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.
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.