Tennessee to break Issel’s previous mark of 53. 

It is too bad that Issel was passed up for that record, but at least it gets the Horse in the news and people are reminded of what a great player he was.

Birdman – Long Range Sniper

I bet you guys thought I forgot what may have turned out to be the biggest shot of the game on a night the Nuggets won by two.

2008-09 Game 39: Denver Nuggets 99 – Dallas Mavericks 97

Box Score | Highlights

You can talk all you want about ugly wins, but it almost makes me sick that the Nuggets were rewarded in the win column for tonight’s performance.

Before I start railing on them though I have to give a tip of my cap to Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Dahntay Jones.  In the absence of Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza both Birdman and Jones played with energy and most importantly sought out the rim.  If either one of those two do not bring that level of intensity and effort Denver hands that game to their opponent.

Now, on to the skewering.  I swear cheering for this team is like cheering for a dimwitted criminal trying to talk his way out of his web of lies in an interrogation room.  He just keeps digging himself a bigger and bigger hole.  He knows he needs to stop talking and demand a lawyer, but he just can’t stop his mouth from running. 

I was worried at halftime because even though Denver put up 60 points in the first half, their movement and activity on offense was not nearly as strong as it was in the first half against Miami and Detroit.  It was clear if they continued their stretch of second half offensive meltdowns that this one was going to be the Chernobyl to Saturday night’s Three Mile Island.

It seems like Denver gives it all they have, mentally and physically, from the opening tip and then do not have another gear to shift into when their opponent raises their game in the second half.  Look, I understand that the Mavs really focused on choking off the lane in the second half.  That does not mean you stand around and chuck up jumper after jumper. 

(Read this as if Lewis Black was saying it, his voice slowly rising to a slobbering crescendo.)  This is important so try to follow along.  If the ball is stationary and the other players are stationary the defense does not have to do anything to stop you.  When the only action is a weak screen on the wing that the screener slips time after time it is easy to jump the ball handler, stop his progress and then recover.  That is only slightly more difficult to defend than the stationary play.  

When defenses dig in the only thing that can dislodge them is movement, both by the ball and the players.  Every time there is movement every player on the defense must react.  Even just swinging the ball from side to side can create cracks in the defense.  It is not rocket science.  It is not even pre-algebra. 

Yes, the Nuggets need players to step up with Melo out of action, but what the Nuggets do not seem to understand is stepping up is not an individual act.  Chris Andersen did not force anything all night long, but when the opportunity for him to make a play, arose he made the play.  The same goes for Dahntay Jones.  Stepping up is not “possessing the fortitude” to shoot a long jumper when the other team is on a 9-0 scoring run.  It is just another bad shot.

Until the Nuggets bump their IQ up into at least the Forrest Gump my-mom-humped- the-principal-to-get-me-into-regular-school level they are going to struggle.  This is not just a Denver is missing Melo issue either.  They make the same mistake when he is on the floor, but they just do a better job of getting back on track with him in the mix.

Now I may be demanding, but I am not heartless.  Even I am impressed (or maybe shocked is the better term to use) that after putting forth the giant stink bomb that was the second half and falling behind by four Denver ended up winning that game.  The best part is once they fell behind 95-91 they did not attempt a shot outside the paint the rest of the game.  Maybe there is something to be learned by that, eh?

Additional Game 39 Nuggets

  • Denver played pretty good defense and they received a big assist so to speak from Jason Kidd who made J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza look like snipers.  Well, that may be overdoing it a bit, let’s just say they all appeared to be equally capable on offense.   The primary breakdown the Nuggets experienced was on the defensive glass as it seemed the Mavs grabbed almost every shot they missed in the second half.  That was more a result of the need for the Nuggets to run out at the Mavs shooters.  On a couple of occasions a Nugget would run at a shooter and chase him off the line.  The shooter would then step in and another Nugget would run at him.  The result was with two Nuggets having run out of the play and the other three discombobulated Dallas had a big advantage on the glass. 
  • Sticking with defense, after a long stretch of incompetence Denver does appear to be working towards turning things around and getting back to the brand of defense they started the season with.  Over the previous four games Denver is holding opponents to 43.8% shooting and the game before that stretch against New Orleans they played great defense in the first half.  Tonight you could tell there was no lack of effort on D.
  • One thing that has crossed my mind is how much the Nuggets halftime leads are factoring into their second half disasters.  When you have a double digit halftime lead there really are no adjustments to make.  However, in the other locker room the opposition is scheming how to stop what you were doing to beat them.  I would think the advantage would go to the team with clear adjustments to make.
  • One comment I made when we found out Melo had broken his had was that I hoped Kleiza did not fall out of the zone he was in until Melo came back.  Well, I think it is safe to say that Linas is out of the zone.  These things are circular, especially for a player like Kleiza who is not a pure shooter.  You know if he shoots 50% for three weeks there will be a three week correction.  I guess the good news is he is shooting so badly his correction will only last another two or three games.
  • With all the consternation the league has gone through to ensure that the players and the crowd remain separate I thought it was interesting to see Jason Terry jump over the first row of seats and then apparently walk the length of the floor between the courtside seats and the first row of the lower bowl to get back to the bench after a timeout was called.  He may have hoped back over before he made it all the way to the opposite end of the floor (the game went to commercial so I have no idea), but all it would take is one crazy fan to jump out and do something stupid, but then again this is Denver, we do not have crazy fans.
  • In his post game comments Rick Carlisle talked about how they played very good defensively in the second half and they used zone effectively to slow the Nuggets down.  I thought the switch to zone helped give the Nuggets a big enough cushion to hang on and win.  We all know how the Nuggets offense was operating.  When the Mavs went to their 2-3 zone it was like a weight was lifted off the Nuggets’ shoulder.  Denver began to penetrate and get some easy shots starting with a vicious dunk by Dahntay Jones.  Denver ended up scoring eight points in the paint and made two free throws in only seven possessions against the zone.  In fact the only two times Denver did not score against the zone was when Kleiza took a horrible three and drove into four Mavs and turned it over.  As soon as Carlisle called a timeout and reverted back to man the perimeter chucking recommenced.  Do you think Denver scores ten points in seven possessions against the Mavs’ man defense?  Me neither.  Bad decision by Carlisle.
  • With about 4:40 left in the third quarter Jason Terry and Dahntay fell down along the sideline going after a loose ball.  Jones got up quickly and when he stepped over the prone Terry, Jason reached up and grabbed his leg tripping him.  There was no immediate consequence, but the very next play Terry had a break away layup and missed it.  Hmmmm.
  • I almost soiled myself when Karl put Kleiza in the game after Martin fouled out with 2:50 left in the fourth quarter.  It was especially egregious when you consider that Andersen was arguably the Nuggets best player on the court tonight.  Between the time Kleiza entered the game and the time Karl finally replaced him with Andersen at the 1:25 mark Denver was outscored six to two and LK hoisted one final terrible three pointer and committed a foul.  Did I mention he was put in the game to guard Dirk?  Inexplicable.
  • For fans who think Karl does not call enough timeouts I give you the other end of the spectrum.  Rick Carlisle burned so many timeouts in the first half in frequent attempts to halt the Nuggets’ momentum he did not have any left at the end of the game. 
  • I thought the strategy the Nuggets attempted to employ on Chauncey’s last free throw with 2.2 seconds left was interesting.  As we just mentioned, Dallas had no more timeouts.  A one point lead was probably as good as a two point lead because they would have to go the length of the floor to score.  In all likelihood Dallas would not even get the chance to shoot a two pointer simply because there was no time.  Chauncey knew that a three pointer would beat them whether he made his second free throw or not so he planned on missing his second free throw which would require the Mavs to burn clock while they gather the rebound and either turn to head up the floor or pass.  The funny thing is Billups made the free throw rendering this entire analysis of his second free throw moot.  Sorry you had to read about it.
  • One last thing.  Of course I must address the controversial call that sent Chauncey to the line to win the game and left Mark Cuban contemplating a homicide that would have been deemed a crime of passion.  My thought is that, yes, Billups kicked his leg out.  Kicking a defender to draw a foul is now a foul on the offense (if only that was the rule when that ninny Reggie Miller was in the league).   If you watch the play Terry made contact with Chauncey’s hip, not his leg.  It was not a lot of contact, but I think the officials were justified in making the call.

Mind Boggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  95.3 – Average for a game in Denver

Defensive Efficiency:  101.7 – Best since the last time they played Dallas on December 15th

Offensive Efficiency:  103.8 – Thank God for the first half

Featured Blog:  Mavs Moneyball

2008-09 Game 39: Denver Nuggets vs Dallas Mavericks Game Thread

The Nuggets home stand carries on as the Dallas Mavericks come to the Pepsi Center for the second time this season.  The Nuggets are 2-0 against the Mavs for the first time since the 1995-96 season.  They have not won the first three games of the season series against the Mavs since the 1993-1994 season.

The first matchup between the two teams was a close battle thanks to the 13 threes the Mavs dropped in.  A big key in that game was the way Melo passed out of the Mavericks’ double teams.  Obviously the Nuggets will not have that advantage this evening.

In the second game in Dallas Denver rode a great defensive performance to a solid ten point win.  Unfortunately I have argued that was the last game the Nuggets have played solid defense for most of the night.

The Nuggets will have to play stout defense once again tonight (how’s that for some deep mystical insight?).  Offensively just because Melo is not drawing double teams does not mean the Nuggets are incapable of moving without the ball and getting easy points in the paint.

Dallas, as you would expect from a jump shooting team, runs very hot and cold.  Right now, they are cold having lost the first two games of their three game road trip at Phoenix and Sacramento.  Jason Kidd has been bad so far in 2009.  In six January games he is shooting 32.7% (28.1% from three point range) while averaging only 6.7 assists per game.  After watching him in the Olympics I expected him to really drop off this season.  He had a solid start to the year, but perhaps he is already wearing down.

George Karl has announced that J.R. Smith will start, but at small forward instead of shooting guard and Linas Kleiza will have to provide the offense off the bench.  We can all only hope that he brings more than his 0-6 one point performance from Friday night to the table.  Karl believes that he can get away with J.R. at small forward due to the fact that Josh Howard will sit out his second consecutive game after aggravating his wrist injury again.  Dallas is starting Antoine Wright in Howard’s place and J.R. should be able to handle that assignment and Dahntay Jones will have to chase Jason Terry all over the floor.

The Nuggets folded up like a Monopoly board in the second half against the Detroit Pistons and hopefully with that loss in the back of their minds they will play a complete game.  They have had three full days off to regroup and I think we can expect a strong effort from them tonight.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Featured Blog:  Mavs Moneyball

Previous Matchups:  Game 5 – DEN 108 DAL 105 | Game 24 – DEN 98 DAL 88

Update:  J.R. was supposed to go to New Jersey today to take part in a court hearing ragarding an auto accident he was involved in in the summer of 2007.  There was no explanation given, but I guessfor one reason or another he did not need to be there.  I do not know if it was postponed or if he was not required to appear after all.  Of coures, this opens up the potential that he will be hauled out in handcuffs during the game for missing the hearing, which would be entertaining.

Film Room – Denver Nuggets Weak Second Half Offense

With Carmelo Anthony out for three to four weeks the Denver Nuggets are going to have to pay a little more attention to detail on offense in order to earn good shots.  So far they have done a very good job in the first halves of their two games they have played without Melo.  However, in the second half of those two games they have stopped moving without the ball and attacking the rim.  They begin settling for outside jumpers and as a result their production really falls off.  They got away with it against the Miami Heat, but the Nuggets basically handed the Detroit Pistons a win due to their poor second half execution.

For my very first Film Room segment  at RMC I have compiled some clips from both halves of the Detroit game to show the stark contrast between how the Nuggets have played offense in the first half compared to the second half.

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