We all know that once the first punch is thrown the battle of wits begins. Playoff series are made up of a series of adjustments and counterpunches to address you own weaknesses and to exploit the short comings of your opponent. The question is what adjustments will the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Hornets make heading into game two? The Hornets’ ability to run the pick and roll and the need for the Nuggets to stop it was the number one issue heading into this series and much of my attention has been directed at that matchup.
Before we get to that there are a couple of adjustments I would like to see made by the Nuggets. Chauncey Billups was incredible in game one and it is certainly possible that either Carmelo or J.R. Smith go off for 36, or more, most likely the Nuggets will have to be more diverse on offense.
Specifically Melo will have to do a better job of scoring. The Hornets were clearly focused on two goals. One was keeping Melo out of the paint and two was keeping J.R. out of the paint. Byron Scott was criticized for saying that he thought the Hornets did a good job on defense, but I agree with him. New Orleans successfully implemented those two goals and Chauncey made them pay. The Nuggets are too talented to take away every offensive option. If someone other than Carmelo or J.R. has a huge scoring night at least four times in this series then New Orleans will accept it and go on their summer vacation.
I think the Nuggets need to get Melo the ball at the top of the circle more as that gives him more options to drive as he has the whole floor to work with. Whenever he tried driving from the wing he was quickly pinched. I also like seeing him with the ball in the post as the Hornets consistently brought an immediate double team. That opens the floor up for his teammates and is an advantage the Nuggets should exploit.
I would also like to see them use fewer screens to spring J.R. The Hornets did a good job of trapping him off the screen. J.R. is a good ball handler, but he is not a point guard and he struggled with the traps. If Denver were to run more of an iso set for him without a screen he would have a better chance of getting open looks.
Denver would also benefit from getting the ball to Nene more in the post as he has a quickness or strength advantage on anyone who will be guarding him.
Defensively the Nuggets did a great job. They played more of a contain style defense against Chris Paul on the pick and roll than an aggressive trapping style. It seemed like they tried to trap along the sideline, but contain in the middle of the floor. The Nuggets’ biggest issue was when Chris Paul would penetrate their shield around the lane because at that point no one was really responsible for him and he could simply circle around and get an open look in the paint. The guards need to do a better job of sticking with the play and recovering to cover Paul.
Denver displayed adequate rotations, but there is plenty of room for improvement there as well as on a couple of occasions they had two players rotating to the same shooter. I am also worried about the Hornets’ or more specifically Paul’s ability to get to the rim in transition and I think the Hornets should try to take advantage of the Nuggets’ poor transition defense, but more on that in a second.
I have put together a video detailing the Nuggets’ pick and roll schemes along with some examples of what they need to do better.
The Hornets also must make some changes and it is always easier for the losing team to locate and address their errors. As I said before, I really think the Hornets defense was acceptable and nearly all of my adjustments I would make if I were Byron Scott are offensive and most of those revolve around the pick and roll.
Basically everything revolves around Chris Paul and how he needs to be more aggressive. I really think the Hornets are missing a big opportunity to gouge the Nuggets in transition. Paul can thread his way through retreating defenders better than anyone. By playing slowly and allowing the Nuggets to set up their defense it lets the Nuggets off the hook. Paul also has to be more aggressive in attacking the Nuggets big men, especially on switches. I think the Hornets also need to get David West in space as far away from Kenyon Martin and that means fewer post up plays and more pick and roll with Tyson Chandler.
As with the Nuggets here is some video documentation explaining these adjustments and more with video evidence.
Oh by the way, I would also make sure Devin Brown gets approximately zero minutes. When he is on the floor whichever Nugget he is guarding cannot wait to blow past him.