2008-09 Game 75: Denver Nuggets vs New York Knickerbockers Game Thread

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.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Previous Matchups:  Game 31 – Den 117 NYK 110

Featured Blogs:  Knickerblogger | Posting and Toasting

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.

Offday Offerings – Exercising Our Right to Petition

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.

Breaking Faces

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.

Injury shenanigans

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.

2008-09 Game 74: Denver Nuggets 129 – Golden State Warriors 116

Box Score | Highlights

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

  • Carmelo continued his offensive renaissance.  Once again his jumper was falling, but he played a complete offensive game.  He was going to the rim, posting up and his passing was very nice.  He shot 12-21 and made mostly very good decisions with the ball.
  • The Nuggets captured the lead twice towards the end of the first quarter.  With the Nuggets behind 25-23 Denver forced a turnover, Andersen saved the ball to Melo who threw a long cross court outlet to J.R. smith just outside the Nuggets’ three point line.  Smith spotted Kenyon flying down the middle of the floor.  Smith him Kenyon in stride and Martin threw down a massive jam on top of poor Rob Kurz who was not only emasculated, but was also called for a foul.  Kenyon made the free throw to give Denver their first lead at 26-25.  At the other end Birdman sent back a shot by Azibuike, but was called for goaltending (after watching it several times, it looked like a good block to me) putting Denver back down 27-26.  The Nuggets had the ball with ten seconds left with a chance to reclaim the lead.  Anthony Carter missed a three with about two seconds left and both Kenyon and Birdman rammed the ball down on the rebound.  The play by play on both ESPN.com and NBA.com say Kenyon made a tip shot, but Andersen collected an offensive rebound.  Not sure how that works, but it looked pretty cool. 
  • I abandoned the Nuggets game in favor of watching the Phoenix Suns roar back from a 21 point deficit in Utah to take a late seven point lead only to see Grant Hill make mistake after mistake as the Jazz came back and won in overtime.  When I saw the final score I pictured a dismal effort in the fourth quarter by the Nuggets that would make me sick to my stomach.  The Warriors scored 42 points, how badly did Denver roll over?  After actually watching the play on the court I was surprised at how hard the Nuggets did play.  They were still scrambling, tipping passes, forcing turnovers and going after loose balls.  The Warriors did not see many open shots, and the ones that were wide open usually came off some kind of scramble or turnover not a dereliction of duty by the Nuggets defense.  After all the lineup on the floor was Carter, Smith, Kleiza, Balkman and Birdman.  We know Carter, Balkman and Birdman do not take plays off.  Smith and Kleiza were playing hard too.  My only real gripe with the Nuggets’ play in the fourth was J.R. took a couple of bad threes early in possessions that were not very wise.  The warriors just caught fire. 
  • Part of the Warriors’ comeback was an amazing individual spurt by Jamal Crawford.  With 9:26 left in the game Jamal Crawford nailed a three and Renaldo Balkman was called for a foul on the play.  Carwford hit the free throw for a rare four point play.  The next trip down the court Crawford hit another three with 9:14 left to play and Andersen was called for fouling him on the shot and Crawford made the free throw.  Back to back four point plays by the same player 12 seconds apart.  I am guessing that is an NBA first.  I have submitted an email to the powers that be to see if they can have someone look into it.   Scoring eight points in 12 seconds can be a good way to end up with a 40 plus point quarter.
  • Poor C.J. Watson probably got a kick out of Crawford’s four point plays, but he paid a heavy price for it.  Both fouls could be considered relatively weak calls, especially the one on Andersen, so a couple of minutes later when Watson was absolutely wiped out by a soaring Birdman in the left corner on a three point attempt all three refs turned a blind eye.
  • In the game recap of the win in Dallas I talked about earning things on the floor.  If you do a little something extra, something unselfish, you tend to get rewarded.  Linas Kleiza caught the ball on the left wing and Nene began to go to the weak side when Kleiza waived him back over and he had Nene post up and Kleiza passed him the ball.  Nene tried spinning into the middle of the lane and had to throw a bail out pass to Chauncey who took a three right before the shot clock expired.  Kleiza crashed the boards and collected the offensive rebound.  He then rose up and threw down a powerful dunk right in front of Ronny Turiaf.  It was the first basket of the Nuggets 19-0 run that spanned the second and third quarters.
  • Anthony Carter once again showed he is at his best in a fast paced game.  He ended up with 13 assists and only one turnover.  Seven of his 13 assists lead to layups or dunks.
  • I can handle this Linas Kleiza.  He did force four three point attempts, but can you blame him?  He actually made one.  However, he scored 14 of his 22 points on layups or dunks and shot 8-10 on two point attempts.  Lose the four three point attempts and we can talk.
  • How impressive is Anthony Randolph?  He is all over the court and thanks to his athleticism and length is already a great offensive rebounder.  In 30 minutes he pulled down eight offensive boards and had an amazing possession where he blocked back to back shots at the rim.  He is also an emotional player who wants to win.  I think he has an amazing future.
  • If one of Karl’s big objections to playing Balkman is his lack of a jumper Renaldo decided to make a case for more playing time tonight.  He was 4-4 from the floor, but two of those shots were from 15 feet and one was a three.  What do you think of that George?
  • Right now Denver and Houston are tied in the standings and although Denver lost the season series to Houston I kept seeing them in the third seed and Houston in the fourth seed.  I thought that was flat out wrong and almost wrote about how messed up the standings were.  Tonight Altitude taught me that if two teams are tied the first tiebreaker is whether or not one of those teams is a division winner.  That means all the consternation about Denver losing the season series to Houston is really meaningless.  As long as the Nuggets can hold onto the Division lead they can be the third seed and avoid the Lakers in the second round.  And here I thought I knew everything.  It was people like me who built the Titanic and said it was unsinkable.  When will I learn?

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

2008-09 Game 74: Denver Nuggets vs Golden State Warriors Game Thread

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.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Previous Matchups:  Game 4 – Den 101 GSW 111 | Game 23 – Den 123 GSW 105

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.

2008-09 Game 73: Denver Nuggets 103 – Dallas Mavericks 101

Box Score | Highlights

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

  • After Melo hit his three in transition with 3:19 left neither team was able to score for almost two minutes until Barea made another three from the corner with 1:27 left in the game after J.R. left him to double Dirk.  J.R. responded by nailing a deep three from the left side just seconds later.  That is a shot that J.R. has been criticized for in the past by George Karl.  It was a low percentage shot early in the offense, but J.R. was hot and it went in.  I guess there is a fine line between disrespecting the game, which Karl accused J.R. of doing in the playoffs two seasons ago against the Spurs resulting in his benching, and being clutch.  There was a big difference between the two shots as the attempt in the Spurs game was in the closing seconds and J.R. broke off a play to do it, but I cannot imagine Karl was thrilled when he saw J.R. start in shooting motion last night.
  • Carmelo was only credited with one assist, but he made several good passes.  On one occasion he hit Petro cutting through the lane.  Petro missed the shot, but the pass and cut opened the lane up for Kenyon who followed Petro and slammed the miss home.  On another occasion Melo was doubled on the right sideline and he skipped the ball across to J.R. on the left wing.  Smith pump faked J.J. Barea who flew past took one dribble in and drained a 19 foot jumper.  Once again no assist, but it was another pass that led directly to a hoop.
  • The prettiest play of the night was in the middle of the third quarter.  Barea ran the high screen with Dirk, Kenyon and Chauncey trapped Barea and pushed him almost out to half court.  Petro ran out and covered Dirk removing that option.  Barea decided to throw a thirty foot pass to Singleton along the right sideline.  Melo picked it off going the other way and when he was confronted by Dirk he bounced the ball to the right and he ran around Dirk to the left.  He then capped it off by swishing a jumper from the elbow.  It was a great instinctive play and showed how much fun Melo was having.
  • The Mavs have n offensive set where the pass the ball to Dampier on the wing and he is asked enter the ball into Dirk in the post.  He did OK, but was called for traveling on one occasion.  Is he really the guy you want doing that?
  • Speaking of Dampier he did not have much of an impact on the game.  He did grab four offensive boards, but on two occasions he dribble the ball out and I do not think he made a put back shot on any of them.
  • Marlowe called Dahntay Jones “surprisingly effective” from three point range.  He has made eight all season.  He has been effective the same way Kenyon was early in the season.  At this point though I think we all dread seeing Kenyon line up a long bomb. 
  • Linas Kleiza has played less than eight minutes a game over the past three contests.  You can look for that to increase as Denver plays some lesser teams as I think Karl will try to give him minutes to break out of his slump again.
  • The Mavs played a lot of zone and it really stymied the Nuggets, especially in the fourth.  The Nuggets were stuck on the perimeter and everything was a jumper.  I think they missed Nene’s post presence in that regard. 
  • Watching the way they cut and run through their offense it was plain to see Dallas runs their offense much quicker than Denver.  Many of the Nuggets cuts are jogs and apart from Birdman, they rarely rush to set a screen.
  • Anthony Carter has become pretty adept at throwing alley oop passed off of baseline inbounds plays.  He threw another nice one to Birdman for an easy tip in.
  • The last play of the first half was beautiful.  The Nuggets had a chance to force a fast break, but Kenyon pulled it back out with 12 seconds left preventing them from potentially making a mistake and giving the Mavs the ball back.  Chauncey wanted to get it to Melo in the post, but with Drik on him he drove and forced the help to come.  That allowed Melo to come open on the baseline.  He received the pass from Billups and laid it in at the buzzer.
  • There was a possession with about four minutes left in the third quarter where Birdman blocked three shots (somehow he was only credited for one the entire game, but the third one did come after the shot clock had expired.  They clearly fired the team up, but none of the three blocks when to Nuggets.  Instead of at least trying to deflect the ball to a teammate, he was surrounded by blue jerseys, he sent them back as hard as he could giving the Mavs extra chances.  The third one after the buzzer he blocked out of bounds so Dallas would have had another chance had the shot clock not expired.
  • I honestly think player shoot better by earning shots.  What I mean by that is a three is more likely to go in when you are not forcing it.  Sometimes it is the difference between shooting it off a swing pass than off the dribble or without moving the ball first.  Earlier I mentioned a play where Melo skipped the ball across the court to J.R. who passed up the three to step in and hit a splashed a 19 footer.  Well, two possessions later J.R. received another pass on the same spot on the floor and as soon as he caught it I knew it was going in.  He earned the three by not forcing it earlier.  I am sure that is a bunch of crap, but I believe it.
  • The big shot that started the Mavs comeback came at 8:47 of the fourth with the Nuggets up 88-80.  Barea brought the ball up the court and no one even thought about guarding him.  He was Carter’s man an dI have no idea where AC was.  Barea calmly hits the three cutting the lead to five.  Less than two minutes later the game was tied.
  • The three second vilation on J.R. with 2:07 left in the game was just horrible.  He jumped into the lane and landed right before the shot clock changed to four the whistle blew right after the clock switched to two.  Plus a shot was going up.  It was the fastest three second call I have ever seen. 
  • I will say something about the refs.  Scott Hastings was going nuts at the fact the Mavs shot so many more free throws than Denver, but they earned most of them.  There is no rule that both teams need to shoot roughly the same number of free throws.  If one team is more aggressive than the other, it is not the referees’ problem.
  • I loved the game Chauncey played.  He tried to hit a couple of Mr. Big Shot threes in the middle of the fourth, but realized his shot was not falling while Melo and J.R. were scorching the nets.  Chauncey did not attempt a shot over the final 4:43.  He just played defense and passed the ball.

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!

Featured Blogs:  The Two Man Game | Mavs Moneyball

Is this a Travel?

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.

2008-09 Game 73: Denver Nuggets at Dallas Mavericks Game Thread

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.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Previous Matchups:  Game 5 – Den 108 Dal 105 | Game 24 – Den 98 Dal 88 | Game 39 – Den 99 Dal 97

Featured Blog:  The Two Man Game | Mavs Moneyball

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.  

2008-09 Game 72: Denver Nuggets 101 – New Orleans Hornets 88

Box Score | Highlights

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

  • I mentioned in my preview how Chris Paul is always the best player on the floor when these two teams play and his supporting cast does enough for the Hornets to win.  Tonight I think both Chauncey Billups and Carmelo were better than Paul.  At worst they were comparable and Paul did not get much help from his teammates.  Rasual Butler is typically a Nugget killer, and he shot well when he received the ball tonight, but in over 30 minutes of floor time, he only attempted four shots.  James Posey was terrible.  We already mentioned how badly David West struggled and for some reason in the fourth quarter they kept force feeding him the ball on the right block, which made no sense.
  • I found it interesting that Karl basically shrunk his rotation down to six players in the second half after Dahntay Jones and Johan Petro left the game in the third quarter.  It was a glimpse into who Karl really trusts and I think it is safe to say he, like most of us, has lost trust in Linas Kleiza who played a paltry 6:25.
  • I do not understand why Hilton Armstrong does not get more minutes, at least against the Nuggets.  Instead of trying to prove the signing of Posey was a stroke of genius by playing small, put Armstrong in the game and let him rattle around in the lane.
  • I mentioned that the Nuggets play was far from perfect.  The fact remains that they were almost exclusively a jump shooting team.  Of their 101 points, only 30 came in the lane.  During their offensive explosion to start the fourth quarter five of their six makes were long jumpers.  I doubt anyone noticed while the game was unfolding, I know I did not, that the Nuggets only scored seven points over the final 7:38.  Even if they only go 3-6 to start the quarter the game may have been completely different.

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.

Featured Blogs:  Hornets 24/7 | At the Hive

2008-09 Game 72: Denver Nuggets at New Orleans Hornets Game Thread

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.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Previous Matchups:  Game 16 – Den 101 NOH 105 | Game 35 – Den 105 NOH 100 | Game 46 – Den 81 NOH 94

Featured Blogs:  Hornets 24/7 | At the Hive

Nene Suspended Two Games

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:


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.

No Nene in N.O.?

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.

Digging Around in the Nuggets’ Psyche

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.

Keep Your Hands to Yourself Carmelo

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.

2008-09 Game 71: Denver Nuggets 115 – Phoenix Suns 118

Box Score | Highlights

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

  • For some reason the Nuggets had a terrible time trying to cover Grant Hill.  Maybe it is because he is not explosive anymore or because he is not a great shooter and they did not feel a need to do something like pay attention to him when he moves from one side of the floor to the other.  The worst example of this came at 7:10 in the first quarter where Kenyon switched to Hill, but then chose to stand all alone, with nary a Suns player near him, on the right side of the lane as Hill slid over to the left side and was wide open for a 16 foot jumper.  Hill was basically left alone all night long with Nugget after Nugget switching onto him and then choosing to pay no attention to him.
  • Coming back from commercial with 5:52 left in the first quarter the camera was on the bench and you could not see George Karl directly, but you could see his hands moving which would leave me to believe he was speaking.  Anthony Carter was looking at Karl, but J.R. Smith was staring at the floor with a blank look on his face.  Renaldo Balkman was looking off into space, Melo was looking around at something outside the huddle on the court and I think Nene was the other player there, but it was too difficult to tell because of the towel draped over his head.  If that is the focus they show in the huddle is there any doubt why they do not play with focus on the floor?
  • The Nuggets played the pick and roll like five individuals instead of a team.  There were probably at least two dozen examples of this, but one that I found most interesting came with 50 seconds left in second quarter.  Chris Andersen trapped Nash off the high pick and roll and stayed with him pushing him towards the left sideline a good ten feet past the three point line.  Instead of pressing the trap Chauncey got nervous and left the trap to retreat to the lane and go into the post to defend Robin Lopez.  Without the pressure from Chauncey to help out Nash was able to avoid Birdman and the ball found Lopez in the post forcing Kenyon to foul him.  If Birdman was supposed to show, allow Chauncey to recover and then fall back to his man he was out of line pushing the trap.  On the other hand, if the scheme was to trap and try to force the ball back to half court then Chauncey was wrong to go to the paint.  The problem with this team is they seem to defend the pick and roll differently almost every time they see it and that is why I say they lack cohesion.  It almost seems like individual players have their own plans and some trap, some switch, some lay back in the lane and wait to see if something goes wrong. 
  • Nene scored six straight points against Shaq to start the third and the Suns quickly switched to zone.  Initially I thought it really helped the Nuggets.  They ran their offense and were finding cracks and earning good shots.  Everything fell apart when Melo started scoring.  Anthony scored 14 points in 4:30 and after that instead of cutting and exploiting the zone Denver started standing around waiting for Melo to do something.  After Melo’s run ended the Nuggets scored a mere four points in the final 4:35.
  • Even though their defense was sorry Denver stayed in the game thanks to Chauncey’s three point marksmanship in the first quarter and aggressive offense in the second.  Denver ended up shooting 20 free throws in the first half, but only ended up with 33 for the game.  To show how they stopped playing aggressively on offense as the Suns tightened up their defense the Nuggets only shot six free throws in the final 16:35 of the game.  Conversely the Suns took 32 free throws in the second half.
  • How frustrated is Linas Kleiza right now that the only three point shot he can make is a 30 foot hook shot/shot put heave?  I certainly do not want to see him earn more minutes, but part of me feels sorry for him.  He is not as bad of a shooter as he appears right now.  Then again, few NBA players are.
  • Nene certainly did not get his moneys’ worth for his flagrant two on Louis Amundson.  Regardless, he allowed a lesser player get in his head and bait him into a head butt and then an elbow to the eye socket.   
  • Melo had a pretty good look at the end to send it into overtime.  He has made more difficult clutch shots, but no one hits them all.  That is why when you have an 11 point halftime lead you do not want to put yourself in a position where you are counting on a last second prayer.

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.

Featured Blogs:  Valley of the Suns | Bright Side of the Sun

2008-09 Game 71: Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Sunx Game Thread

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.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Previous Matchups:  Game 27 – Den 101 Phx 108 | Game 40 – Den 119 Phx 113 OT

Featured Blogs:  Valley of the Suns | Bright Side of the Sun

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.

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