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%.
Featured Blog: Bullets Forever
The Washington Wizards return to the Pepsi Center missing four players who would be starters under normal circumstances. Gilbert Arenas, DeShawn Stevenson, Brendan Haywood are all out and Caron Bulter is unlikely to play due to an inflamed hamstring.
The last time the Wizards were on the court was in Los Angeles and the Wiz watched helplessly as a 95-95 fourth quarter tie rapidly morphed into a 123-108 loss. The kicker is they did not sacrifice the game at the altar of the Lakers. It was against the Clippers that they gave up the game deciding 28-13 run. It was so bad that a perpetually disinterested Baron Davis collected 20 assists.
It all adds up to what should be the easiest win of the group of weaker squads who have been lined up in the Nuggets path during their four game winning streak. The only question is will the Nuggets jump out to an early lead, give it back and then roll late in the game (a la the Clippers, Thunder and Nets games) or will they fall behind and be forced to storm back (thank you once again Memphis)?
The Wizards are not devoid of talent. Antawn Jamison is a true professional giving it his all night after night when most veterans would be mailing it in. I still hold out hope that Andray Blatche will turn into a more dominant Lamar Odom and Dominic McGuire does a great job of corralling rebounds and handing out assists while possessing a complete lack of ability to score. Plus JaVale McGee is a good energy player with some nice potential. (I also still think Javaris Crittenton could turn into a nice player, but good luck getting me to admit it in public. Ah, dang it.)
From the Nuggets perspective, look for Carmelo Anthony to be licking his chops at another shot at the Wizards. The last time Washington was in town Melo hung 49 on the Wizards and by the end of the game Antawn Jamison was on one side and another Wizard player (Andray Blatche? I do not remember who it was) was on the other and they basically bear hugged him in order to prevent him from getting another shot off and potentially scoring 50.
The Wizards also have no one capable of hanging with Nene in the paint or with J.R. on the perimeter. Heck, the Wiz even gave up Dahntay Jones’ season high of 18 points just a few weeks ago.
Look for Kenyon Martin to play once again and to probably test his back again in the second half.
In more disturbing news Stumbleweed pointed out that George Karl has said that Linas Kleiza deserves more minutes. Kleia has had roughly 65 games to get out of his months long slump. If we lose Renaldo Balkman to Karl wanting to give Kleiza an even greater opportunity than he already has I may have to quit blogging. I realize Kleiza has been a good weapon off the bench in the past, but the team is bigger than Kleiza’s search for his wayward shot. Anyway you look at it empirically or statistically Balkman is the superior player. I would go on, but I do not want to get too bent out of shape over something that has not even happened yet.
The only thing that concerns me (other than Kleiza supplanting Balkman in the rotation) is the potential for the Nuggets to be looking forward to the huge three game roadie coming up following tonight’s game. The chance that they might overlook Washington is there although the dog fight they experienced in Memphis should help remind them of the importance of focusing on every opponent from here on out.
Previous Matchup: Game 50 – Den 124 Was 103
Featured Blog: Bullets Forever
I know you all have been waiting with baited breath to see the green jerseys the Nuggets will be wearing on April 2nd and 4th to promote NBA Green Week.
Photo courtesy of the Denver Nuggets
I have to say as far as green Nuggets jerseys go, this one is pretty cool. I like the fact they kept the yellow accents and did not go with a lighter green. Now if we can just get the black rainbow jersey in the rotation I will be happy.
Photographed by: Rick Stewart/Getty Images
What do you guys think?
I mentioned in my game recap of the Denver Nuggets 121-96 victory over the New Jersey Nets that Denver played very strong pick and roll defense. I purposely left the details out because I was planning on putting together some video evidence so here you go. Take note of how the Nuggets defended as a group and every movement was done deliberately with a purpose behind it.
The frustrating thing is watching them defend the pick and roll correctly it really is not that difficult. No one is doing anything superhuman or spectacular. To be fair, defending the pick and roll against Keyon Dooling is slightly easier than when Devin Harris has the ball, but the same principles apply no matter who is dribbling the ball.
Is the back back to normal for Kenyon Martin?
According to Chris Tomasson of InDenverTimes.com Kenyon Martin is hoping to return to his regular minutes as soon as tomorrow against the Washington Wizards. When asked how much he would play Kenyon responded, “Probably regular minutes. I think so.” The reason Kenyon thinks he is ready to expand his role once again is based on how well his back responded to playing the final 33.2 seconds against the Grizzlies last night.
George Karl might not be quite so quick to push Kenyon back into his regular court time saying, “I’m not going to go from playing him one game 15 minutes and one game (24) minutes to all of a sudden playing him 35 minutes. I’m going to feel out the situation.’’
I agree with Karl. Kenyon’s health is too important to suddenly decide that he is fine and jump back into his old routine just because his back responded well to a 30 second cameo. Especially in a game against the Wizards when the Nuggets should be able to earn a relatively easy win with Kenyon resting comfortably on the courtside padded chairs.
Doug Moe spreading his Doug Moe-ness
Did you know that the NBA celebrated Heritage Week a couple of weeks ago? Me neither. Anyway as part of the festivities Doug Moe was interviewed on NBA TV by Andre Aldridge and Eric Snow. Moe discusses his early coaching days with Larry Brown, if the old timers really were more fundamental and of course, if you can win a title with a running team.
Check out the full interview by clicking here.
Benjamin Hochman shared some quotes he has collected from George Karl on some timely topics, although they may not be so timely a day later. Nothing too earth shattering, but Karl does hit on a “cockiness” that may have lead to the Nuggets recent road failures and wonders if some players try too hard to draw a foul instead of make a shot from time to time.
The Nuggets are going to break out some green uniforms as part of the inaugural NBA Green Week. They will wear the green duds against the Utah Jazz on April 2nd and against the Los Angeles Clippers on April 4th. The uniforms will be unveiled this evening (March 19th) by George Karl when he represents Kronke Sports Enterprises and their Play Clean: Eco Friendly Entertainment initiative at the Sustainable Opportunity Summit being held at the Colorado Convention Center.
I will pass on a picture of the green unis when I see one. All I know is it ain’t easy being green (warning graphic muppet content). I am glad the Nuggets are not playing the Celtics because it was weird seeing the Chicago Bulls wear green in their game against the Celtics on St. Patty’s Day.
They do not really actually train anyone though, do they?
The Nuggets announced the 2009 winners of their Excellence in Athletic Training in Colorado High Schools program. Nuggets head trainer Jim Gillen, who began his career as a high school trainer, presented the awards to winning schools Cheyenne Mountain High School trainer Shaun Carmody and Alameda High School head trainer Dominic DiManna on March 14th when the Nuggets beat the Clippers. Both schools receive $2,000 to support their training programs. There were also two runners up, Chaparral High School and Ignacio High School, who each received $500.
Ignacio recently knocked Heritage Christian High School out of the state basketball tournament the game after Heritage ended my son’s high school basketball career so I am not sure if I should like them or not.
The Denver Nuggets 111-109 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies was a perfect example of the difference between playing hard and playing with focus. From the opening tip the Nuggets played hard. They understood the importance of this game and they wanted to win. But their hard work returned poor results because their lack of focus created easy scoring opportunities for the Grizzlies.
Denver snuck to within two points early in the third quarter at 59-57, but then the Grizzlies exploded on a 20-5 run. The Nuggets were not physically sloughing off, they simply made silly mental errors that allowed the Grizzlies to bag some easy points.
It all started after a nice defensive sequence by Carmelo Anthony who ran Rudy Gay off the three point line shut down a drive attempt and then when Gay went to the basket a second time Melo directed him baseline right into Nene resulting in the ball going out of bounds. On the inbounds play O.J. Mayo passed the ball into Marc Gasol and then cut past Gasol to the baseline and took a handoff. Dahntay Jones had been playing Mayo to come to the middle of the floor and was way out of position. Nene stepped out on Mayo after the handoff and Mayo threw him a shot fake. Nene left his feet and for some reason Jones, who was trying to get back into the play took a running leap from ten feet away, which even had Mayo shot would have been a completely ineffective challenge. With Nene and Jones in the air Mayo drive right to the rim and laid in an easy finger roll.
There was a play where Melo had to tie his shoe and he was late coming down the floor. As a result of Melo getting into the play late Chauncey only had one option to trigger the offense and that was Kenyon on the left wing. (Of course, Chauncey could have waited a couple more seconds to let Melo get back into the play or he could have penetrated or even shot, but he did not.) Darrell Arthur realized Chauncey wanted to pass the ball to Kenyon and he overplayed him. Despite telegraphing the pas and seeing Arthur all over Kenyon Chauncey passed the ball anyway. Of course Arthur stole the pass and took it the other way for a pretty sweet slam.
After Melo missed a layup the Grizzlies went the other way on a quasi fat break. Despite having four players back no one noticed Arthur running right down the middle of the floor. Nene stayed at the three point line to help guard Mike Conley even though J.R. was right there too. Chauncey was in the lane, but had his back to the ball looking at Mayo who was on the right wing outside the three point line. Kenyon was under the basket watching Rudy Gay, but he also had his back to the play. Arthur netted another dunk and the Grizzlies were up twelve 73-61.
During another Memphis possession Mayo took a shot from the top of the circle and J.R. ran out. Gasol collected the long rebound and Mayo cut from where he shot to the left wing. As J.R. came back in the play he just ran to the middle of the lane instead of running to Mayo and once Mayo received the pass from Gasol no one rotated over to him.
The run was capped off by a Gay three point play where he received the ball on the left baseline with Melo on him. Kenyon came over and doubled him. With the double team Melo had the responsibility to close off the baseline and Kenyon was to cut off a move to the middle. Even with his defensive responsibilities but in half (not having to worry about Gay driving right to the middle of the floor, Carmelo barely moved as Gay blew right past him along the baseline. Nene was in position to help, but reached instead of stepping in and Gay made a spectacular layup on the far side of the hoop and cashed in the free throw.
The Nuggets were playing hard, but they were playing with no focus or attention to detail. Because of that they saw a two point deficit balloon up to 17 in barely more than five minutes.
Even down 17 in the third the Nuggets managed to come back, but doing so not only required an increase in physical effort, but mental effort as well. In the fourth quarter the Nuggets played as hard as they have all season.
Denver was behind 100-88 with eight minutes left. Their comeback was triggered by an aggressive play trap a pick and roll by Renaldo Balkman who tipped the ball away from Conley and forced it out of bounds off of him.
To me the key play was all about hustle though. Melo tried passing the ball up the floor and his pass was tipped by Gay. J.R. ran the ball down just before it went out of bounds along the right sideline and passed it to Balkman on the block who immediately kicked it out to Melo for a three. The lead was down to eight at 100-92 and the Nuggets energy and focus was increasing on defense with every possession.
J.R. was hounding Mayo everywhere he went and on an ensuing possession after J.R. chased Mayo from one side of the floor to the other Mayo came off a screen and Chauncey pinched over from the top of the circle and forced a turnover.
Next J.R. picked Conley up full court trying to pressure him into a mistake. Conley ran off a Gasol screen where Nene hedged and forced him towards the sideline. J.R. was a little slow recovering, but after chasing Conley into the lane he followed the pass to Arthur and blocked his shot from behind.
After a couple of baskets by the Grizzlies Nene and Balkman doubled Gasol as he spun on the block and got too deep under the rim resulting in a turnover and what followed was the “May the force be with you” moment of the game. with the Nuggets down three, 104-101, Balkman received a nice pass from Nene, had his shot blocked, and then missed the wide open follow up layup. He managed to get the rebound again and Kicked the ball out to Chauncey in the left corner. Billups faked a pass up the sideline to J.R. and that fake drew Mayo out away from the middle of the floor which opened up the weak side wing for Melo. Chauncey skipped the ball across to Melo who drained a wide open game tying three.
The final huge stop of the game came with the Nuggets up one and 33.2 seconds left in the game. Memphis isolated Mayo in the middle of the floor near half court. Gasol came out to set a screen to Mayo’s right. Mayo never went anywhere near the screen allowing Nene and Anthony Carter to play a soft double. Gasol then reset the screen and Mayo tried going right off of it. Carter did a great job of crowding Mayo without fouling to avoid the pick. Mayo was never able to break free and never looked to pass even though he was in a pack of Nuggets. Kenyon, who was inserted back into the lineup for that final stand blocked his shot. Melo made two free throws for the final margin.
Not only did the Nuggets play aggressive physical defense in the fourth quarter, but they also hit their shots. From the time they were down 17 Denver hit seven threes in 13 attempts. It is amazing what making shots can do for a team, just ask Sacramento.
I thought Memphis played well and they forced the Nuggets to earn the victory. While being happy with the result it is once again a little frustrating that Denver could not put together a complete game. Even with their amped up defense if they miss a couple of threes they lose that game. Many of you seem to think that the Nuggets will blow through Phoenix and Dallas on the upcoming road trip, but if the Nuggets play like they did tonight they probably lose both of those games.
Additional Game 69 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 94.2 – Pretty brisk for a road game.
Defensive Efficiency: 115.7 – Memphis shot 47.7% and only turned the ball over 10 times.
Offensive Efficiency: 117.8 – Very good considering Denver turned it over 19 times.
Featured Blog: 3 Shades of Blue
The Denver Nuggets have righted the ship at home, but their last road game was the debacle in Sacramento and they still have a five game road losing streak to teams with records under .500 (Sacramento, Indiana, Milwaukee, Chicago and New Jersey).
They had better turn that around tonight in Memphis. Look for Kenyon to play in the first half only again while Renaldo Balkman is questionable.
Featured Blog: 3 Shades of Blue
With the demise of the Rocky Mountain News we have missed the tremendous coverage of the Denver Nuggets provided by Chris Tomasson and Aaron Lopez. Well, good news Nuggets fans, they are back thanks to InDenverTimes.com.
I was lucky enough to speak with Chris on a couple of occasions since the announcement that the Rocky was folding and he was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions about InDenverTimes.com and how he will continue to cover the Nuggets.
Roundball Mining Company: What is InDenverTimes.com? What is your vision for it? At the press conference announcing the launching of InDenverTimes.com Brad Gray mentioned that 70% of a newspaper’s budget is allocated to the physical production of the paper. Are online subscription based websites the future of journalism?
Chris Tomasson: The thinking is that newspapers, in their current model, are broken. With advertising declining, it costs so much to print and distribute a paper that newspapers now are laying reporters and editors off in masses. So they’re further weakening their product just to try to live another day. The thinking is that, with InDenverTimes.com, being an online publication, the bulk of the money will be spent on what’s most important: Having a staff of top-notch journalists delivering what people in Denver want to read. We hope we’re the future of journalism, although that future in journalism is already prevalent with sports sites such as ESPN.com. Nobody says, “Where’s my paper version of ESPN.com?” That’s because it never existed. People know they need to go online. As more and more people move away from the paper model of a newspaper, I wouldn’t be surprised if more sites like ours are cropping up in cities around the globe.
RMC: The viability of the site has been tied to acquiring at least 50,000 subscribers by April 23, 2009. Will some content be free or will all content be available by subscription only? If the goal of 50,000 subscriptions is not achieved will the venture be restructured or will it be left for dead?
CT: The news on the site will be free. But a subscription will get a reader access to columns, analysis, chats and all sorts of other extra features. We’re fully confident we will get the 50,000 necessary by April 23. If, for some reason, that does not happen, our financial backers would look at all options and any decisions would be up to them.
RMC: How will your ability to cover the Nuggets be different from when you wrote for the Rocky Mountain News? Is there a budget for you to travel with the team?
CT: I like to to think that, not only would I pick up right where I left off, there would be more coverage. With the newspaper, we were limited by space, especially in recent years, with the paper getting smaller due to the economic times. But there is an unlimited amount of space on the Internet. As far as travel, when InDenver Times hopefully starts May 4, this Nuggets season will be winding down, if not over. We would then have ample time to evaluate how best to cover the Nuggets in 2009-10.
RMC: Is the editorial hierarchy of InDenverTimes.com organized in the same way as a newspaper? Will you have more latitude to write columns/opinion pieces in addition to news articles?
CT: It will be similar. We will have editors and reporters organized much like they are at newspapers. As for the writers, a key word is analysis. My editors believe I know the doings of the Nuggets as well as anybody, so I’m sure they would trust my analysis on the team. I will be around the team regularly, and will look to present all sides of the story.
RMC: Will you be covering other sports or news apart from the Nuggets?
CT: While I’m not expecting to be sent to city hall for a story, I’m sure I will be helping out in other sports areas, which I don’t mind in the least. I’ve got plenty of experience covering all kinds of sports. I’ve even covered two Mr. Olympias, where I was the skinniest guy there, including the women.
RMC: In your opinion will the Nuggets get past the first round of the playoffs this time around?
CT: I sure wouldn’t mind if they do. InDenver Times is expected to launch May 4. On that day, it’s very possible the first big headline could be, “Nuggets finally win a first-round series.” Most first-round series end around that time. Those at InDenver Times certainly wouldn’t complain if we had a Nuggets second-round series to cover. As for my basketball opinion, I think they finally can win a first-round series. With their schedule easy down the stretch, the Nuggets look to be in great shape to win the Northwest Division and get a high playoff seed. And, while the West has depth this season, the only team that scares anybody a lot is the Lakers. And don’t count on Denver being the No. 8 seed and having to open against the No. 1 Lakers (good luck with that matchup, Mark Cuban). But it’s important to note that, even if the Nuggets win the Northwest Division, that’s no guarantee of homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Nuggets need to win the division and make sure San Antonio, Houston and New Orleans don’t all have better records. If that happened, the Nuggets would have to open the playoffs on the road.
Chris’s first article is up on the site and I encourage everyone who has any attachment to the Denver area to head over to InDenverTimes.com and check out what they are doing. I am not sure if this is the future of newspapers, but it is a very interesting endeavor. Good luck to everyone involved and thanks to Chris for all his hard work in covering the Nuggets and whatever other types of sporting events may come his way.
Below is the promotional video explaining more about InDenverTimes.com.
I finally saw some of what I have been looking for from the Denver Nuggets during their 121-96 victory over the New Jersey Nets. It did not last for long, primarily only in the first quarter, which kind of made it not quite as cool, but it did happen.
The Nuggets played incredible pick and roll defense.
I have been hoping for more than easy victories over these five games leading up to their three game road trip. The wins are nice, but in games such as these I am looking for signs of improvement, not just a team who is out talent-ing their opponents. For a few minutes in the first quarter the Nuggets played very good team defense and showed great collective awareness on the pick and roll and that made me happy.
Of course, it did not last. There were spurts of good defense here and there, but nothing like they played in the first quarter. However, instead of getting upset about the relatively porous defense the Nuggets played for most of the night, I am going to focus on the good. After all, there has to be some good to come out of a 25 point win.
From time to time the Nuggets also applied very good ball pressure in the third quarter. The best example came with 9:27 left in the third. Brook Lopez caught an inbounds pass in the left corner. Nene was all over him. Lopez dribbled out to the three point line and picked up his dribble while Nene continued to hound him. While Nene was pressing Lopez, Dahntay Jones was all over Vince Carter who was trying to cut to the ball. Nene and Jones worked to knock the ball loose and the result was a break away dunk for Jones.
All was not well for the Nuggets defense though as they once again failed to close off the three point line. The Nets were 9-21 towards the end of the third quarter before finishing the game 1-5.
With all the talk of defense you never would have guessed that the Nuggets posted a season high offensive efficiency of 139.7. They only shot 45.5%, which is not bad, but they pulled down a whopping 25 offensive rebounds. The Nets only had 31 total rebounds. The offensive rebounding has been a trend over the three game winning streak as the Nuggets have posted three of their top eight offensive rebounding rates over the last three games. Against the Nets they earned a nearly unheard of offensive rebound rate of 50.0%. Chris Andersen lead the way with eight offensive rebounds in only 19 minutes making up for the fact he only nabbed one defensive rebound. Renaldo Balkman snared six of his own offensive boards.
The Nuggets also continued their running ways racking up 24 more fast break points.
The other big stories surrounding this game were the return of Kenyon Martin and the departure of Renaldo Balkman. Kenyon returned to the starting lineup, but only played in the first half to avoid restraining his back after the half time break.
Balkman, who had another amazing performance, gave Nuggets fans all over a scare when he strained his left groin muscle in the third quarter, but claims he will be ready to play tonight against Memphis.
I will say that I was disappointed that the Nets were hanging so close late into the third quarter playing without Devin Harris and on the second night of back to back games. After the Nuggets jumped on them in the first quarter New Jersey fought back, thanks to some impressive shooting by Vince Carter, and were only down six at the half. However, I set the bar at not allowing the Nets to get within ten points in the fourth quarter and the Nuggets succeeded in accomplishing that.
Next comes a road game against a feisty Grizzly squad. The Nuggets definitely look better now that they have had some days off. Conversely the Jazz, who beat the Wizards by 15 at home tonight, had to deal with a tough east coast roadie that handed them a three game losing streak. Denver is back in first place in the Northwest Division and fourth in the west, but both races are incredibly tight as the Nuggets are one of four teams with 25 losses, Utah has 26 and Dallas 27.
Additional Game 68 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 86.6 – Second slowest home game of the season thanks to all the offensive rebounds.
Defensive Efficiency: 110.8 – Not very impressive as a whole, but apart from their poor three point field goal defense it was a solid effort.
Offensive Efficiency: 139.7 – As previously mentioned, that is a season high thanks to all the second chance points.
Featured Blog: Nets Daily
The resurgence of the Denver Nuggets continues tonight as the potentially short handed, and certainly short spirited if that is a phrase, New Jersey Nets drag their keisters into the Pepsi Center.
After trailing the Los Angeles Clippers 101-89 last night the Nets came roaring back behind a determined Vince Carter who made some incredible shots on his way to 41 points. Carter drained a 28 foot three with 12 seconds left to put the Net up 105-102 capping a 16-1 run and Lawrence Frank chose to foul in order to prevent the Clippers from making a game tying three. Baron Davis made both free throws and then Jarvis Hays missed two free throws giving the Clippers the ball down one with five seconds left. Typically Mike Dunleavy draws up some inane overly complex set that takes longer to develop than there is time on the clock which results in a horrible shot. Last night it was easy. Eric Gordon drove the lane, kicked out to Baron Davis who whipped a pass to the wide open Steven Novak who splashed his seventh three of the night at the buzzer.
Even worse than losing the game the Nets may have lost Devin Harris to a sprained shoulder and he is unlikely to play against Denver. Even though the Nets are fighting for the final playoff spot I cannot see a scenario where they can compete with the Nuggets.
Another factor in Denver’s favor is the fact that their previous meeting this season was somewhat memorable. You may recall that the Nets squeezed out a win by 44 points. If the Nuggets have any pride they will deliver a beating to a Nets squad that is physically and emotionally abused.
If the Nets are within single digits at any time in the fourth quarter tonight I will be seriously disgruntled.
Previous Matchup: Game 51 – Den 70 NJN 114
Featured Blog: Nets Daily
The Denver Nuggets supplied us with another relatively easy, but uninspiring win. Denver cashed in on runs in the first and third quarter to cruise to a 107-94 win over the slumping Los Angeles Clippers.
The Nuggets played a very strong first ten minutes and it was good to see them jump on the Clippers early. All too often Denver has allowed a lesser team to either be in the lead or remain very close at the end of the first quarter. The result has been that the opponent develops a sense of hope and the game ends up being much tighter than it had to be.
Even so after building a 13 point lead at 24-11 the Nuggets failed to score over the final 1:29 of the quarter while the Clippers tacked on a couple of Steve Novak threes in transition to drop the lead down to seven. In the second quarter the Nuggets built their lead back up to double digits, but the Clippers were able to get to within three and were only down by six at the break. The Clippers were able to come back because the Nuggets turned the ball over and LA hit a couple of jumpers. Therein lies the problem with being happy to have a ten or eleven or twelve point lead. They can disappear very quickly.
Despite the Clippers’ second quarter spurt the outcome of the game was never truly in doubt. Denver jumped on them again to start the third quarter scoring the first eight points and the competitive portion of the game was over. Although both teams were resigned to the outcome of the game in the third quarter, the Nuggets never did land a knockout blow where the lead was pushed up over 20 points and stayed there. Denver had their biggest lead of 79-59 with 3:36 left in the third quarter. In less than three minutes the Clippers had it down to 11. I do not know where this sense of contentment comes from, but it definitely is not a good thing.
The Nuggets defense was not seriously taxed by the Clippers. Baron Davis was not overly aggressive and Eric Gordon seemed relatively passive himself. Even so the Nuggets once again struggled to cover the three point line. The Clippers shot 9-17 from behind the arc and 12 of those 17 attempts were uncontested. They came via a variety of defensive breakdowns. Two of the open threes came on passes out of the post, two came on drive and kicks, two were in transition, and the other open looks were results of a simple pin down screen, miscommunication, a loose ball situation and off a pick and roll.
Offensively, the Nuggets played with good movement and there were no prolonged stretches where they were settling for jumpers. They took advantage of their opportunities to run accruing 27 fast break points. The biggest difference I have seen in the running game is the outlet passing. Guards are setting up closer to half court and the bigs are hitting them quickly and accurately. The running game has also been augmented by having Renaldo Balkman in the lineup. He fills the lane as well as anyone and you regularly see him flying up the sideline passing player after player like he is trying to get to the bank before they close to cash his paycheck.
Balkman had another spectacular game scoring a career high 20 points and collecting ten rebounds. I love watching the way he gets his points. Out of his 14 shots only one was a jumper and only once did he create his own shot. He is a force on the offensive glass and, as mentioned many times before, he finds cracks in the defense around the rim resulting in easy hoops.
It is good to see the Nuggets get well during this portion of the schedule although they have not faced a team who has fought them like the Kings did, but I am not sure they will.
Additional Game 67 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 98.9 – Fast pace as you would expect from a game with 42 fast break points.
Defensive Efficiency: 95.0 – Denver held the Clippers to 39.0% shooting and did not give them many second chances allowing only five offensive rebounds.
Offensive Efficiency: 108.1 – Pretty good considering they turned the ball over on almost 25% of their possessions. You can thank the 41 free throw attempts here.
Denver faces another must win game against a team with a losing record. The Los Angeles Clippers are basically healthy for practically the first time all season. However, scoring machine Zach Randolph will miss the game tonight while he is attending his funeral of his father back in Indiana.
The Nuggets have traditionally had a hard time handling Chris Kaman. Nene is the only Nugget who has the girth to keep him from getting great post up position and off the boards. Eric Gordon is already an offensive force. I do not recommend leaving him to help, but if they have to they better rotate back quickly. Baron Davis has the talent to dominate games, but he is either to banged up or not interested enough to do so lately. The other Clipper who likes to play against the Nuggets is Al Thornton. He posted one of his three 30 point games of the season and his only double digit rebounding game against Denver in the second game of the season. The last time Thornton played in Denver he threw down a 33 and 12 on the Nuggets.
Kenyon Martin has been listed as 50/50 to play tonight, but I sure wish they would list him as 0/100 until they know his back is 100%. The silver lining is we have another game to enjoy the contributions of Renaldo Balkman.
The biggest plotline though is Marcus Camby’s return to Denver. To his credit he has continued his charitable work here. As far as his play on the court he is still putting up similar numbers to what he earned as a Nugget. In the handful of Clipper games I have watched this season where Camby has played he seems to be working harder on defending the pick and roll. I have ragged on Camby’s post defense for a long, long time so Nene had better take it to him in the post.
I cannot believe I did not notice this sooner, but it just donned on me that I did not remember seeing Dahntay Jones play at all against the Thunder last night. A quick glance at the box score shows that Jones had the DNP Coach’s Decision.
Could it be that George Karl has decided to give Jones’ minutes to Renaldo Balkman?
With Kenyon Martin out and Anthony Carter returning to the rotation we probably cannot use last night’s game as a template for how minutes will be handed out for the remainder of the season. Also, Jones started the game before against the Rockets because he was a better matchup against the Rockets’ pair of swingmen Ron Artest and Shane Battier.
A quick glance at the Player Efficiency Ratings shows that the Nuggets bench is full of a bunch of below average players. Professor Hollinger sets the average PER rating to 15 and Anthony Carter (10.94), Linas Kleiza (13.10) and J.R. Smith (14.64) are all below average players. Dahntay Jones’ 9.07 PER is the worst out of the Nuggets’ rotation players. (To be fair, PER does not rate defensive ability outside of blocks and steals and as a result it probably sells players like Jones a little short.)
Renaldo Balkman’s PER is 17.55.
The question I have been asking myself lately is how much better would the Nuggets be if Balkman was getting more of Kleiza’s minutes. The question I should have been asking is how much better would the Nuggets be if Balkman was getting Jones’ minutes. I am not saying play Balkman 17 minutes a night at shooting guard, but if we allow Chauncey Billups, J.R. Smith and Anthony Carter to play the 96 minutes available between the two guard spots, have Kleiza back up Melo for 12 to 15 minutes a night, have Chris Andersen back up Nene for 18 to 22 minutes a game and then give Balkman another 18 to 22 minutes behind Kenyon that is a pretty stout rotation. On some nights Balkman can also help fill in at shooting guard depending on matchups.
As loyal reader Nuggets4 pointed out in the comments from the game recap Karl is still making references that the reason Balkman does not play more is because of his “spotty defense” and lack of a jump shot. The only time I saw Renaldo get out of position last night was when his man made a relatively slow cut to the rim and it appeared that Renaldo decided to pass him off to the weak side low defender while he stayed at the strong side elbow so that he could run out at a potential three point shooter. The result was Balkman’s man was open under the hoop and scored an easy layup, but at least there seemed to be some semblance of a team defense thought process behind his decision even if it was a bad one.
Balkman does not have a good jumper, but he knows it and rarely takes it. Kenyon Martin does not have a good jumper, but he chucks it up constantly. I love the way Balkman plays offense. He is always around the rim and has a knack for finding cracks in the opposition’s interior defense. I understand why Karl wishes Balkman could shoot a midrange jumper. Good outside shooting can open up the middle. Do not discount what Balkman does do though. His ability to find open areas and score in the paint breaks the defense down from its core, which is much more devastating. Balkman’s true shooting percentage (adjusting shooting percentage to include threes and free throws) is third on the Nuggets at 59.2% behind Nene’s 63.9% (and falling) and Birdman’s 60.6%.
I will give Dahntay Jones credit. He has never been thought of as a defensive stopper at any point in his career, but he realized that was the role he would need to play to earn minutes with the Nuggets and he has worked hard to develop that aspect of his game. While he has had some great games as a one on one defender, he is not a night in and night out defensive stalwart plus he is not a high quality team defender. However, if Balkman can get 20 plus minutes a night and Jones gets more DNP Coach’s Decisions I think the Nuggets would reap some pretty good benefits.
Getting in touch with our inner stat geek
Kevin Pelton over at Basketball Prospectus has been cranking out some great stuff as of late. He came up with a formula to determine what teams are the most inconsistent as far as beating the teams they should be beating by as many points as they should beat them by. Using adjusted expected scoring differentials Denver is considered the third least consistent team in the NBA. Confused? Just read it. I promise it will help having a smart person explain it instead of having me try to do it.
Kevin has also taken a look at how a team’s average age impacts their defensive abilities using the Portland Trailblazers as the inspiration.
5280 article on George Karl
I am pretty sure I am the last Nuggets related blog to post a link to this piece on Karl, but if you have not read it yet, I highly encourage you to check it out. Also head on over to Denver Stiffs as Andrew has an interview with the author Robert Sanchez.
NBA players like Chauncey
A little humor to close the day
I never saw that Tokyo Drift movie, but I probably would have if there were scenes like that in it.
It sure was nice to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in a game that did not require a last second shot for once. Denver was in control from start to finish, but before we get too carried away with an easy win against a less than stellar squad, let’s take a look at how Denver did in the areas we highlighted earlier this afternoon.
The Nuggets definitely cranked up the running game. Led by the return of Anthony Carter and the aggressiveness of Linas Kleiza and Renaldo Balkman Denver posted 25 fast break points. That is the most they have scored in a single game since February 6 in Washington, which was 16 games ago, when they accumulated 27.
The pace factor was a relatively slow 90.7, but that is most likely due to the number of offensive rebounds, the two teams combined to nab 33 offensive boards and offensive rebounds prolong possessions. We can tell from the fast break points, and from simply watching the game itself that both teams ran early and often.
The Nuggets addressed the issue of declining assist totals by playing unselfishly and earning good shots. 18 of the Nuggets 22 first half baskets were assisted. For the game they finished with 33 assists on 42 makes and 22 of those 33 assists were on shots converted at the rim. The movement and passing, especially in the first half, was outstanding. One of my frustrations lately with Chauncey Billups was that he rarely makes imaginative passes. It has been weeks since I saw him throw a pass that took me by surprise. He even made some nice passes to the roller off the pick and roll. Tonight was as good of a passing game as Denver has put together in a long time.
The other primary pitfall on offense was the fact the Nuggets had been shooting blanks. Against the Thunder they shot 50% for the game and that was made possible by the fact they shot 64% at the rim. They also shot 50% between fifteen feet and the charge circle. As I pointed out earlier today that range is typically the least accurate of the four areas we analyzed (layups, charge circle to fifteen feet, fifteen feet to the three point line and behind the arc). The key to shooting that well was the fact that the shots they took from that range were mostly wide open looks. As we moved further away from the rim their shooting on long twos and threes was not spectacular. The Nuggets shot 35.7% on both long twos and threes, but that beat their pathetic percentages from the previous ten games.
Another positive sign was 47% of Denver’s shots were layups. That is up from their season average of 44.5%. Denver was incredibly aggressive in the first half as 56.8% of their shots attempted were layups. Part of the reason for that increase I believe is the Thunder lack a shot blocking presence in the lane and the Nuggets felt comfortable attacking the rim (Tyson Chandler anyone?).
While the Nuggets made progress on offense there is less of a reason to be excited about their defense. The two areas I sited where Denver has fallen off were in committing shooting fouls and defending the three. Denver sent the Thunder to the line 32 times where they amazingly made 30 of them. Those 32 free throws were slightly higher than the Nuggets had been allowing during their 11 game slump and Oklahoma City attempted one more free throw than Denver.
The Nuggets would appear to have defended the three pretty well as Oklahoma City made only 3 of 13 attempts. A closer look reveals the Nuggets contested only four of the Thunder’s 13 attempts from behind the arc. They did miss all four of those attempts and only made three of the nine open attempts, but that ratio of open shots to contested ones was not good a better shooting team will make a much higher percentage of their open threes.
As I mentioned this afternoon the real issue was with the Nuggets’ poor rotations and overall team defense. The Thunder do not have any deadly three point shooters with Kevin Durant out of action and because of that when they played drive and kick the recipient of the pass either took a midrange jumper or drove. Both of those plays are easier to defend than a three point attempt because there is not as much ground to cover. The few times the Nuggets were required to rotate they did not do a particularly good job.
Overall Nuggets fans should just be happy with a win in which the Nuggets were not seriously threatened. On the other hand there were some red flags. Aside from the tendency to foul and their inability to consistently challenge Oklahoma City’s three point attempts the Nuggets yet again struggled to hold the lead. Denver built up a 42-23 second quarter lead and saw the Thunder gnaw it down to five in roughly six minutes. The key was another problem we have seen in the past and that was the Nuggets inability to defend the fast break. Earl Watson continually drove through the Nuggets sluggish transition defense as he was allowed to drive as deep in the lane as he pleased. The one time Anthony Carter tried to stop him about 16 feet from the rim AC never even moved his feet and was called for a tripping foul. It was not just Carter though all of the Nuggets’ guards were guilty. J.R. was the worst offender and Chauncey was only slightly better as he at least made Watson change directions before making a layup.
The Nuggets built up another 19 point lead in the fourth quarter, but once again allowed the Thunder to whittle it down to nine with over three minutes left in the fourth quarter. Their inability to put the game completely out of reach is unsettling.
The Nuggets have four more games against subpar teams to get these kinks worked out. Both the Jazz and Trail Blazers lost tonight and it is tempting to get excited about the Nuggets’ prospects to win the division again. Before I anoint the Nuggets favorites again they will have to prove to me that they have addressed all of the problems we have dealt with today.
Additional Game 66 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 90.7 – Slow for a game in Denver, but understandable due to the high offensive rebound rate.
Defensive Efficiency: 109.2 – Not as strong a performance as we hoped for, but they did hold the Thunder to 40.2% shooting. However, if Durant had played this number would obviously have been much higher.
Offensive Efficiency: 123.5 – Very good offensive performance, but we already knew that.
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Even without Kevin Durant the Thudner are rolling. Jeff Green is back and Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha and Nenad Krstic are all playing well. Even Kyle Weaver is hitting his threes.
No Kenyon tonight (as I pointed out he tweaked his back on the first play of the second half against Houston), but Anthony Carter is going to play.
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