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
- During Kenyon’s absence George Karl talked about missing the high low game with Kenyon at the top fo the circle and Nene on the block. Coming out of a timeout called with 7:33 left in the first Kenyon made a beautiful pass to Nene who turned and threw down an easy dunk.
- The starters were very subdued on both ends of the floor aside from J.R. He was the only one creating offense for the Nuggets and there was very little running. Things perked up when Chris Andersen entered the game. The Nuggets were down 26-20 when he started playing and within 40 seconds he had a big put back dunk off a missed three and less than two minutes later he threw down another dunk to put the Nuggets ahead one 29-28. Denver dominated the paint offensive all night, but when Birdman was in the game Denver dominated the lane on defense too. Andersen played one of the best games of his career posting a career high in points with 18, pulled down 11 boards and sent back six shots. Perhaps most impressively his eight shot attempts traveled a combined distance of probably 18 inches. Every shot he took was a dunk, tip or layup. The one shot he missed he tipped in.
- There was much consternation amongst many Nuggets fans upon hearing Karl wanted to give Kleiza more minutes. Fortunately Balkman came off the bench before Kleiza did and played 25 minutes to Kleiza’s 16 and the only reason Kleiza played that much was because LK was in for all of garbage time. I thought Kleiza might have been in for a decent game after hitting a nice 16 footer on the baseline and then making a pretty dish from the free throw line down to Balkman on the baseline for a layup, but then he switched into selfish mode refusing to pass the ball to AC in the backcourt to start a possession, then he drove and threw up a bad leaner off a weak spin move and next came a brick from the left wing with both feet on the three point line. Karl has said that he wants to get Kleiza going, but Kleiza has to realize there is more to basketball than hitting jumpers. As long as you do not do anything else well and simply live by the jump shot, you are going to be useless when your shot is not falling. Then throw in the fact that he is not a particularly good shooting in the first place and that is a recipe for disaster.
- It was interesting to see Dahntay Jones stuck to the bench for the second time in five games as he only played in garbage time. Even so he was cheering vociferously from the bench, which is good to see.
- How about Maya Starks discussing how she loves watching J.R. dunk on the break away and before she could finish her sentence J.R. stole the ball, raced up the floor and threw down a nice double clutch reverse. OK Maya, now I want you to talk about how much you love seeing me find a treasure chest full of Spanish Doubloons in my back yard.
- Kenyon’s back seems to be fine. He took some shots that put pressure on his back and I never saw him flinch or stiffen up once.
- It is interesting to see how the sport of basketball rewards you for doing things right. With 4:39 left in the third J.R. passed up an open three from the corner in order to drive. He made the layup and was fouled. Soon thereafter with 3:05 left in the quarter J.R. set up for a three on a fast break. When he caught the ball I said to myself, “You’ve earned it” and sure enough it hit nothing by nylon.
- Balkman looked like he strained his groin again, but even though he missed time two games ago because of his groin he never even had to come out of the game. Either he has a really low tolerance for pain or his groin is made of rubber.
- Anthony Carter played the ideal game. Ten assists and only three shot attempts.
- Carmelo has been passing the ball much more willingly lately. His assist totals are up a little, but they do not fully represent how well he is passing.
- Karl is usually very careful at not trotting out the scrubs too early in a game and tonight he danced with fire a little putting in Petro, Hart and Jones with only a 12 point lead and over two minutes left.
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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