2008-09 Game 61: Denver Nuggets at Detroit Pistons Game Thread

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.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Previous Matchup:   Game 38 – Den 90 Det 93

Featured Blogs:  Piston Powered | Detroit Bad Boys 

Why Was Carmelo Anthony Suspended?

I was hoping to post some video of Carmelo refusing to come out of the game, but there was no such event shown on the television broadcast.  If reports that the “incident” occurred in the third quarter the likely point in time everything went down was with 1:13 left in the quarter.  Kleiza had walked to the scorer’s table waiting to check in.  Chauncey Billups made a three to push the Nuggets lead up to seven and Jim O’Brien called a timeout.  

At the time I though it was odd that George Karl had Kleiza replace Kenyon Martin as the Pacers had both Murphy and Foster in the game.  In fact heading into the timeout the Pacers actually had Rasho Nesterovic and Foster in the game making it even less likely that Karl’s plan was to have Kleiza replace Kenyon.

I checked the game logs and it is not rare for either Carmelo or Kenyon to play the entire third quarter although the substitution took place right about the average time that Melo is removed from the game.  (Yes, I did the math and in the 42 games where Melo played in the third quarter, but was not removed due to foul trouble Melo’s average departure time in the third quarter is with 82.6 seconds left.  Fifteen times he has played the entire third quarter.)

The point of all that is that the only oddity that was noticeable was that Kleiza came in for Martin to play power forward against a big opposing front line.  There was no consternation or signs of disagreement with anyone, but to me there are some questions that need to be answered.  Why did Melo not want to leave the game?  Why could he and Karl work it out?  How did they come to the decision that Martin would be the one to come out of the game?

As far as Melo’s reasoning for not wanting to come out of the game I think it was primarily because he finally starting making some shots.  In the first quarter Melo started off ice cold missing his first three shots.  With 2:18 left in the first quarter he drove the baseline and was fouled.  He made both free throws to score his first two points and then the next trip down the floor he received the ball on the right block, got a pick from Kenyon dribbled twice to his left, rose up and hit a 14 foot jumper.  It looked like he might have been hitting a groove and then Karl took him out of the game.  

Fast forward to the third quarter and Kleiza got off the bench to enter the game at the 2:20 mark when the game was tied at 62.  Melo had just missed a contested 13 foot jumper (another one in a long line of contested jumpers he attempted that night).  However, between the time Karl called Kleiza’s name and there was a dead ball Melo hit a (contested) 17 foot jumper in transition and he made a (contested) 22 footer.  It was the first time Melo made two consecutive jumpers since the Atlanta game (and that is being generous as those two jumpers were separated by a little break called halftime).  Melo had basically played eight straight quarters without making consecutive jumpers.  I doubt that he realized that fact, but you better believe he knew he had not been shooting well and may have felt like he was finally heating up.  

Now take into account that he plays the entire third quarter about one third of the time (fact), he had done so for three straight games (fact), he had finally hit consecutive jumpers (fact) and that he may have felt like he was removed from the game in the first quarter when he was starting to heat up (speculation) and I can see why Melo would have wanted to stay in the game.  

That leads me to my next question.  If Melo is starting to feel like he is getting in a rhythm during the timeout couldn’t he and Karl have had a brief discussion and decided that either yes, Melo could stay in the game or no, he may have finally made a couple of jumpers, but they were not quality shots?  Pitchers in baseball get to lobby for why they should stay in the game all the time.  It is not that difficult of a conversation.

Finally when Melo chose on his own to stay in the game, how did it come to pass that Kenyon took a seat?  Was it voluntarily, thus putting the team before himself and showing leadership?  Did Karl tell him to sit out?  Did Melo ask him to sit out so he could keep playing?  Did they do rock-paper-scissors?  Of all the games not to have a sideline reporter.

Nevertheless, Melo did respond by hitting a (contested) three on the first possession after the timeout, but he bricked a bad (contested) drifting 20 foot jumper along the left baseline to end his streak of three straight made jumpers.  It is interesting to note that Melo remained in the game to start the fourth quarter, but Karl replaced him with Nene less than two minutes in.  There was no footage of his demeanor upon leaving the game as the play preceding the stoppage in play was a controversial charging call on J.R. Smith and Altitude was showing the replay and a closeup of the back of J.R.’s head.  

When Melo arrived on the bench, he did not sulk or go to the end of the bench in anger of being pulled from the action.  He was the closest player to Karl with only Tim Grgurich between the two of them.  There were no harsh words or apparent ill will between anyone.  The entire episode appeared to be as low key as any transgression I have ever seen a player suspended over although obviously at this point we have no idea what was said in the huddle or after the game.

Of course it is possible that the timeout at the 1:13 mark was not the point where Melo refused to exit the game, but no other point in the third quarter makes any sense. 

As I said in my initial reaction, if Melo did indeed disobey Karl, then that is an infraction that cannot be tolerated no matter how cordial the disagreement was.  We will see how the team reacts playing in an arena that they have had very little success in over the years.

Carmelo Anthony Suspended One Game

Carmelo Anthony is not returning to Denver for personal reasons as first reported.  Melo has been suspended for one game by the Denver Nuggets for an “in-game transgression” in Indianapolis.  

The Denver Post article cites sources reported in the know as to why Melo was suspended.

Multiple sources said that in the third quarter coach George Karl tried to take Anthony out of the game and Anthony refused to come out, disrespecting the coach.

It is never good for players to ignore their coach, but at least Melo’s insubordination was born out of the competitive desire to stay in a close game and not some kind of childish rage like yelling at the coach to get up and do something.  However, I think the Nuggets are right to take this step.  If the coach is not in charge of the team no one will be and that makes for a messy situation.

Obviously Melo has not been playing well lately so hopefully the game off will help him get back on track.  The bad news is no one else has been playing very well on offense either and if Linas Kleiza or J.R. Smith do not hit some shots tonight in Detroit the Nuggets will be in a lot of trouble.

Thanks to BeefySwats for the tip in the comments.

Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson Likely to Miss Rematch

Don’t look now, but tomorrow’s matchup between the Detroit Pistons and Denver Nuggets might be lacking some star quality.

Allen Iverson is likely to miss the game due to back problems and now Benjamin Hochman is reporting that Carmelo Anthony is probably going to be in Denver.  Unfortunately, the game is in Detroit.  The reason for Melo’s return to Denver has been cited as personal.  That is pretty vague so the imagination starts running, but Rex Chapman informed Hochman that the personal matter is not a legal matter.  It is never good to hear that a player has to leave his team and I hope that whatever the issue is comes to a swift and happy resolution.

While Melo’s situation gets your attention, it is not quite as interesting as the story behind Allen Iverson’s absence.  AI left the Pistons game versus New Orleans after straining his back.  He has been checked out and apparently is alright however, he claims he is not healthy enough to play and is seeking additional medical assistance. 

Chris McCosky from the Detroit News thinks that Iverson’s back problem has been exacerbated by finding out that he is going to be coming off the bench instead of Rip Hamilton.  McCosky reports that AI is healthy enough to play tomorrow against Denver as an MRI on his back was clean, but his absence is because he needs time to “celar his head.”  

I am a big AI fan, I think he is an incredible athlete and can be one of the most exciting players to watch in the entire NBA.  Sadly, his I-just-want-to-win routine that he has been selling in Denver and now in Detroit is starting to show some significant holes.

Iverson has made some sacrifices in Detroit.  He is making what are the ultimate sacrifices in his mind as he is playing fewer minutes and taking fewer shots.  The problem is what he believes is required to win basketball games is not what is best for the team.  AI thinks basketball games are won by him being on the floor for 42 or more minutes a night with the ball in his hands.  While many players who get older become not only content, but desperate to fill any role they can on a contending team to win a title AI believes that a contending team has to fill the role of providing four other players to be on the floor with him. 

When the team is losing as the Pistons had been before he hurt his back the answer for how to turn things around in AI’s mind is not to bring him off the bench further marginalizing him, but to leave him on the court longer and give him a larger role. 

The Pistons had lost eight straight with AI.  Since he hurt his back they have won two straight pulling out games at Orlando and at Boston.  I think the jig is up.  I think the Pistons are better off without AI and I think AI would be better off with a team that needs him.  We all know the real reason why Joe Dumars traded for Iverson was for his expiring contract and not his talent.  With today being the final day to waive a player and allow that player to be eligible to play for another team in the playoffs I think it is best for all involved for AI to be bought out and set free. 

Where would he go?  I have no idea, but if the Celtics are interested in Stephon Marbury someone is going to be interested in AI. 

2008-09 Game 60: Denver Nuggets 94 – Indiana Pacers 100

Box Score | Highlights

You always wonder what a vagrant does with the quarter or dollar you give him.  Will he use it for food or for some green tea or will he use it for booze and mind altering substances?  Imagine a starving panhandler getting $50 bucks, but instead of buying food he spends $25 on a hooker and the other $25 on some yam-yam only to find out that the hooker was a transvestite and the opium was actually sawdust. 

That is exactly what the Nuggets pulled on us.  The win against the Lakers was like getting the $50.  Tonight’s loss to the Pacers was, well as the late Paul Harvey would say, “The rest of the story.”

The Nuggets have now lost four straight games against teams who are currently under .500.  For some reason all the talk that every game is important seems to be just talk.  I think we all knew that there was going to be some let down after the way Denver played against the Lakers, but this type of drop off is just unacceptable.  I understand that there are nights where there is a lid on the basket, but effort and defense needs to be a constant.  I am not saying the Nuggets did not play hard or want to win, but they did not match the effort of the Pacers.

The Nuggets posted a decent defensive efficiency rating for the game and the Pacers only made 38.5% of their shots, but it was not a great defensive game by Denver.  They almost always had a breakdown that led to an open look for the Pacers.  One unpleasant surprise was the return of switching screens.  Indy ran some three man weave and Denver responded by switching.  The bigs also switched on down screens.  The Pacers had a set where they had Roy Hibbert set a down screen for Troy Murphy.  The Nuggets had Nene stay out to prevent Murphy from getting an open look from three, but that left the seriously outmatched Kenyon Martin on Hibbert who was just too big.

I understand why on paper it may make sense to switch in those situations, but I continue to believe it makes for a passive mindset.

The Nuggets now face three very difficult games and do not look now, but there is a decent chance their once apparently safe divisional lead could be all but whipped out by this time Friday night.  If the Nuggets have forgotten the importance of every game, they will soon be reminded of that fact.

Additional Game 60 Nuggets

  • I realize that no one was really playing well tonight, but why on earth was Linas Kleiza of all people on the floor for 12 of the final 13 minutes of the game?  Does his presence give them the best chance to win?
  • Apart from a minute and a half stretch towards the end of the third quarter where Chauncey Billups, J.R. Smith and Melo all hit jumpers and the Nuggets scored 13 points the offense was just pathetic.  The Nuggets offense has been faltering lately.
  • I think the last time Kenyon made a jumper I was shopping for Christmas presents, but God bless him, he won’t let that get in the way of him hoisting more of them up.
  • Nene was called for a five second violation and I think it might have been the first time I have ever seen that call made.  The players who necessitated such a rule have long since retired.  Anyway, the call was not Nene’s fault.  He had the ball in the post and the Pacers sent a soft double his way.  The other four Nuggets combined to move about a foot and a half as they all watched Nene wondering what he might do.
  • I do not want to think about this game anymore.  Then again, I do not want to look forward to the Detroit game either because bad things happen to the Nuggets in Detroit.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  95.6

Defensive Efficiency:  104.6

Offensive Efficiency:  98.4

Featured Blog:  Indy Cornrows 

2008-09 Game 60: Denver Nuggets at Indiana Pacers Game Thread

The Denver Nuggets raised their intensity level against the Los Angeles Lakers.  Tonight’s game brings a different type of challenge.  Can they play with focus against a lesser team? 

The Indiana Pacers are playing without their two best players as both Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. are out for the season.  Even without their two star swingmen the Pacers have a five game home winning streak.  You may have heard of a couple of the teams they have beaten during that five game streak, the Orlando Magic and the Cleveland Cavaliers.  However, only two of those five wins have come since Granger went down with a torn tendon in his foot.

I trust that someone has pointed that fact out to the Nuggets players so that they do not look at who is missing and ignore who will be on the floor for the Pacers.

The Pacers have been lead by some strong point guard play from T.J. Ford and Jarrett Jack.  Their best player though has been Troy Murphy.  Murphy had a great February posting 18.5 points and 12.8 rebounds and he did so shooting over 51% from the floor and 45.5% from behind the arc although he did finish the month on a 3-15 slump from long range.  Murphy is a tough matchup for many big men due to his ability to shoot from outside, plus he has very good size and a nose for the ball.

Marquis Daniels is a player Denver must look out for.  He is a versatile player in the mold of John Salmons who tends to give Denver problems on offense. 

As long as the Nuggets put forth a quality effort they should be able to handle whatever the Pacers throw at them.  Denver has won four straight games in Indy.  The last time they lost was in Carmelo Anthony’s fourth game as a professional when he shot 1-13 and the Nuggets only managed 60 points, the third fewest for a single game in franchise history.  Since then offense has not been an issue.  Tonight Denver will be looking to sweep the season series for the fourth time in the past five seasons. 

The Nuggets defeated the Pacers earlier this year in a game that doubled as the night Jeff Foster assaulted Melo’s hand.  Melo played a great game that night, even after he fractured his third metacarpal.  The Nuggets defense was atrocious that night, but their tormentor was Danny Granger.  The Pacers will not get 36 points from him again tonight.

The Nuggets have some big games coming up after tonight.  They head to Detroit on Tuesday which has been a house of horrors for the Nuggets lately and then a back to back at home against Portland and on the road against the Jazz.  A win tonight where the Nuggets continue to build off of their effort against the Lakers would be important to build momentum for the tough stretch of upcoming games. 

Denver really should be able to handle the Pacers relatively easily, but if they come out soft the Pacers will jump on them and it will be a tough game till the final buzzer sounds.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes - Petro is still listed as the starter, but I would be surprised if Nene does not start

Previous Matchup:  Game 36 – Den 135 Ind 115

Featured Blog:  Indy Cornrows

Film Room: Defending the Lakers

The Denver Nuggets proved for at least one night they can lock down even the best offensive team in the league.  More than one person I have spoken with over the previous couple of days has claimed that the Nuggets played the best defense they had even seen them play, and these were not young fans either. 

The organization, focus and effort the Nuggets displayed on defense against the Lakers was not only stunning for its overall brilliance, but also for how unexpected such a performance was.  Just two days before they tried to implement an aggressive trapping scheme for the pick and roll against the Hawks and failed miserably.  In that game they looked like five guys at the rec all having received different advice on how to play before they took the floor.  Somehow all that changed when the Lakers rolled into town.

I have been critical of how Denver has seemed to rely on flipping the switch to win games, but the game last night proved that they do have a level beyond what is displayed during the average game and that bodes well for the playoffs when everyone tries to raise their game a level.  Some teams show that they do not have an extra gear for the postseason, picture the Denver Nuggets of the previous five seasons, but I think this version of the squad just might be able to reach that extra gear.  I need to be careful not to jump to conclusions on their performance for just one game, plus it was clear the Lakers were worn out from their early morning arrival in Denver, but their defensive performance was just that good.

As promised I have put together some clips to show how they worked together and how in sync they were as a team.  Individuals can carry a team on offense, but if even one player misses an assignment on defense the entire structure can crumble.  Cohesiveness is vital to be an exceptional defensive team and for at least one night the Nuggets had a collective consciousness rarely seen in the Mile High City.  While watching the clips notice the way they help and rotate.  There was practically no wasted motion. 

I wish I had done a better job documenting the work that Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith put in guarding Kobe.  Kobe lit Melo up, but it was not because Melo was slacking off of him.  He was in his face almost the entire time and J.R.’s defense was so strong that George Karl said of his play, “J.R. was a man.”

Going forward I do not think it is fair to expect that kind of defensive performance every night, but it is a sign that we sure as heck should not be subjected to the kind of defense we were the four games prior to the Laker game.

Check out all my videos in the Roundball Mining Company Denver Nuggets Film Room.

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