With a home win over the New York Knicks tonight the Denver Nuggets can clinch a playoff spot in March for the first time in 21 seasons. However, it will not mean an end to the suspense of the race for playoff positioning.
In order for the Nuggets to afford a slip up against either Utah, the Lakers or Portland in any of their three difficult contests on the schedule they need to sweep the five remaining games against lesser opponents. That means taking care of business tonight against the Knicks.
Looking at the big picture the Knicks have gone from a playoff contender at the end of December, sporting a 21-25 record, to a league also ran after losing 25 of their last 33 games and eight of their last nine. Narrowing the view a bit the Knicks did Denver a big favor by knocking off the New Orleans Hornets last Friday and last night showed some spunk in Utah. After falling behind by 24 early in the third quarter New York roared back to actually take a 94-93 lead in the middle of the fourth quarter before falling by eight, 112-104.
Aside from their undisputable edge in talent the Nuggets also should have an edge in energy. Denver has had two days off following their dismantling of the Warriors where the Knicks are wrapping up a three game road trip and playing their fourth game in five days.
Previous Matchups: Game 31 – Den 117 NYK 110
Take this with you: In Mike D’Antoni’s fist season with the Knicks New York is second in the league in pace while the Nuggets vacillate between sixth and seventh. However, the Nuggets play significantly faster at home than they do on the road. It will be interesting to see if the Knicks can keep pace with the Nuggets for 48 minutes in their fourth game in five nights.
Lobbying for the Birdman
On February 20 I wrote the following:
Right now [for the 2009-10 season] the Nuggets are over $68 million [in team salary] 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.
March 23 Chris Tomasson of In Denver Times posted an article about the possibility Chris Andersen might be playing for another team next season:
Andersen will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and says his first choice is to return to the Nuggets. But he figures to command a hefty raise, one Karl hopes won’t be too rich for Denver.
For starters, the Nuggets will have no early Bird or Bird rights on the Birdman, which allow a player who has played two seasons (early Bird) or three seasons (Bird) with a team to sign for an amount exceeding the salary cap. But the Nuggets could dip into a salary-cap exception, likely their midlevel of about $5.5 million, to retain Andersen.
There’s one thing Andersen is counting on. He doesn’t plan to play next season for the minimum, which would be $1.11 million.
“I’m pretty sure that’s for sure,’’ Andersen said.
Today Andrew from Denver Stiffs announced that he has started a petition demanding the Nuggets retain the services of the Birdman after this season and he plans on hand delivering it to the Nuggets during the playoffs.
My response to Andrew after I read his email was that he is petitioning the wrong people. If he wants Birdman to stay in Denver the petition should be to Andersen begging him to play for the minimum again with everyone who signed pledging to send him $10.
Chris Andersen is going to get at least $3.5 to $4.0 million next season and might even be offered the full midlevel exception from someone.
I only see two ways that Andersen will be a Denver Nugget after this season. Either the Nuggets are going to have to trade one of their big contracts and do it as part of a deal where they take back much less salary in return, or they are going to have to go far enough in the playoffs this season to convince Stan Kronke that keeping this team together will be worth the luxury tax hit.
The Nuggets’ front office has shown some pretty impressive creativity lately and they did manage to dump over $10 million in salary over the span of a few months. Hopefully they can figure out a way to keep Andersen after the season too.
If you missed Nene’s response to Louis Amundson’s comments about his on the court personna you better check it out. Let’s just say Nene does not think much of Louis’ game or ability to withstand a good solid headbutt.
History made before our very eyes
I mentioned in my game recap that Jamal Crawford made back to back four point plays in the third quarter and I wondered if anyone in the history of the NBA had ever done that before. Well, I fired off an email to Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN and ClipperBlog and Henry Abbott of TrueHoop. Kevin then forwarded me some data he received from Elias. Elias only found three other players in the last ten years who even scored two in a game and none were back to back. Here is the complete list:
It is certainly possible someone has hit back to back four point plays before, but I bet Crawford was the first to do it.
James Posey is going to miss three games with a sprained elbow. The injury occurred on Friday night against the Knicks, but for some reason was not announced until today. Posey sat out the Hornets’ game last night after being suspended by the league for throwing the ball at a referee in the Knick game.
The Hornets just got one over on the league. They delayed announcing the injury until after Posey served a suspension during a game he was not healthy enough to play in. Had the league known Posey was going to miss the game due to injury they would have postponed the suspension until after he was healthy enough to return.
One man’s projection
Reader Bill Holicky emailed me a projected breakdown of how the season could shake out over the final couple of weeks. He foresaw the Nuggets ending up with 52 wins and earning the fourth seed, but that was before they pulled out the win in Dallas so according to his projection Denver has a great shot at tying the Rockets for third and capturing the third seed thanks to being a division champion.
After predictably sleep walking through the first six minutes of the first quarter and falling behind the Golden State Warriors by 14 in the first quarter the Nuggets were able to rouse themselves and run away for an easy win.
George Karl called a timeout with the Nuggets down 19-6 after the first 6:25 of the game. From that point on the Nuggets played with more intensity, but it was not until Chris Andersen entered the game with 3:50 remaining in the first quarter and Denver behind 23-11 that the Nuggets took off. Less than seven minutes later Birdman threw down a vicious slam as he cut down the lane to put the Nuggets up 37-29. In Birdman’s seven plus first half minutes he was a plus 20.
As soon as Andersen went to the bench Golden State actually briefly recaptured the lead 42-41. It would be their final lead of the game though as Linas Kleiza hit his first three point jumper in over three weeks on the very next possession to put Denver back up 44-42.
The run that put the Nuggets in complete control of the game was split between the second and third quarters. Denver scored the final six points of the first half and the first 13 of the second half turning a 60-57 game into a 79-57 rout. The Warriors did not get a shot within 18 feet of the rim as the Nuggets did a great job of collapsing on penetration and then rotating and running at shooters. The Nuggets run actually even extended out to a 44-15 stretch ending with 28 seconds left in the third quarter with the Nuggets already having earned three tacos for a dollar on Sunday at participating Taco Bell’s even with more than a quarter to play.
The key to Denver sweeping the remaining games against sub .500 teams will be energy. I would like to add focus too, but I do not want to get too greedy. There was a point just a couple of weeks ago where I did not think we could count on the Nuggets to win any of these games and they still have to avoid falling into the trap of taking things for granted. It definitely took the Nuggets some time to wake up tonight, but the fact that they erased the early 14 point deficit by the end of the first quarter was very impressive.
A lot can happen over these final eight games, but if Denver can keep playing like they have over the previous three games I may be in for eating a lot of crow and I will not mind one bit.
Additional Game 74 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats:
Pace Factor: 102.9 – Lightning fast. It was the fastest paced game since the Nuggets game 36 home win against Indiana.
Defensive Efficiency: 112.8 – Not terrible for such a fast paced game. The Warriors scored 17 fast break points and nabbed 19 offensive boards which both hurt this number. I imagine it was much better before Golden State’s offensive explosion in the fourth.
Offensive Efficiency: 125.4 – No complaints. Remember, the Nuggets had six points more than six minutes into the game and still managed to score 129.
Featured Blog: Golden State of Mind
The Golden State Warriors are coming to town tonight, but it will be difficult to recognize them. Stephen Jackson and Andris Biedrins are both out and Corey Maggette is unlikely to play. While Golden State may only have one big name player on the court, Monta Ellis, they still have players who can put up big numbers.
Shooters like Anthony Morrow, Rob Kurz and Marco Belinelli can catch fire. Keleena Azibuike is a versatile scorer, Brendan Wright can score in the paint and C.J. Watson is a solid player as well. The player to watch however is Anthony Randolph. The beanpole thin rookie has tremendous instincts and when he plays at least 20 minutes can really fill up a box score.
The point is if the Nuggets take this game for granted the Warriors can still pump in the points.
Tonight will be the first back to back game the Nuggets have played in almost three weeks (March 9 at home against Houston). It will be interesting to see how they react, especially following a physical and emotional game last night in Dallas. Not only do I want to see an easy win, but I want to see Carmelo Anthony continue to play like Carmelo Anthony.
Oh yea, and Nene is back from suspension.
Featured Blog: Golden State of Mind
Take this with you: Of the Nuggest final six games against sub .500 teams this one worries me the most because of the tough game in Dallas last night and the seemingly depleted Warriors lineup.
A game like that deserves a nearly 3,000 word recap, don’t you think?
This late in the season a lot can happen in one day, especially when teams are packed as tightly in the standings as they are in the Western Conference. In a matter of hours we found out Tyson Chandler will be out an additional one to two weeks, the New Orleans Hornets lost at New York, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili were all back on the court together for the first time since the All-Star break and the Denver Nuggets won a thrilling game in Dallas to move into a tie for third in the west and to sweep the Mavericks for the first time in franchise history.
But above all of that, we might have the old Carmelo Anthony. Melo has had some nice games, but overall this season his scoring and efficiency have been a disappointment. In the 12 games following his suspension for refusing to come out of the game against Indiana Melo is averaging 26.8 points a game on 46.5% shooting. What was really encouraging about his 43 point performance, including the game winning layup, was the variety of ways he scored and how he never forced anything.
A big part of Melo’s night was he had his jumper going, but he did not rely solely on his midrange shot to score. The best example of not settling for a jumper came in the first quarter when Melo lost control of the ball and had to retreat back to where he was ever with the top of Dallas’ three point line. When he picked up the ball there was five seconds left on the shot clock. Under those circumstances almost every player in the NBA would dribble up the floor and launch a three with a second or two left on the shot clock. Melo used that to his advantage as even he probably expected to shoot the three as he was dribbling up the floor and he hesitated at the three point line, took another dribble and hesitated again at the elbow. Those two hesitation moves left him with a wide open lane to the rim as everybody on the court, in the stands and at home on the couch expected him to pull up and shoot. Melo ended up at the rim for an uncontested layup as the shot clock hit zero.
Melo also did a great job posting up. In the first quarter alone I counted five possessions where Melo either posted up or backed his man down. The results of those five possessions were two layups, a short fad away, an assist and a missed jumper where he squared and shot from 15 feet. Dallas was trying to play him straight up, but in the second half they began to double him on the catch when possible.
Melo became much more perimeter oriented in the third quarter taking almost exclusively jumpers, but when Dallas switched to zone Melo was working the middle trying to get Barea or Jason Terry trapped against him in the high post. Dallas did a good job defending that, but it opened up the perimeter for open shots by J.R. and Anthony Carter.
George Karl took Carmelo out for a brief rest with 9:00 left in regulation and the Nuggets holding a 88-80 lead. One minute and 52 seconds later Denver had not scored a point and Dallas had cut the lead down to three. J.J. Barea hit another three to tie it on the next possession. With the score tied Carmelo drove to the basket and missed a runner, but corralled the rebound and put it back in with 6:22 left to give the Nuggets the lead back at 90-88. That would be the only basket the Nuggets scored for a seven minute stretch from 10:52 down to 3:52.
The Nuggets found themselves down 93-92 when J.R. Smith nabbed an Antoine Wright miss, passed out to Chauncey and the Nuggets pushed the ball up the floor. Chauncey directed J.R. to swing behind him and fill the right lane. Barea, one of the two guards at the top of the Mavs 2-3 zone, stuck with J.R. up the right sideline and Terry was occupied with Chauncey on the right side of the floor as he brought the ball up. With Barea out of position and Terry guarding Billups Melo was all alone in the middle of the floor. Chauncey passed over to him and he hit a three giving the Nuggets a two point lead. Those three points were the first of eight Melo would score down the stretch.
The teams traded baskets and free throws when in the final minute Melo drove and earned two free throws to put Denver up two. Then Barea hit another three to put Dallas up one with 23.1 seconds left setting Melo up for yet another game winning shot.
With the Nuggets inbounding the ball on the left side Chauncey threw the ball into J.R. and then he ran across a double screen to the right side and J.R. passed it back to him on the right wing. Kenyon set a screen for Melo to free him up to cut towards Chauncey and run a little screen and roll. Melo set the screen on Chauncey’s left and as Chauncey drove to the middle both Mavs stayed with Billups leaving Melo wide open rolling towards the baseline. Chauncey passed to Melo and the Mavs were left scrambling. Melo drive left towards James Singleton who was running at him which used Singleton’s momentum against him and he was unable to change directions and stay with Melo. That left Dirk standing like a statue just hoping that Melo missed and he was not called for a foul. On the play J.R. was also set up for a kick out at the top of the circle, Carter was also wide open on the left baseline and both Carter and Kenyon were ready to crash the boards if Melo happened to miss. It was a nice design by Karl.
The Mavs had two chances to tie it and one of them was a pretty good open look by Dirk, but he missed and that left Wright to throw up a desperation 17 foot fade away over Chris Andersen which clanged off the rim and bounced to Melo.
Melo made one of two, possibly missing the second on purpose to allow the clock to run out as the Mavs struggled to fire off a full court shot instead of being allowed to take the ball out and organize a final play (although they were out of timeouts).
The game was not all about offense though. After a shaky first half defending the high screen by Dirk Denver came up with a much better scheme and they really locked down on. The difficult thing about guarding Nowitzki on that high screen is if you trap the ball handler it leaves him wide open, but if you switch he has a guard on him and he simply backs him down and shoots over him.
The Nuggets did mostly switching on him in the first half, but in the second they were much more sound. They trapped the ball handler, but pre-rotated a big up to cover Dirk so he could not receive the pass back. From there the big who trapped the dribbler rotated to cover the player the other big left. They executed it nicely and really took Dirk out of the game. Dirk only scored two points over the final seventeen minutes of the contest.
The Nuggets did indeed finish the three game road trip 2-1 and they won both games without Nene. Now they have probably the easiest remaining schedule of all the teams they are jockeying for position with. They seem have solidified their grip on the Northwest and even if they lose all three games to over .500 teams on the schedule as long as they knock off the six weaker squads they will finish with a 53-29 record. That would force Portland to finish 8-2 and the Jazz 9-2 in order to catch Denver for the division lead. Portland has games remaining against Utah, at Houston, at San Antonio, against the Lakers and then Denver on the last day of the season. Utah must still face Phoenix, play at Portland, at Denver, at New Orleans, at Dallas, at San Antonio and at the Lakers. Four of those games are back to backs and Utah has been terrible in those situations this season.
Before we right Denver into the top spot in the Northwest Division in pen remember the last time Denver was in such a nice position they let their lead slip away with losses to teams like Indiana and Sacramento. However, as Andrew at Denver Stiffs pointed out a few days ago, the Nuggets tend to close seasons out very well. Regular seasons that is.
Additional Game 73 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 84.5 – Very slow thanks to the Mavs’ 20 offensive boards and relatively slow developing half court sets.
Defensive Efficiency: 119.5 – The Mavs only shot 35.6%, but the snagged the aforementioned 20 offensive boards and only turned the ball over four times. The four turnovers were a season low surpassing the eight that the Nuggets forced in Sacramento during game 64.
Offensive Efficiency: 121.9 – Thank you 56.0% shooting!
Henry Abbott of TrueHoop recently publised a five part series on traveling in the NBA. Building on that I had to post this play from the Denver Nuggets’ win over the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday. Keep in mind a player gets two steps from the time he gathers the ball thus ending his ability to dribble. In the comments let me know how many steps you think Chris Paul took after he gathered the ball.
Scott Hastings is typically all over the referees for any blown call and he did not say anything about this play so maybe it was not traveling. You tell me.
The Denver Nuggets have never swept the season series from the Dallas Mavericks. We are talking 29 seasons. Of course there are other more important things the Nuggets have never done, like win a championship. Denver cannot win a title tonight, but with a win they can sweep the Mavs.
After a 22-17 start to the season the Mavericks have posted a 21-9 mark since and Denver’s three wins against the Mavs all came early in the season when Dallas was not playing well. Oh, by the way, Dallas is 14-1 at home during that 21-9 stretch and they are on a 20-2 run at home since Denver won there on December 15 with their only two losses being at the hands of the Hornets and Celtics.
A fourth defeat of Dallas would be a nice win, not only to sweep the season series, but to validate their win Wednesday night in New Orleans. Up until the Nuggets’ win in New Orleans the last time Denver won a road game against one of the west’s top nine teams was the previously mentioned December 15 contest in Dallas.
Nene will set out once more serving the second game of his suspension. While New Orleans was a good matchup for Denver sans Nene, the Mavs are a different story. Erick Dampier is too big for players like Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen to handle. Johan Petro has shown he can bang in the paint, but George Karl has also shown he dislikes having Petro on the floor for significant minutes. Dampier has always been one of the most inconsistent players in the league so there is always the chance he produces one of his no show performances. He has produced at least nine rebounds in four of his last five games and in the fifth he had seven rebounds in only nine minutes.
Dirk Nowitzki has enjoyed success against the Nuggets defense averaging 31.3 points and 11.3 rebounds in the first three meeting this season. Jason Kidd had a memorable first game against Denver hitting six threes and coming up just one assist shy of a triple double. In the two games after that he has not been quite as good with averages of three points, six assists and 6.5 rebounds. Jason Terry has been solid, but unspectacular this season against Denver with averages of 18.3 points and 3.7 assists. Josh Howard is out, but he has not been a factor in any of the previous three games either.
The Nuggets have shown some life recently, but they have yet to show they can string together well played games against good teams. That makes tonight a prove it game and one that they need to win.
Take this with you: A win tonight will give the Nuggets their 2-1 record on the brief road trip which will meet the goal set forth by George Karl, but of course, he did not know they would be playing without Nene for two of those three games so they may have already met the revised, and unpublished, goal of getting one win.
The Denver Nuggets have answered. With their backs against the wall they chose to fight and Denver came out swinging tonight against the New Orleans Hornets. The Nuggets utilized a consistently solid defensive effort to a 101-88 victory in New Orleans. It is the Nuggets first road win against a team with a winning record since February 18 and the first time they have defeated one of the other top nine teams in the west since beating the Mavs on December 15.
With Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler out George Karl chose to implement an aggressive trapping defense designed to keep Chris Paul out of the lane on the pick and roll. Things started out a little rough as the Hornets scored two layups in their first three possessions due to the attention the Nuggets were giving Paul. I was concerned that they would struggle attempting to execute a defense they had not utilized very infrequently and never for long stretches.
The Nuggets did a good job of adjusting on the fly and the Hornets easy looks slowly became few and far between. As we have pointed out in the past an aggressive scheme provides the impetus to play with energy while a lazier scheme, such as switching screens, saps the intensity from a team and leads to sloppy disinterested defense. By trapping and forcing him towards the midcourt Denver was able to disrupt the Hornets offense on the way to claiming a 28-21 lead at the end of the first quarter. line the Nuggets were able to force Chris Paul into committing six turnovers and thanks to the harassing defense applied by Dahntay Jones, Chauncey Billups and to a lesser extent Anthony Carter Paul struggled to get anything going on offense.
Paul did take advantage of ten trips to the free throw line, a couple of which were quite dubious, to record 19 points and he was credited with 13 assists, but he finished a game worst -19.
Offensively Carmelo had a couple of dominant stretches. He started the game off making six of his first eight shots and scored 13 points in the first nine minutes of the game. It was good to see Melo step up and hit some shots. He helped set the tone for Denver on offense and let them know that even without Nene they can put points on the board.
Strangely enough the Hornets clawed back in the game in the second quarter with Chris Paul on the bench. It was the second time in three games where Denver has allowed Antonio Daniels to make a run while Paul was sitting on the sidelines. Both teams went small to start the second quarter with Balkman playing power forward for Denver and James Posey played the four for New Orleans. It was the only stretch of the game where New Orleans made any shots. When Daniels made a three just over four minutes into the quarter the Nuggets’ lead had vanished and the game was tied at 33.
The third quarter played out the same as the first with Carmelo scoring eight straight points and twelve in the quarter as the Nuggets once again took control. Denver entered the fourth quarter up nine points, but with the sting of the loss in Phoenix still fresh in my mind and the memory of how the Hornets erased a first quarter lead quickly in the second I was far from confident.
Fortunately Denver did not suffer from the same problem. They came out of the break on fire hitting their first six shots and doubling their nine point advantage. At that point it became clear New Orleans simply did not have the firepower to keep up. Paul was at least somewhat contained, David West was playing terribly and no one else was stepping up to fill the void. When Chris Paul was walking the ball up the court with just over six minutes left in the game and Denver up 18 I knew the Hornets did not have any fight left in them.
While tonight’s victory was far from a perfect win, it was the best effort the Nuggets had put forth from start to finish in a long time. Fans always seem to call for their teams to play with desperation, but such a request is highly disingenuous. Think about the times you have been desperate, and I am not talking about in seventh grade when you wanted to touch the hot girl’s booby. I am talking about when you are out of money and payday is nor for another four days or when you are in a store and suddenly realize you are not 100% sure where your kid is. Now imagine your boss asks you to put some desperation into the project you are working on. Is the adrenaline rush and fear in your gut anywhere near the same level? True desperation cannot be conjured from thin air. Monday night Phoenix was desperate (and fortunately they were still desperate tonight as they beat the Jazz) and tonight the Nuggets were the desperate team.
Now we move from fight or flight to a prove it game. They showed us some fight, now they have to prove to us that it was not a fluke as they must once again play without Nene on the road against a team chasing them in the standings.
Additional Game 72 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 87.4
Defensive Efficiency: 100.7 – Solid.
Offensive Efficiency: 115.6 – Pretty efficient considering they were without their highest percentage shooter.
In middle school science class I learned about fight or flight. When an animal is confronted they will either step up and rumble or get out of dodge pronto. With the announcement that Nene has been suspended for two games we will see firsthand which option the Nuggets will choose, fight or flight.
The bad news is the New Orleans Hornets do two things pretty well that the Nuggets have been failing to defend and if you have spent any time here over the past week or two you probably know what I am about to say. The Nuggets do not defend the pick and roll or the three point line very well.
The Hornets do rank in the middle of the pack in three point percentage, right alongside the Nuggets at 37%, but Rasual Butler almost always shoots lights out against the Nuggets, James Posey has already hit a couple of big threes against Denver in his first season in New Orleans and Peja Stojakovic is a game time decision after missing ten games with a bad back.
The Hornets may also be without Tyson Chandler although after missing three games his ankle has improved enough to be a game time decision as well as is Hilton Armstrong (you will find a here is a complete rundown of the Hornets’ injury situation).
There are worse teams for the Nuggets to face without Nene than the Hornets. Even if Chandler plays New Orleans does not have much of a low post game. And if you are looking for a silver lining is we know we will see more Renaldo Balkman and more Chris Andersen.
I do not know that playing without Nene drastically reduces the Nuggets chance of winning, but I did not think their chance of winning was very high to start with. The Nuggets have lost three of their last four games on the road against the Hornets with an average margin of 11.3 points. All three losses have been by double digits. Chris Paul is simply the best player on the floor whenever these two teams meet and he almost always gets enough from his supporting cast to overcome the Nuggets superior overall talent level.
Fight or flight Denver. Show us what is in your heart.
Nene has been suspended not only for tonight’s game against the New Orleans Hornets, but the next game in Dallas as well. According to the NBA the suspension was for his behavior during all three acts of the tantrum starting with the head butt, moving to the elbow and then for “physically confronting” referee Bill Spooner.
So much for accomnplishing the stated goal of a 2-1 road trip.
From the NBA:
DENVER NUGGETS NENÊ SUSPENDED
NEW YORK, Mar. 25, 2009 – Denver Nuggets Center-Forward Nenê has been suspended two games without pay for head-butting the Phoenix Suns’ Louis Amundson and physically confronting and making contact with a game official after his ejection, it was announced today by Stu Jackson, NBA Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.
The incident, in which Nenê was assessed a Flagrant Foul Penalty Two and was also ejected, occurred with 7:25 remaining in the fourth period of Denver’s 118-115 loss to the Suns at US Airways Center on March 23.
Nenê will begin serving his suspension tonight when the Nuggets visit the New Orleans Hornets at New Orleans Arena.
Benjamin Hochman is reporting ”George Karl was told by someone in the league to prepare without Nene.”
Now that “someone in the league” may have been Byron Scott, but I doubt it. If that is the message he received I have to expect Nene will in fact be suspended for tonight’t tilt in New Orleans. More to come in the game preview.
The Denver Nuggets are showing signs of frustration, both individually and collectively, and it is to their detriment. We all saw Nene lose his cool on Louis Amundson. I wish I could post some video showing what had been going on between the two leading up to Nene’s meltdown, but my DVD recording of the game somehow came up empty.
Ultimately, to me it does not matter what Amundson did or did not do Nene cannot respond the way he did. I do not care if he went Reggie Evans on Nene’s undercarriage what he did was unacceptable. The really sad thing is Nene got away with his little head butt. Had he left it at that no harm done, but it was not enough. He had to drop his elbow on Amundson’s noggin too.
Amundson was not content with Nene getting kicked out of the game, he wants to set up a futon and move into Nene’s head full time. He kept needling Nene after the fact calling him a “fake tough guy” and even a “dirty player” in an interview with Chris Tomasson of In Denver Times.
“I’m playing hard and with a lot of energy, and Nene took exception to the fact that I was going to play physical back with him,’’ Amundson said. “I play hard, but he was playing dirty the whole game. He was elbowing me. … He was hitting me in the head and the neck.’’
Once again I am as upset as you I do not have video of what was really happening, but I believe Nene has let the frustration of missed calls build inside him over the season to a point where after every play he is looking at the referees in disgust. He has to let it go. Where has all the complaining and glaring gotten him? After a while you are only hurting yourself. I have written it before, but if you make a scene after every play it makes it easy for the ref to ignore you. If you are more judicious with your protests it will make a much stronger point.
However, even more important than Nene’s fractured relationship with the officials is that he allowed that frustration to provide the fuel for his actions last night. Amundson may have been the recipient of the tantrum, but he was the just the spark that ignited the primed frustration based fuel.
Tonight the Nuggets face the Hornets in a game that will be even more difficult than the one they lost in Phoenix and there is a possibility they will be facing the Hornets without Nene. If Nene ends up being suspended I am guessing a big reason for it will be his reaction to the flagrant foul call when he tried to get in Bill Spooner’s face. Of course as Scott Hastings pointed out on the broadcast Spooner certainly did not try to avoid a confrontation almost reveling in Nene’s reaction to the call. Regardless of whether or not Spooner welcomed the confrontation Nene must control himself.
Should Maybyner end up missing the Hornets game the Nuggets’ chances for a win fall from unlikely to get ready to play Dallas.
Nene is not the only Nugget in the news for flipping his lid. Linas Kleiza has been fined $25,000 for going off on an official or officials. At this time there are no details. The report states that the confrontation occurred after the Wizards game.
I may have a blank DVD of the Suns game, but thank God I do have all of the Nuggets/Wizards tilt on a DVD so I went back and checked to see if I could see anything. Dahntay Jones shot two free throws with 11 seconds left and Kleiza was paying no attention to the officials and seemed quite docile. Following the final horn Kleiza paid his respects to countryman Darius Songailia and the last I saw him he was turning to walk to the locker room near midcourt. There was one official who was potentially in his path, but a few seconds later when we get a shot of the entire court I could not locate Kleiza, but he was definitely not lingering on the floor and there was no sign of the referees either.
Once again whatever frustration Kleiza felt was most likely due to the fact he has not hit a non sky hook three point shot in a couple of weeks. Fortunately for the Nuggets the only problem is Kleiza might continue his downward spiral, but as long as his minutes keep shrinking, no harm done.
Above and beyond these two incidents I am seriously concerned about the mental state of this team and I am not only talking about the players. George Karl has been up to his old tricks downplaying the importance of any single game or series of games. The Nuggets “stated goal” for the three game road trip is to win two of the three games.
What on earth is wrong with saying our goal is to win all three games, take advantage of the way the Spurs have opened the door for us to challenge them for the second seed and take the second seed for ourselves? I would love to hear my team talk like that. It would fire me up. This may sound a bit wacky and forgive me for thinking such ridiculous thoughts, but maybe that type of attitude might even spill over into their play on the floor. Instead of coming out flatter than the back tire of Charles Barkley’s scooter maybe, just maybe, they would be fired up to meet a challenge instead of lulled into a false sense of security.
I strongly believe organizations win championships and as long as the Nuggets are managing risk by aiming for ten win months or hoping to split these games or those games the players will never be pushed to excel and mediocrity will rule the day.
This team has always been a little too content with itself. Last year the reasoning was “So what if we are only the eighth seed and have to play the top seeded Lakers, we won 50 games and that makes us a special team.” Never mind the fact that on average there are six 50 win teams in the Western Conference every season. How special is that? If you end up in the top 40% of something is it a cause for celebration? In fact the Nuggets were not even that good. They were eighth out of 15 teams, but the season was still seen as a feather in the organization’s plucked cap.
If someone told me I was in the top eight out of the 15 Nuggets blogs on the Internet I would not be patting myself on the back even if I had just made my first post the day before. If my daughter tells me I am in the top eight dads of the kids in her class I am not going to tell everyone how there were a lot of great dads I had to compete with.
We have talked at length about how Denver has struggled after the All-Star break. Let me put it in perspective for you. Out of the nine teams vying for a playoff spot in the west Denver has far and away the worst record. Thanks to their five game winning streak against the Thunder, Clippers, Nets, Grizzlies and Wizards (woo-hoo!) Denver is 9-9 since the break. Utah is 14-3, New Orleans is 14-5, Houston is 15-5, Portland is 12-8 and even the Mavs (13-7) and Suns (13-8) have better post break records. The Spurs are the only team who is close to slumping as badly as the Nuggets and they are still 11-8 even though Manu Ginobili is out and they have been resting Tim Duncan.
The Nuggets are practically in a dead heat with the six teams fighting for the three up for grabs home court positions and they are the only team who is in a state of disarray.
After the loss to the Rockets I proclaimed I believed the Nuggets were heading for another first round exit. With their sloppy play over their five game winning streak and then the loss in Phoenix last night I still stand firmly behind that post.
Actual quote from Carmelo Anthony:
“People want to touch their fans.”
Thanks Carmelo, but I have never thought of you in that way. I am trying to be nice, but I do not want you to get the wrong idea, it’s not me, it’s you.
Fortunately, Melo was talking about Twitter and why NBA players want to tweet during halftime.
For a big picture breakdown of last night’s game click here and go to item number two. I will post some additional nuggets with the game stats later this afternoon.
- Finally Updated -
Additional Game 71 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 97.9
Defensive Efficiency: 120.5 – The Suns have been on fire lately, but there is no excuse for the kind of performance the Nuggets put forth. The only reason their defensive efficiency was not higher was the Suns committed 20 turnovers.
Offensive Efficiency: 117.5 – That should be good enough to win.
Once again the Denver Nuggets have to prove it. I consider a prove it game to be a pivotal game against a good team where you need to prove that you are as good as you want people to think you are. Denver has not done too well in “prove it games” this season.
Prove it game number one – Game 13: The Nuggets were 7-1 after acquiring Chauncey Billups including the big win over Boston as they headed into L.A. to face the Lakers. They were absolutely demolished in a game that was nowhere near as close as the 104-90 final score.
Prove it game number two – Game 20: After recovering from the loss to the Lakers by winning five of six the Nuggets were poised to send a message to the visiting Spurs and were rolled 108-91.
Prove it game number three – Game 26: The Nuggets bounced back from the loss to the Spurs by winning four straight before losing a game at Houston. Denver returned home to play the Cavs and Cleveland won so easily they probably thought it was just a scrimmage.
Prove it game number four – Game 53: The Nuggets predictably bounced back from the 44 point drubbing at the hands of the Nets to wipe out the Heat. The next night they were in Orlando where they had not won in years. Denver pulled out a huge 82-73 win.
Prove it game number five – Game 63: The Nuggets finally beat the Lakers and then promptly dropped games at Indiana and at Detroit, but bounced back to beat the Trail Blazers in Denver. Denver then traveled to Utah and the Nuggets got off to a great start only to get shredded by the Jazz in the closing minutes of the second and then the third quarter.
The Nuggets now have three straight prove it games on the road starting tonight in Phoenix and we are running out of season to bounce back from a poor performance.
The one thing you need to know about Phoenix is the offense is back. It may not be as flashy as when Steve Nash was running a three point circus with Amare flying down the middle for monster dunk after manhood stealing monster dunk. John Hollinger recently pointed out that even with the plodding Shaq and an aging Nash since Alvin Gentry took over the Suns are on a league record pace for offensive efficiency posting a 117.7 (as of March 17).
The Nuggets have won five straight games, but their play has not been what you would call exemplary. I especially have not been pleased with their defense. They have been content to play a solid quarter of defense here and there and then coast to a victory. They cannot afford to do that against the Suns.
Leandro Barbosa is out, but over the past couple of games Jason Richardson has looked like he did in Golden State with point totals of 31, 25 and 35. They may not have Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson, Jim Jackson or Casey Jacobson anymore, but they can still hurt you with the three thanks to Nash, Richardson and yes, Matt Barnes. The Nuggets have been struggling to defend the three and over the month of March the Suns have bumped up their three point attempts to 20.9 per game and are making 39.1% of them. They also have the surprisingly spry Shaq roaming the paint who is capable of either overpowering you or making a crafty pass to take advantage of any out of position defenders. The bottom line is if you miss on your rotations, fail to cover the pick and roll, fall asleep on the weak side or just flat out get out of position, the Suns will torch you and the Nuggets have struggled in all of those areas recently.
Keep in mind the Suns will have to stop the Nuggets as they can certainly put the ball in the hoop pretty well themselves. The Suns do not have any good defensive matchups for Carmelo Anthony or J.R. Smith and Chauncey will need to make Nash work on defense as well.
We have seen the Nuggets play lockdown defense this season and they are certainly capable of holding the Suns in check, but as I have said, this is a prove it game. I am going into tonight not expecting anything from Denver. They will have to show me they are ready to win.
Take this with you: The Nuggets have lost eight straight games at Phoenix. If you think that is bad, they have lost 17 of their last 21 in Phoenix too. And just to make sure you are not overconfident they have lost 37 of their last 44 contests in Phoenix. I do not care if Phoenix is currently ninth in the conference a win tonight will be a nice accomplishment.