Apparently the Denver Nuggets did not learn much from their battle against the Grizzlies. Despite cruising to a relatively easy 116-105 win against the Washington Wizards the Nuggets played incredibly soft defense in the first quarter and allowed the Wizards to get off to a very good start.
Antawn Jamison shredded Kenyon Martin with his typical variety of offensive talents. From awkward push shots to long range bombs Kenyon had no shot at slowing down Jamison. The sad thing was at least he was trying to defend Jamison because neither he nor any of the other Nuggets seemed interested in playing any team defense.
Kenyon may have had a difficult time with Jamison and I do not think anyone will think any less of him because of it, but Nene was the real problem on defense. With 7:57 left in the first quarter Kenyon faded back into the lane as James dribbled away from a screen set by Jamison. James passed it back to the wide open Jamison, but J.R. Smith rotated very crisply and Jamison passed to Dominic McGuire, who J.R. left to cover Jamison. Kenyon was still in the lane and Nene was covering Darius Songaila in the corner. Kenyon started drifting towards the corner expecting Nene to rotate up to McGuire. Nene never budged and then Kenyon just decided that if Nene was not going to cover McGuire neither was he and he just hung back in the lane. McGuire drove into the lane and hit a runner over Kenyon all made possible by Nene’s decision to impersonate a statue.
To make things worse the Nuggets were switching a lot of screens. Nene allowed a layup by Jamison on a pick and roll when he started to switch with J.R. and ran towards the weak side with McGuire even though J.R. was right there. Songailia then set a screen for Jamison and Nene was nowhere to be found.
Kenyon was called for his second foul at 3:05 of the first quarter on a sequence where James cut through to the right corner and Jamison cut up to the right wing. Instead of sticking with their men Chauncey and Kenyon switched. Jamison cut to the rim and Chauncey was not big enough to defend him. Kenyon was having to play further from the lane than normal due to James’ ability to hit the three. When Jamison received the pass Chauncey could not stop him and Kenyon was too far out to help at the rim.
J.R. Smith was the real story of the night though. His play on offense was nothing short of exceptional. He posted his second career 40 point game and what was most impressive about it was it was not due to a barrage of threes. He only scored nine of his 40 points on threes. His career high 43 points were generated largely by his 8-15 performance from behind the arc. We should have known J.R. was in for a big night when he scored the first bucket of the game from the post. I think it was the first time in his career that Smith scored from the block. He caught the ball, spun baseline on the bigger McGuire and laid the ball in on the far side of the rim.
J.R. was in the lane all night long. He scored 22 points in the paint on a variety of drives, dunks and short jumpers. He even dropped in a running hook. His defense has been better ever since the last Laker game where he took the challenge of guarding Kobe Bryant. Offensively he has taken his game to another level since being named a starter.
If there is something that can push the Nuggets to a higher level down the stretch and in the playoffs it would be J.R. taking another step forward on offense.
While the Nuggets did capitalize on the recent five game stretch against inferior opposition to get back into first place in the Northwest Division and back to 20 games over .500 they only played two quarters of exceptional defense, the first quarter against the Nets and the fourth against the Grizzlies. They now embark on a crucial three game road trip that takes them to Phoenix, New Orleans and Dallas. They may have a five game winning streak, but they will need to raise their level of play on defense in order to earn success in any of those three games.
Additional Game 70 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 101.0 – Highest pace factor since game 45 at Memphis (101.6). The 42 combined turnovers played a factor in that as did the fact the Nuggets really ran the floor well in the last three quarters.
Defensive Efficiency: 104.0 – Solid, but not great. They did force 23 turnovers. Denver had not forced more than 16 turnovers in a single game since the game in Orlando immediately preceding the All-Star break.
Offensive Efficiency: 114.9 – Chauncey was pretty bad and 19 turnovers did not help, but the Nuggets did shoot 53.0%.
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