Will you all forgive me? As I am sure most of you know I said repeatedly that the Denver Nuggets had no chance to win this game. Turns out they had a slight chance. The only person I did see who said that the Nuggets would win this game was Nate over at my old stomping grounds Pickaxe and Roll.
I was right about one thing though. I said if Denver did somehow pull this one out it would be all about their defense. Well, Denver played some of their best defense of the season holding the Lakers to 29.8% shooting and a season low 79 points. Both teams combined to shoot 5-42 from behind the arc and the second half was flat out ugly as the two teams combined to shoot 27-84, which equates to 32.1%.
So after three such terrible defensive games how on earth did they manage to turn things around? As I think I wrote somewhere the issue was as much mental as physical. Great defensive teams know how who is supposed to be where at all times. They are a step ahead of the offense. Tonight he Nuggets played that style of defense.
They hounded Kobe all over the floor, but they did not ignore the other members of the team. Los Angeles had very few open shots and I do not recall any uncontested shots under the basket. It may have been the most consistently strong defense from start to finish of any single game this season. Even when they had nights as they did against Orlando, the Magic missed a lot of open shots. That is not to say the Lakers did not miss a few here and there to, but most of their 66 misses came as a result of being challenged.
Kobe traditionally torches the Nuggets, but not tonight. Dahntay Jones, J.R. Smith and Carmelo deserve a lot of credit for pressuring Kobe into mostly jumpers. Kobe only got into the lane on five or six occasions. Almost all of his shots came from 16 feet out or further and he ended up shooting 10-31. He did score 29 points, but it was a very quiet 29, but more importantly a very inefficient 29.
Dahntay Jones held Kobe to 2-11 shooting plus 5-6 from the line. He was very physical drawing a double technical on the two of them early in the game.
I thought J.R. Smith played perhaps the best defense of his career tonight. Kobe shot 4-13 against him and did not get to the line on J.R.
Kobe experienced one hot streak and it was when Carmelo was covering him. Kobe made four of his five shots against Melo and I thought the comment by Scott Hastings that Kobe’s competitive fire was stoked by Melo trying to get up in his business.
Kobe went 1-1 from the field against Chauncey, but 0-2 from the line and he shot 0-1 against Kenyon.
In the past the primary defender on Kobe whenever he was in the game was Anthony Carter. Carter only found himself on Kobe a few possessions and Kobe did not attempt a shot against him, but he did get to the line twice making three of four free throw attempts.
(I missed a free throw in there that he made instead of missed, but I am not going to go through the game again to figure out which one it was.)
Another key to the game was that the Lakers did not run very much pick and roll action and when they did the screener rarely rolled. D.J. Mbenga was the only screener who would roll after every ball screen and needless to say they were not exactly looking for him. The handful of times they did run the pick and roll the Nugget bigs did a good job of hedging and recovering.
Instead of going through individual defensive possessions, you can all look for a film room segment to document the Nuggets effort on D.
Looking at the flow of the game itself Denver came out hoisting jumpers in the third quarter and they saw their six point halftime lead disappear quickly. The final straw seemed to be when Dahntay Jones attempted an 18 footer with about 16 seconds left on the shot clock. After that Chauncey started going to the basket and J.R. Smith came in soon after. Billups got to the line and made a couple of baskets in the lane. He also drained a three and that shot seemed to give the Nuggets the boost of confidence they needed. He scored the first nine points of the third quarter and kept the Nuggets in the game.
Denver was successful on offense when they were patient and worked the ball inside. J.R. Smith did a great job of penetrating and either finishing or getting a teammate a good scoring opportunity. He shot very poorly, and too often, from behind the arc, but the Lakers had no answer for him when he drove. He finished the game having attempted a season high ten free throws and even though he only had two assists he made passes that got his teammates to the line at least three times.
Even with the play of Chauncey and J.R. the player of the game was without a doubt Birdzilla. Chris Andersen was incredibly active and had a good matchup in Pau Gasol. He played very good man to man defense and was a big reason why the Lakers shot such a low percentage erasing seven shots on his own. Birdman also did a good job of finishing around the rim and he has perfected the little dippity doo finish on the opposite side of the rim. Perhaps the most impressive part of Birdman’s night is not only did he play the entire fourth quarter, he entered the game with 6:11 left in the third quarter and did not come out once after that. Karl knew who was buttering his toast tonight.
This win helps erase some of the sting from the losses to the Bulls and Bucks and hopefully it gives the Nuggets some momentum heading into their quick roadie to Indianapolis and Detroit. Plus I am sure they had my posts up on the whiteboard in the locker room before the game and took great pleasure in proving me wrong. Congratulations to them, they deserve it.
Additional Game 59 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 92.0 – Just a tad slower than the typical Nuggets home game.
Defensive Efficiency: 85.9 – Tied for the third best single game mark of the season, but this one was against the number one team in terms of offensive efficiency in the NBA.
Offensive Efficiency: 97.8 – Bad, but not atrocious. Well, OK, it was kind of atrocious.
According to a report from Chris Tomasson the Nuggets are going to sign free agent point guard Jason Hart. I guess that puts an end to the Sam Cassell talk and it makes me wonder if this is a sign the Nuggets are concerned about Anthony Carter’s play this season.
Here is the article from Chris Tomasson of the Rocky Mountain News. He was unable to post the story on the website due to the closing of the paper.
By Chris Tomasson
Rocky Mountain News
The Nuggets next week will sign point guard Jason Hart, multiple sources told the Rocky Mountain News on Friday.
Hart has been bought by the Los Angeles Clippers for about $300,000. After he clears waivers, expected to be on Tuesday, he will sign a prorated minimum deal with the Nuggets.
Hart, making $2.5 million before his buyout, will give the Nuggets the third point guard they are seeking. Hart had to be waived by Sunday’s deadline to be eligible for the playoffs with the Nuggets. Hart has played sparingly with the Clippers this season, averaging 2.3 points in 28 games. He played for Nuggets coach George Karl as a Milwaukee rookie in 2000-01.
The Nuggets had been looking Mateen Cleaves of the NBA Development League’s Bakersfield Jam as a possible roster addition. But then the Hart situation materialized.
The Nuggets are seeking a third point guard to take some of the burden off Chauncey Billups, 32, and Anthony Carter, 33.
Thaks to Chris for allowing me to post his article.
The Denver Nuggets face their current nemesis tonight as the Los Angeles Lakers roll into town. With the best team in the west in town we needed to do something special.
Instead of a regular preview I have sought out the thoughts of some of the best Lakers bloggers on the internet. The Nuggets are clinging to the third seed in the west and they have been receiving some good press lately about how they are ready to contend for the Western Conference title. I wanted to find out if those people who follow the defending conference champs, who are also the favorites to go to the finals again, are buying the Nuggets as a threat.
The contributors are Brian Kamenetzky from the LA Times Lakers Blog , Jonathan from Lakers Nation and hitting cleanup will be Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold. Look for some content from me on each of these sites at some point today as well.
The rambling setup and question from Roundball Mining Company: When the playoff seedings were set last season and it was determined the Lakers were going to be playing the Nuggets in the first round it was almost as if the Lakers received a bye. Fans and media alike instantly began talking about the second round before the series even tipped off. The general consensus this season is the Nuggets are a much improved team, but the Lakers easily defeated Denver in their sole meeting since the Billups trade. In your opinion would the current version of the Nuggets be able to compete with the Lakers in a seven game series any better than they did last season? Do Lakers observers take the Nuggets seriously? Should they?
Brian Kamenetzky: I don’t know if it’s a sagging economy grinding up newspapers and those who work for them like corn meal, global warming, or a potentially nuclear Iran, but these days it seems like everything has me worried. When it comes to the Western Conference, that includes the Nuggets. Denver ’08-’09 deserves to be taken seriously (certainly moreso than last year’s group, which had all the cohesion and unity of Fleetwood Mac), primarily because they’re (I almost said “again,” but I’m not entirely sure it’s ever happened) playing defense. Fourth in opponents FG%, a respectable eighth in defensive efficiency. Nene is making a big impact- his on/off court splits are impressive- and Chauncey is certainly an upgrade over A.I. in that regard. On the other side they still can fill it up, except with Billups there’s more method and less madness. Plus, Melo has been playing, at least in my intermittent viewing, a more complete floor game.
That said, I don’t think Denver is one of the two teams in the W.C. that could knock off LA in the playoffs, especially if the Lakers have Bynum back. (My list is comprised of the Spurs and a newly healthy Jazz squad. With AK47 and Boozer back, they’re scary, and create some interesting matchup issues for the Lakers.) The Nuggs are in that second tier with Houston and Portland. I admit, though, my view could still be colored by biases towards previous incarnations of the team. Those can be hard to shake. I’d say that’s a pretty common thing across the media, and certainly among fans. Denver’s current winning percentage isn’t light years ahead of last year’s pace, but the team’s ability to compete in the postseason is much stronger and they probably don’t get the respect they deserve.
In fact, you’ve inspired me with your question. Unless you tell me different, I’ll start adding “…and don’t sleep on Denver” to my Western Conference evaluations.
RMC: In your opinion would the current version of the Nuggets be able to compete with the Lakers in a seven game series any better than they did last season?
Jonathan: Potentially this Nuggets team could be a tougher match up this year than last year, but I’m not entirely sure about that.
A healthy Nene has done wonders for your interior D, and that was probably where the Lakers most took advantage of the Nuggets in the playoffs. I mean, God bless Marcus Camby and all, but Nene and K-Mart are doing a much better job of.. you know.. playing defense.
However, that doesn’t take into account what the Lakers were able to do defensively in the playoffs last year, and have continued to do this year.
Last year Luke Walton and Vlad Radmanovic were able to do a much better job on Melo than we could have possibly hoped for, holding him to 36% shooting. This year he’s shooting an even more abmysal 29%(!). in two losses, he’s shot 5-15, and 5-19. For the Nuggets to have a shot at beating the Lakers in a 7-game series, he’ll have to play a lot better than that.
RMC: Do Lakers observers take the Nuggets seriously?
Jonathan: I don’t think so. Lakers fans are an arrogant bunch to start out with, so I doubt any of them/us really consider the Nuggets a threat at this point.
Also of note, Derek Fisher does a lot better guarding bigger point guards like D-Will, J-Kidd and Billups, and so Lakers fans really weren’t too concerned by AI leaving in that trade (let’s all stop and laugh at the Pistons for a moment =D).
RMC: Should they?
Jonathan: I think so. Billups on Kobe is a lot more plausible than K-Mart on Kobe, that’s for sure. This year’s Nuggets are better than last year’s Nuggets, but at the same time, this year’s are better than last years Lakers as well. I wouldn’t put too much stock into Denver’s Billups Era loss, as we had Bynum then and it doesn’t look like we’ll have him for this playoff run either. Truely, the game on the 27th will be a more accurate reflection of how these two teams match up.
I expect that a 7-game series would ultimately end with the Lakers being victorious, but it wouldn’t be considered a bye.. not anymore.
RMC: Can the Nuggets compete with the Lakers and do Lakers observers/fans take the Nuggets seriously?
Kurt: There are two questions in there that get different answers. Yes, this Nuggets team can compete much better with the Lakers than last year’s version, and the Lakers had better take them seriously. With Billups at the point this just appears to be a smarter, more controlled team that plays better defense, picks its spots and attacks mismatches better, not to mention can shoot the three ball better. The pushing of the pace last year seemed to lead to almost reckless play, now things appear more steady. That is why if the Lakers and Nuggets were to meet this year it would be in the second round, the Nuggets are a better that nobody wants in the first round. I will add, I don’t think there is a team in the West that can beat a healthy Lakers squad, they are too talented and too deep, not to mention they can play good defense when they want to. But certainly a series between these team’s this year would be more competitive.
However, to your second question, I don’t think most casual Lakers fans and observers think of the Nuggets differently than last year. I think for much of the fan base the expectations would be a sweep going in, and some media members would happily feed into that. But the Nuggets will change that perception this playoffs, both for Lakers fans and anyone thinking that league wide. They are a legitimately good team and people will get to know that.
Prior to the first matchup between these two teams with Chauncey Billups leading the way for Denver I was very excited. After the game I was much less so. Due to the Nuggets poor play as of late coupled with their inability to defeat the Lakers I have already marked this game down as a loss. Any assistance Denver hoped to get from Phoenix did not materialize as the Suns were not able to challenge the Lakers when they played last night in Los Angeles. The Lakers were not overly taxed and the fact that the Lakers are playing on the second night of a back to back set will probably not be a factor.
Right now the most recent news we have on whether or not Nene will play is a quote from George Karl provided by Chris Tomasson, “there’s a chance he will play.” Check out the article to see what Lakers players are saying about the Nuggets and whether or not they have closed the gap between the two teams.
Update: As Stumbleweed told us in the comments, Benjamin Hochman from the Denver Post is reporting Nene will play, but he will come off the bench leaving Petro as the starter.
The Rocky Mountain News has announced that after publishing the Friday edition on February 27 the newspaper will no longer be published. The writing has been on the wall for some time now, but it is still a sad day. My heart goes out to those who are being put out of a job during a very difficult time to find work. There is also a significant historical impact as the News was about to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Denver is losing a local institution.
I will leave it to others who are much more qualified than I am to write the eulogy, but apart from the human toll taken by the closing on a much more superficial level as a Nuggets fan and blogger this is terrible news. One of the great things about quality blogs is that they augment the coverage provided by the local beat writers and commentators. After tomorrow that foundation that we build on will be significanlty decreased.
The coverage the Nuggets receive will no longer include the work of the very capable and insightful duo of Chris Tomasson and Aaraon Lopez. Benjamin Hochman at the Denver Post does a very good job and I think most of his opinions and his coverage are right on, but the features and commentary is going to take a big hit. While the Post will still provide the breaking news we all long for the narrative will be left lacking.
Again, I do not want to come across as insensitive. The true story here is the fact that Denver is losing a huge portion of its identity and there are people whose lives are in upheaval because of it. Making it more personal to those of us who are consumers of what the paper provided there is no doubt this will decrease the amount of coverage and insight we receive as fans of the Nuggets (or Broncos, Rockies, Avalanche as well as high school sports).
I cannot imagine the shock and disappointment that those who are affected by this news are going through and I pray they will all be able to transition to the next stage of their lives as seamlessly as possible.
I have one more economic note I have been waiting to throw out so this seems like an appropriate place. Has anyone else noticed the decrease in commercials during breaks in Nuggets games?
I first noticed this during the Bulls game last week when they frequently seemed to come back from commercial very quickly. The standard timeout used to contain four commercials and then sometimes an NBA or team promo. Lately they are down to three and sometimes only two commercials before a team or NBA promo and then they also include a brief spot from the sideline reporter or some commentary by the announcers to fill the additional time that used to be filled by commercials.
If Altitude has seen a reduction in their paid commercials during Nuggets games by 25% or more that is significant. Considering their programming other than the Nuggets and Avalanche is less than enthralling I wonder how viable Altitude is going forward if their big moneymakers are bringing in reduced revenue. If ALtitude is struggling you also have to wonder about Fox Sports Rocky Mountain as well. Fox Sports Rocky Mountain only has the Rockies, who appear to be entering another dark age, plus some lesser college and high school sports. As with Altitude the programming when there is not a game on leaves much to be desired.
How far away might we be from one of those two stations going away?
I cannot decide if I should feel good about this win or not. Honestly I do not want to feel good about it because of the way Denver played the first and fourth quarters. The Nuggets certainly showed more activity on defense than they did against Boston, but there were still plenty of holes in their defense. Add in the facts that Atlanta was missing two starters and was down eight with only 1:38 left in the game and the Nuggets still needed Flip Murray’s last second runner to bounce off the front of the rim in order to win and I really was left with a sick feeling in my stomach. They were just inches away from a five game losing streak.
Denver appeared to have the game well in hand. After trailing by as many as nine in the second quarter the Nuggets closed the first half on an 18-4 run. They extended their lead to as much as 17 in the third and Melo threw in a deep three pointer at the third quarter buzzer to send the Nuggets into the fourth quarter up 14.
I was thrilled to see the Nuggets had only turned the ball over seven times through the first three quarters. They entered the game averaging 19.5 turnovers per game after the All-Star break lowlighted by their 24 turnovers in Milwaukee. Sadly it took barely more than five minutes in the fourth quarter for the Nuggets to match their total of seven turnovers from the first three quarters. They ended up coughing the ball up ten times in the fourth quarter alone.
Denver’s offense ground to a halt in the fourth quarter and due to a combination of the aforementioned turnovers and stagnant uninspired play they only made four field goals in the quarter. All four were jumpers. The Nuggets did not score a point in the paint over the final 13 minutes. Now that is somewhat misleading as Chauncey did get to the line for six free throws on plays where he drove into, or at least in the vicinity of, the lane and was fouled and J.R. earned a pair of free throws, but apart from those four instances the Nuggets were seemingly always scrambling to fire off a jumper with the shot clock winding down. The key to the Hawks fourth quarter comeback was their 14 points in the paint. Fortunately for Denver the Hawks needed 16 in order to pull off the win.
I am getting off topic though. The story of this game was not the offense, which despite all its problems scored plenty of points with a very good efficiency rating to boot, but the defense. I wanted to see the Nuggets get back to playing tenacious defense as they had done as recently as last Wednesday in Philadelphia. They did not quite get the job done.
I have documented the Nuggets issues with defending the pick and role here and here and I wanted to see a better scheme, increased effort and better execution in that key area of team defense. The Nuggets did indeed come out with a better scheme and they certainly spent a little more energy defending screen and rolls than they did against the Celtics. However, without the execution the scheme and effort are pointless. Well, the execution left much to be desired.
The Hawks got off to a very good start on offense in the first quarter thanks to their ability to get easy baskets through their pick and roll game. The Nuggets switched their scheme from the switching defense that proved so ineffective against the Celtics to a version of the Celtics hedge and recover we looked at yesterday. The Nuggets took it a step further though aggressively trapping he ball handler, bringing weak side help to cover the roll man and then requiring the defender trapping the ball handler to recover back to his man who originally set the screen. If any part of the plan is implemented incorrectly the entire scheme will fail. Pretty much every time the Hawks ran pick and roll action the Nuggets missed at least one of the three elements of the plan. The first pick and roll action the Hawks ran the trap was strong, the weak side help showed, but Kenyon Martin lazily jogged back to his man, Al Horford, and left Johan Petro to cover both Zaza Pachulia and Horford. The result was an easy dunk.
The second time the Hawks ran pick and roll there was no weak side help and Pachulia scored an uncontested dunk.
The third pick and roll set once again Kenyon slowly jogged back to recover and the result was Pachulia left all alone under the hoop. By the time he caught the pass and gathered himself Kenyon showed up, but all the Nuggets could do was foul to prevent another easy bucket.
The fourth time the Hawks ran it, Dahntay Jones forgot that they were not switching anymore and started to leave thus negating the necessity of pressuring the ball handler with the trap. Fortunately the rest of the Nuggets were in good position to prevent anything at the rim, but the Hawks did earn a wide open three that fortunately for Denver clanged off the rim.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. The Nuggets were incredibly lucky that the Hawks basically abandoned the pick and roll game in the second half. Needless to say, I am not filled with encouragement regarding the Nuggets ability to defend this simple set in the future. This trapping scheme is something every player should be comfortable executing, but the Nuggets played like they just installed it yesterday during their off day.
In the fourth quarter, the Hawks ran more isolation sets and had some success early with Marvin Williams. The key to the fourth quarter though was the Hawks desire to have Joe Johnson take the game over contrasted with the Nuggets fear of Johnson taking over. Denver doubled Johnson almost immediately when he caught the ball. The result was they were left scrambling trying to cover either an open shooter or to collapse on the drive. Atlanta did a pretty good job of moving the ball and getting good shots. They had several attempts just rim out and the Nuggets should feel pretty fortunate for that. There were a couple of possessions where the Nuggets chose not to double Johnson and he made them pay with five easy points.
The other thing I wanted to see was some leadership and determination from Chauncey. He certainly played the role of Mr. Big Shot more than Mr. Pass First Point Guard as he lead the Nuggets in shots with 18, but he was aggressive and was able to the line 19 times. I could have done without a couple of the threes he forced up, but ultimately I got the impression he took a great deal of responsibility for getting a win and he came through. I was pleased to see a shot of him talking to J.R. in the fourth quarter and filling the role of coach/mentor on the floor. Chauncey gets a passing grade, but had the Nuggets played a tougher foe I am not sure they walk out of there with the win.
Speaking of tougher foes, I have already stated that I have written off the Laker game on Friday. Even if Nene does play, which apparently is a possibility, the way the Nuggets are defending they will get rolled off the floor. Fortunately the Trail Blazers lost to a Spurs team playing without Manu Ginobili or Tim Duncan so the Nuggets gained a game back on them. That is an important game because Portland will earn it back Friday when they beat the Timberwolves and the Nuggets lose to LA.
Additional Game 58 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 89.6 – Slow for a home game.
Defensive Efficiency: 121.7 – Yikes.
Offensive Efficiency: 122.8 – Thanks to Melo’s marksmanship.
Featured Blog: Hoopinion
It is still February and the Denver Nuggets are playing the Atlanta Hawks at home. Seems like just another monotonous regular season game? Not so. This is a must win game.
A loss tonight means the Nuggets will finish this three game home stand with a five game losing streak (yes, I have written off the Friday game against the Lakers and I recommend that you do the same). The Nuggets will be playing without Nene again and that means that out of the three games Nene has missed after today, two of them will have been against the Hawks. Atlanta used a long range barrage to defeat the Nuggets 109-91.
The Hawks are coming off a 108-89 loss in Utah where they only good thing they accomplished was to rough up the man we all love to hate Matt Harpring. The Hawks do not always bounce back after big losses as they are 3-3 in the game after a loss by more than 14 points.
The Nuggets are on their own losing streak and so far following games where they lose by 38 or more they are 1-0. The Nuggets have not lost four games in a row this season and they have won three of the last four games against the Hawks in Denver. The lone loss came two years ago as the Nuggets had a monumental collapse against Atlanta coughing up a 14 point lead in the last nine minutes of the game.
This game is all about the Nuggets defense. They followed up their best three game defensive stretch of the season with three straight terrible efforts. The three great defensive games are starting to look more and more like a fluke. The Nuggets defensive stats look solid thanks to their ability to put forth a lockdown effort from time to time, but Denver has lacked the consistent effort, physically and mentally, required to be a good defensive team night in and night out.
I think we can expect a good effort from Denver as they will be looking to bounce back from the drubbing they received at the hands of the Celtics. On the other hand, if they come out flat I think it is time to really start to worry about the mental makup of this team. Nene is out, Kenyon has a sore back and Melo is banged up, but so is everyone else. The Hawks will be without Josh Smith, who is missing the game because of a personal matter, not a suspension for his flagrant two on Harpring the other night. Mike Bibby is a game time decision due to illness. He tried to go against the Jazz, but was completely ineffective and had to leave the game early in the third.
Regardless of who plays or who is sore I want to see a great effort from the Nuggets tonight. If Chauncey Billups has any leadership cache then I expect to see him do some actual leading on the court tonight. If not, look for more threes early in the shot clock and another sorry defensive effort.
Previous Matchup: Game 32 – Den 91 Atl 109
Featured Blog: Hoopinion
The contrast between the Boston Celtics and the Denver Nuggets in the 114-76 demolition last night was quite startling. One of the biggest gaps between the two squads was how they defended screens. The Nuggets continue to rely too heavily on switching while the Celtics help and recover as well as anyone in the NBA.
I have put together several clips that display very clearly the hedge, help and recover system the Celtics use on pick and rolls and the switch and pray system the Nuggets are so fond of.
Keep in mind the Celtics played defense like this without Kevin Garnett who is a vital defensive cog in their system. Had KG been on the court it is possible the Nuggets would not have broken 60.
The point is as long as the Nuggets defend screens like this, regardless of the opponent, they will be lit up more often than not. Switching does rarely work as it did against Orlando and Philly, but against most teams it is like asking Stephon Marbury to show the new female intern his truck.
Check out all my videos in the Film Room
The Nuggets seem to think that they have arrived and should be in the mix for the coveted veterans who are bought out and/or released by the terrible teams that they are playing for. So far there are two players who might fit that mold, Sam Cassell and Mikki Moore although neither is worth much on the court.
George Karl has spoken about his desire to bring in his old buddy Cassell to add all of those special things that veterans can add. Apparently the special veteran point guard/coach on the floor/championship experience Chauncey brought to Denver is wearing off. More importantly with Nene and Kenyon Martin having missed games in the last couple of days the search for additional big man insurance, apparently the safety blanket that is Johan Petro is not keeping the nightmares away, and Denver was hot and heavy after Moore. Surprise, surprise, despite the Nuggets best efforts, Moore signed with the Boston Celtics.
The other big man that all the contenders are panting over is Oklahoma City’s Joe Smith. Of course Denver is interested in him too. In the effort to save the Nuggets’ front office a lot of work and disappointment I have crafted the following note:
There is a good chance that the Thunder will release Joe Smith and you will envision how much high quality veteran-ness he can bring to the Nuggets. Treat the potential addition of Smith to the Nuggets roster as a fleeting thought like eating your weight in Thin Mint cookies or pushing the person next to you onto the light rail tracks right before a train approaches. No good will come of your efforts. Smith’s agent will take your call and make you feel warm and fuzzy, but there will not be a second where he will consider joining the Nuggets.
Denver is not on the same level as true contenders such as Cleveland, Orlando, Los Angeles (not the Clippers), San Antonio, Boston or even New Orleans. Do not take solace in the fact the Celtics have signed Mikki Moore. Even though that is one fewer team you must compete with it will not change a thing. As long as any of the previously mentioned teams have interest in a player, he is not coming to Denver.
Approaching Smith’s agent will only serve to remind you, and us, that Denver is still not considered an elite team, nor is it an elite destination. Whatever time you put into the pursuit of Smith, or any other quasi-useful veteran player will be time that could have been better utilized doing something else. You might as well try finding a cure for cancer because as unlikely as it is that you might be successful the chances are better than the 0.000% chance you persuade a waived veteran whose play is worth the contract he signs to join the Nuggets.
I hope you find this advice helpful, but more than that I hope you follow said advice.
P.S. Sam Cassell will probably sign with you should you make the inane decision to offer him a contract. Do not let that go to your head.
Nene out one or two weeks
As expected it was determined that Nene did not have any structural damage to his knee. Unfortunately, the bruise is bad enough that he might miss up to two weeks (see link above). Considering the Nuggets Pythagorean projected record is 3-79 without Nene in the lineup this season missing him for two weeks, with Portland and Utah breathing down our necks is not something I want to think about.
Let’s move on.
I certainly did not give Rajon Rondo enough credit for his play last night. He is quickly developing into a player who can do whatever he wants on the floor. He has tremendous instincts, a great handle, superlative vision and has a mean streak. He is afraid of no one and did not think twice about challenging Chris Andersen for rebounds or attacking Birdman off the dribble. Rondo is quickly making a name for himself and has been endorsed by TrueHoop contributor Kevin Arnovitz and Henry Abbott’s mother.
When rough is not tough
Another thing I forgot to mention in my game recap for the blowout to the Celtics was how after already having been manhandled by the Celtics the Nuggets tried to get physical. Kenyon was called, and I think rightly so, for a flagrant one on the shot he gave Ray Allen and Anthony Carter ran through Allen on a three point attempt late in the third quarter. Maybe both Nuggets felt like they sent a message and felt like they had exhibited toughness.
To me the player who exhibited true toughness was Ray Allen who after getting knocked off the court by Martin made both free throws (the start of what ended up being a five point possession) and on the play he was drilled by Carter he made the three and the free throw.
Sports movie Oscars
Denver Post Nuggets beat writer Benjamin Hochman put together a great post on his personal list of nominees and winners for the all time sports movie Oscars.
There were three simple differences between the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets tonight.
One team was the Celtics and they won by 38. The other team was the Nuggets and they lost by 38.
Playing hard for 48 minutes is a cliché. Every team has slumps of a few minutes here and there where the effort wanes and they get lazy. I promise you the Celtics played their bums off for all 48 minutes. The collective competitive spirit puts the Nuggets to shame. Kendrick Perkins was bickering with the refs with about a minute left after he was called for traveling. These guys do not care what the score is. The score is almost immaterial. They are giving it their all from start to finish.
For the Nuggets the built in excuse is that they have been on a three week long road trip and it was unfair to ask them to play the Celtics a day after they played in Milwaukee. I am not buying it. As has been pointed out by many people, including myself, the road trip they just finished was only a three game trip. Sure they played five road games in a row before that, but they had six whole days off during the All-Star break. The Celtics were the team that had to check into hotels last night after playing in Phoenix.
Honestly it did not matter who suited up, how many days in a row the Nuggets had played or what strategy the coaches asked the players to implement. Boston played with confidence and determination while the Nuggets looked like a scrawny book worm getting ready to ask out the prom queen.
Denver has now lost by 40 points, give or take a couple of points, twice in their last seven games. Does that scream contender? The game in New Jersey could be written off as a fluke, but for it to happen again just seven games later is shocking. I guarantee you the Trail Blazers and Jazz are licking their chops right now.
Denver now has a day off to prepare for an Atlanta Hawks team that was blown out by the Jazz and two days later the Lakers roll into town. They better get their act together by Wednesday or else they will be going back out on the road with a five game losing streak.
Additional Game 57 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 89.5
Defensive Efficiency: 127.4 – Fourth worst single game rating this season.
Offensive Efficiency: 84.9 – Second lowest single game rating this season ahead of only the 44 point drubbing in New Jersey.
The Nuggets have won games this season without Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen. They have yet to win a game this season without Nene. In fact the Nuggets Pythagorean projected record without Nene is roughly 6-72. Before you get overly panicked keep in mind that they have only played once sans Nene this season, a 109-91 loss at Atlanta, so things may not as hopeless as the numbers would lead you to believe.
Kenyon Martin is expecting to play tonight, but I doubt a two or three hour plane ride is good for a balky back. Carmelo Anthony is still smarting from a bruised knee as well. As the bumps and bruises mount the Trail Blazers are surging and Utah is fully healthy for the first time this season and is playing with added motivation after the emotional loss of their popular owner Larry Miller.
Boston will be playing without all everything Kevin Garnett. The Celtics have done alright with KG in business casual having racked up a 4-0 record without the Big Ticket after dropping the Suns in Phoenix.
Without Nene the Nuggets will have to work to get points in the paint. Look for Melo, Martin and Chauncey to post up a little more in an attempt to either get shots in the lane or draw a double to initiate a cut to the rim or ball reversal. My fear is they will just settle for jumpers though. That is why for the Nuggets to win I think aside from Melo and Chauncey, J.R. Smith will have to provide an efficient offensive game.
Out of the nine games in January J.R. has scored in single digits six times. He has gotten away from the role of set up man that was working so well and during the last two losses is back to chucking a little too much for comfort.
On the defensive end the Nuggets will miss Nene on the boards. Even though he is far from a vacuum cleaner on the boards he is the only Nugget with the size to keep Kendrick Perkins off the offensive glass. Chris Andersen, Kenyon Martin and Johan Petro are all going to make sure they find Perkins every time the Celtics take a shot.
The Nuggets do have a two game winning streak against Boston and they notched their signature win of the season in a defensive clash in Boston earlier this season. Denver will have to get that grittiness back in their game if they want to push their streak against Boston up to three games. The big men will have to show strongly on screens and not allow Rondo to either drive around them or cut inside of them into the paint on screens and they must be prepared to rotate and be in motion before the ball is in the air to close out on Boston’s shooters Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Eddie House and Brian Scalabrine can all drain threes).
It is common for teams coming home after a road trip to play a little flat their first game back at home and even though the Nuggets last road trip was only three games, they have not played at the Pepsi Center since February 3rd. Hopefully they fact that the defending World Champions are in town and the need to raise their intensity and focus in the absence of Nene will prevent that from happening. With both teams having played yesterday and short handed we could be in for an ugly game.
Previous Matchup: Game 9 – Den 94 Bos 85
I do not understand how this team’s collective mind works. Coming off a loss to an inferior team and playing another inferior team they play brain dead basketball and drop a very winnable game. How can a team play three straight games of great defense and then come out and play two games where they look like they have no clue how to cover for each other and rotate? I just do not get it.
How many times did you see the Bucks rotating the ball and Denver appear to be taken completely off guard when the pass went into the corner for an open three? That is a staple of every offense in the NBA yet time after time there was a Nugget standing in the lane completely oblivious to the fact that they needed to be running at the shooter in the corner until after he caught the ball. They also did a great job of sending two guys at a shooter thus ending any hope of their rotation going smoothly.
The offense was not above reproach either. They did score 117 points and posted a very good offensive efficiency rating, but they turned the ball over 24 times. If they manage to only turn the ball over 20 times, which still would have been offensive, they win that game. Most of the turnovers were unforced mindless decisions. The best example was J.R. Smith throwing a pass directly at Anthony Carter when Carter is way out in front of everyone and bouncing it off his head out of bounds. All he had to was loft the ball in the air and let Carter get it.
I can imagine some folks are saying that it was the last game in a long eight game road trip, but that is bunk. This was a three game road trip with no back to back games against three mediocre eastern conference teams and the Nuggets went 1-2. The Nuggets’ three and a half game lead over Portland over the All-Star break is now done to one and a half.
The other story, and potentially more important plotline, is the knee injury to Nene. I heard the play on the radio and had no idea how he sustained it thus making me nearly catatonic, which is not a good state to be in when behind the wheel. Needless to say as soon as I got home I raced to watch how it happened and was relieved to see that it was a knee to knee hit. Not to say that what happened to him was not incredibly painful, but knee to knee hits do not tear ligaments or destroy cartilage. Nene will almost assuredly miss tonight’s game against the Celtics, but I would not expect him to be out for long.
Denver now comes home for three tough home games against the Celtics, Hawks and Lakers. It is entirely possible that they stumble through a 1-4 or even 0-5 stretch. If there is a lesson here for Denver to latch onto it is that they cannot count on flipping the switch in the fourth quarter.
Additional Game 56 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 98.9
Defensive Efficiency: 121.3 – Ugh.
Offensive Efficiency: 118.3 – Again with 24 turnovers.
Featured Blog: Brew Hoop
Only one more game before the Nuggets get to return home, but they may be playing without Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin. Martin’s back is still bothering him and Melo has been trying to work through a knee bruise suffered in Philadelphia.
I bet Martin sits out and Melo plays, but that is pure guesswork on my part.
The Bucks will not feel bad for the Nuggets as they have lost Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd for the season. The Nuggets did dodge a bullet as Luke Ridinour has returned from injury and that relegates Ramon Sessions, a far superior player to a lesser role. Milwaukee can still put the ball in the hoop though with Charlie Villanueva and Richard Jefferson both able to score from inside and out.
Regardless of whether or not Melo and Martin play, the Nuggets can win tonight if they get back to playing the swarming and aggressive style of defense that they used to beat Miami, Orlando and Philly.
Denver Nuggets Game Notes (lists both Melo and Martin as starters)
Previous Matchup: Game 11 – Den 114 Mil 105
Featured Blog: Brew Hoop
If you play with fire eventually you will have to get out of the kitchen. Friday night the Chicago Bulls proved to have too many cooks and the Nuggets ended up finding out that if you may be able to fool some of the worms early enough, but in the end it’s the thought that counts.
Don’t worry, it makes sense to me.
The Nuggets have had a tendency of thinking that they can just turn it on at the end of games (playing with fire) and pull out win after win. Well it did not work Friday night in Chicago (they had to get out of the kitchen). Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah all had good games (too many cooks). The Nuggets have had the best record in the league against sub .500 teams (they fooled some of the worms some of the time) and even though they got out to a great start against Chicago (they fooled that worm early on), but the Bulls played a trough smart game while the Nuggets began settling for jumpers and seemed to completely forget how they completely outplayed the Bulls early in the game (proving that it’s the thought that counts).
See, and you guys were worried I was losing my mind.
After taking an early lead the Nuggets really let up expecting an easy win and by the time they realized they had to flip the switch in the fourth quarter their shots were not falling (not that they should have as they were mostly all really bad shots) and the Bulls were all playing at a high level.
As long as the Nuggets can take care of business today in Milwaukee I do not think anyone will be too disappointed in finishing with a 6-2 record over the last eight road games.
Additional Game 54 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 94.0
Defensive Efficiency: 123.4 – And thus ends their three game defensive revival.
Offensive Efficiency: 105.3
I was all prepared to write about how the Nuggets have a chance to catch the Bulls with their pants down a little bit seeing as how they have five new players on their roster. With that much turnover they are bound to require some time to adjust. Well, upon further review, that may not necessarily be the case.
According to the Bulls game notes they will start a lineup of Derrick Rose, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah. I may not be an expert on the Bulls, but I am pretty sure none of those guys are new to the team. A quick scan of their schedule shows that those five will be starting their 17th consecutive game together. Not much shake up there.
In fact the Bulls have basically replaced Larry Hughes and Thabo Sefolosha with John Salmons and Aaron Grey with Brad Miller. In my book those are a couple of significant upgrades. The Nuggets job may not be as easy as I had initially hoped.
Salmons traditionally does well against Denver so his addition is timely for the Bulls. Brad Miller on the other hand has been abused by Nene this season. Miller has played to a -34 in 44 minutes against Denver this season.
Denver has had a game to get re-acclimated to playing instead of sitting on their couches and have had a day of rest. They should be ready to go against the Bulls. The last time they visited the Bulls J.R. Smith poured in a career high 43 points, but it was not enough as Denver was abused for 135 points.
The Nuggets have been playing great defense over their last three games and I would not expect another offensive explosion from the Bulls tonight. Denver did clamp down on the Bulls in the first and fourth quarters, but in the second and third Ben Gordon and Drew Gooden lit Denver up and the Bulls threw up 65 points in those two stanzas.
Denver will have to collapse on Derrick Rose when he penetrates and recover out to Gordon and Salmons. Why not keep him out of the lane you ask? No matter how determined Chauncey Billups and Anthony Carter are, he will get in the lane. He is just too quick.
The Nuggets should be able to score on the Bulls. Rose for all his physical talents does not have the mental aspect of playing NBA defense down. Noah and Miller do not have the girth and/or quickness to cover Nene. Deng is a solid player, but he cannot contain Melo. The one player who can play tremendous perimeter defense is Kirk Hinrich and it will be interesting to see if they assign him to cover J.R. Smith when he is in the game.
The Nuggets were a little banged up in Philly, but Carmelo Anthony is probably with a knee bruise and Kenyon Martin is not even listed on the injury report after straining his back.
With the news that Manu Ginobili will miss two to three weeks with an ankle injury the second seed is there for the taking. Denver must win games like tonight and Sunday in Milwaukee to put some distance between them and their challengers.
Previous Matchup: Game 15 – Den 114 Chi 101
I have yet to really put anything together about the trade deadline and that sucks because, well, it has passed. The consensus amongst fans, commentators and the Nuggets front office was that Denver is playing well and should stand pat. That is exactly what they did.
I only have two questions. First, is this team a true contender right now? Secondly, will they be a true contender next season?
There have been an increasing number of stories out there trumpeting the Nuggets’ virtues. Fans are starting to expect great things and are throwing around the term contender. In my mind a contender is a team who has a reasonable chance at defeating every other team in the league in a seven game playoff series. How far the Nuggets go in the playoffs depends completely on matchups. I do not like their chances against the Spurs or the Hornets (especially now that Tyson Chandler is back in the Big Easy) and I would not be very confident should the Nuggets face off against the Jazz. Even if you think Denver could defeat all three of those teams, we still have not mentioned the Lakers. I would love to be forced to eat my words in May and June, but I just do not think it is reasonable to expect a team that has not advanced past the first round in 15 years to suddenly surge into the finals.
As I have pointed out in the past, building a championship team is a process. Denver has taken a big step forward in that process this season. Ideally if the Nuggets do not win it all this season, it will be a campaign where they grow closer to that goal and hopefully find themselves as a legitimate finals contender next season. Well, if you look at their salary structure I do not think we can count on them being in a position to capitalize on their progress next season.
With the economy floundering we have seen many teams seeking to unload contracts and no one really interested in taking on any additional salary obligations. David Stern claimed during the all-star break that teams should expect the salary cap and luxury tax level to drop next season for the first time since its inception. The luxury tax limit was $71.15 million this season and might drop down to around $68 or $69 million next season. Denver has cut a lot of salary over the previous ten months or so, but looking ahead at next season, they are going to have to slash more payroll in order to avoid the tax.
Right now the Nuggets are over $68 million with only Kenyon Martin, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Nene, J.R. Smith, Steven Hunter, Renaldo Balkman and the money they owe Antonio McDyess. That is only seven players. Chris Andersen has been a Godsend playing as well as he has for the minimum. He is going to get a significant raise next season and I doubt the Nuggets will be able to afford to bring him back. It is also highly unlikely that they can bring in a player who will play anywhere near Birdman’s level for such a pittance. They will need to add a backup point guard and even they bring Anthony Carter back it will cost them roughly another million against the cap. The qualifying offers for Linas Kleiza and Johan Petro add up to over $5.5 million combined. Needless to say the Nuggets are likely to be in some financial straits again next season. They have done a masterful job of dropping payroll while improving the quality of the team. Pulling that off over two consecutive seasons would be a pipe dream.
You are free to disagree and make your case in the comments, but I think the evidence points to the Nuggets not being a legitimate contender this season and they will most likely not be one next season either. I believe the Nuggets needed to put a strong emphasis on winning right now and that they should have pulled the trigger on a trade to try to push them over the top.
What should that trade have been? They should have acquired whatever they could have in exchange for Linas Kleiza and Charlotte’s future first round draft pick. Steven Hunter and Dahntay Jones’ contracts should have been fair game as well.
The one problem with trying to improve the team by trading Kleiza is that most teams around the league may have a better grasp of Kleiza’s value than the Nuggets do. The Nuggets have placed far too much value on Kleiza and I think it is due to his rapid development between his second and third seasons. Kleiza has already reached his ceiling as a player, but the Nuggets front office are expecting even better things because of how quickly he has improved. The truth is he is a poor defending gunner with no passing ability. If his shot is not falling he is a complete liability.
The Nuggets have had the opportunity to trade him last season, but perhaps they hung onto him for too long. With each passing game he is exposed further and further to be a one dimensional player. He will most certainly not be back next season so why would they not look to unload to make a push right now when the Nuggets have what is arguably their best team since they joined the NBA?
If I am wrong and Stan Kronke is willing to do next year what he was not willing to do this season, and by that I mean foot the bill for an $80 million payroll, then I am fine with the Nuggets sticking with the current roster and hoping to further augment the roster next season. I seriously doubt that will be the case though.
Chris Tomasson is thinking along the same lines as I am, although he was smart enough to publish his post before the trade deadline passed.
What was Oklahoma City Thinking?
I am baffled by the Thunder’s decision to stamp return to sender on Tyson Chandler’s forehead. I thought that trade was going to push them into playoff contention next season. To decide that his old turf toe injury was too much of an issue going forward blew my mind. There were first hand reports of actual fan excitement about the Thunder. It made them a hot topic around town, but now they may have to deal with a fan backlash, especially if Chandler’s tow does not explode like the Hindenburg on the court at some point over the next few months.
The kicker is that the team physician that flunked Chandler’s physical was the same doctor that performed the surgery on his toe in the first place when New Orleans was playing in Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina. The doctor basically said, “I did a bad enough job on repairing his toe that I think it will crumble like a two day old bran muffin.” Nice work Dr. Mengele.
I never understood why New Orleans wanted to trade Chandler during the season anyway. The deal was not going to save them any money this season and they could pull the trigger on a Camby like salary dump over the summer without sabotaging the current campaign. I thought that deal was bungled on both ends.
Oklahoma City did manage to add a nice piece in Thabo Sefolosha. He is a defensive oriented swingman with great size and solid potential. If they only had hung onto Chandler they might have had the foundation in place for a 50 win team in Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Green and Chandler.
Thank you Portland
I was worried that the Trail Blazers might pull off a deal for Richard Jefferson or some other small forward who just might propel them past the Nuggets in the Northwest Division. Thankfully they chose to stick with their current roster and I think lost a chance to vastly improve their team. They will have some cap space to play with this offseason and it will be interesting to see what they turn that into.
Memphis no longer has a glut of point guards
Remember when Memphis had Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry and Javaris Crittenton? Well, now they just have Conley. Crittenton was shipped off to Washington and Lowry is now a Houston Rocket. I found the three way deal that also sent Rafer Alston to Orlando interesting because I think Lowry is a better player than Alston. Skip to My Lou is a much better shooter, but Orlando is a secretly good defensive team and Lowry is much superior to Alston on that end. Neither player is a perfect fit, although Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith both agreed that this deal pushed the Magic ahead of the Cavs somehow. Personally I think Lowry would be better for the Magic as he can defend and play the drive and kick game they love so much.
John Paxson gets active two years too late
John Paxson finally pulled his balls out of wherever he had them stored and finally pulled the trigger on a big trade and a couple of smaller ones. The sad thing is it is too late to transform the once promising Bulls into a contender. The acquisition of John Salmons has apparently paved the way for the departure of Ben Gordon this summer. If Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah can build on their play over the past month or so Chicago has a decent core of Derrick Rose, Salmons, Luol Deng and the aforementioned bigs.
New York actually making trades for basketball reasons
I did not understand the reasoning behind the Knicks acquisitions of Larry Hughes and Chris Wilcox. There was no monetary benefit from what I could tell. Then it donned on me. It was actually about trying to improve on the court. With so many deals being discussed for purely financial reasons I was caught off guard by the attempt to actually use trades to improve a team. There is no impetus to tank in New York as they do not have the rights to their 2010 draft pick so they might as well try to win while ensuring they do not take on any obligations beyond the summer of 2010.
The NBA on TNT
A big thanks to Detroit and Boston for blowing games against the Spurs and Jazz tonight. Way to go bozos. I will forgive the Celtics as long as they lose to the Nuggets next Monday.