The Denver Nuggets have had a difficult time winning games in a couple of places around the NBA. In recent seasons they broke a long jinx in Sacramento. Last month the Nuggets stopped a long losing streak in Orlando. With that victory against the Magic the Palace in Auburn Hills now fills the role as the Elm Street for the Nuggets nightmare. Denver has not won a game at the Palace since a 99-88 win on March 10, 1995, when Grant Hill was a rookie and Joe Dumars was still four seasons away from retiring. By the way, the Pistons had the sixth worst record that season.
As everyone knows by now Carmelo will not take part in the game tonight and even though he is suspended I found it odd that he returned to Denver instead of taking part in practice Monday and sitting on the bench to support his teammates. We could speculate all day about the significance of his departure, but for now let’s just focus on the game tonight.
The Nuggets are struggling having lost four of their last six games including three straight on the road while after losing eight straight the Pistons have beaten the Magic and the Celtics on the road. Coinciding with that two game winning streak is the absence of Allen Iverson officially due to a back strain, but unofficially due to the decision to move him to the bench.
While you can make a very strong argument that the Pistons are better off without AI, it is more difficult to do so with the Nuggets missing Carmelo. If someone else was experiencing a hot streak there might be some hope that he will step up and fill Melo’s offensive shoes, but the entire Nuggets team is in the midst of a prolonged shooting slump. As those of you who read this blog regularly know I track various Nuggets stats from game to game and post them on the right sidebar. For what seems like weeks the Nuggets field goal percentage has held steady at 47.2%. Today it stands at 46.8%. That may not seem like a significant drop off, but consider this. The Nuggets as a team are shooting only 43.8% since the All-Star break. When everyone is struggling like that it makes it doubly difficult to replace your best offensive player.
Carmelo missed the first meeting between the two teams due to his fractured hand and the Nuggets struggled to score so we may be able to soak up some insight from that game.
According to the game notes Karl has selected Linas Kleiza to start in Melo’s small forward spot. Kleiza has proven to be a streaky scorer and the Nuggets will need him to switch over from his current cold streak to a hot streak mighty quickly. The chances of Kleiza suddenly breaking out are greatly reduced by the fact that he is going to be checked by Tayshaun Prince. Kleiza shot 0-6, missing a couple of open layups to boot, and scored one point in over 34 minutes in the first meeting.
The Nuggets will also need a big night from J.R. Smith as well although unlike Kleiza Smith will need to do more than score. He will need to be aggressive and attack the paint in order to create easy scoring opportunities for both himself as well as his teammates. J.R. shot 3-13 in the first meeting.
Of course aside from Melo’s suspension is Chauncey’s first game back in Detroit since he was traded to the Nuggets. Undoubtedly Chauncey will experience a wide range of strong emotions. Chauncey had a nice game attacking the rim, but as the game wore on he forced some three point attempts. Billups will have to duplicate his 11-19 effort from the first game for the Nuggets to have a shot.
It would be nice to have Nene provide some post offense although he struggled to do so against the Pistons physical front line in the first matchup. Nene only shot 3-7, but he did get to the line 12 times. The Nuggets will need him to step up tonight.
Kenyon is always capable of having a nice offensive game when he is getting in the lane instead of hoisting jumpers, but in the first meeting he shot a sorry 6-15.
More so than raising individual games the Nuggets must raise their collective team game. They will need to play with the focus and desire on defense that they displayed against the Lakers and on offense they can earn good shots for each other by playing unselfishly and patient offense. Unfortunately with Melo out the offense has a tendency to become stagnant with one pass and a jump shot as everyone is trying to make up for Melo’s absence on their own.
The way Denver is playing right now I really do not like their chances tonight. I am almost as down on their chances tonight as I was before the Laker game, but I will hold off on any prediction of doom so soon after being proven wrong just a few days ago.
Previous Matchup: Game 38 – Den 90 Det 93