2008-09 Game 56: Denver Nuggets 117 – Milwaukee Bucks 120

Box Score | Highlights

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


  • Renaldo Balkman started in place of Kenyon Martin and played the beginning of both halves.  When he left the game in the first quarter Charlie Villanueva had four points.  When Balkman was in the game in the third quarter Villanueva scored three points, one of which was a technical free throw.  Villanueva was on the floor for 17 minutes while Balkman was on the floor and he scored seven points.  The other 20 minutes Vilanueva was on the floor with Balkman on the bench he scored 29 points.  And George Karl said he wished he had the courage to play Balkman more in the second half (last sentence of this article).  What kind of courage does it take to play a guy who can shut down the opposing player that is slaying you?  It is not like Balkman was killing them on offense.  He scored ten points in his 17 minutes and eight of those ten were on layups and dunks.  The other two points were from the free throw line after he was fouled on a layup attempt.
  • The Bucks were running a lot of three man weave triggered off a screen from the right wing at the top of the three point circle.  The Nuggets response was to switch off.  The result was a lot of Nene getting stuck at the top of the circle switching onto perimeter player after perimeter player.  In fact, that was the reason he was on Richard Jefferson on the play where he hurt his knee.  
  • With the Nuggets down three and 30 seconds left in the game they ran a play that brought J.R. off of a double screen to try to tie the game.  He was hounded pretty well by Luc Mbah Bahmoute or whatever his name is and ended up forcing up an air ball.  I think George Karl has done a pretty good job of drawing up plays all season whether they be out of timeouts or at the end of games, but in that situation, you take the quick two and foul.  If you miss the three the game is over.  Do not resort to shots like that until they are absolutely necessary.  With the Nuggets down four and 17.8 seconds left he drew up a play where Melo curled of a screen, received the inbounds pass on the left wing and drove right to the rim.  The result was Melo scored in only 2.5 seconds.  As Jason Kosmicki astutely pointed out on the radio, if they run that play instead of the double screen for J.R. they are only down one with 25 or so seconds left with the Bucks shooting free throws instead of down three with the Bucks at the line.  If they miss a free throw (which both Ridnour and Sessions did in the closing seconds) you are only down two and in great position to send it to OT. 
  • Another of the 24 turnovers that made me nuts was a fast break where Anthony Carter had the ball and Melo is way out in front, the defender, Charlie Bell is at the free throw line and as Carter enters the front court he commits to Carter.  At this point AC is well outside the three point line.  With Bell having changed directions all Carter has to do is lob the ball over his head to Melo.  Instead Carter continues to dribble and runs all the way into Bell before trying to pass to the wide open Melo.  The result was a lazy over head pass that was easily deflected and stolen by Bell and a clear path foul called on Kleiza.  The Nuggets stopped the Bucks on the following possession, but it was a four point swing as Bell made both free throws.  Just a horrible play.
  • The Bucks went small to start the fourth quarter and Andersen was in the game.  It would have been a perfect time to bring Balkman back in, but Karl stayed with Andersen who gave up a jumper to Villanueva and then a drive and dunk to Joe Alexander and then another jumper to Villanueva.  Alexander and Villanueva were the “bigs” in the game for the Bucks.  I am not faulting Andersen, he was playing hard.  He even worked to deny the ball to Alexander way out past the three point line.  The Bucks were able to take Birdman out of the paint and out of his game.  At the other end on one occasion Birdman was being guarded by Luke Ridnour at the rim, but Melo was so determined to post up Charlie Bell he did not even look Andersen’s way.  Andersen did make a couple of nice plays such as an offensive put back and a huge block on Alexander at the rim, but I really think Karl missed a chance to matchup better with Balkman.
  • Karl’s other option would have been to insert Nene and go medieval on their heinies.  When Karl did sub Nene in with 7:07 left in the game Skiles responded by removing Ridnour for Cisco Elson.  The Nuggets were only outscored by one during the small ball segment of the fourth, but had they used Balkman I believe they would have been much better off.
  • For some reason now that Kleiza has made a couple of threes he is going to the rim more.  Do not ask me why he was not attacking the hoop in the middle of his 0-16 three point shooting slump.  Anyway he had a beautiful take with 7:33 left in the fourth where he received the pass on the right side a little bit above the baseline.  He exploded past Alexander with a great first step, took one dribble, took his two steps and laid the ball in the net.  That is a drill that every player should work on, getting to the rim off of one dribble from your respective three point line (whatever the distance may be at your level) and for Kleiza to do it in a game and leave an athlete like Alexander in the dust was beautiful.  (This however does not give him a pass for his atrocious defense all game long.)
  • Chauncey picks up his dribble way too much.
  • Mr. Big Shot reared his ugly head again as with the Nuggets down 114-113 with about 1:30 left in the game Chauncey brought the ball up the floor and took a three with 14 seconds left on the shot clock.  I think most if not all of us can agree that J.R. tends to take too many shots like that so what kind of example is Chauncey setting for J.R. when he takes those shots?  How can the coaching staff get on J.R. without getting on Chauncey? 
  • While we are on Chauncey he displayed some absolutely atrocious court sense he displayed by stepping well over the three point line on his desperation with Denver down three and only six seconds left in the game.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  98.9

Defensive Efficiency:  121.3 – Ugh.

Offensive Efficiency:  118.3 – Again with 24 turnovers.

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  • Stumbleweed

    George Karl’s bad coaching has been mostly covered up this year with Chauncey and the improved play of almost everyone on the team (Kleiza aside), but it’s beginning to show through in these last few games. Not going to Balkman more in this game was ridiculous, as he was literally the only guy with K-Mart out who had a chance of defending the versatile Villanueva. Instead we run with 3 guards + Kleiza for a long stretch where Charlie proceeds to completely destroy us defensively, aided by Kleiza’s trademark atrocious defense… just inexcusable that Balkman didn’t get more burn in this game with K-Mart out.

    I’m not a “sky is falling” type, but Utah is just starting to get healthy again and Portland hasn’t appeared to slow down at all… we might well lose our division lead if Nene is out more than 1 game, which I’m suspecting will be the case (I bet he’ll be back against the Lakers). WE NEED THAT HOMECOURT, so I hope we can find our defense and that Nene/K-Mart/Melo can get healthy for the stretch run. Otherwise it might be another unceremonious bounce in the first round against a better team and then a disappointing off-season where we shed salary and don’t improve one iota…

  • Missing Lynx

    I was listening in on the radio too, and was just as worried when I heard Nene went down.

    I imagined what it would mean if he is out for significant time (more than a week or two) – the effective end of the Nuggets season. Nene is the reason they are so good this year. Chauncey this, Chauncey that – we all know that
    “Mr. Big Shot” has helped the team more with reputation and defensive mindset than his actual play.

    Nene is the Nuggets ticket to home court advantage and finally making it out of the first round – I really hope you are right about him not missing much time, Jeremy.

  • sleepydog

    i think one of the big reasons our defense the last two games has taken such a nose dive is the absence of K-mart. in general, i am not a k-mart fan, but i think this year he is the one that sets the tone for our whole team defensively (not dahntay jones). without him everyone seems to get lazy and brain-dead on d. it’s not just his on the ball d or help d, its his general ferocity that, when the team is playing good d, seems to overflow to the rest of they guys.

    also, at least karl is beginning to realize he should be playing balkman more. but more courage? wtf does that mean exactly?
    overall, i am sick of karl playing players he has crushes on (dahntay, lk) and avoiding players he dislikes (balkman) regardless of their play on the court. what a joke

  • Stumbleweed

    Yeah, there’s no excuse for Karl’s rotations any more… Dahntay shows again and again that he’s not a great defender (got SMOKED by Wade over and over) and has no offensive skills to speak of, Kleiza is a one-dimensional chucker (and not even consistent with those ‘offensive skills’), and AC is a career bench guy who yet again finds himself in a role above his ability (being expected to anchor the bench of a championship contender is a big job). Balkman is the “shutdown defender” guy that we should be playing when we need to take someone off their game, as he can defend 2-4 well (a little iffy on really quick 2-guards), not Dahntay. Again, we should be running our most talented lineup of Chauncey, JR, Melo, K-Mart, and Nene with Balkman rotated in as the primary defensive stopper.

    We have a crappy bench without JR’s scoring there, but I really think that he needs to get comfortable playing with the starters, because that’s what should happen in the playoffs (as it did last year) where teams all run their best 8 players. Dahntay should not get any kind of minutes in the playoffs, and George’s boneheaded rotations are setting us up for failure in that regard.

    And yeah, I’m not the biggest K-Mart guy in the world either, but we REALLY need him on the floor as presently constituted, because he’s the only big guy (aside from Balkman) who can function in our constant switching defense (boooo)… Nene and Bird get exposed whenever they get switched onto a guard, but Kenyon and Renaldo seem to hold their own. Karl is right that Kenyon is the defensive glue on our team — hopefully we’ll get out collective shit together with him back on the floor… missing Nene against the Celts sucks, but we really just need a big body to push Perkins away from the boards (since KG is out), so hopefully Petro gets some good minutes and can hold it down.

  • NuggetsandRockiesGirl

    I agree with Jeremy’s points and all that has been said here. The fact that Balkman played so few minutes yesterday (and in fact all season long, he should be used as one of our finest weapons off the bench) was a travesty. I also heard about Karl’s comment about how he have had courage to play Balkman more. Does he think Balkman is some kind of risk or did he harm Karl in some way we all don’t know about? What is the deal? I really don’t understand his rotations and player combos most of the time. I feel some of the blame for Nene’s injury could be placed on Karl because if he had set up things differently and put in more defensive players (*Cough* Balkman or Bird), the injury could very well have been avoided. It still could have happened, but I think the odds that it actually would have happened would have gone way down. I also wanted to say that Melo played a great game, especially playing hurt and it was nice to see him have a high number of rebounds again.

    I think Jeremy’s comments about Chauncey were key and spot on. I love Chauncey and what he has done for the team, but he is a role model and other players look to him for ways to improve their own game. Particularly J.R. who I have seen look to him on many occasions. At least Chauncey acknowledged his mistakes and is always trying to improve.

    I’m going to tonite’s game against the Celtics (a birthday present) and all I can hope for is improved defense and a Nuggets win! A “W” would be the best present I could recieve! :) While it will be sad not have Nene tonight, all we can hope for is good news about the prognosis of his knee and a quick recovery. I am glad K-mart will be back tonight to help.