Even if J.R. Smith was stalked, fouled and grabbed to the extent he did not a shot at tying the all time NBA record for most three point shots made in a game it was still a historic night at the Pepsi Center. The Denver Nuggets clinched the Northwest Division title, a top three seed in the Western Conference Playoffs including home court advantage for the first time in any playoff series since the 1988 post season and they tied the all time franchise record for most wins in a season at 54. J.R. Smith’s 45 points set a new career high and tied the Nuggets’ team season single game high Carmelo set against the Timberwolves in his 33 point quarter game.
The Nuggets deserve a great deal of credit for getting to this point. Before the season they had been written off by a majority of the NBA. They were picked to finish third in the division by a group of Northwest Division bloggers and were thought to be lottery fodder. The front office deserves a great deal of credit for not only acquiring players like Chris Andersen, Renaldo Balkman and Dahntay Jones at bargain basement prices and of course for pulling the trigger on the Chauncey Billups trade. George Karl deserves credit for demanding a little more organization on both ends of the floor and the players deserve credit for getting the job done on the court.
As much as I wish I could celebrate tonight’s historic win it is entirely possible the finale in Portland could determine how far the Nuggets go this season. In a conference where so many teams are so closely bunched home court advantage in the semifinals could be the deciding factor in who makes it to the conference finals (although I do not feel completely comfortable penciling the Nuggets into the semis just yet). In order for the Nuggets to have home court against the Rockets they may very well have to win in Portland. The Blazers will be fighting for home court advantage themselves and would love to knock the Nuggets down to the third seed. If Denver loses and Houston wins on Wednesday no matter what the Spurs do Houston will be the second seed and Denver the third.
Even with only one game in the regular season remaining there are three potential playoff partners for the Nuggets. Bachelorette number one is an underachiever who has the whole package. Say hello to the Utah Jazz. Bachelorette number two has been used and abused, but appears may be getting her act together. Give a big Dating Game welcome to the Dallas Mavericks. Bachelorette number three was last year’s darling that everyone wanted to get their hands on, but has managed to stay in the news thanks to the diva in her that leads the way. Let’s hear it for the New Orleans Hornets (that’s right, I just called Chris Paul a diva).
The Jazz close out their season tomorrow night in Los Angeles against the Lakers who have nothing to play for. Houston heads to Dallas and a victory by the Mavs would give the Nuggets the second seed regardless what happens in Portland. The Hornets finish up in San Antonio against the banged up Spurs who can still finish anywhere from third to fifth in the west.
There you have it. Denver is the Northwest Division champion and will be hanging at least one new banner in the Pepsi Center next season. Congratulations to the Denver Nuggets, but do not go thinking any of us are satisfied yet.
Additional Game 81 Nuggets
- All of the excitement was almost enough to wipe the memory of the horrific defense the Nuggets played in the first half from my pulsating grey matter. If anyone has their finger on the pulse of this team it is me. As I expected the Nuggets came roaring out of the gate and laid the smack down on the hapless Kings from the start…or not. Even as Scott Hastings was talking about how the plan heading into the game was to be aggressive and attack the pick and roll the Nuggets were switching everything. The result was watching the Kings being able to basically pick their shots and they were able to get off to a hot start just like they did in the previous meeting.
- The Nuggets made their first move once the bench came into the game and Chris Andersen, J.R. and Linas Kleiza immediately made a mark on the game. As flashy as Smith’s explosion was Andersen put on a clinic with how a player can alter a game without scoring. Birdman only took one shot, but managed to collect ten rebounds and blocked five shots on his way to posting a +25 for the game which only trailed Kleiza’s +32.
- That is right, Kleiza actually led the Nuggets in plus/minus which I have to believe is a first for this season. Kleiza missed his only three, I can allow one attempt a game I guess, but he did hit a couple of long midrange jumpers. His real damage came at the rim though as he was aggressive with his right hand drive. He even passed the ball on a fast break which led to a hockey assist as Anthony Carter dished off to Nene for a thunderous slam. Once again this was a Kleiza I can live with. I have said that a couple of times lately and I can only hope LK carries his aggressive offensive play into the post season and he does not turn back into the chucker who launches four or five three point bricks every outing.
- In the second half the Nuggets did increase the defensive intensity, but they still had a difficult time defending the simple down screens and cross screens the Kings were running to free up their shooters. Fortunately for Denver the Kings shooters grew cold as J.R. caught fire. The only player they could not contain was Ike Diogu who made some truly insane shots. Chris Marlowe said Diogu looked like Karl Malone as he tallied 32 points and 11 rebounds. The big question is why does he not play more? Look no further than his team worst -25 which may be somewhat indicative of his prowess when it comes to playing team defense.
- As much as J.R. drives me nuts with his histrionics after making shots I have to say I was impressed with the maturity he showed in the closing seconds. He had the ball and was left alone as the clock wound down. He dribbled towards mid court and many were prompting him to take one last shot at tying the record for three point makes in a single game. I think he really considered it, but he let the clock run out without another attempt. I thought it was a classy decision.
- Carmelo had a very well rounded performance. His shooting percentage was a little low, but I thought he was aggressive attacking the basket and his passing continued to impress. Melo was credited with nine assists and they came in a variety of settings. He had a nice drive and dish pass off to Kenyon for a dunk, a pass out of the post to a cutter for a layup, he had a drive and kick out for a three and a pass out of a double team for a three, a skip pass for a three and an alley oop to Kenyon for a sweet dunk.
- Speaking of Kenyon it was good to see him back and he seemed healthy, but he did have the ugly play of the night when he flat out shoved Spencer Hawes when Hawes was in the air for a dunk attempt. Hawes has had knee issues as he actually underwent microfracture surgery in high school and I think he had another knee injury in college. We can only hope it is nothing serious. Kenyon was tagged with a flagrant one. At first I thought a flagrant two and an ejection were warranted, but after looking at the play a few times Kenyon did not push him hard and I do not think he intended to do anything other than prevent the dunk. Even so it was an irresponsible play and I thought Hawes showed very good sportsmanship as he walked by Kenyon and gave him a pat as he went to the bench after his free throws.
- The Nuggets had been struggling on the defensive boards and Sacramento came into the game with Jason Thompson having been on a tear averaging 5.3 offensive rebounds a game in April. The Nuggets held the Kings to only nine offensive rebounds and Thompson only managed one. I thought Birdman did not take himself out of the play nearly as much as he did against the Lakers going after shots he had no business attacking and the Kings are just not nearly as physically imposing as some teams.
- Here is what I have pieced together based on the most recent tie breaking information I could find from the NBA. Should Denver lose while both Houston and the Spurs win on Wednesday (resulting in Denver, Houston, San Antonio and Portland all finishing with 54 wins), Houston will win the Southwest Division and the second seed. Houston and San Antonio actually split the first three tie breaker criteria of head to head record (2-2), division record (both currently 9-6) and conference record (both currently 35-16), but based on Houston’s better record against Western Conference playoff teams (the Rockets are currently 16-13 while the Spurs are 14-14) they would prevail. Therefore, if the Rockets win the division and end up tying the Nuggets in the standings and because both would be division winners, Houston’s head to head 3-1 advantage would carry the day. The Trail Blazers would be the fourth seed and the Spurs the fifth seed due to Portland’s 3-1 series win over the Spurs.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 96.0
Defensive Efficiency: 102.1 – Pretty good considering the competition although the first half was a nightmare.
Offensive Efficiency: 122.9 – Pretty good considering the competition although when one of your players hits 11 threes you should have a pretty good offensive rating.
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