As frustrating as it was watching the Denver Nuggets almost give up a 27 point lead against a team who had lost eight of nine and was playing their fourth game in five nights it was a heck of a lot better than the night Spurs fans experienced.
The Nuggets did indeed clinch a playoff berth in March for the first time in 21 seasons, but more importantly thanks to the Spurs 96-95 loss at home to Oklahoma City the Nuggets have moved into second place all by themselves in the Western Conference. As long as the Nuggets can win all four of their remaining easier games (home against the Clippers, Thunder and Kings and on the road versus Minnesota) and even just one of their three more difficult games (at home against Utah and on the road against the Lakers and Trail Blazers) they will post 54 wins. Should Denver reach the 54 win mark, tying the franchise record, they will force one of the team’s trailing them to play almost perfect basketball to catch them.
When you put the Nuggets’ near collapse into perspective with how other teams have been giving games away I am going to have a difficult time complaining, but I think I can still find it in me.
That was definitely not playoff caliber basketball. Even as the Nuggets built up their 27 point second quarter lead their defense was less than impressive. It consisted of switching screens and giving up second chance after second chance. If it were not for a plethora of unforced turnovers where the Knicks basically handed the ball to the Nuggets which lead to a hoard of easy fast break baskets, this game could have been much different.
On offense if the Nuggets were not cashing in on a mindless turnover they were usually jacking up a long jumper. For the first 18 minutes those jumpers were falling. After that it was a different story. When a miss by J.R. Smith 5:41 left in the second quarter announced the Nuggets hot shooting the Nuggets were dominating the scoring. Soon thereafter Denver had scored 64 points in roughly the first 20 minutes. Things quickly changed as Denver would only score 47 more points over the final 28 minutes. A big reason for that was the jump shot happy offense as they only tallied 18 points in the paint during the final 28 minutes.
As soft as I think the Nuggets played you have to give the Knicks credit for never giving up. Even on their fourth game in five nights, coming off a disappointing loss in Utah the night before where they fought back from a 24 point margin to actually take a one point lead before losing by eight and in the midst of a terrible streak that has ended any hope of their making the playoffs the Knicks played hard all night long. The biggest key for the Knicks comeback was they stopped making the silly passes that resulted in 30 first half fast break points. New York only turned the ball over three times between the 4:54 mark of the second quarter and the end of the third quarter.
In fact the Knicks actually made two strong comebacks. After closing the 27 point lead down to three at 80-77 the Nuggets rebuilt their lead back up to 17 in the fourth quarter only to watch the Knicks claw their way back to within six points over the next three minutes. Denver was not good on offense or defense for most of the second half and they almost let this one slip away.
Well, that is the negative stuff. As I pointed out earlier the Nuggets managed to pull out the kind of game that other Western Conference teams are losing. I thought Melo played another solid offensive game at least aside from his 2-6 performance at the free throw line. He was the only Nugget who attacked the rim even somewhat regularly and he was looking to feed the ball to cutters when he could which netted him four assists, but also four turnovers. Strangely enough in a seven point win Carmelo was the only starter with a positive plus minus (+10) while everyone on the bench posted a positive number.
Tomorrow night the Jazz come to Denver and I think they deserve a pretty good beat down.
Additional Game 75 Nuggets
- In case you are keeping track since the day I wrote my post proclaiming the Nuggets were heading for another one a done playoff appearance, which I have not yet recanted by the way, they have gone 9-1 with the only loss coming on the road against the Suns. When I wrote that post I underestimated two things. One was the ease of the Nuggets’ schedule and the other was the competition. Despite the return of Manu GInobili the Spurs are struggling to win games. The Hornets are without Tyson Chandler and have lost to the Knicks and Bulls in their last ten games. The Jazz are giving up big leads game after game at home and losing on the road. Other than the Nuggets the Rockets and Trail Blazers have played pretty well, but both have had a couple of losses due to difficult schedules. Even the Lakers recently lost two in a row. Teams are simply not playing their best ball right now.
- Linas Kleiza started out the game as he played for most of the previous win against the Warriors. He was only taking shots when he was at the rim and I was pleased. However, by the end of the night he did attempt three long bombs. He did make one and a second barely rattled out. I actually find myself rooting for him to miss his threes as if doing so would somehow make him decide to only shoot layups and dunks and thus be more useful.
- The Knicks were credited with only 13 offensive rebounds for the game, which I did not believe based on what I saw with my eyes. After perusing the play by play for offensive rebounds and ignoring the nefarious ones that are credited following free throws or at the end of quarters the Knicks should have had 15 and I still think that number is low. Eleven of those 15 came in the first half.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 102.7 – Back to back formula one style games.
Defensive Efficiency: 101.2 – Thank you 21 turnovers.
Offensive Efficiency: 108.0 – Worst showing since the loss to Houston 11 games ago. Where would they have been without all those 30 first half fast break points?
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