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.
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
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
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
Previous Matchup: Game 21 – Den 118 Sac 85
You may have noticed some changes around here over the past twelve hours or so and the reason is Roundball Mining Company is now part of the ESPN/TrueHoop Network.
To find out what the ESPN/TrueHoop Network is click here to join the launch party.
I would like to thank Henry Abbott and Kevin Arnovitz for this opportunity and I look forward to doing all I can to provide you with the absolute best coverage of the Denver Nuggets on the Internet.
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:
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:
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
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
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.
Featured Blog: The Dream Shake