In their first game coming out of the All-Star break the Denver Nuggets failed to show up for the first seven minutes of the game, then once they decided to start playing they still appeared to sleep walk through the rest of the first half. Lucky for them the way they played in the second half made it pretty easy to forgive them for their sorry play in the first half.
The Nuggets also owe the Sixers some thanks as well because there is no way Philly should have only been up by ten at the half. As bad as the Nuggets were the Sixers were not much better exhibiting some truly hideous offense over the first 24 minutes. Philly dominated the paint, but missed numerous shots from close in. By my count in the play by play they missed eight layups in the first half alone and I think Philly had several more tip attempts that rimmed out as well.
Do not get me wrong, Denver was terrible offensively in the first half. They did not score their sixth point until Melo made a layup with only 3:35 left in the first quarter. The Nuggets’ putrid play was due to their perimeter mindset, not an inability to make layups.
I think we all hoped to see the Nuggets crank up their effort and they clearly were not out of the game down only ten, but to see the ferocity they took the floor with was shocking to everyone. It was especially shocking to the 76ers and their stunned fans. The Nuggets began attacking the rim starting off the half with three consecutive layups off of the high pick and roll by Chauncey and Nene. In fact the Nuggets went on to make nine layups in the third quarter and were awarded free throws on a couple of occasions when they were fouled to prevent an easy lay in. For some reason those shots that rattle out when you are playing one pass and shoot perimeter ball seem to find the net when they are a result of a more free flowing unselfish offense. Thanks to their renewed sense of purpose on offense Denver was able to take the lead just two and a half minutes into the third quarter and produced a 24-4 run to start the second half.
Chauncey was clearly the catalyst and it was one of the first times this season where he triggered a second half spurt from largely getting to the rim instead of catching fire from the perimeter. After Chauncey scored 13 of the Nuggets’ 24 points to start the half Philly began to focus on him almost exclusively on defense. They assigned Willie Green to shadow Chauncey wherever he went. Green denied Billups the inbounds pass and when Chauncey would get the ball and drive off a screen the 76ers were trapping him relentlessly.
Carmelo and J.R. Smith were able to handle the ball and the Sixers’ strategy did not derail the Nuggets right away, but they did hold Denver to only two points over the final two minutes of the third quarter to get back to within three.
Despite the Nuggets’ offensive explosion in the second half you could make a strong argument that they won this game on defense. Even early in the game they were playing solidly and it was only after the first few minutes of offensive futility that their defense took a corresponding turn for the worse. In the second half the Sixers were hurt by the injury suffered by Andre Miller, but Denver really closed off the driving lanes, packed the lane, fought for rebounds and dared the Sixers to be them from the perimeter. Philly knew that they could not win the game by shooting jumpers and so they tried to stick the ball inside, which played directly into the strength of the Nuggets defense. The result was a lot of contested shots being taken from tough angles and with little space to operate.
The Nuggets now have two very winnable games in Chicago and Milwaukee to close out the eight road games they have had in February. At this point they are in second place in the Western Conference a full game ahead of the Spurs, which is actually two games due to the fact the Nuggets own the tie breaker against San Antonio, and with off days between both remaining games a 7-1 elongated road trip is a necessity.
Additional Game 54 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 96.8
Defensive Efficiency: 92.0 – The third straight sub 100 game for the Nuggets. They also held Philly to 32.6% shooting. They are starting to resemble the team that was winning with defense earlier in the season. The Nuggets now once again have a better defensive efficiency with Billups than during the four games they played without him. It has been a month and a half or so since we could say that.
Offensive Efficiency: 104.4 – Considering they only had five points more than eight minutes into the game that is pretty good.
Sorry for going dark over the All-Star break, I fully intended to post one or two videos highlighting the Nuggets’ defense against the Magic and Heat and throwing at least something up about All-Star Weekend, but I found myself crawling around in a large warehouse in Liberty, MO for many hours between Thursday and Tuesday. The good news is I am back and ready to get back in the saddle.
Denver has a brief three game road trip to kick off the last eight weeks of the regular season starting tonight in Philadelphia. The Sixers had high hopes heading into the season with their hot finish and the addition of Elton Brand. Well, Brand is not out for the season, but apparently that is OK as they are 14-9 when Brand does not play. They are getting better without him too as they are 11-2 in the last 13 games he has missed.
Andre Igoudala is a big reason why Philly has turned things around as he is putting up big numbers since the calendar flipped past November 2008. Behind Igoudala comes Andre Miller who has given the Sixers a steady hand on both ends of the court. They also have a stable of young scorers in Thaddeus Young, Louis Williams and rookie big man Mareese Speights.
The real key to the Sixers’ winning ways has been their defense. It will be interesting to see how Philly defends Carmelo. The first meeting this season was the third of three games Melo skipped to try to rest his sore elbow so we have not seen how the Sixers will try to defend both Melo and Chauncey. In that meeting the Sixers had a 17 point third quarter lead and Denver gnawed away at it with a small ball lineup. Hopefully the Nuggets will not need to resort to such shenanigans again tonight.
Denver and Philly have split the season series each of the previous four seasons so the Nuggets will be going for their first series sweep of the 76ers since Melo’s rookie season of 2003-04. Denver has had some success in the City of Brotherly Love and Burning Dumpsters winning three of their last five there, but if you do not include games where one of their star players kissed the 76er logo before the game they have won three of their previous four games there.
Denver has had six days off, except for J.R. Smith who participated in the dunk contest and Chauncey Billups who played in the All-Star game itself. The rest has done Chris Andersen, who bruised his wrist and hip against the Heat last week, some good as he is listed as probable to play tonight. On the flip side Philadelphia played, and lost, in Indiana last night 100-91.
The Nuggets entered the break having won four out of five road games and with the rest they have enjoyed should be confident and determined to carry that momentum forward.
Previous Matchup: Game 30 – Den 105 Phi 101
Editor’s Note: I am at Denver International Airport trying to finish this up before my plane departs. I may have to cut it a little short. We do have a few days to catch up on any details I might have to leave out.
Anytime you end a 15 game losing streak it is cause for celebration. When you do it by holding the fourth best offense in the league to 73 points I think we should all take the day off tomorrow. It was the fewest points the Nuggets allowed in a single game since April 6, 2007 when they defeated the Dallas Mavericks 75 to 71 at the Pepsi Center.
Watching the game was an excruciating experience. It felt like I was watching a postseason baseball pitchers’ duel. Every time Orlando got a guy on base (made a three) it felt like everything could crumble down. I did not feel comfortable at all until Nene made both of his free throws with 29 seconds left to put the Nuggets back up by eight 81-73.
You have to be impressed with the effort and intensity the Nuggets played with all game long, especially considering they played a tough game in Miami last night, they had already won three games on the trip and could have felt a sense of contentment and it was the last game before the All-Star break. Denver decided early on that they wanted to avenge the smackdown they received at the hands of the Magic last month.
I was impressed with almost everything Denver did on defense tonight. I am sure this will surprise a lot of you, but I am on board with their strategy of switching most of the perimeter screens. The Magic are a team that you can get away with switching. In fact, they are such a good perimetedoing so. Anyone who can guard Hedo Turkoglu can check Rashard Lewis. If you try to fight through
Orlando bombarded the Clippers with 16 threes in 26 attempts in the first game Jameeer Nelson missed. However, since then in three games the Magic have shot a combined 26 for 83 which converts to 31.3%. Orlando seems to have lost the drive and kick game without Nelson and that makes it much easier for teams to rotate and challenge shots, even after doubling or collapsing on Dwight Howard.
I thought Denver did a good job of mixing up their defense on Howard. Sometimes they played him straight up, sometimes the doubled and other times they swarmed him. NO matter what their strategy was they all seemed to be on the same page. I think it was the most organized the Nuggets have been on defense all season. Of course, despite the Nuggets solid defense Orlando deserves some of the credit (blame) for only scoring 73 points. When they did have open shots they ended up missing them anyway.
The Nuggets can really feel good about themselves heading into the second half of the season. They have set a team record for best record after 53 games and they have a few days off to get everyone healthy.
Additional Game 53 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 90.4
Defensive Efficiency: 80.7 – That destroys their previous season best of 83.7 from game 45 versus Memphis.
Offensive Efficiency: 90.7 – That would be a season low if it were not for the 78.3 they dropped in New Jersey.
Featured Blog: Third Quarter Collapse
The big story heading into tonight’s game is how the Denver Nuggets have not won in Orlando since I was a senior in high school.
By the way, I am old.
March 10, 1992 was the last time the Nuggets left the floor in Orlando victorious. It took what was probably a career night from Mark Macon to pull off an 89-82 victory. Since then the Nuggets have gone 0-15 in Orlando. Here is the ugly history.
|Season||Score||Den High Scorer||Orl High Scorer|
|92-93||111-99||Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf 25||Shaquille O’Neal 24|
|93-94||95-88||Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf 22||Shaquille O’Neal 29|
|94-95||120-96||Reggie Slater 16||Shaquille O’Neal 24|
|95-96||121-93||Dale Ellis 18||Shaquille O’Neal 30|
|96-97||99-86||LaPhonso Ellis 24||Penny Hardaway 22|
|97-98||103-85||Johnny Newman 23||Horace Grant 21|
|99-00||110-107||Antonio McDyess 35||John Amaechi 31|
|00-01||103-93||Antonio McDyess 28||Tracy McGrady 36|
|01-02||124-102||Juwan Howard 20||Tracy McGrady 30|
|02-03||111-98||Juwan Howard 19||Tracy McGrady 43*|
|03-04||102-98||Carmelo Anthony 35||Juwan Howard 24|
|04-05||117-95||DerMarr Johnson 18||Cuttino Mobley 19|
|05-06||94-83||Carmelo Anthony 23||DeShawn Stevenson 18|
|06-07||108-99||Carmelo Anthony 34||Keyon Dooling 24|
|07-08||109-98||Carmelo Anthony 32||Rashard Lewis 25|
*McGrady outscored the Nuggets 37-32 in the first half by himself.
That all equates to an average score of 108.5 to 94.7. Not only have the Nuggets not won in Orlando during this stretch, they have only been within six points (two possessions) twice. Interestinlgy this will be the fifth season in a row where the Nuggets must play in Orland the night after playing in Miami. Some may think that is unfair to the Nuggets, but it is equally as unfair to the Heat. Over the previous three seasons Denver has won in Miami only to go to Orlando the next night and lose. Should Denver lose tonight it will extend that streak to four seasons. Don’t you think Miami would like to see the Nuggets play in Orlando and then have to travel to Miami to play the second half of the back to back?
The bad news for the Nuggets is this is arguably the best team in Magic franchise history. They are certainly on pace to have the best record in franchise history this season. There is some hope amongst Nugget fans that because Jameer Nelson is injured Orlando is ripe for the picking. Nelson was a well deserving All-Star this season and his loss is a painful one for the Magic, but this team is deep enough to keep cruising without Nelson running the show.
Without Jameer they have gone 2-1 (although they lost the game he was injured in at home to Dallas so you could make an argument they are 2-2 without him) with home blowout wins over the Clippers and Nets and a road loss at Indiana.
What makes the Magic a deadly team is their three point shooting. Thanks to Dwight Howard they get a lot of open looks due to the fact that defenses must collapse on him in the post. However, Nelson did generate a lot of open looks himself due to his ability to penetrate and kick. In the first meeting this season Nelson was in the lane all night long. Neither Chauncey nor Anthony Carter could keep up with him. Obviously his absence is a big key to this game, but Denver cannot just expect to show up and win because he is out.
Denver is most likely going to be without a vital player as well in Chris “Birdman” Andersen although he is listed as questionable. Nene has struggled with foul trouble pretty frequently this season. He is third in the NBA in total fouls at 191 (one behind Andris Biedrins and three behind Jason Thompson) and is fifth in fouls per game. (This has nothing to do with anything, but Roy Hibbert leads the NBA in fouls per 48 minutes at 10.1 per game. Sorry, one more because it has to do with the Nuggets. There are only two players who are not centers or power forwards in the top 30 for fouls per 48 minutes. Dahntay Jones has the highest rate of fouls per 48 minutes of any player who is not a post player at 6.3.)
Getting back on task here Nene fouled out in only 17 minutes against Howard the first time they played this season. Denver cannot afford a repeat of that performance. With Birdzilla questionable (and I think most likely out) the Nuggets are going to have to rely on either Kenyon Martin or Johan Petro to guard Howard and I do not look forward to the results under either of those circumstances. It might make some sense to play zone in that situation, but because Orlando is such a great perimeter team there is no way you can. I think Denver will have to double Howard with J.R. or Dahntay in order to get the tallest player possible hounding him. If Billups or AC double it is easier for Howard to pass out. The extra three or four inches of reach between the Nuggets’ shooting guards compared to their point guards may not sound like much, but it can make a difference when it comes to harassing a post player.
I would like to see Denver go as big as possible, especially when Nene is out by utilizing Balkman off the bench instead of Carter. There is no player on the Magic such as a Dwyane Wade who Anthony Carter is needed to cover. Why not put Balkman in to help on the boards and to provide energy that may be lacking after a hard fought game in Miami.
This is the last game of a five game roadie (I refuse to call this an eight game road trip when they have six days off in the middle of it) and the Nuggets have a chance to put a big notch in the win column tonight by beating an elite team and putting a stake in the heart of this losing streak. A 4-1 trip heading into the break would be a very good accomplishment for the Nuggets and it could serve as a springboard into the last couple of months of the season.
Update: As suspected Chris Andersen is out tonight.
Previous Matchup: Game 41 – Den 88 Orl 106
Featured Blog: Third Quarter Collapse
As many of you may have heard already, J.R. Smith has been inserted into the lineup for the dunk contest to replace the injured Rudy Gay. J.R. participated in the 2005 contest in Denver as a member of the New Orleans Hornets and I remember he threw down an impressive behind the back dunk that did not get as high of a score as I thought it deserved.
Dwight Howard will be tough to beat, but if the judges do not appreciate what he does, like two years ago, I think J.R. will be in position to pull off the win. We have seen Nate Robinson’s shtick and Rudy Fernandez is an “in game dunker” and needs an unsuspecting center as a prop in order to do anything impressive.
Between the Nuggets expected third quarter swoon and the performance of Dwyane Wade Superstar this game provided some shaky moments, but thanks to the way Denver started and closed this game it ended up being a safe victory. It was Denver’s eighth straight win against the Heat.
I think we all knew that Denver would come out of the gate strong after the loss that was purged from memory in New Jersey and they certainly did not disappoint. Denver played hounding defense and their movement without the ball and passing was arguably the best we had seen all season. They connected on a couple of back door dunks in the first quarter for Kenyon, one came off of an inbounds play.
Another key to their offensive success was they were able to penetrate at will the entire first half. Chauncey, Melo and Kenyon were driving to the rim and either finishing or finding an open teammate for an easy basket. Miami closed off the lane pretty well in the third quarter which as we have seen time after time Denver started settling for jumpers.
In my mind the key player for the Nuggets in the fourth quarter was Anthony Carter. Dahntay Jones played poor defense on Wade. On the very first possession of the game he lost track of him and did it again later in the first quarter. He fell for Wade’s shot fakes, overreacted to his jab steps as on more than one occasion he jumped way out of the play and opened up a huge driving lane on a minimal jab step by Wade and he gambled for steals. Against a player like Wade it is all about position. The defender must staying in front of him, stay on the floor for his shot fakes and take advantage of the help from teammates to push him back into you off of screens. Carter did all those things and the result was a five point fourth quarter by Dwyane.
If there was an area of the Nuggets defense that you could point to, other than Carter’s spirited D on Wade, that lead to their impressive fourth quarter performance it was the bigs willingness to step out and help defend the screen and roll. In the third quarter they were content to hang back and the result was a rash of open shots that lead to Miami’s comeback. In the fourth they hedged very well on the screen, sealed off the lane and recovered very well.
After the Heat cut the lead to four with ten minutes left Chauncey drilled a three and Michael Beasley hit short push shot to draw the Heat within five at the 9:17 mark. After that bucket by Beasley, Miami only scored eight points the rest of the game. Three points came on a Wade three pointer with Carter right in his face, Wade made a layup off of a lucky bounce on a loose ball and Beasley made a three in garbage time with 1:20 left in the game.
It was not all good news though as Chris “Birdman” Andersen was taken out by Shawn Marion on a fast break dunk attempt with 1:42 left in the third quarter. He landed hard on his left side and has bruised his hip and wrist. Birdman stayed in the game to make the free throw, but left 20 seconds later, went o the locker room and did not return. I seriously doubt he will be available against the Magic, which is a bummer knowing Dwight Howard is probably going to get Nene into foul trouble as he did in the first meeting, but hopefully he will be ready to play following the All-Star break.
All in all they responded very well to the humiliation they suffered in New Jersey. They got out fast, weathered the storm and won going away. Melo, Chauncey and Kenyon all logged long hard minutes and they will have their work cut out for them tomorrow in Orlando. All I know is a 4-1 road trip heading into the break would be awfully nice, no matter how ugly the one loss was.
Additional Game 52 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 86.1
Defensive Efficiency: 95.2
Offensive Efficiency: 115.0
Featured Blog: Peninsula is Mightier
Carmelo Anthony has had some pretty good regular season success against his friends LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. This season he lost his upper hand with James as the Nuggets were swept, and completely embarrassed in Denver, by Cleveland. Hopefully Melo can continue his success against Wade and the Miami Heat tonight.
The Nuggets have won three games in a row at Miami, including an overtime thriller last season, seven in a row overall and eight of the last nine between the two teams.
In their first meeting this season the Nuggets were playing their first game without Carmelo Anthony after he fractured his hand. The Nuggets came out with impressive defensive intensity in the first half and they largely held Wade in check. The second half was completely different as Wade heated up and the offense went into chucker mode.
Miami traditionally doubles Melo, which would open up opportunities for the other Nuggets on offense. However, this is the first time the two teams have played with Erik Spoelstra as coach of the Heat and Melo active. It will be interesting to see if he conjures up a similar scheme as his former mentor Pat Riley.
Defensively Denver will have to use their man with zone principles scheme to keep Wade out of the lane and force him to shoot jumpers. Tonight Wade will equal the number of games he has played in the past two seasons as he takes the floor for the 51st time. Wade is having a incredible season, but surprisingly he is shooting a career worst 73.9% from the free throw line including a startlingly low 71.3% at home. He is also taking twice as many three pointers as he ever has before averaging three attempts a game this season even though he only hits on 28.3% of them. That increase in three point shooting almost solely accounts for his slight drop in shooting percentage this season.
Denver, and more specifically Anthony Carter, must do a better job in transition as Chalmers and Wade are capable of pushing the pace and getting to the rim. Miami is a relatively slow paced team, but they will run when the opportunity presents itself.
The Nuggets will also have to make sure that they contain Wade’s supporting cast. There is no Heat player that averages as much as half of Wade’s 28.3 points per game, but they have five other players who average double figures (Beasley, Marion, Haslem, Chalmers and Cook). Any one of those guys can go off. In the first meeting between these two teams this season it was Marion who had a big night on offense with 25, but Beasley, Chalmers and Haslem (Cook did not play) were all held right around their averages and the result was an 11 point win for the Nuggets. Generally the Heat need three of their five secondary scorers to put up above average games in order to pull out a victory.
As far as any recent streaks Miami is 5-1 in their last six home games since a loss to the Boston Celtics almost three weeks ago and the Nuggets are 2-1 on their current five game road trip heading into the All-Star break.
The Nuggets are clearly the better team, but it is not easy to beat a decent team, especially one with a great player, over and over again. As a fan one thing we have going in our favor is the fact that the Nuggets are coming off a 44 point embarrassment with two days to sit and stew about it and I think we can expect as good of an effort as we have seen all season.
Previous Matchup: Game 37 – Den 108 Mia 97
Featured Blog: Peninsula is Mightier
I think all of us who love sports have always dreamed of running our own team. That is why fantasy sports are so popular. We all want to prove that we can do it. We can take a list of all the available players and piece together a roster that is better than the roster any of our opponents can construct.
If you have a dream to be an NBA GM a good place to start would be this Basketball GM and Scouting course (hat tip to Henry at TrueHoop for the link) from an organization called Sports Management Worldwide. The course is an eight week online experience that is team taught by a group of individuals who are involved in the NBA.
One of those individuals is none other than Denver Nuggets VP of Basketball Operations Mark Warkentien. Another member of the “faculty” is the author of “Basketball on Paper” and current Statistical Analyst and Scout for the Denver Nuggets Dean Oliver (his official title on the Nuggets staff directory is Director of Quantitative Analysys). The other interesting name on the list of faculty is none other than ESPN.com’s Chad Ford.
When I discover this my first thought is I need to get involved in this course for nothing but the chance to have access to some members of the Nuggets front office. Then I scrolled down to the bottom of the page and saw that the course costs $1,450.
Needless to say I do not have a spare $1,450 sitting around. That means the only way I will be signing up for this course is through the charity of others so contact me by email and I will let you know where to send you check or money order to.
Chauncey on Pardon the Interruption
Chauncey appeared on PTI when the Nuggets were in DC and gave a pretty interesting Interview. Watch the clip to find out how many titles the Pistons would have won if Joe Dumars had drafted Melo instead of Darko Milicic and how much Chauncey likes Carmleo (hat tip to Andrew at Denver Stiffs for the link).
Just so everyone knows I was not avoiding writing a post about this monstrosity, I did not get a chance to watch what went down until Sunday night and I was still too worn out from skiing on Saturday to whip anything up last night.
I watched the entire first half and then it was time for me to grill up some burgers. When I came back a few minutes later I was hoping to see the Nuggets had cut the Nets 20 point halftime lead to 15 or maybe 12. Instead it was 27. I did not bother watching another second of it. Needless to say I was surprised to find out later on that Denver had lost by 44 points.
One question kept nagging at me. I have always believed the only way a NBA team could lose by 44 points is if they just quit and roll over. I had to watch the rest of the game to see at what point did the Denver players throw in the towel.
To my surprise, and relief, the starters never did stop playing hard. Do not get me wrong, they stopped playing well late in the first quarter, but they never quit trying to defend, trying to run their offense (there was a stretch in the middle of the third where they launched quick jumpers on three or four straight possessions, but it did not last long) and trying to come back. Even as the lead ballooned to more than 30 late in the third quarter they were trapping off of screens, trying to rotate and forcing turnovers. In the fourth quarter the regulars off the bench were running the floor and trying to be aggressive.
It was just a night where in the second and third quarters everything the Nets threw up went in the hoop and almost nothing the Nuggets hoisted fell through.
I typically hate excuses, but despite the easy win in Washington, DC the night before you could tell that these guys were gassed. They were always a step slow in recovering, chasing down loose balls and reacting to the Nets ball movement.
Fortunately for Denver a 44 point loss only counts as one loss and they are in a good position in the conference. New Orleans, Houston, Utah and Phoenix are all struggling. The Nuggets are three games up on New Orleans in the race for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and two and a half games up on Portland for the division.
There are two games left before the All-Star break and Denver has two days off before a tough back to back in Miami and Orlando heading into the All-Star break.
Additional Game 51 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 89.4 – Slow.
Defensive Efficiency: 127.5 – Bad.
Offensive Efficiency: 78.3 – Keep in mind the season low before this was a 90.9.
Featured Blog: NetsDaily
I will not be back from the beautiful mountains of Colorado in time tomorrow to put together a preview for the Nuggets/Nets game. Here is your game thread so comment away Nuggets fans.
Previous Meeting: N/A
Featured Blog: Nets Daily
I did not see a second of this game yet and I am going skiing tomorrow for the first time since November 20, 2000. (I know because that is the date on the lift ticket hooked to my neon green and purple ski jacket. That jacket was even out of style then and there is no way I am wearing it tomorrow.) Anyway, the point is with another game tomorrow night, the uncompetitive nature of the “contest” and the fact I have to get up in less than six hours means I will let the other capable news outlets and blogs cover this one.
You do get stats though.
Pace Factor: 92.6
Defensive Efficiency: 111.3 – I am going to guess that it would have been much better if not for the fact the entire fourth quarter was garbage time.
Offensive Efficiency: 134.0 – Almost a season high. They put up a 134.7 in Sam Mitchell’s last game as the head coach of the Toronto Raptors.
Featured Blog: Bullets Forever
By the way, it is worth noting I typed that entire post without misspelling a single wodr. Oh, dang it.
Let’s play a little game. The game is called “Things ESPN would rather show than the Nuggets/Wizards game.”
At least there is one thing they would never show over the Nuggets/Wizards game and that is any Utah Jazz game.
In all seriousness I feel really bad for the Wizards. Gilbert Arenas is doing all he can to avoid playing this season. They replaced a highly competent coach with one who is much less so. Andray Blatche is hurt and now Caron Butler is probably going to miss his second straight game with the flu. Look at the Wizards projected starting lineup and tell me Denver should not win this by 25 (although I still think Javaris Crittenton has the ability to be a good NBA player).
News from the Chris Tomasson at the News is Kenyon Martin is going to play and Chauncey participation will be determined just prior to the game.
Previous Matchup: N/A
Featured Blog: Bullets Forever
It may not be an off day, but I meant to post most of this yesterday. If I wait any longer they will be both irrelevant and uninteresting.
The NBA has announced that Horse will be added to the events of All-Star weekend and the competition will be held on an outdoor court that is built into the TNT set. Today we found out that thanks to the wonders of corporate sponsorships whoever is involved will be playing GEICO instead of Horse.
That makes it even more special.
Those of us at the ESPN/TrueHoop network worked up our own ideas for how to make All-Star weekend better. Check out our great ideas over at The Two Man Game.
WizzNutzz has come up with their own entertaining list of improvements as well .
One last theory on the Spurs JV game
One last interesting view point on Gregg Popovich’s decision to sit Duncan, Parker and Ginobili (he also sat Michael Finley who I am sure is developing some kind of complex because no one has really cared that he was held out) is Pop was pissed at the NBA over the Spurs schedule. Both Jason Kosmicki of the Altitude Radio Network and Matt Steinmetz, the Warriors’ television color commentator, mentioned how the Spurs had to travel east, thus losing an hour, and having to take a two hour long flight (which they both argued is longer than usual to travel for a back to back game) in order to play in the “high altitude” of Denver, Colorado. I do not have a link because these were arguments I heard over the airwaves so you will just have to trust me.
I am not sure if there is anything to that, but it is an interesting view point.
By the way, my “ESPN colleague” John Hollinger agreed that Pop may have been playing some head games in that should the two teams face off in the playoffs both of them will remember that the one game Duncan, Parker and Ginobili all played the Spurs trounced the Nuggets and Denver will have the memory in their domes of the night they barely beat the Spurs without those three at the Pepsi Center.
Is Melo really clutch, kind of clutch or just lucky?
After his game winning shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder Carmelo Anthony is shooting 10 for 17, which computes to 58.8%, on shots that would put the Nuggets ahead in the final ten seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime. Since entering the league only one player with at least ten attempts is even shooting 50% and that is David West (6 for 12).
If you take a look at the clutch stats on 82games.com (compiled during the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime and neither team ahead by more than five) Melo has the third highest points per 48 minutes average in the league. Kobe is first at 57.3, LeBron is second at 57.0 and Melo is third at 54.7. These change quickly and Melo was actually at the top of the list a few days ago. Other numbers in Melo’s favor are shooting percentage (Kobe – 49.2%, LeBron – 51.3%, Melo – 59.4%!) and three point shooting percentage (LeBron – 36.4%, Kobe – 50.0%, Melo – 66.7%).
Stat heads claim that there is no such thing as clutch, but Melo has put together a pretty decent track record of rising to the moment so far in his career.
I am not sure if I should look forward to playing Oklahoma City or not. On one hand, the nip and tuck nature of these two games has been completely draining. On the other the sweet thrill of victory puts a hop in my step and a song in my heart (Livin’ on a Prayer by Bon Jovi is somewhat appropriately currently streaming through my arteries).
Before we get to the causes for the big turnaround we need to look at how the Nuggets found themselves down by 16 in the second quarter. The Nuggets were up five points, 38 to 22, with 10:19 left I the quarter. Just over seven minutes, and some of the worst basketball the Nuggets have played all year, later Denver was behind 58 to 42. That is right, they were outscored 25 to four and that includes a 15 to zero run.
The Nuggets had two primary issues during that stretch. First of all, they were getting decent shots, but they were just missing them. There were a plethora of layup attempts and short open jumpers that just did not go down. As a result of all those missed shots the Thunder players led by Earl Watson and Russell Westbrook scored layup after layup in transition. That was the real problem and the reason why Oklahoma City dumped 39 on the Nuggets in the second quarter.
The Nuggets guards, Anthony Carter, J.R. Smith and Dahntay Jones did a terrible job of slowing the Thunder guards down. Anthony Carter was especially bad. He would set himself up at the three point line and then just watch as the offensive player, who obviously has the benefit of momentum, blow past him. In a situation like that you need to set yourself up beyond where you want to start to slow the dribbler and begin to give way as he approaches. If you are not going at full speed by the time he reaches you the only way to be anything other than a shinny blue billboard on his way to the basket is to become a speed bump and just throw yourself at his feet and take him out.
The Nuggets were able to get the gap back down to 11 at the half and heading into the third quarter I had one reason for hope and that was I knew the Nuggets were going to stop switching screens in the second half and that we could expect a better scheme to slow the Thunder down. In the first half on the few occasions the Thunder had to set up their half court offense Denver was burned time and again by switching screens. The Nuggets repeated their performance from the previous night against the Spurs as there were times when only one defender switched the screen. I have no idea how at this point in the season these guys have such a difficult time getting on the same page defensively. Either you are switching or you are not.
Denver also suffered from rotation breakdowns that we have seen in the past. They would have one or two players rotate, but then when it came time for the next rotation no one arrived resulting in open jumpers for the Thunder Threesome.
The Nuggets played much smarter and more together on defense in the second half. There were two big keys to that in my mind. One was as I mentioned, they stopped switching screens and secondly the big men started jumping the ball handler on the pick and roll. Nene and Chris Andersen did a good job trapping along the sideline and that additional ball pressure, believe it or not, made a big difference. Go figure. Add in the fact the Nuggets continued to score and thus did not give the Thunder a chance to run and the result was a paltry 43 second half points for Oklahoma City.
The last topic that jumped out at me was the battle of wits between George Karl and Scott Brooks as both coaches had the chance to draw up two plays in the closing seconds.
The first play was drawn up by Karl. The game was tied at 111 with 29 seconds left. J.R. Smith threw the ball in from the riht sideline to Melo who came off a down screen by AC. J.R. ran off a baseline screen by Nene and received a pass from Melo on the left wing. He made a ball fake right and then drove left on Weaver drawing a foul. He once again showed that he is unclutch form the line as he only made one of two free throws. The decision to get J.R. the ball was a good one as he was on fire for most of the night. Having him pass the ball in from and then run along the baseline screen to get open was sound. As a secondary option J.R. had the opportunity to dump the ball to Nene who was covered by Westbrook after Nick Collison left Nene to cut off J.R.’s penetration.
Brooks now had the chance to devise a play of his own down 112-111 with 22 seconds on the clock. His play may have been simpler, but it was more effective. Westbrook entered the ball from the left sideline to Durant who was freed by a down screen by Collison. Durante then dribbled to the middle of the floor and just blew by Dahntay wit his right hand and flew to the rim for a layup. Secondary options included a kick out to Jeff Green had Melo helped off to stave off the driving lane and Collison was crashing from the weak side.
The ball was once again in Karl’s court down 113-112 and with 17 seconds on the clock. He chose to get the ball to Melo and allow him to create. Ac inbounded the ball on the left sideline and Melo was freed up by a down screen by Nene. Westbrook was guarding the inbounds pass and he started to flare out towards Melo as he neared half court. Carter was forced to toss a little lob to Melo and he had a difficult time catching it. Had Westbrook gone after it, he might have corralled a game saving steal. Melo was able to latch onto the ball in the backcourt and settled in the middle of the court with Jeff Green crouched in his defensive stance in front of him. Melo made his move with about nien seconds on the clock. Russell Westbrook was cheating over off of Carter to help if Melo drove right. The key to the play was having J.R., who did not miss a three all game long, set up on the left wing. Weaver could not risk leaving J.R. to help out on the drive. Knowing this Melo beat Green off the dribble with his left hand and did not encounter any resistance until Collison came over to help inside the charge circle. Melo somehow managed to flip the ball in with his right hand while being squeezed by Green on his right and Collison on his left. I have no idea how it managed to float into the net. It was a truly awkward shot. Melo’s secondary option would have been to kick the ball out to J.R. had Weaver helped.
Once again down one point and this time with 5.3 seconds on the clock Brooks had to answer. Being down only one with that much time left on the clock I expected something similar to the previous play where Durant simply drove right to the rim. Instead Brooks had Westbrook inbound the ball to Collison. Westbrook cut to Collison and received the ball on a handoff. AC was well behind Westbrook and Nene switched off. This all happened in 1.2 seconds and Westbrook now has the ball in the middle of the floor well above the three point line. Durant, who had started on the weak side of the floor on the baseline, runs off a double screen up the left side with Green and Collison attempting to brush off Dahntay. AC who had switched onto Collison jumped out at Durant and forced him to receive the pass from Westbrook running away from the rim about 30 feet from the basket. There is only 1.9 seconds left on the clock when Durant receives the pass. He manages to turn and fire a 35 foot turnaround fade away that catches a lot of rim, but bounces helplessly away. There really was no time for a second option as the play took so long to develop and KD received the pass running away from the basket. Had there been an extra second or two on the clock and Durant had been able to dribble a few times it would have been fine. I also wonder if Collison was supposed to set his screen deeper. As it was, he was at the three point line and that forced Durant to curl further away from the rim than Brooks had hoped. I certainly expected the Thunder to get a better shot off than they did in that situation.
I will also add that was the correct situation to be switching screens. When time is short and you cannot afford to let a player like Durant get an open look switching on the perimeter is the right decision. I think it was important that Melo did not switch the first screen that Green set for Durant as Green could have easily slipped into the lane for a layup with no one in position to help on the weak side. It was a well executed scheme by the Nuggets.
Denver now has a day to rest and then faces the team with the worst record in the entire league, the Washington Wizards on Friday night. I would expect Chauncey and Kenyon to play.
Additional Game 49 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 96.0 – Both teams like to play fast.
Defensive Efficiency: 117.7 – I wish I could have calculated the defensive efficiency by half. I bet the first half was about 135 and the second half about 100.
Offensive Efficiency: 118.7 – Considering they were missing Chauncey that is pretty good.
Do not get your hopes up Nugget fans. There is no chance that the Oklahoma City Thunder sit their big three tonight. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green are all going to play.
I get it, you scoff at the idea that Durant, Green and Westbrook should be considered a formidable big three combo? Well, consider this. Over their previous seven games they are averaging a combined 70.6 points, 21.7 rebounds and 11.0 assists. They are also shooting 48.0% from the floor as well so this is not just a result of volume shooting. As a comparison in the two games since Melo returned the three Nuggets with the best stats are Melo, Nene and Kleiza. Over those two games they have put together cumulative averages of 63.5 points, 21.5 rebounds and six assists.
I have another average for you to consider and that is 20.7. What is that you ask? That is the average age of the Thunder threesome and they appear to be maturing awfully fast.
Obviously the difference between the two teams are after the Thunder Threesome Oklahoma City does not have a lot of talent where the Nuggets have players like Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith whom we have not even mentioned yet. However, the Thunder are playing hard and are starting to overcome that first hurdle that shows a team is becoming competitive and that is winning consistently at home.
We all recall how the Nuggets escaped a disappointing loss earlier in the season at the hands of the Thunder when Melo threw in a desperation three pointer at the buzzer to pull out a 122-120 victory. Since that night he Thunder are 5-2 at home and have defeated Utah and Detroit easily during that stretch. Well, that is doing them a disservice. They demolished Utah.
Tonight both Chauncey and Kenyon are game time decisions, Chauncey because of his ankle and Kenyon due to strep throat. (I am no doctor, but are we sure we want Kenyon on an airplane with the rest of the team for two hours with all of them breathing that re-circulated air? Can we have him hang his head out the window or something?)
Melo has been great offensively since returning and he will have to have a big night again tonight, even if Chauncey does manage to play. I think we will be in for another exciting game and do not miss the chance to watch Durant play. He already is, as George Karl would say, special.
Previous Matchup: Game 34 – Den 122 OKC 120