The worst thing a coach can do to a team is play the wrong players. Heading into the regular season many Nuggets fans were worried that old George Karl favorite Anthony Carter and apparent new George Karl favorite Joey Graham would take minutes away from more deserving players.
I have to insert the typical opening night disclaimer of how I know we cannot jump to conclusions after one game, but if Karl trusts Ty Lawson enough to put him out there in the fourth quarter of a tight game against a division rival – in his first career NBA game – I think we can look forward to much more Lawson this season. As far as Graham, who I believe does deserve minutes as a solid player who avoids mistakes, even without J.R. Smith available he was only on the floor for seven minutes.
As good as Lawson was, I was most impressed with Carmelo Anthony. Melo did everything you could ask for, he displayed all his offensive talents and played solid defense and hit the glass. With the ball Melo certainly was aggressive attacking the rim, but still took advantage of the times he had space to fire off a jumper. On top of his scoring, he also dished out five assists, three of which resulted in dunks.
Defensively Carmelo did a fine job. He stayed with Andrei Kirilenko and did a decent job of fighting through picks and as mentioned above he did a good job on the defensive glass.
I think Melo is poised for a career year and that is a big reason why I like the Nuggets’ chances to improve this season.
One of my concerns heading into the regular season was the relatively poor play by Chauncey Billups in the preseason. I had not seen how Billups typically performed in the preseason before so I knew it was possible that he might turn it on when the games started to count, but I was certainly concerned about his play. After a bit of a slow start he showed that there was no reason to be concerned. Chauncey was his typical self providing direction on the floor on offense, playing smart defense and hitting shots when the Nuggets needed him to.
The backcourt of Billups and Lawson was fun to watch. Chauncey is a deadly three point shooter and he received a few open looks thanks to Lawson’s ability to penetrate. Playing with Lawson also allows Billups to rest a bit on offense without carrying so much of a burden for making things run.
Surprisingly the backcourt pairing that triggered the Nuggets game clinching run in the fourth quarter was Lawson and Arron Afflalo. Anthony Carter struggled to guard Deron Williams because of Williams’ combination of size and speed and obviously Lawson did have issues trying to cover him. Afflalo was able to handle Deron’s size both in the paint and on the perimeter where Deron can use his strength to bump his defender off balance in order to drive to the rim. With Afflalo frustrating Williams and Boozer having a horrible shooting night the Jazz did not have enough offense to keep up with the scoring of Lawson, Billups and Anthony.
As a team, I thought Denver’s offense was a little too isolation heavy. Their movement away from the ball was inconsistent and easily defended. However, with players like Carmelo, Billups and Lawson able to drive and create offense for both themselves as well as their teammates the Nuggets offense was able to put up 91 points over the final three quarters.
Defensively the Nuggets had some tough assignments. Boozer is usually a handful in the paint and Okur is the kind of sweet shooting big the Nuggets can struggle with. Plus the Jazz run a grinding style of offense that will eat up disorganized defenses. Early on Denver struggled with covering the player who would set the cross screen for the big man on the weakside block. The Jazz were able to hit players with a quick pass while the defender stood with his back to the ball resulting in some easy baskets. Denver adjusted and the Jazz did not score on that play in the second half that I can recall. The Nuggets showed solid pick and roll defense, rotated relatively well (although they did give up a couple of wide open threes to Okur) and when the situation called for it, they scrambled very well after getting out of position.
Overall, you have to be pleased with the win. Afflalo definitely filled the role of Dahntay Jones, Lawson showed that the Nuggets have a tremendous new weapon. And I do not recall ever thinking to myself, the Nuggets could really use Linas Kleiza here. In the second quarter Denver had Lawson, Graham, Afflalo, Kenyon and Birdman on the floor at the same time and I was wondering where the offense would come from. They actually outscored the Jazz and erased a seven point first quarter deficit. The bench played very well and they look to be one of those groups whose production is greater than the sum of its parts.
Additional Game 1 Nuggets
- Two of the Nuggets biggest issues heading into the season were rebounding and turnovers. The Nuggets outrebounded the bigger Jazz 42-39 and they only turned the ball over 13 times. Chauncey, AC, Lawson and Afflalo combined for only four turnovers in 99 minutes. That is incredible considering how turnover prone Carter is and the way Chauncey coughed the ball up in the preseason.
- As the intensity picked up in the second half there were a handful of jump balls. I got a kick out of referee Bob Delaney struggling to clear space to throw the ball up. I do not remember seeing a ref get so physical in demanding his space like that before. On one occasion Kenyon backed out of the circle and just glared at Delaney.
- My biggest concern for Lawson was his ability to get his shot off in the lane. I think he only had one shot blocked and he made a plethora of forays into the paint to score or get to the line. I could not be more impressed with his play, in once again, his first NBA game.
- Sticking with Lawson, he had a very impressive drive in the second half where he started at the rim with his right hand from the left baseline. He picked up his dribble and made a crossover step without dribbling. The result was Lawson was able to get behind the defender, who was expecting him to continue to move into the middle of the floor, and he scored on an open layup at the rim. It was just a beautiful instinctive play. I do not remember ever seeing a player do that before.
- The play of the night though was a steal and dunk by Carmelo. After nabbing a rebound Paul Milsap floated a pass, and I mean floated, to Deron Williams on the left side of the floor. Melo saw the sailing pass, jump in front of Williams and drove at Milsap. When he got to the lane Melo elevated and absolutely threw down on top of Milsap for the basket and the foul. Melo then let out a scream as he pounded his chest just to make sure the Jazz knew whose house they were in.
- Any concern that the Nuggets would enter the season fat and happy after their conference finals appearance can be laid to rest. Melo, Kenyon, Nene and J.R. all look to be in very good shape. Kenyon rammed home a couple of impressive dunks of his own on the night.
Pace Factor: 96.6
Offensive Efficiency: 118.0
Defensive Efficiency: 108.7
Take this with you: The Nuggets have only started 2-0 once since 1987-88. Portland is very good, but they looked beatable at home against the Rockets Tuesday night. A win in Portland tomorrow would be a great start for Denver.
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