A Thank You to the Denver Nuggets for a Great Season

First of all, congratulations to the Los Angeles Lakers.  They are truly the best team in the Western Conference and I think have a great chance at becoming the 2009 NBA champions.

While we are all disappointed in the outcome of the Western Conference Finals the Denver Nuggets have given us a very memorable year of basketball.  There will be plenty of time to discuss what went wrong in game six and what needs to be different next season for this team to be a champion.  For tonight let’s just appreciate the accomplishments of this team.

Thank you to the players, coaches, front office and ownership for all the hard work over the past few months and few years that has gone in to making the Denver Nuggets the second best team in the Western Conference.

I have no idea what the future holds, but it certainly seems that this team can have an incredible future.  As Carmelo Anthony said in the postgame press conference this is a beginning not an ending.  I cannot wait to see what the 2009-10 season has in store for this franchise.

I would also like to thank those of you who take the time to read and comment on this blog.  Without you this is just a quadi psychotic diary.  The fact that you choose to spend your time reading what I have to say means a lot to me and I will always do my best to make this a website worth visiting.

2009 Western Conference Finals Game 6: Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers Live Blog/Game Thread

Game 6 Live Blog at Forum Blue and Gold

Kia NBA Shootaround on ESPN360

Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers Game 6 Live on ESPN360

This is it.  I have had a lot of people ask me if I think the Denver Nuggets can win a game seven from the Staples Center.  While I do not love their chances of winning that game, they first have to earn the right to play a game seven by beating the Los Angeles Lakers in game six at the Pepsi Center.

As George Karl said today there are not many adjustments to make and any alteration is bound to be a slight one.  At this point both teams know each other inside and out.  It comes down to execution. 

Denver will be looking for bounce back games from players like Chauncey Billups, J.R. Smith and Nene while the Lakers will be hoping they can get another exceptional effort from Lamar Odom. 

A few minor changes that I would like to see is better execution of the trap the Nuggets like to spring on the sideline off the screen and roll.  The two trapping players need to smother the ball handler.  In game five they allowed themselves to be spread out and provided too much room to locate an open teammate.  Also, the positioning needs to be better from the other three players to cut off any pass that can lead to an immediate scoring opportunity. 

I would like to see Melo post up more often.  If the Lakers double him, it will open the lanes for players to cut to the rim.  If he is not doubled, he is a quick dribble from getting to the rim.  No matter what the Nuggets will need better movement off the ball than they established in game five.

Do not force the three ball.  Players like Chauncey, J.R. and Kleiza all need to shoot a couple of threes, but if it is not falling, try something else.  I can live with a 1-4 or 1-5.  I cannot live with another 1-10.

Play with controlled desperation.  I do not think Denver will suffer from a lack of effort tonight, but they cannot afford to lose their focus as they have been wont to do from time to time this series.

As you would expect I think the Nuggets will win tonight.  There is certainly a chance that the Lakers will relax ever so slightly knowing they have an ace in their pocket that is home court for game seven. 

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

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Take this with you:  The Nuggets have lost seven straight close out games tying the all time record held by the Hawks (1968-78) and Hornets (1993-2002).  That sounds bad, but let me spin it for you.  It is not easy to set any all time record so I suspect Denver will end that string tonight.

Also, Carmelo turns 25 today.  If he is as aggressive tonight as he was in the fourth quarter of game five I think it will be a memorable occasion.  I wonder if Rocky will manage to throw another cake at a Lakers fan to commemorate the moment.

Game Day Link Dump

It is game day for the first do or die contest of the 2009 playoffs for the Denver Nuggets so why not throw out some links to get everyone in the mood?

There has been a lot of talk about officiating following game five.  Bill Simmons lambasted the NBA in this article for making a potentially great product merely good.  John Hollinger added his two cents.  Lakers Blog also has a good post on the topic complete with a link to this article by Charlie Rosen on FoxSports.com.

ESPN Insider (subscription required) has a report from Stephen Jackson on how to guard Carmelo and Kobe.

The Denver Nuggets in the Rose Bowl (hat tip to Forum Blue and Gold for the link)?

A video from Bryan Roy discussing game six with OC Register columnist Jeff Miller.  Both like the Nuggets’ chances.

Andrew at Denver Stiffs has some news from Chris Tomasson that Karl envisions J.R. Smith as the starter at shooting guard next season.  Is it true or just a negotiating tactic to drive the price of Dahntay Jones’ next contract down? 

At least one man thinks Anthony Carter was the thirtieth best player in Miami Heat History ahead of such talents as Billy Owens, Gary Payton, Harold “Baby Jordan” Miner and Alan Ogg (hat tip to TrueHoop for the link).  No word on if that is because his agent’s inability to trigger his player option on the final year of his contract ultimately led to an NBA championship (the mishap gave them enough money to sign Lamar Odom who was part of the package traded for Shaq).

Here is a hilarious picture of George Karl from The Chris Andersen Files.  One question, if the Lakers fans are happy and Karl is trying to hide in his coat, what is Melo smiling about?

Apparently actor/singer Tyrese Gibson altered the words of the National Anthem prior to game five in Los Angeles.  Probably the first time the fans in Staples Center have ever booed at the mention of the Lakers (hat tip to Lakers Blog for the link).  How dare this guy try to give me a reason not to see Transformers 2!

Nuggets Nugetz is all about the playoff ‘stache.

Look for another live blog tonight featuring Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold and of course one of the top ten Nuggets bloggers in all of creation.  

Film Room: Denver Nuggets Offense – Fourth Quarter Western Conference Finals Game 5

I am not sure if you can stomach this or not, but I put together some clips of the Denver Nuggets’ fourth quarter “offense” from game five. In my game recap I wrote about how their offense became very one-on-one oriented. There was practically no ball movement or attempt to force the defense to react to anything other than a quick pick and roll or a drive.

As you watch these clips take note of two things, how few passes were made and how aggressive Carmelo Anthony was.

As ugly as that was I really liked the way Melo went at the basket and tried to carry the team to victory, but he needs to be more patient and more willing to set up his teammates. Let the ball move from one side of the floor to the other to uproot the defense. As I mention in the video most of the time when Carmelo drove, no one was cutting and providing him with an option to pass, but there is one example of a drive where Melo takes a difficult shot even though Nene is available at the rim, but Carmelo takes the shot anyway.

I think this game represents another step in Carmelo’s playoff development. He wants to be a great player and has learned enough to drive and play tenacious, but he has not yet learned that even great players have to rely on their teammates.

LeBron James had that amazing finish against the Detroit Pistons in 2007 where he scored the final 25 points for the Cavs and we thought that was just the beginning of the amazing things he would do at the end of big games. I think there is a reason he has not done something like that since. He still has the ball in his hands during crunch time, but if a teammate is in a better position to score than he is, he makes the pass.

Of course I am disappointed in the results of game five, but I have a hard time being upset at Melo for how he played. He did what we have been asking him to do for years and that is to ignore the jumper and drive. It was another small step in his transformation from a playoff bust to a MVP caliber force who is capable of getting his team to the NBA Finals. At the age of 24 I think he is finally on that track.

2009 NBA Playoffs Game 5: Denver Nuggets 94 – Los Angeles Lakers 103

Box Score | Highlights

The Denver Nuggets suffered a heart breaking 103-94 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in game five of the Western Conference Finals, the question we will not know for a another couple of days is if it was a back breaking loss as well.

The sad thing is it was Denver’s game to lose.  After going up 71-64 and 7:23 remaining in the third quarter Denver crumbled like a week old muffin. 

The Nuggets would only score 23 more points over the final 19:23.  Conversely during that span the Lakers poured in 39 points flipping a seven point deficit into a nine point victory.  Denver was able to maintain their seven point lead for a couple more minutes, but turned the ball over on four straight possessions over 1:20 allowing the Lakers to tie the game at 73.  Denver would never recover.

Los Angeles, lead by the team play of Kobe Bryant and the determination of Lamar Odom, played with a great deal of intensity on defense and unselfishness on offense.  The Nuggets on the other hand struggled with their communication on defense, a big point of emphasis in training camp, and turned more and more individualistic on offense.

The one Nuggets player who tried to will Denver to a victory was Carmelo Anthony.  He did his best to carry the team on his shoulders as he ferociously attacked the rim over and over in the fourth quarter, but only had a gaggle of missed shots, a few free throws and some bumps and bruises to show for it. 

The biggest problem with Melo’s attacking style was the Nuggets did nothing to set it up.  Instead of getting Melo the ball off of a reversal and forcing the defense to try to stop him after getting out of formation from ball movement Denver just fed Melo the ball and forced him to go into the teeth of the defense. 

The Lakers deserve credit for doing a great job of packing the paint and the referees were allowing contact in the lane, but Denver made it possible with their unimaginative offense.

At the other end of the floor the Lakers were doing all the things Denver was not and as a result they earned much easier looks. 

The Nuggets displayed some defensive incompetence as well from time to time.  It was not uncommon to see a Laker player standing alone awaiting a pass for an easy shot.  The final example of that incompetence came with just over a minute remaining and Denver down 96-91.  Chauncey doubled Pau in the post which required J.R. to rotate to Fisher and Kleiza onto Kobe.  Kobe drove a step past Kleiza and Carmelo came over to help.  At that point Kleiza retreated over to Ariza, but Melo expecting LK to stay with Kobe backed off as well.  This left Kobe wide open for a dagger three, but instead of taking the shot he fired a diagonal pass across the court to Odom.  Chauncey had switched onto Odom in all the rotating that took place, but was caught staring at Kobe as he rose for his shot.  By the end of the sequence neither Chauncey nor Melo were guarding anyone, but Kleiza was partly to blame as well.  The Lakers did not do anything complicated it was just another example of poor or no communication on defense.

However, my biggest question for game one is where was Chauncey?  Billups had nine points in the first nine minutes.  It appeared we were in for one of his big games, but he completely disappeared in the second half and finished with a mere 12 points. 

Chauncey’s second half numbers read like this:  1-3 shooting, all three point attempts, one rebound, three assists, two steals, two turnovers and two fouls.  Three points and three assists with two turnovers in what may prove to be the biggest half of the Nuggets’ NBA franchise history.  Shannon Brown deserves credit for the defense he played on Chauncey, but a player like Billups cannot disappear in this setting with so much on the line.

Chauncey did deal with a little bit of foul trouble as he was called for his second foul with 2:23 left in the first quarter and had to come out of the game.  Chauncey typically plays the entire first quarter so that change in routine may have affected him.  Plus that second foul was on a play where he was aggressively attacking the basket on a 2-1 fast break.  Chauncey brought his right knee up to jump as is typical, but when he made contact with Trevor Ariza and his knee got caught up on Ariza’s chest.  The contact made it look like Chauncey lead with his knee when all he was doing was jumping in a very natural motion.  I understand why the call was made, but it was unfortunate nonetheless.

If there is good news out of the game five loss it is that Denver still has two opportunities to prove they are the better team and deserve to be in the finals.  As long as the Nuggets win at home in game six they can earn a game seven where even though the home team typically wins, anything is possible.

Additional WCF Game 5 Nuggets

  • Offensive rebounding was a big key entering the game.  Denver appeared to have won the war by corralling 14 offensive rebounds to the Lakers’ ten.  In actuality as the Nuggets offensive rebounding opportunities increased greatly with all the shots they missed over the final quarter and a half, they stopped rebounding their own misses.  Over the final 17:11 of the game Denver missed 22 shots and pulled down only one offensive rebound.  I wish I could pinpoint some change in strategy by the Lakers, but I think the change was a function of the Lakers’ possessing more intensity and desire as a team than Denver.
  • One stat I thought was very telling was Los Angeles shot 56.7% on their two point attempts while Denver shot only 42.4% on their two point shot attempts.  The Nuggets typically live in the paint on offense while L.A. plays a more perimeter oriented offense.  Last night L.A. had 54 paint points while Denver accumulated a paltry 36.  Plus Denver was credited with only four fast break points.
  • The end of the first half was as crucial as it was frustrating.  After Anthony Carter actually made a three pointer to push the Nuggets’ lead up to five with exactly a minute left in the first half the Nuggets completely fell apart over the final 60 seconds.  To kick things off after showing a soft trap on Kobe near midcourt Kenyon retreats to cover Pau Gasol, the problem is Nene is already guarding Gasol.  Kobe passes to Odom just across half court and Anthony Carter, who is supposed to be guarding Derek Fisher, plants himself midway between Fisher and Odom.  This accomplishes nothing as AC is effectively guarding no one.  After a couple of seconds Kenyon remembers he is not supposed to be guarding Gasol, but Odom.  When he turns around he sees Carter in the vicinity of Odom and runs to take Fisher in the corner.  Remember, Odom is just a step across the half court line.  Kenyon had plenty of room to recover and allow Carter to retreat back to Fisher.  On the other hand, Carter needs to realize that the ball beats you, not the man meaning Odom is the threat not Fisher.  He should have stepped out and covered Odom.  Ultimately the real problem was the lack of communication between Kenyon and AC.  Kenyon needed to tell Carter that he had Fisher so Carter could focus on Odom.  The result of this comedy of errors was Odom drove practically unimpeded from the middle of the floor to the rim, Nene stepped in to stop the penetration and Odom dished off to the open Gasol.  Pau made the layup and was fouled by Nene.  This play was doubly bad as it tacked on another foul for Nene, who as I am sure you will recall, fouled out.

    Next Gasol misses the free throw, but instead of stepping back into Lamar Odom to get as much space for the rebound as possible, Chris Andersen just steps forward into the lane.  The ball comes off to Birdman’s side, but Odom is able to grab the carom because of those extra few inches Andersen surrendered by stepping into the lane on the shot.  Birdman does manage to block Odom’s first attempt, but Odom stays with it and converts his next attempt.  The Lakers have cut the Nuggets five point lead down to one in just 13 seconds.

    The Nuggets now have the ball with 46.9 seconds left.  They can either hold the ball and ensure Los Angeles only gets one more shot or they can try to go two for one which would require a shot between 35 and 30 seconds remaining in the quarter.  Carmelo opts for neither one of those options and shoots with 38 seconds left.  He is fouled and makes both free throws. 

    Now Los Angeles can pull off the two for one as long as they get a shot off within six or seven seconds.  Kobe had been absolutely killing Denver in the two for one department with his ability to shoot the pull up three.  J.R. Smith does a great job of hounding Kobe on the inbounds forcing the pass in to Walton.  When Kobe does get the ball AC comes up and coerces Bryant into passing up the floor to Fisher.  Fisher drives in and takes a jumper with 31 seconds left, perfect timing for a two for one opportunity, but the shot rims out.  Kenyon cannot control the ball cleanly and he falls down in the lane.  His solution is to call a timeout.  It was the first of two timeouts that Denver called to avoid a jump ball situation and they could have used both of those timeouts in the fourth quarter.

    I am sure you all remember what happened next.  The Nuggets are set to inbound the ball from the side just a few feet from the baseline.  This time J.R. Smith is throwing the ball in with Vujacic covering him.  Instead of blanketing J.R. Sasha spins just as Smith receives the ball from the referee and jumps Chauncey who is making his cut to receive the pass.  With Billups blanketed Kleiza has to run in from half court to give Smith another option to pass to.  Kleiza is being pressured by Odom who is running with him a half a step behind.  J.R. puts the pass in the only place Kleiza can get to it without Odom tipping it or stealing it.  Kleiza, running full speed ahead, cannot control the ball with his left hand and it bounces out of bounds.  Denver had an entire timeout to figure out how to get the ball inbounds and all they did was say J.R. you pass to Chauncey.  I have no idea how you cannot have a second option readily available.  You cannot blame Kleiza or J.R.  Linas did a good job of recognizing that Smith needed someone to bail him out and J.R. made the best pass possible into a small window.  If a player did anything wrong it was Kleiza trying to one hand the catch when he probably could have reached out with both hands, but it was clear absolutely no attention was given to the task of inbounding the ball during the timeout. 

    Los Angeles now has the ability to run the clock down as there is barely more than a second difference between the game clock and shot clock.  Kobe dribbles the clock down before driving down the left side of the lane.  He picks the left side knowing that the right side is congested with Odom, Gasol and Fisher.   A drive to his left will allow him to either get to the rim or suck in the defense and pass to Vujacic in the left corner for an open three.  As Kobe drives the defense does collapse.  It collapses completely.  All five Nuggets are within probably a four foot radius.  J.R. Smith, who was guarding Vujacic in the left corner ended up on the right side of the lane.  As the self proclaimed Machine goes into his shooting motion there is not a single Nugget player within 18 feet of him.  J.R. must realize that both bigs will be there to help on the penetration and he cannot just abandon a shooter, no matter how cold he has been, in the corner. 

    It was that one last breakdown that allowed the Lakers to tie the game at 56 after scoring seven points in the final minute of the half.  The game management and clock management from the players on the floor and the coaches on the bench was nonexistent and the attention to detail was completely lacking.  At worst in that situation Denver should have gone into halftime with a four point lead.

  • The Lakers did not have to do anything to J.R. Smith for his histrionics during game four.  Karma took care of him as Smith shot 1-10 on threes including a huge miss on a wide open look with 1:52 left that would have cut the lead to four one more time and could have altered the rest of the game.  J.R. was 3-13 overall.  Using my math skills which I honed at an early age that means J.R. was 2-3 from inside the arc.  I have lamented the disappearance of his midrange pull up game and that is a perfect example of how J.R. only shoots threes and layups anymore (mostly threes as he has chucked up 29 three point attempts – making only seven – in the previous three games).  I understand it is practically impossible for him to pass up an open look from three, and most of those ten shots last night were open looks, but perhaps he would have been wiser to redistribute his field goal attempts from 24 feet away to a distance much closer to the rim.
  • The other day I wrote that the sign of a good team is being able to hang close in a game when things do not seem to be going your way.  Denver did just that in the second half as they were within four points in the last couple of minutes despite being badly outplayed by Los Angeles for most of the second half.
  • Anthony Carter made a three pointer to bump his playoff three point accuracy from 9.9% to 16.3%.  Impressive.
  • The Lakers had 12 blocked shots in game five, but Denver deserved it.  There were two primary reasons.  One was many times, especially in the second half, when Denver attacked the rim, they jumped from very far out instead of taking one more dribble to get all the way to the basket.  The result was a lot of swooping soft shot attempts.  The other factor was when the Nuggets were going up in traffic they were perfectly content to just put the ball straight up just begging to have it stuffed.  The solution to that is to lead with your forearm.  To get a feel of what I am talking about put your off arm straight up in the air and then bend it at the elbow so your forearm is above your head with your palm parallel to the ground.  Now place your shooting hand under your off hand palm as if you are holding a ball to shoot.  If you go up like that and someone tries to block your shot they are going to get a handful of arm.  The really good news is it is your off arm so you can still get your shot off.
  • If you have not done so check out the live blog I did with Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold for more game five analysis.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  93.3 – Just about average for the series.

Defensive Efficiency:  110.3 – Again not terrible, but a lot of little breakdowns kept Denver from winning this game with their defense.

Offensive Efficiency:  100.7 – Worst rating of the playoffs for Denver besting, or worsting, the previous low of 106.4 from game three in New Orleans.

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2009 Western Conference Finals Game 5: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers Live Blog/Game Thread

NBA Shootaround on ESPN360

Nuggets at Lakers on ESPN360

With so much on the line tonight we are going all out to document the action.  Kurt Helin from Forum Blue and Gold and yours truly will be running a tag team live blog right here on Roundball Mining Company for game five of the Western Conference Finals.

Will Carmelo bounce back from two disappointing performances in Denver?  Can Denver continue to overcome the Lakers’ size in the lane or will the Lakers repeat their dominance from game one?  Is J.R. Smith about to catch fire and go on one of his incredible hot streaks?  Can Kobe keep carrying the Lakers game after game?  Will L.A. get Pau the ball?  Will Andrew Bynum start playing like he is the biggest dude on the court like he did in the fourth quarter of game four?  What will Dahntay Jones do for his next flagrant foul?  Will we see a game with over 100 free throws attempted?  Will any member of the Lakers’ supporting cast have a big game?  Which team will put a strangle hold on this series?

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

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By the way, I was on the NBA Today podcast with Jason Smith today. We talk about getting in Kobe’s head and whether or not the Nuggets can win a game seven in Los Angeles.

Western Conference Finals Game 4 Additional Nuggets

The day is coming to an end and I am once again tardy in posting my additional nuggets so I am just going to toss out what I have.

  • One concern we had about the Nuggets heading into the 2009 playoffs was their propensity to turn the ball over.  Not only have the Nuggets successfully negated that disadvantage, hanging onto the ball has become a major strength for this team.  Denver had four single digit turnover games in the regular season.  After last night’s six turnover effort against the Lakers, their fourteenth postseason game, they have already matched that total.  Denver was in the middle of the pack with a +.01 turnover differential in the regular season.  In the playoffs they have a +3.9 turnover differential, which is by far the best out of the 16 playoff teams.  Atlanta is a distant second with a +1.5. 
  • In the first half J.R. did a great job setting up his teammates with easy shots.  Smith totaled four assists, all in the second quarter and all four resulted in dunks.  J.R. Smith has had 16 assists in the four games of the Western Conference Finals and 12 of those 16 assists have resulted in either layups or dunks.  That is efficient offense.  Before the series I said Smith was capable of playing the role of Aaron Brooks for the Nuggets and he has certainly been able to breakdown the Lakers’ defense and create havoc in the lane.
  • Nene clearly did not want to be in foul trouble yet again and he repeatedly allowed Gasol and Bynum to back him down without so much as a retaliatory bump or swipe at the ball.  I guess it worked as Nene did end his string of six straight games with at least four fouls including five out of six games with at least five fouls, although I do not think the Nuggets can win in Los Angeles with Nene playing so passively on the defensive end. 
  • The Lakers shot 15-50 on threes in the two games in Denver.  Maybe if Fisher and Vujacic stopped popping threes and started feeding Gasol the ball in the post L.A. would be in better shape after four games.
  • Jeff Van Gundy remarked how surprised he was at J.R.’s vision and passing ability.  I think it is great that J.R. is being discovered by many basketball fans.  J.R. deserve credit for playing hard enough on defense to earn the minutes he receives on the court and George Karl deserves credit for allowing J.R. the freedom to make mistakes.  He will turn the ball over from time to time, but no Nugget can get his teammates easy shots like J.R. can.
  • I think one of the signs of a good team is the ability to hang around even when you are being outplayed.  The Nuggets seem to have been the better team in games one, three and four only to have a very difficult time shaking free of L.A.  There have been many instances where I have looked at the score and thought to myself, “Denver should be up by at least X, but they are only up Y” with ‘X’ being ten to 20 points and ‘Y’ four to eight points.
  • I like how early in the game Kenyon Martin missed a jumper so badly that it banked in.  Then a couple of possessions later takes the same shot undoubtedly thinking how he just made that shot so he has to shoot it again.  Needless to say the second one missed badly as well, just not badly enough to be as successful as the first one. 
  • We have talked about how the Nuggets dominated the rebounding battle, but the next few statistics will show how completely they dominated the paint.  The Lakers were 3-3 on dunks, but only 5-14 on layups.  Denver on the other hand went 10-10 on dunks and 11-24 on layups.  Denver attempted twice as many layups and dunks as the Lakers did, 34-17.
  • It seems to me that every game the Nuggets best defender against Kobe is someone different.  In game one it was Carmelo.  Game two it was either Carmelo or J.R. Smith.  In game three Dahntay Jones did a very good job of hounding Bryant in his limited minutes.  Last night it was Chauncey who did the best.  He forced Kobe into 0-7 shooting while he was on him and even forced Kobe to pass the ball once.  Not only did Chauncey force Kobe into some poor shooting, he did not foul him once. 
  • Carmelo did miss his first nine shots, but it was good that they were mostly good shots.  Out of his first nine shots five were jumpers and four were at the rim.  There was another shot that did not count because he was fouled.  Melo’s first made shot was a dunk so out of his first 11 scoring opportunities six were at the rim, the result of trying to go to the rim.  I can live with that, especially now that we know he was experiencing a queasy stomach that was bad enough he was reportedly throwing up just before game time and he required a halftime IV.
  • The postgame press conferences were fun as Phil Jackson got a little testy at a reporter who pestered him about his displeasure at his team’s effort.  Sadly, the segment is not included in the NBA’s slimmed down version of his Q and A, but you can read the article by T.J. Simmers here.  George Karl’s was equally as fun, though not as testy.  The last question was if Karl appreciated the irony of Chauncey stealing an inbounds pass from Lamar Odom to pretty much seal the game as it put Denver up 107-94 with 2:47 left.  Karl talked about the play and then asked why the reported thought there was irony with the play.  The reporter reminded him of the Nuggets’ issues inbounding the ball in games one and three.  I am not sure if Karl was messing with him or if he actually did not catch what the reporter was getting at, his response seemed legitimate, but when the reporter mentioned the two botched inbounds plays by Denver Karl chuckled and stood up announcing the end of the press conference.  Unfortunately NBA.com’s edit does not include that exchange either.
  • Back in the day MTV used to run a Beavis and Butthead special during halftime of the Super Bowl.  I flipped over to WWE Monday Night Raw thinking Vince McMahon, the king of marketing, would put on something connected to the game during the break with the hopes of sucking in some of game four viewers.  I was highly disappointed that all I got was some big dunce wrestling in a Baron Davis Clippers jersey.
  • The NBA has ruled Dahntay’s trip of Kobe Bryant a Flagrant 1.  I do not a problem with the league’s decision.  Some Nuggets fans I am sure will complain that it is unfair to call a play a flagrant when it was not called a foul during the game, but I find little conviction there.  Just because the referees missed it, watching live it was difficult to tell if the trip was deliberate, does not mean there are no repercussions for such a play. 
  • Tripping is not on the list of wildly dangerous plays, but if it is treated as just another foul, or no call, you could see that play becoming a more frequent tactic and it would be only a matter of time before someone hurt an ankle, foot or broke their wrist on the landing.

    That flagrant foul point raises Jones’ total to three so he will be suspended for one game after his next flagrant foul.

  • In other flagrant foul news the NBA has rescinded the Flagrant 1 that Andrew Bynum received after his hard foul on Chris Andersen (see link above).  I agree with that call as well.  Bynum made some contact with Birdman’s head, but he was clearly (forcefully) swiping down at the ball.  I did not think it should have been a flagrant in the first place.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  93.8

Defensive Efficiency:  107.7 – Best rating since game one against Dallas.

Offensive Efficiency:  127.9 – Very good, but not even one of their top three performances of the playoffs.

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I was going to leave you with embedded video footage of McMahon vs Kroenke I from last night’s Monday Night Raw, but it was just too lame.  Sorry Vince, but you are slipping.

2009 Western Conference Finals Game 4: Denver Nuggets 120 – Los Angeles Lakers 101

Box Score | Highlights

Carmelo Anthony has had a fantastic postseason, but I may have been a little premature to declare him to be up to the challenge of hanging toe to toe with Kobe Bryant over a seven game series.  While Melo has struggled in both home games, game three with foul trouble and game four with stomach and ankle issues, the Nuggets still managed to win one game, ensuring at least one more postseason tilt will take place at the Pepsi Center.

With Carmelo not playing up to par there was no shortage of Nuggets standing in line to make up for his limited production.  Offensively Chauncey fought off another slow start to have a big second half, J.R. Smith finally had a big scoring night and Linas Kleiza had another impressive night off the bench.

Despite the impressive play of those three the real story was the Nuggets’ domination of the paint.  I covered this angle for the Daily Dime (relegated to number nine today) so I will not go into it too much here, but suffice it to say the Nuggets bigs have gone from getting absolutely smoked on the glass in game one, to dueling the Lakers’ bigs to a draw in games two and three to completely owning the boards on both ends of the floor in game four.  The fact that the Lakers have only outclassed the Nuggets on the boards in one game so far is a big deal.

It cannot be overstated how well Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen were.  They outrebounded the Lakers 42-40 all by themselves.  For only the second time all season the Nuggets collected 20 offensive rebounds, they had a season high 25 in game 68 against the Nets.

Even with the dominant play in the paint the first three quarters felt very similar to game three.  The Nuggets were not taking full advantage of their ability to get in the lane and either score, dish off for an easy shot or get to the line.  Denver continued to take, and miss, far too many threes.  After three quarters they had taken 15 three point attempts ignoring the fact they had only cashed in on two of them.  Combined with their 5-27 effort in game three Denver had only made seven of 42 long bombs in seven quarters of basketball on their home court. 

I wish I knew what drives a team who is collectively shooting that badly to keep chucking an average of six three point attempts a quarter.  Of course, you cannot turn your back completely on the three point shot, but when even Kenyon and Birdman are tossing up threes you are going too far (Kenyon’s was a buzzer beater, but he should not have been set up that far out).  I am just asking for a couple fewer attempts per quarter.  Is that so wrong?

Thanks to the Nuggets poor marksmanship Los Angeles was able to cut the Nuggets’ lead down to seven at 77-70 early in the fourth and things were feeling a little too close and the game three déjà vu sensation was only growing stronger.  Then Chauncey and J.R. took over.  The guards scored 23 fourth quarter points and were the driving forces behind the Nuggets 45 point fourth quarter that turned a tight game into a laugher. 

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the offensive surge was that the Nuggets actually made five of their nine three point attempts.  That increase in accuracy could be one of two things, a minor statistical adjustment for their dreadful seven quarter long slump or maybe J.R. and Chauncey are heating up once again.

Even Carmelo got into the act as he scored eight of his 15 points in the fourth quarter thanks partly to having Luke Walton guarding him, but primarily because the Nuggets finally allowed him to receive the ball in the middle of the floor and operate.  It is so obvious that the Lakers cannot handle penetration through the middle of the court, yet still the Nuggets insist on running sets that require the defense be attacked from the wing.  That is what the Lakers want you to do.

I was afraid to write it before the game, but I thought this game was the most likely candidate for a blowout in the series.  With Denver coming off a bad loss at home they would be out for blood and in round two the Lakers followed up a big game three win in Houston with a real stinker of a game in game four that saw them fall behind by more than 30.  Denver ended up winning by 19, but L.A. deserves a lot of credit for playing hard.  They did not quite manage to match Denver’s desire, but they certainly did not mail the game in by any stretch of the imagination.

I think that fact is the ultimate compliment to Denver.  Los Angeles clearly did not take the Rockets seriously enough to play all out every game.  They clearly understand what can happen against Denver if they do not show up to play.

For the first time in franchise history Denver has made it to game five of a conference final with more than a fighting chance to advance.  You can quote percentages about who wins game one and who wins game three all you want, game five is the big one.  The Lakers will be coming out to reestablish size advantage and they will be the ones coming off a loss, but I think everyone who has been watching this series knows Denver is very capable of going into Los Angeles and claiming a series altering victory.

Additional nuggets to come tomorrow later today.

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2009 Western Conference Finals Game 4: Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers Game Thread

NBA Shootaround on ESPN360

Nuggets vs Lakers on ESPN360

Sorry for the shot recap of game three and brief game four “preview” game thread post, but with graduation this weekend and now Memorial Day, I have had a busy weekend.  Anyway, Denver is facing a must win game tonight and I believe you will see a great effort by the Nuggets.  I expect a win.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

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Take this with you:  Denver does not need to improve their play much to win and I think we will see a return of the playoff caliber Nuggets squad as opposed to the regular season quality of play we were subjected to in game three.

BeefySwats has weighed in on what changes he would like to see from the Nuggets for game four.

2009 Western Conference Finals Game 3: Denver Nuggets 97 – Los Angeles Lakers 103

 

Box Score | Highlights

How frustrating was the Denver Nuggets’ performance against the Los Angeles Lakers in game three of the Western Conference Finals?  I think the couple next to me may have broken up during the game.  Their initial excitement wasted away into some bickering, then some silence, then he got off the, “Who are you texting?”  That was pretty much it.  I think she spent most of the second half hitting on some guy at the Blue Sky Grill.

As bad as things were for that couple, things were worse for the Nuggets.

When I plopped down in my seat the energy and atmosphere was incredible.  Knowing how close the games in Los Angeles were it seemed like the Lakers had no shot at winning in the Pepsi Center.  Sadly, as the game wore on the Nuggets hit every branch as they fell from the top of the how to lose at home tree.

Horrible shot selection combined with terrible shooting?  Allowing the opponent to stay close all night long?  Giving up open shots and layups?  Bad technicals?  Denver did about everything possible to keep L.A. in the game.

Add in foul trouble and some more late game incompetence and just like in game one the Nuggets gave away what should have been a certain win.

What frustrated me all night long was the ridiculous number of three point attempts.  Carmelo took six in the first half.  Chauncey took seven and J.R. took ten.  Not all of them were bad shots, but when it is clear you are not hitting them, try something else. 

Chauncey took seven threes, only making two, and I think it would have been nice if he would have passed on a couple of them.  One he took in the fourth quarter was especially bad when he had a one on four and forced a contested three.  Chauncey has earned the right to take some of those, but it does not mean he has to.

The player that really frustrated me with his shot selection was Carmelo.  Melo shot four threes in the first quarter, although one was a buzzer beater and took two others in the second quarter.  Melo jacked up six three point attempts in the first 17:22 he was on the court.  When Carmelo was being aggressive, he was getting to the line.  Melo also made it to the line ten times during the 17 plus minutes he attempted six threes.  Maybe if Carmelo had kept being aggressive some of the Lakers’ players would have had to deal with foul trouble.

Overall, the Nuggets were never able to build up a lead bigger than eight because they were constantly shooting themselves in the foot.  Denver should have been up by ten at the half and 15 at the end of the third.  It was another wasted night and I was certainly off when I projected that Denver would play better at home than they did in Los Angeles.  Not only did Denver not play better, they submitted their worst game of the postseason. 

Additional WCF Game 3 Nuggets:

  • J.R. had completely abandoned his midrange game up until the fourth quarter when he finally pulled up from 15 on two occasions and made both attempts.  J.R. has also stopped shooting that one handed floater he broke out against the Hornets. 
  • Even though J.R. shot more threes than necessary, he probably played the best all around game of any Nugget.  He did a very good job driving and dishing.  Five of his six assists resulted in layups or dunks.  J.R. also did a pretty good job defending Kobe.  Smith was very good at fighting over screens and worked hard to cover Bryant. 
  • I thought Dahntay Jones played his best defense of the season on Kobe in game three.  Maybe he is starting to figure out some of Kobe’s tendencies.  We will see tonight in game four.
  • The Lakers did a good job of collapsing on penetration, but instead of cutting off all attempts to go inside altogether, Denver should have done a better job of moving the ball around to get the defense shifting around before attacking it.
  • I think it is time to inbound the ball to someone other than Chauncey or Melo and let one of those two go get the ball from that player.  I think L.A. has figured out the set some screens send Chauncey or Melo towards center court. 

Mindboggling Game Stats:

Pace Factor:  90.2 – Slow for a game in Denver and with only a few offensive rebounds to extend possessions.

Defensive Efficiency:  114.2 – allowing your opponent to get to the line 45 times will hurt your defensive efficiency.

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2009 Western Conference Finals Game 3: Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers Game Thread

How long can the Denver Nuggets continue their home court dominance?  They have won 16 straight games in the Pepsi Center and so far in the 2009 NBA Playoffs the Nuggets have won each of their six home games by at least 12 points.

Of course the Los Angeles Lakers are not the New Orleans Hornets nor are they the Dallas Mavericks.  As Kobe Brant has enjoyed pointing out after game two the Lakers had the best road record in the NBA at 29-12.  To put that in perspective there were 20 teams who failed to win as many as 29 games at home.

To expect another home blowout might be presumptuous.  Of course, after the four conference finals games that have been played the Nuggets three point win in game two has proven to be the largest margin of victory.  One of these games has to be over before the final possession, right?  If not health care facilities in Denver, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Orlando better stock up on defibrillators. 

After two games I do not know that any of us have a better grip on what to expect.  Was the resurgence of Linas Kleiza for real or was it a one night only special event?  Are Anthony Carter and Dahntay Jones both going to be restricted to spot duty?  Will George Karl trot out the big lineup again?  Will either of these teams run?  Can the Nuggets keep the battle on the boards even or will the Lakers size slowly wear them down?  Is this all we can expect out of J.R. Smith?  Is this all we can expect from Lamar Odom?  Is this all we can expect from Andrew Bynum?  Will Nene be the guy who scored 14 points in the first half of game one or will he be the guy who scored six points in the three halves since then?  How long can Kobe carry this team on both ends of the floor?  Will Phil Jackson demote Derek Fisher from potential game two hero to watching Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown from the padded folding chairs?  Who will blink first Kobe or Carmelo?

Pretty much all we do know at this point is both of these teams seem to be very evenly matched and you do not want to build up a double digit first half lead and end up scoring 103 points.  That has not worked yet.

I believe at this point in the series both teams feel just as confident as they did when the series began.  They are both laying in their beds right now thinking to themselves that they should be up 2-0.  Neither team has landed a blow that has rattled the other.  The only way I see that happening is if one team wins both of the games in Denver. 

As good as the Lakers are on the road, they do not play better there than they do at Staples Center.  On the other hand we can expect the Nuggets to play better than they did in those first two games when they were on the road.  While both teams are confident it is clear that the Nuggets have the advantage until the Lakers knock them off in Denver.  That might happen tomorrow or it may not happen at all. Plus if there was any doubt in the Nuggets’ heads before game one, they have been obliterated.

I am pumped because tomorrow I will be attending my first playoff game since the 2005 series against the Spurs.  If you want to say, “hi” or “you suck, quit blogging” or “go Nuggets” I will be planted in section 342, row 4, seat 1 and I will have my baby blue Nuggets shirt on.  I would love to get a chance to meet some of my loyal readers so if you have a minute stop on by.  I have a good bladder and no desire to pay what it costs for a hotdog and a Sprite Pepsi so I will be there all game long.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

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Take this with you:  Some numbers for your consideration:

  • Denver is 5-0 in the 2009 playoffs when Chauncey scores 25 or more points and they are 3-4 when he scores 24 or less. 
  • After only averaging three fouls a game over the Nuggets first seven playoff games, Nene is averaging five over his last five games. 
  • Carmelo has five straight 30 point playoff games setting a new Nuggets record.  Over the past 25 years only three players have had longer streaks and they are Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan all with streaks of six. 
  • Kobe has five technical fouls in the 2009 postseason and if he hits seven he has to sit a game.

2009 Western Conference Finals Game 2 Additional Nuggets

And now your additional nuggets from game two of the 2009 Western Conference Finals:

 

  • The one thing I kept thinking in the second quarter when the Lakers were pushing their lead up to 14 was where is Chauncey?  Even after Melo got it going to keep the Lakers from blowing the game open the Nuggets were still down 13 late in the second quarter.  Aside from Kleiza, no one else was stepping up to help Carmelo.  After scoring the Nuggets’ first bucket of the game Chauncey only tallied one more point over the next 17:52 he was on the floor. 

    Just like that, Billups exploded.  Chauncey scored seven points over the final 1:11 of the second quarter, including his brilliant self inbounds pass off Kobe’s back.  Even with Melo and Kleiza hitting shots Denver did not get all the way back in the game until Billups went off.

  • The most impressive aspect of Billups self inbounds play to me was not the pass off Kobe’s back but finishing at the rim with Gasol hovering over his shoulder. 
  • A good friend of mine, who happens to be a big Cincinnati Bearcat fan and I think has a picture of Bob Huggins hanging above his bed, mentioned how I was a little too hard on Kenon after the first game.  He did lead the team in rebounding and I thought when he was guarding either Pau or Bynum that he did a good job of holding his ground and not allowing them to get deep in the post, especially when they had the ball and were trying to back him down. 

    Game two was another matter.  Kenyon did provide the bulk of the Nuggets’ offense early on, but defensively he was just watching the game.  At 8:28 of the first quarter Carmelo missed a fast break three point attempt and Dahntay missed a tip attempt.  The Lakers grabbed the rebound and started down the floor.  Both Kenyon and Nene stayed back never crossing half court on the quasi fast break by Denver.  Fisher brought the ball up and Kenyon met him at the three point line on the right wing.  Chauncey came over to help, but never was able to get in position.  Kenyon slid off of Fisher anyway opening up a lane to the rim. Even though he left Fisher he had inside position on Gasol.  Fisher drove on to the rim where Nene challenged his shot and caused a miss.  For some reason as Fisher drove by Kenyon actually drifted away from the lane sacrificing his position on Gasol and as the shot came off the rim Pau was there to tip the ball in.

    Time and again in the early part of the game Kenyon was just watching the action.  Martin played every second of the first 14:41 and did not have a single rebound to show for it.  Kenyon would play another 2:29 after returning in the second quarter before collecting his first, and only defensive rebound of the game. 

  • One of the segments that was cut from my season preview film room post was how the Lakers usually do a great job of taking advantage of mismatches.  So far this series when Pau has Melo or someone even smaller on him Los Angeles has not done a very good job of getting him the ball.  It is not like them to not go into the post in situations like that.  Look for L.A. to try to take better advantage of the Nuggets switching in the games in Denver.
  • Dahntay Jones almost singlehandedly allowed the Lakers into the bonus committing four fouls in 1:24 early in the game.  Jones defense on Kobe has been less than inspiring and I think Karl has to at least toy with the idea of starting J.R. and bringing Jones in for spot duty on players like Farmar and Shannon Brown.  Brown scares me a little and I think Jones could make things hard on him.
  • Chris Andersen has played decently, but we have not yet seen Birdzilla in this series.  No matter how pumped up he gets at the Pepsi Center for games three and four he is going to have to play better post defense on Pau Gasol in order to earn more minutes.  He can do so by putting his entire forearm in Gasol’s back when he is in the post instead of just a hand.  When you use your hand it is almost impossible to stop a decent spin move (see the 1:41 mark of the first quarter for evidence). 

    Try it with a friend, family member or coworker right now.  Get behind them, put your hand on their back while you are both pushing on each other.  Then have them spin one way or the other.  Next do the same thing with your forearm.  Which one do you think is more effective as a defender?  If you still doubt that I know what I am talking about I can put you in contact with people who can vouch for me in this area.

  • Sandy Clough on 104.3 the Fan in Denver asserted that Anthony Carter was the Nuggets best bench player in game one.  I really respect Sandy and he is typically the most well reasoned and informed Nuggets analyst in the entire world.  If I had been drinking something when I heard him say that, it would have ended up outside the boundaries of my mouth very quickly.  On the other end of the spectrum Nate at Pickaxe and Roll in his game two preview called for Carter to play only the minutes that Chauncey needs to rest. I thought that was a little too far to the other side of the Anthony Carter argument, but George Karl sided with Nate over Sandy. 

    Carter played only six minutes.  It was the fewest minutes he was on the floor all season behind a nine minute outing against Toronto on December 2, 2008 (fondly remembered in Canada as the game that ended Sam Mitchell’s coaching career).  Kleiza definitely ate into Carter’s minutes, but if LK can keep hitting his threes, do not forget he was 7-14 from behind the arc against the Hornets in round one, Carter will not have much of a role in this series.  Plus with Denver possibly going big with Melo and Kleiza as the swingmen instead of AC and J.R. as we have seen in the small lineup that had success against Dallas it will relegate AC to strictly the few minutes of backing up Chauncey he received in game two.

  • There has been some discussion in the comments of the game two recap regarding how biased Jeff Van Gundy has been in favor of the Lakers.  My two cents is that I try to come up with insights that were not discussed during the game because anyone who watched the game, which is most of you, already knows it.  During game two I lost track of how many times I thought I need to write X only to have Mark Jackson or Jeff Van Gundy go on to mention that very X I wanted to comment on seconds later.  I think they are doing a very good job. 

    While I appreciate Scott Hastings, I think he gets a little too consumed with the officiating.  I wish we had the option of watching the game on Altitude, but as far as national commentators go Van Gundy and Jackson are doing a good job of pointing out important details during the game. 

    I did not realize that Van Gundy had picked the Lakers in five, but in his defense, when you come out and say something, and you know a lot of people are going to hear/read it, you want to be right.  If you follow fantasy football and read the work of Matthew Berry on ESPN.com you will know that he would rather be right on a prediction than be wrong and as a result have one of his fantasy teams win that week.  There is a high premium on accuracy whether it be in post game analysis or in making future projections.  Of course, everyone who prognosticates in public will be proven wrong at some point, but we do not have to like it.

  • It is not always the announcers that point out aspects of the game I intended to mention, sometimes readers do it too.  Jakester pointed out that the Lakers had three shot clock violations in the third quarter so I guess now I do not have to.
  • I have heard quite a bit of consternation about how the game was called last night.  Of course, fans on both sides felt their team was treated unfairly.  All I will say is I thought there was a lot of inconsistency.  The game would be called tightly for a few minutes, and then they would let them go at it for a while and I thought it was like that all night long.  However, I do not think the officials played a role in the outcome of the game whatsoever.
  • It is obvious that most fans are not pleased with how games are officiated so let’s make a change.  The NBA added a third referee in the 1988-89 season why not add a fourth and try to cut down on the responsibilities that each man or woman has?  Could it hurt?  It would at least show that the league is trying to address the issue.  What do they have to lose?  The extra money they spend in salaries and travel expenses would be well worth it if it could improve the quality of officiating.
  • By the way, I did a search for the term NBA switches to three referees and the second link that came up was my recap for game three against Dallas.  That was not what I intended that post to be about.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  91.3 – Not much running with 15 combined fast break points.

Defensive Efficiency:  112.8 – Getting a little high, but not too bad.

Offensive Efficiency:  116.1 – Very solid performance.

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Make sure to check out the firsthand account posted by Jezru at Pickaxe and Roll!  Good stuff.

 

2009 Western Conference Finals Game 2: Denver Nuggets 106 – Los Angeles Lakers 103

Box Score | Highlights

I wrote after game one there should be no question the Denver Nuggets are a capable opponent for the Los Angeles Lakers.  If there were still any doubters the Nuggets’ 106-103 game two victory has permanently closed debate although at this point the only people who needed convincing of the Nuggets’ prowess were the most hardcore Lakers fans.

It cannot be overstated how much the Nuggets are playing in the playoffs.  They never played this well for this long during the regular season.  With there being so much pressure, both internally and externally, to get out of the first round I believe this team was really chomping at the bit for the playoffs to start from the time they acquired Chauncey.  George Karl said on multiple occasions that he thought Denver would explode once they made it past the first round.  Well, he was absolutely right.  The early success against the New Orleans Hornets has fired this team to an entirely different level of confidence.  I lost track of how many times I heard analysts talk about how the Nuggets were a team comprised of knuckleheads.  If you let knuckleheads taste success they become very dangerous just like in Bad News Bears. 

Both teams were a little sluggish to start the game.  After a relatively uninspiring first six minutes the Lakers slowly began to take control thanks to some seriously lazy play by Denver.  Time after time Denver was beaten back in transition or standing and watching as a Laker player retrieved a missed shot and placed it snuggly in the basket.  Things looked bleak as we were witnessing all the worst aspects of game one with an extra lack of interest thrown in for good measure. 

Things slowly began to turn around in the middle of the second quarter.  The catalyst was Carmelo Anthony.  Melo started the game 1-6, but somehow willed himself into the zone (at least inside the three point arc).  With the Nuggets down 14 Melo came out of a timeout and proceeded to pour in the Nuggets next 14 points in order to ensure they did not fall further behind.  I think it was an incredibly significant moment in Carmelo’s career and you can read more about it here (#3). 

While Melo kept Denver close with his scoring it may have been his recommendation that George Karl reinsert Linas Kleiza into the game with just under four minutes left in the second quarter that actually turned the tide.  Karl complied and for the first time I can remember Denver went big. 

The Nuggets had a lineup of Nene, Kenyon, Kleiza and Carmelo all on the floor with Chauncey.  The Lakers did not get another offensive rebound for the rest of the quarter and Denver closed the half out on a 14-2 run.

There are a lot of Nuggets fans out there who have a strong dislike for Kleiza. He definitely regressed this season and he is typically a complete liability if his three point shot is not falling, which it has not been for months.  I myself have been considering him nothing more than an asset to be traded in the offseason.  Kleiza likes playing against the Lakers and he had a nice series against them last season.  With J.R. clearly limited the Nuggets need someone off the bench to score.  Kleiza might end up becoming a difference maker in this series.  Kevin Arnovitz of ClipperBlog and TrueHoop fame has a nice segment on Kleiza in the Daily Dime (#8). 

Love him or hate him you have to admit without Kleiza the Nuggets are down 0-2 in this series.  What I loved about Kleiza’s play, I have definitely not written that in a very long while, was he knew Denver needed to keep the Lakers off the offensive glass and he was in the lane right at the rim on every shot attempt.  His effort bore fruit as he pulled down eight big first half rebounds.  His example was able to convince his teammates how important it is to swarm the paint.  The Nuggets actually collected more offensive rebounds than the Lakers did, 14 to 13, and the total rebound battle was a virtual tie as well with L.A. claiming one more rebound than Denver, 43-32.

The Nuggets also remedied their free throw shooting although things were ugly early on again.  Denver actually made 17 straight free throws and 18 of their final 19.  The one miss sent hearts racing as it gave the Lakers the chance to tie the game up with a final desperation heave by Derek Fisher.  Nene did a great job of fighting through an arm tackle by Paul Gasol and challenging the shot.  He forced Fisher’s typically high arcing shot to a slightly higher trajectory than intended and the shot fell a foot or two shy of the mark. 

It was a great win and I just cannot get enough of Carmelo right now.  There is still room for improvement. He attempted a ridiculous number of threes, six, that left me begging for him to stop chucking them up.  Those six three point attempts unduly drove his shooting percentage down.  Carmelo ended up converting 12 of 23 two point attempts, which is very impressive.  Melo also had a couple of very bad turnovers coming down the stretch.  One was a pass directly into the teeth of the defense with no obvious recipient in the vicinity.  The other he over dribbled moving at a snail’s pace on the perimeter coming off a screen and allowed Ariza to swoop in from behind and take the ball. 

Even so the will and determination Carmelo is displaying is a new side we have not seen in the past.  We all know Melo is competitive, you have to be in order to play at the highest level.  What he has added is that will to succeed and to win and it is reflected in everything he does.  Last season in the first round series against the Lakers if Melo found himself on Kobe, you could see him looking to switch off at the earliest possible moment.  He has done a complete 180 as he now welcomes the challenge and is doing a pretty darn good job. 

There was some consternation at the end of the game as there was a controversial jump ball resulting in a Laker turnover. 

I watched the jump ball at the end of the game in super slow motion multiple times and the lane violation that the officials supposedly missed on J.R. was not nearly as clear cut of a call as the announcers and pundits would have you believe.  J.R.’s first step was actually outside the circle and by the time his second step touched the ground inside the circle Gasol had already swiped at the ball, although he did miss it.  yes, J.R. was in the circle before the ball was touched, but if you are going to stick to the letter of the law, the player who first set foot inside the circle was Lamar Odom who had his foot over the line before J.R. touched down inside the area in question. 

The Lakers wanted Carmelo to be called for a foul after Ariza had gained possession.  What happened, once again thanks to super slow mo technology, was Ariza’s left foot landed on Odom’s left foot and when Odom took a step it caused Ariza to lose his balance.  Melo did not push Ariza.  It was a very good no call.

There is much more to discuss, but I must get at least some sleep tonight.  It is a shame I did not get to talk about Chauncey at all yet, but look for additional bullets sometime on Friday.

With tonight’s win game three just became much more exciting.

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2009 Western Conference Finals Game 2: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers Game Thread

ESPN 360 Links:  NBA Shootaround | Game 2 Live

A few more game one thoughts as we prepare for game two:

  • How nice was it to have a physical game played where neither coach was complaining about how the game was called in his postgame press conference.  Yes, that is directed at you Byron Scott and Rick Carlisle.
  • I have read in several places, including the Denver Post (although the article was by Anthony Cotton, not Hochman or Dempsey) that the Nuggets’ front line of Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen won the battle against their Lakers counterparts because they outscored them 37-26.  I am not sure why Josh Powell’s four points do not count when adding up the scoring by the Lakers’ bigs, but whatever helps make your case.  If that was winning the battle, I do not want to see what will happen if the Nuggets loose that matchup.  Nene did not score a point in the second half, not that his 14 first half points did not count, and he pulled down only four defensive rebounds.  To put that in perspective Pau Gasol had six offensive boards.  The Nuggets’ bigs held their ground well, but to say they outplayed the Lakers’ big men is just wrong.
  • Chauncey Billups said that he wished he could have received the inbounds pass when Denver inbounded the ball with 5.8 seconds left in the game.  His direct quote was:

    “They did a good job. I couldn’t get it.”

    Following Chauncey’s second three pointer with 6.0 seconds remaining Carmelo was all over Kobe trying to deny him the ball, but Kobe ran directly to the inbounder to make sure he received the pass.  On the play Chauncey was recounting the Lakers did not defend him any more vigorously than Melo did Kobe.  The difference was Chauncey ran parallel to the baseline about ten feet away instead of running to the passer to make sure he could receive the ball. 

  • In the same quote he goes on to say that he wished he had either had the ball or told J.R. to shoot when it appeared the Lakers were going to foul him to get three free throws.  It sounds nice, but nearly every referee in the world is going to call that foul on the floor no matter how quickly you get your shot up after they grab you.  If you go into your shot too early, then they can layoff and just watch as you chuck a running 40 footer.  The Lakers were not going to make the same mistake Antoine Wright made by fouling too early or too lightly.
  • When you have to bring the ball up the floor in that situation and the other team has decided to foul, there is not much you can do.
  • That brings me to another point.  Denver ran out of timeouts at the end of the game.  With 7:33 left in the fourth Carmelo was trapped along the sideline and instead of bouncing a pass between the defenders to Nene he held the ball and called a timeout.  At the time my wife asked if that was a good idea and my response was that it was fine as long as they did not run out of timeouts at the end of the game.  Well, it turned out to be a big decision by Carmelo.  Picture how much different that final play could have been with Denver inbounding the ball from their end of the court with the recipient in position to shoot as opposed to having to bring it up the length of the floor.
  • I am sick and tired of talking about the turnover on the inbounds play by Anthony Carter, but I thought one of the TNT analysts, I think it was Kenny Smith, made a good point about how Chauncey could have run into the backcourt to get the pass.  If he keeps running and Carter leads him away from Ariza that would have been another way to prevent the turnover.
    I have defended Karl’s decision to put Carter in the game, but I noticed just 20 seconds later with the Nuggets inbounding the ball in the same spot on the floor Birdman was in instead of Carter and Kenyon was the inbounder.  It was a different situation with Denver down four and needing a three instead of down two and maybe that played a role in who was on the court, but it merits mentioning that Karl did not have AC out there.
  • I am already sick and tired of the moron who always wears yellow and sits just to the right of the Lakers’ bench.  He is constantly arguing correct calls like a child and stands up and claps his rolled up program.  By wearing yellow he can make sure he is visible and show everyone how much of a fan he is.  The guy drives me nuts.

That is enough of game one.  It is funny how I can write so much about something that was so frustrating.

With game two on the horizon I could not sleep last night. 

Despite being completely worn out I laid in bed for almost two hours before I nodded off.  Game two is not necessarily a must win, should the Nuggets lose I can definitely see them winning both games in Denver and tying the series at two.  However, if they go down 2-0 and have to win four of the remaining five games I do not see any way they win this series.

That being said, I think we see the Nuggets play their best all around game tonight and I even went so far as to predict a Nuggets victory.  The one disclaimer I will make is if J.R. Smith is clearly limited by his calf strain, which I have still heard referred to as a knee injury in more than one place, it will require Carmelo and Chauncey to both have big nights.

Much of the analysis of game two centers around how Melo will surely not be able to score so easily and that bodes well for Los Angeles.  I agree that Melo will not shoot 14-20 and 4-5 from downtown, but I will not be surprised to see him put up another 30 point game.  He may have to work harder to get to the rim and not settle for so many jumpers, but he can score on this Lakers defense and on Kobe. 

What was most impressive about Kobe’s offensive performance in game one was that he was able to do it while working so hard on defense.  Even so, there were times, especially when he was guarding Chauncey, that Denver chose to go away from him.  In game two, whoever Kobe is being guarded by must attack him and make him expend energy.  He cannot carry this team on both ends of the floor over a seven game series. 

Los Angeles can only get away with moving Kobe from guy to guy as long as players like AC and Dahntay are on the court who can be covered by Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar or Shannon Brown. 

When it comes to keeping the Lakers off the offensive boards it will require a conscious effort by everyone on the floor.  We talk about team defense, but seem to consider rebounding an individual effort.  Rebounding is also a team skill and against a team like the Lakers requires all five players to do their part.  The bigs must do a better job of clearing space, but that is easier said than done.  Gasol in particular is very good at prepositioning himself for offensive rebounds before the defender realizes the shot is going up. 

The guards need to either crash the lane if the shot is from the lane or get to the elbows if it is a longer shot so that they are in position to chase down a long rebound.

Other than the rebounding both Nene and Kenyon did a solid job on defense.  They continually forced Gasol off the block and keeping him a little further out than he likes to operate.  They did a lot of switching, which was fine as the Lakers did not look to post Bynum on Kenyon when the Nuggets did so.  If L.A. decides to go at Martin when he switches onto Bynum, Denver will probably have to double him.

When it comes to double teams Denver would obviously prefer not to have to double anyone.  However, they seemed like they were prepared to double Kobe after he put the ball on the floor and they showed some desire to have a guard come down to dig at Gasol in an effort to force him to pass. 

When the Nuggets do double team they must be prepared to rotate.  Gasol is an excellent passer and when Odom is in the game the Lakers have four players all capable of hitting three pointers on the floor at the same time. 

Another way to keep the Lakers from getting open looks from behind the arc is to get back better in transition.  On a couple of different occasions in the second half of game one Kenyon was stuck guarding Fisher in the corner.  Of course, Kenyon wants to be ready to help on a drive or rebound so he stays as close to the lane as possible.  The result is Fisher is left open and he made Denver pay. 

Both team also need to do better at running when the opportunity presents itself.  They combined for 14 fast break points in game one.  I expect both teams to top that mark in game two.  Of course, if Denver cannot garner any defensive boards they are not going to be able to run.  That is another reason why limiting the Lakers’ offensive rebounds is so important.

I do believe the Nuggets will win.  I honestly had a bad feeling about game one.   I was excited before the game, but not the kind of excited you are before opening a birthday present.  It was the kind of excited you get when you have to line up to run suicides for conditioning.  That is bad excited. 

For game two I feel a little more as if I am going to get a present tonight and less like I am going to be sprinting for a good 20 minutes.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

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Take this with you:  Denver was able to get Bynum in foul trouble because they were not afraid to attack him.  J.R. and Melo both drew fouls by going right at him.  They will need to continue to do so tonight.  Nene fouled out in game one and he must do a better job of avoiding contact when he is covering the pick and roll. He uses his hips too much to slow down the ball handler and referees will call that every time.

2009 Western Conference Finals Game 1 Additional Nuggets

The highly anticipated additional nuggets from game one of the Western Conference Finals:

  • Nuggets fans are very upset that George Karl subbed Anthony Carter in the game in place of Chris Andersen.  If Carter does not throw the ball away no one bats an eye at the substitution and despite the fact he was being covered by Lamar Odom, there is no reason other than sloppiness that his inbounds pass was stolen.  There was 30 seconds left on the clock and I think Karl wanted to get a quick shot in three or four seconds for Carmelo Anthony or Chauncey Billups so that the Lakers did not have a chance to run the clock out for the final shot in a tie game.  That pass by Carter will probably haunt his dreams for the rest of his life.  I know it will haunt mine.
  • There are a lot of plays you can highlight in a two point loss that could have been the difference between a win and a loss, but other than the debacle down the stretch there was one sequence that keeps bugging me.  At the end of the first half the Nuggets have the ball with the shot clock off.  In that situation you should never give the opponent the ball back with more than two seconds left.  Carmelo has had a problem with managing the clock in that situation his entire career.  Last night he started his move to the basket with 13 seconds on the clock.  Sure he made a nice play and earned Kenyon a dunk, but the Lakers were left with 8.4 seconds left in the half and of course Derrick Fisher drained a three from the corner.  Giving the Lakers that much time is unacceptable and Denver paid for that mistake dearly.
  • In the middle of the fourth quarter J.R. hit a three to put Denver up 84-79 it was a big shot and the Nuggets had overcome a four point deficit and were building momentum.  At the other end Pau is posting up Nene and has moved into the middle of the lane.  Meanwhile Jordan Farmar is running along the baseline.  Instead of staying with Farmar Anthony Carter decides to double Pau for no reason whatsoever.  Pau kicks a pass out to the wide open Farmar and he drills the three.  Denver did not double very much, but when they did the Lakers seemed to take advantage of it.
  • Later in the game with Denver once again up five, 94-89, AC and Andersen trapped Kobe along the sideline.  Kobe passed to Pau, Birdman’s man, at the elbow forcing Melo to leave Ariza to cover Gasol.  Pau passed over to Ariza and Kenyon did not rotate up resulting in an open three that swished through.  The sad thing is had Kenyon rotated up to Ariza, Birdman was already running from the left wing where he had trapped Kobe, to the right corner where Kenyon had left Fisher.  Everyone did their job, but one player and it cost Denver three points.
  • The Nuggets offense looked incredible in the first quarter.  They were constantly moving and making great passes.  As the game wore on the Lakers increased their defensive pressure and the Nuggets quit looking for those little holes to exploit.  Earlier in the season the big story surrounding the Lakers was how they were playing great defense.  They lost some of that mojo as the season wore on, but L.A. is certainly capable of playing very good defense for prolonged periods of time. 
  • One thing I failed to mention in my recap was one of J.R.’s four misses from the line was his intentional miss at the end of the game.  That does not excuse his other three misses, but he was 2-5 when trying to make it which is nowhere near as bad as 2-6.
  • As was reported first in the live chat, J.R. has hurt his right calf.  He is probable for Thursday, but if he is limited at all it will be difficult for Denver to win.
  • Staying with J.R. he definitely shot horribly.  He missed an open layup, left a ten foot jumper a good two feet short and of course there were his missed free throws.  Mix in the two or three bad turnovers he had and it was difficult to watch.  He was clearly nervous as he did not attempt a three point shot until he had been on the floor for more than 15 minutes.  However, he played as good of defense on Kobe as any other Nugget, and did a very good job rebounding the ball.  He ended up with more defensive rebounds, five, than Nene or Carmelo, four each.
  • Kenyon has a fractured ring finger on his left hand and he is probable as well.  I do not foresee this as being too big of a deal.  Kenyon can handle the pain.  Easy for me to say!
  • Continuing with rebounding Nene, Kenyon and Birdman are going to have to really step up on the defensive boards.  The Lakers do a great job of hanging around and tipping the ball around.  One thing the Nuggets might be able to do to get them to back off is to run more.  If the Nuggets keep getting easy baskets in transition L.A. is going to have to stop being so aggressive and send more players back on defense when the shot goes up.
  • I get tired of how officials call jump balls in the NBA.  Chris Andersen missed a shot with 1:00 left on the clock in the fourth quarter and there was a fight for the rebound.  Birdman finally recovered the ball, but was spooned from behind by Lamar Odom who was awarded a jump ball even though I do not think he was making any contact with the ball whatsoever.  If anything the referee should have thrown up Birdman and had Odom and the ball try to gain control of him.  Why is it that the rules go out the window as soon as a player is on the floor with the ball?  The only time I have seen a foul called in that situation was when Melo was whistled for trying to tie up a Mavericks player, I think it was Kidd, in Dallas.  Sometimes the contact that goes down in that situation would draw an unnecessary roughness penalty in football.
  • We talked about this in the chat, but I want Kobe to be suspended for game two so let’s keep it going.  There is no way to know for sure, but early in the fourth quarter when Kobe hurt his finger trying to catch a pass it sure looked like he loaded up before running into Kenyon.  We all know Kobe lashes out briefly when he gets angry (remember the forearm to Manu Ginobili’s face a couple of years back after Manu blocked his shot?) and I think there is a possibility that the way he swung his arm he may have slammed into Kenyon’s nether regions deliberately.  ESPN deserves kudos for actually showing the replay a couple of times although none of the announcing crew actually questioned Kobe’s intent.  Kenyon has been punished unfairly for his past, for example his $25,000 fine for his little push of Dirk in the previous series, so why is this not looked at with more suspicion because of Kobe’s past? 
  • Before the series I marked a bunch of clips to put together for my film room preview, but I did not have time to put all of them in.  A couple of those clips were of the Lakers’ full court pressure.  Los Angeles applied the press to start the second quarter and Denver abruptly passed the ball up the floor and J.R. drew a foul on Bynum.  The Lakers stuck with it though and I think it did disrupt the Nuggets offense a little bit. 

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  94.6 – Pretty high considering all of the Lakers’ offensive rebounds prolonged many of their possessions.

Defensive Efficiency:  111.0 – Decent, but not great.  The Nuggets held L.A. to 41.1% shooting for the game which goes to show how all of those offensive rebounds let the Lakers off the hook.

Offensive Efficiency:  108.9 – That is the Nuggets’ second worst rating of the playoffs behind their 106.4 in game three at New Orleans.

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