Sure the Denver Nuggets beat the Portland Trail Blazers, but the real story was the homecoming of local boy and Denver hero Michael Ruffin. What, you guys care more about beating the Blazers than the return of Ruffin? Well, OK then.
Hopefully we will look at tonight’s game as the return of Carmelo Anthony as a dominant offensive player. He clearly felt like he had something to prove coming back off of his one game suspension and his play was spectacular. He was a little jumper happy early on, but he started going to the rim and utilizing his quickness for short pull up jumpers instead of long range ones and Portland had absolutely no answer for him.
Melo’s displayed his entire arsenal tonight. He scored off of transition jumpers, pull up jumpers, catch and shoot jumpers, he drove and finished with his right hand, drove and finished with his left. He ran the floor and was successful on either scoring or getting to the line from the post.
Almost as encouraging as the play of Melo was the play of J.R. Smith. I loved the way J.R. was aggressive on both ends of the floor. On offense he was looking for seams in the defense and succeed in setting up other players as well as getting his own shot off. Plus he was clearly fired up as the taunting technical for his primal scream that followed his follow up dunk over Joel Przybilla. J.R. was also all over the glass in the first half.
Above all else I really enjoyed the defense he played on Brandon Roy. J.R. has all the physical skills to be a very good one on one defender. He has just been missing the desire and the mental comprehension of positioning and technique. Of course, those are two pretty important aspects of playing defense, but one can be created and the other taught. J.R. appears to be making progress in both areas.
I had hoped to see an over the top defensive effort from Denver. They fell short of that although I am pretty happy with the way they played. Brandon Roy was able to get his points although he was never able to take over the game. Denver showed some cracks though and they allowed the Blazers to stay in the game.
There were several occasions where they missed a rotation resulting in a wide open look from behind the arc for Steve Blake, Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw and they shot a combined 6-12 on threes. However, those were not the breakdowns that hurt the Nuggets. There were really only two stretches where the Blazers controlled the action. A two and a half minute stretch where they outscored the Nuggets 10-2 and a three minute stretch in the third quarter where they outscored Denver 10-4. Those two runs the Blazers had came when they were able to consistently score at the rim. For those who are interested I have put a breakdown of those stretches in the additional nuggets.
The win was an important one and it sets up what may be the biggest game of the season tomorrow night in Utah. Should the Nuggets pull off a victory in Salt Lake City and build up a two and a half game lead on the Jazz again I will feel very good about Denver’s chances to win the division. Utah is on fire, but the Nuggets have a far easier schedule from here on out than Utah does.
Additional Game 62 Nuggets
[4:30, 2nd quarter] In the second quarter the Blazers started their run with an impressive fast break alley oop from Roy to Aldridge.
[4:01, 2nd quarter] After a traveling violation by Kleiza they ran Rudy Fernandez back and forth off the same screen until he finally freed himself up for a three.
[3:23, 2nd quarter] Melo scored on a runner and then on the other end he attempted to steal a pass into the post by Steve Blake to Aldridge. He missed getting the steal and to make things worse he fell down. Aldridge kicked the ball out to Blake and Birdman ran at Blake leaving Aldridge uncovered. Blake passed the ball back to Aldridge who made a hook shot at the rim. Had the guards rotated over they could have delayed the play long enough to get Melo back involved.
[2:32, 2nd quarter] After a couple of missed jumpers Portland goes back and runs Blake and Fernandez off a series of screens. Nene helps out on one screen leaving Pryzbilla temporarily open and Roy zips a pass to him. Andersen comes over to help leaving Aldridge open. Joel dumps the ball over to Aldridge and Nene, attempting to get back in the play fouls LaMarcus for the “and one.”
That is seven paint points in four possessions. Now fast forward to the third quarter for the other run the Blazers sprung on Denver.
[9:56, 3rd quarter] After a screen and roll between Roy and Aldridge Portland swings the ball to Blake in the weak side corner for a long two.
[9:15, 3rd quarter] Chauncey misses a contested corner three, coming back at the Nuggets Roy runs off a high screen from Przybilla. J.R. does a good job fighting through a half hearted screen, but he overruns the play and Nene fails to cut off Roy at the free throw line and Roy gets to the rim for a layup.
[8:51, 3rd quarter] Chauncey throws the ball away attempting a behind the back pass to Nene in the lane triggering a fast break dunk by Nicolas Batum. Portland is now within two for the first time since the 6:17 mark in the first quarter.
[8:45, 3rd quarter] Time out Nuggets. Following the break Nene receives a pass at the left elbow and drives right at Przybilla for a layup. Denver then forces a turnover as Portland tries to post Aldridge and he losses the ball out of bounds.
[7:54, 3rd quarter] Nene hits a 14 footer over Przybilla and Portland responds by running Roy along the baseline off a strong side screen and he receives the pass and drives in the lane. J.R. is right with him, but he hits a short 13 foot fade away.
[7:10, 3rd quarter] Nene throws a bad cross court pass that is intercepted by Batum. The Blazers run out on the break and Batum scores a layup.
Eight points in the paint in six possessions. Between the two runs Portland put together spanning roughly five minutes they scored 15 of their 38 points in the paint. The Nuggets helped with turnovers and jumpers that lent themselves to scrambling defense and early offense.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 88.6 – Closer to Portland’s ideal pace than the Denver’s ideal pace.
Defensive Efficiency: 101.6 – Very good considering Portland is the second best team in the NBA in offensive efficiency.
Offensive Efficiency: 119.6