Nuggets/Timberwolves Chat on the Daily Dime

Head on over to the Daily Dime and send in your questions during the Nuggets/T-Wolves game.

A View of the Nuggets From a Nets Fan

Sebastian over at Nets are Scorching, a member of the TrueHoop Network, has prepared a video scouting report on the Nuggets.  I recommend you check it out to get a feel for what an opposing fan thinks of some of the Nuggets players.

By the way, there is no joy in playing a team that is 0-13.  Devin Harris is back and the Nets are hungry.

Take Heart, the Nuggets Appear to Have Some Afterall

Nuggets/Clippers Box Score | Highlights

Nuggets/Bulls Box Score | Highlights

Although you guys might not like it if I do not come up with a post dedicated to each and every game this season, I think it gives us a chance to avoid jumping to conclusions over any one singular game. The two games the Nuggets played in this weekend is the perfect example of how looking at two or more games at once can provide a more complete picture than picking apart each individual performance.

Had I concocted a post following the embarrassing loss to the Clippers it would have gone on and one about how the Nuggets lacked heart. The complacency they exhibited during the 19-0 run the Clippers dumped on them was shocking to me. I kept waiting for someone to get angry, and call the team together and demand a more determined effort be put forth. Not one Nugget player did anything of the sort. Either they did not take the Clippers seriously or they did not care. Neither alternative is acceptable, but the lack of any trace of anger about the proceedings made me fear it was the latter more than the former. Even after the run, we did not see any kind of increased effort to show the Clippers that the Nuggets were going to take back control of the game. It was not until the end of the third quarter that Denver showed signs of life and by then it was too late.

Fortunately for Nuggets fans, the story does not end with the loss to the Clippers. The next night Denver faced the Chicago Bulls in a game where the Bulls were the well rested squad. To make matters worse, they were eager to gain revenge on Denver for the one point loss they suffered at the hands of the Nuggets earlier this season in Chicago.

From the beginning the Bulls looked like the fresher team as they rode some hot shooting to an early 14 point lead. Things looked bleak for Denver, especially considering they were victims of the dreaded back to back game where they played a late game in the Pacific time zone only to fly east to the Mountain time zone, losing an hour on the way, to play the next night.

However, the Nuggets were playing hard, just not well. It was a good test to see if the lack of heart they exhibited in Los Angeles the night before was going to be a onetime frustration or an ongoing issue.

Midway through the second quarter the Nuggets announced that they would not be content to lose. They chose to not let the circumstances dictate the outcome of the contest.

Lead by a suddenly red hot Chauncey Billups in the second quarter and an equally scorching J.R. Smith in the fourth the Nuggets took it to the Bulls and by the end of the night, there was no doubt who the better team was.

Additional Nuggets

  • Carmelo played two stellar offensive games against the Clippers and Bulls. He did not force shots as he had done earlier in the season, he was doing a good job of taking what the defense was giving him and he passed the ball well. He had four assists in L.A. and seven in Denver versus the Bulls. What I liked best though was seven of those 11 assists lead to layups or dunks. Anyone can get an assist on a swing pass to a hot shooter, but making a pass that leads to an easy score for a teammate is even more valuable. That is part of the nebulous ability great players have to make the men playing with them better.  Against the Bulls, Melo was burned more than once trying to cheat over the screen.  Doing so puts pressure on your teammates to cover for you if the offensive player sees what you are doing and adjusts.  Plus Carmelo has become a little too quick to switch screens.  He is trying to get away with putting in the minimal amount of work into his defense as necessary to succeed and it is hurting the team.
  • However, as well as Melo played on offense, he was just as miserable on defense. Against the Clippers he was at best disinterested in playing defense. At one point after getting a dunk attempt blocked, he may or may not have been over half court when Rasual Butler hit a wide open three. What I do know is he was not in the picture and he forced his teammates to play four on five. He completely turned his back on Al Thornton at one point allowing him to cut behind Melo for a dunk. Carmelo is completely passive in allowing baseline drives, knowing he has help. He gives up on plays such as after playing solid defense on Thornton for a couple of seconds, he gets beat off the drive baseline and instead of staying with him, he stands back and watches losing a chance to trap Thornton after Kenyon seals off the baseline and Al is forced to spin back to the middle. Instead of running into Melo, he has a clear path to the rim for a three point play. Carmelo is absolutely having an MVP season on the offensive end, but he must play with more focus on defense if he is to truly be an MVP caliber player.
  • The Nuggets struggled with their rotations in the first half against the Bulls, but Chicago deserves credit for playing well offensively. The Bulls did a very good job of making unorthodox diagonal passes which made the Nuggets’ rotations more difficult. For example early in the first quarter Derrick Rose had the ball on the left wing past the coach’s box. He dribbled towards the baseline off a screen from Taj Gobson. Melo and Afflalo trapped him near the corner. Chauncey then pre-rotated towards Gibson. This cut off the pass out to the left wing that would normally trigger a swing pass that the defense would rotate to cover as the ball swings to the corner. Rose, having the regular passing lane closed off to him made a pass to the right wing where John Salmons was waiting wide open.
  • Typically it would take two passes for the offense to get the ball to that point, but because Rose made a direct pass, Nene, who was guarding Joakim Noah on the right block, had no time to run out to cover Salmons. In addition to Nene being a pass behind, Kenyon, who was on the strong side block had one fewer pass to get to the corner to cover Luol Deng. Salmons could have taken the shot, but made the unselfish play to pass to a wide open Deng who nailed the open jumper.

    The real mindbender is who do you blame the defensive breakdown on? Did Afflalo and Melo not trap hard enough allowing Rose to see the diagonal pass to Salmons? Does the blame lie with Chauncey for committing to Gibson too soon? Then again perhaps Nene and Kenyon, seeing that Rose had given up his dribble and Chauncey was already covering Gibson, should not have waited for the pass to Salmons to trigger their rotation.

    Great defensive teams know how to read each other and react when the unexpected happens.  The Bulls took advantage of that diagonal pass two or three times in the first half.  If they are going to become a formidable defensive team, Denver has to be able to put up a cohesive front immediately when the opponent does something unusual.  It requires communication, understanding of the defensive principles you are implementing and a trust that if you leap, your teammate has your back.

  • Chauncey had some very poor shooting nights over the previous week or two. He was still dishing out assists and playing solid defense, but without his scoring Carmelo, Nene, J.R. and Ty Lawson have to carry more of the load on offense. Plus, Chauncey is a deadly threat from behind the arc and his ability to shoot opens the floor up for his teammates. Billups finally broke out of his shooting slump in the second quarter against the Bulls as he nailed two threes and a long two on the way to scoring 14 points over the final seven minutes of the quarter. Chauncey had some poor showings in the preseason and now dealt with a significant slump in the regular season. Maybe Billups is back and will continue to hit shots, but we need to be careful with pronouncing him back after just one game. He is far too good to shoot poorly all season long, but after some slippage in his play last season, we need to be prepared for another slip this season. The question is how big of a slip will we see?

The Nuggets now enter what is probably the easiest portion of their schedule all season. They face the Nets, Knicks, Timberwolves twice and the Warriors. Those teams are currently a combined 8-43 right now and out of those eight wins, four have come against one of the other three teams (the Wolves and Knicks beat the Nets and the Warriors beat the Knicks and Wolves). As long as the Nuggets make sure they learned the lesson from their loss to the Clippers to take every team seriously and do not allow themselves to be complacent, even if they get off to a good start as they did in Los Angeles, they should win all five of those games which would make them 14-4.

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Chris Andersen Suffering From Sore Knee

According to the Denver Nuggets Chris Andersen “has recently been experiencing soreness in his right knee.”

Thankfully an MRI has shown no structural damage, but this may explain why he has not been quite the game changer he was last year.

I have written how Birdman has relatively few miles on his wheels for a player his age, but for a player who relies on his athleticism, north of 30 who just signed a five year contract, this is not good news.

Daily Dime Nuggets/Raptors Chat

Head on over to the Daily Dime on and ask me your Nuggets questions during the game tonight.

2009-10 Game 10: Denver Nuggets 105 – Los Angeles Lakers 79

Box Score | Highlights

I was gone over the weekend attending a church function up in Estes Park. Somehow I was able to make it through without finding out the score in the Denver Nuggets/Los Angeles Lakers game on Friday night. Needless to say when I came home and watched the game, I was shocked at how easily the Nuggets dispatched of the team that has ended their season two years in a row.

Denver played an exceptional game at both ends of the floor and the game was such a rout that Kobe Bryant watched the entire fourth quarter with his warm-ups on.

Before we get to gushing too much, let’s keep things in perspective. The Lakers were playing without Pau Gasol, they were on the second leg of a back to back (the kind that Greg Popovich apparently thinks is unfair flying from the pacific time zone east to Denver) and even without Pau on the court the Nuggets look to be as overmatched as ever by Andrew Bynum.

The courter point to those are, do not talk to the Nuggets about back to backs, they have had plenty of those already and the way Bynum is playing, no one has an answer for him. He is playing at an All-Star level.

With the disclaimers out of the way we can get back to praising the performance by the Nuggets.

The two areas of the game I was most pleased with was Denver’s team defense and overall effort. Even on the occasions where they were struggling to get offensive rebounds, it was not due to a lack of desire.

Kenyon Martin, Nene and Chris Andersen all worked their tails off to keep the Lakers off the offensive boards. I am not sure what the split was, but it seemed like after an initial struggle in the first half of the game they really did a good job.

The biggest difference with the Nuggets’ defense against the Lakers was their help defense. We talked about how against the Bulls and Bucks that whenever a Nugget player was trying to get to the rim he was met with a wall of help defenders. The Nuggets turned in one of their best performances from that standpoint in a long time.

As far as individual performances perhaps the most impressive performance in a supporting role was submitted by Arron Afflalo. I remember before the season started one national pundit, I cannot remember who, stated something along the lines of how Afflalo was a nice pickup, just do not try to use him to cover Kobe Bryant. Afflalo did about as good a job on Kobe as I have seen in a long time. It certainly appeared the plan was to crowd Kobe, try to make sure he cannot just rise up and shoot a smooth jumper and rely on help if he tries to drive.

Afflalo played the scheme perfectly. He was tight with Kobe all night, rarely fell for any of Brant’s crafty fakes and made things very difficult on the Lakers’ top scorer. When Kobe tried to shoot his very good turnaround from posting up Afflalo was all over it. I do not suspect Afflalo has logged many minutes guarding Kobe in his first two seasons, but it was obvious to me he had watched a lot of film as he anticipated what Kobe was going to do very well.

The results were spectacular. For some reason Kobe was reluctant to drive and only one of his attempts was something other than a jumper. When Afflalo was guarding Kobe, he shot only 2-10 and did not attempt a free throw. Kobe had more success against other defenders, but I though J.R. did a reasonably good job trying to pick up where Afflalo left off.

The average distance Kobe shot from was 17’9”. Plus, probably only one or two of his 16 jumpers were open shots. He had Afflalo or J.R. Smith in his face all night. Kobe is reportedly struggling with a groin strain although I am not sure if it was bothering him in Denver. Even so he was surprisingly content to shoot long turnarounds. As a result he did not do anything that set his teammates up to score.

Afflalo was not the only newcomer to put his stamp on the action. Ty Lawson played an incredible game and punctuated his effort with the most unsuspected dunk I think I have ever witnessed. With 1:34 Lawson exploded into the lane and absolutely bammed on D.J. Mbenga. So far we have seen Lawson finish with creative oscillations and flip shots, but he proved that if he has a clean shot down the lane that he can finish with power over legit shot blockers.

Lawson is no stranger to big games and he has certainly risen to the occasion when he gets to play the Lakers. I received a lot of questions from readers about Lawson and specifically if he can be the player who can be the piece that could push the Nuggets ahead of the Lakers. At this point all I know is L.A. has no answer for his speed. Plus his ability to hit threes and take care of the ball has helped the efficiency of the second unit.

Gasol or no Gasol, the blowout of the Lakers was a big win and the Nuggets certainly delivered the message that they are not intimidated or afraid of L.A. The key to being a true contender is to bring that kind of effort every night, not just when they want to send a message to the Lakers.

Additional Game 10 Nuggets

  • Apart from the vast improvement on defense, the offense looked completely different too. The motion and purpose was back as they got away from the endless string of isolation sets we were subjected to over the previous four games.
  • In the third quarter the Nuggets finally unleashed their running game. Fueled by forcing misses and snatching steals Denver was able to get out and earn some easy baskets. Carmelo who used to get at least two breakaway buckets every game had three easy layups in the third quarter alone. If they can get out and run like they did, it will make them an even more dangerous offensive team. They just need to remember it all starts with defense.
  • Chauncey had another poor scoring game, which is becoming the norm against the Lakers. He did dish out eight assists and was solid other than his poor shooting. After his poor showing in the conference finals Chauncey credited the Lakers’ defense for his inability to score. I did not notice anything L.A. was doing special to frustrate Billups, but Fisher is a crafty defender and with Chauncey not having blazing speed Fisher is able to stay with him on the perimeter.
  • I cannot get over how smart Bynum is. If the Lakers do successfully defend their title, I suspect he will be one of the primary reasons why. He stays in the paint as much as possible and when he is not fighting for position on the block he is getting in the best position possible to corral an offensive rebound. There was one occasion where he was on the perimeter preparing to set a screen for Ron Artest and Chris Andersen left him to double Ron. As soon as Andersen switched his focus to Artest, Bynum went to the rim knowing a shot was about to go up on the swing pass from the double. Sure enough, he was right under the rim and nabbed the offensive rebound. Nearly every movement he makes has a purpose and that is the sign of a cerebral player.
  • Sticking with Bynum, I was really surprised that Phil Jackson left him on the court for the first 14 minutes of the game coming off the Popovich back to back. I do not know if Phil lost track of time or if he was sending a message to Bynum about what kind of shape he needs to be in. Whatever the reason was, Bynum handled it well. He clearly became fatigued, but it was not very noticeable in his play. He continued to dominate the paint.
  • I have been very open about my concern that J.R. is a slow starter and may take a while to get in the groove coming back from his suspension. After making only one of his first eight three point attempts, he made four of ten against L.A. He has also shot 7-15 and 7-16 over the previous two games which is a solid 45.2%. If he can string together a couple more nice outings, I will have to stop calling him a slow starter. However, it would be nice to see him try to get in the lane more. I will take ten free throw attempts over ten three point attempts from him any day.
  • Nene has struggled in the past to score on Bynum. Hopefully that is beginning to change. Maybyner tallied 13 points on only eight shots and did a good job of both scoring on the move using his quickness to get to the rim and scoring over Bynum on the block. Plus after a season high five turnovers in Chicago, Nene has only turned the ball over once in the previous two games.

Game Stats

Pace Factor: 94.4 – pretty average for a Nuggets home game
Defensive Efficiency: 83.7 – absolutely stellar, the Lakers shot only 35.2% from the floor
Offensive Efficiency: 111.3 – good, not great

Featured Blog: Forum Blue & Gold | TrueHoop

The Computer Ate My Nuggets vs Lakers Recap

After spending Friday night in Estes Park at my church’s annual men’s retreat, managing to get home without finding out the score and then proceeding to watch the Nuggets dismantling of the Lakers Saturday evening I finally sat down to write my recap.

I cranked out a couple of pages of highly insightful and meaningful blogging when I decided to close one of the Word windows that was open.  To my surprise my laptop decided to close both my open Word windows and dump my work.  (OK, I work in IT so I know that a vast majority of the time when something like this happens it is user error, but like any self respecting user, I am blaming the hardware.)

I do not think this has happened to me since my junior year in college.  Back then I persevered and recreated the discarded first eight pages of my ten page paper that was due the next morning.  However, When faced with the prospect of either rushing through some points in the name of getting it posted tonight or waiting until tomorrow when I could cover everything I was hoping to, I decided to wait another day, even though some of you might dock me a letter grade.

In order to tide you over, just watch this a few more times.

2009-10 Game 9: Denver Nuggets 102 – Milwaukee Bucks 108

Box Score | Highlights

I have no doubt that fatigue played a role in the Denver Nuggets’ 108-102 loss against the Milwaukee Bucks. I wish I could say that fatigue was the only problem.

Defensively Denver is not playing with any cohesion. On many possessions one player makes a mistake or gets beat and the help is not there. I was once again a part of the Daily Dime chat and I mentioned how when the Nuggets drive to the lane they are swamped with defenders, but when the Bucks would drive the lane they frequently only had to deal with one player trying to help and doing a poor job of it.

Honestly, the Nuggets are floundering in nearly every facet of defense. They are not consistently working together on pick and rolls, they are missing rotations, and generally playing lazy. Last night against the Bulls we mentioned how Nene failed to step out on a pick and roll and gave Kirk Hinrich a wide open short jumper. Well, he did it again in the fourth quarter allowing Luke Ridnour to easily drain a short jumper.

There was an instance where Ty Lawson left Brandon Jennings (who was absolutely amazing and is the early favorite for rookie of the year) to double the wing and when the pass came back to Jennings Lawson made no effort to get back to him and Chauncey did not budge from the other wing to rotate over and help. The result? A wide open shot for Jennings. Chauncey apparently blamed Lawson and since he is the veteran, then we all blame Lawson, but it is asking a lot to have Lawson recover from a double and be able to handle a player as quick as Jennings. In that situation Billups has to rotate over and help. We do not know if Lawson was supposed to stay home. Regardless it was an breakdown and no one helped cover for the mistake.

Early in the game Ersan Ilyasova, who was one of the players I mentioned as a cheap potential replacement for Linas Kleiza, was open behind the arc and Kenyon just stood there a few feet away and allowed him to shoot. Either the advance scout did not inform the team that Ilyasova was a better shooter than his percentage indicated or Kenyon did not feel the need to move. Ilyasova hit the three and went on to make two more where there was no Nugget anywhere near him and his offense was a big boost for the Bucks.

Just like on defense the Nuggets are not playing together on offense. I realize Carmelo is comfortable being isolated on the wing, but he can get easier shots by giving the ball up and relying on the talents of his teammates, movement and passing to get him the ball in a position where the defense is dislodged instead of well positioned and ready to pounce on him.

The poor decision making extends beyond the court as George Karl continues to force feed Anthony Carter minutes at the expense of the Nugget who puts forth the most effort on the team, Arron Afflalo. Carter only played six minutes, but Afflalo was only on the floor for 15. I honestly believe the game might have had a different outcome if Carter’s minutes had been given to Afflalo.

The best example of how hard Afflalo plays was when Nene turned the ball over in the lane and all five Nugget players were underneath the free throw line. Nene never made a move to retrieve the ball, nor did any other Nugget despite the fact the ball was in the lane. As the Bucks took off on a fast break Afflalo was the only player in blue who even tried to make a play and he sprinted all out up the floor in an attempt to stop the Bucks from getting a hoop. There was a similar play where again Afflalo was the only Nugget to try to stop the break and he surprised Jennings with his presence and almost forced a turnover.

I keep hoping the other Nuggets will be inspired by Afflalo’s intense play, but he continues to stick out like a sore thumb as a player who is clearly working harder than his teammates.

Denver was fortunate to escape this six game road trip with a split. They were stomped in Miami and Atlanta, outplayed in Milwaukee and were a tenth of a second away from losing in Chicago. Next up is the Pau Gasol-less Lakers back at home.

Other Game 9 Nuggets

  • J.R./Earl Smith rebounded from last night’s poor shooting in Chicago and played an important role in Denver’s fourth quarter comeback.  Only his shot looks rusty as he is playing decent defense, getting to the rim and passing pretty well.
  • Late in the game after not getting a call on a missed layup Kenyon made a frustration foul in front of one of the officials and then compounded it by getting T’d up.  It lead directly to three points for the Bucks and they were three huge points that made it practically impossible for Denver to get back in the game.
  • I am waiting for some on the floor leadership from Chauncey when things are not going well for Denver other than shooting bad threes.
  • Carmelo made an absolutely terrible play near the end of the first half.  After getting beaten baseline by Carlos Delfino, which happened repeatedly by the way, Melo reached in from behind and made a great steal with 14 seconds left in the half.  Instead of just possessing the ball and heading up the floor for the final shot of the half, he tried busting up the court between three Bucks defenders.  The result was a turnover and instead of the Nuggets getting the last shot of the half, Milwaukee did, and Jennings hit a long two pointer.  Two points the Bucks should never have had.
  • Melo also made two incredible blocks and a big deflection to go along with his aforementioned steal.  While they were spectacular plays, they all came after he was beaten badly by his man off the dribble.  Plus his two blocks were with exaggerated swings of his arm, which while looking fancy, usually result in fouls.
  • It was interesting that the group that was responsible for making a run at the Bucks in the fourth quarter was Lawson/Billups/Smith/Melo and Nene.  In only his second game back Smith played the final 16:19 of the game.  Karl either does not trust Afflalo yet or he really likes Smith.
  • I have not written about this yet, but the Nuggets propensity for switching on screens is really bugging me.  I just had to fit that in.

Featured Blogs: Bucksetball | Brew Hoop | Denver Stiffs

2009-10 Game 8: Denver Nuggets 90 – Chicago Bulls 89

Box Score | Highlights

Before we get to the controversial ending in Chicago tonight, I need to address the game itself.

I cannot go as far as to say the Nuggets did not deserve to win, they earned their lead that barely held up in the end, but I was seriously disappointed in their play in the fourth quarter.

Primarily I feel like a dolt for getting caught up in the Carmelo hype after his great first two games. Tonight, in a very important game based on their two game losing streak, he made awful decisions on offense, played lackadaisical on defense and in my opinion nearly cost Denver the game.

To his credit even in the games at New Jersey, Miami and Atlanta Carmelo did seem to be trying to get to the rim more. Tonight in the second half he had three straight drives result in misses and all three times Melo thought he was fouled. After that he seemed to rely more on his jumper. When it was not falling he did try to get to the rim, but again, the Bulls were ready to collapse on him and the results were not good.

To his credit though, as we have seen time and again, Melo hit the shot he had to. With the score tied and 33 seconds left J.R. Smith entered the ball to Melo on the left wing. Melo took two dribbles towards the baseline, picked up his dribble and with Luol Deng still hanging on him pump faked and drained a fifteen footer.

His shot selection was not the only problem. As I discussed in the Daily Dime Chat I do not know who to blame more, Carmelo for forcing bad shots or his teammates for doing their best impression of the Washington Monument. Was Melo not passing because his teammates were not cutting, or were they not cutting because he was going to shoot?

I suspect blame is to be laid at the feet of all involved.

The offensive problems were not all Melo though. On at least three, and maybe four, occasions Denver was able to collect an offensive rebound and immediately hoisted a shot. Chauncey did it once, J.R. did it once, Nene did it once (although he did drive to the rim before taking his shot) and I think Afflalo was guilty as well.

Nene was very effective when he could get a shot off, but he turned the ball over five times. J.R., or Earl, sorry J.R., I mean Earl, is off to his typical slow start shooting 1-9 in his first action of the season. Even his arms-at-his-sides-with-his-hands-held-out-in-disbelief protest was not quite as angular as usual. Although he did compile five assists and played solid defense. Chris Andersen was outworked by Joakim Noah.

As bad as most of the fourth quarter was, the final seconds were even worse.

The Nuggets tried to do the smart thing twice in the final 11 seconds and nearly were beaten because of it. Up two and with a foul to give Chauncey tried to grab Derrick Rose, but the foul was not called until Rose was in the act of shooting. Rose made both free throws to tie the game and then Chauncey was fouled with 0.6 seconds remaining.

After he made the first free throw to put Denver up one, I commented that he should miss the second one on purpose. He did and it nearly cost Denver the game. Noah pulled the board cleanly as every member of the Bulls team and coaching staff yelled for a timeout. It was determined that three tenths of a second would come off the clock which gave Chicago another three tenths to get a shot off. Had the rebound been tipped or mishandled, and Earl Smith III nearly got a finger on it, the game would have been over.

After the timeout Brad Miller caught the inbounds pass and quickly flipped the ball at the rim. The shot went in and it was initially ruled a basket on the court. However, NBA rules mandate the play be reviewed. After about five minutes led official Mark Wunderlich declared that the ball had not completely left Miller’s hand before the buzzer.

I can certainly understand why Bulls fans are upset. In my opinion if there is enough evidence to overturn the call, it should have been apparent quickly. However, as J.A. Adande pointed out, who cares how long it takes as long as they get the call right.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the decision, you have to give the NBA credit for doing everything they can to get these calls correct. Starting with the rebound off Billups’ missed free throw to the review of Miller’s final shot the NBA has stipulated exactly what can and cannot happen.

From the Official NBA rulebook (page 57):

“NO LESS than :00.3 must expire on the game clock when a player secures possession of an unsuccessful free throw attempt and immediately requests a timeout. If LESS than :00.3 expires in such a circumstance, the time on the game clock shall be reduced by at least :00.3.”

“The game clock must show :00.3 or more in order for a player to secure possession of the ball on a rebound or throw-in to attempt a field goal. Instant replay shall be utilized if the basket is successful on this type of play and the clock runs to 0:00.”

“Regardless of when the horn or red light operates to signify the end of period, the officials (as aided by instant replay, if required) will ultimately make the final decision whether to allow or disallow a successful field goal. THE CREW CHIEF MUST TAKE CHARGE OF THE SITUATION.”

Between the rules which dictate how long actions, such as securing a rebound and calling a timeout take, the use of instant replay and the implementation of the lights along the backboard and along the scorer’s table the league has tried to idiot proof the process as much as possible. Even so I find it intriguing that the crew chief can overrule the audible evidence of the horn and the visual evidence of the lights that come on and declare a basket no good.

I think Adande had the best line of the night when in response to my comment that there was no way Milller got the shot off in time he wrote “I’m not sure Brad Miller could even blink in that time.”

It may have been ugly and controversial, but the Nuggets won and as long as they can clean up their many mental and physical mistakes that have plagued them the past three games they are still in a great position after the first tenth of the season.

Additional Game 8 Nuggets

  • Melo’s problems did not exist only on the offensive end. On two occasions in the third quarter Melo did not rotate on defense. He was at the top of the lane and the ball was swung to the top of the circle. On both occasions he should have run to the ball. The other acceptable option would have been taking the player on the wing, who received another swing pass from the man Melo should have been covering. Had he run at the wing player, all would have been well. Instead he stood in between the two players. On the first occasion he then floated to the three point line on the shot and gave up an offensive rebound because of it. On the second Nene had to run out of the lane to cover the wing, even though Melo was three times closer, and that left Noah open at the rim for a dunk. I guess it is good that Denver could win on the road against a good team with Melo playing so poorly, but I would much rather have Melo play great and Denver win by 15.
  • With Earl Smith III returning to action tonight I was intrigued to see how George Karl would handle the rotations, i.e. how much he would play Anthony Carter. Karl put Carter in the game along with Lawson and then Billups in the first half. He proved that he could not stay in front of John Salmons and despite dishing out a couple of nice passes, was generally driving me crazy. Carter did not get in the game in the second half and it will be interesting to see if Karl sticks with giving Carter a handful of minutes a game while keeping more talented players on the pine.
  • Despite a couple of really bad shots in the first quarter Kenyon had a very nice game. Denver is undefeated when Martin plays more than 12 minutes. He appeared to reinjure his shin at one point, but it did not seem to bother him as the game wore on.
  • The Nuggets played very good defense for the most part, but there were a few too many mental mistakes that allowed Chicago to stay in the game. Along with the two instances where Melo failed to rotate mentioned above, there was a possession where with the shot clock running down Chauncey looked away from Rose and allowed him to cut to the lane, receive a pass and score. On more than one occasion Birdman chose not to block Noah out at all. With 3:48 left in the game and Denver up five Derrick Rose came off a high screen and Nene just laid back in the lane allowing Rose to drain an open jumper to make it a one possession game. As with their losses in Miami and Atlanta, they are making numerous small mistakes that add up over time. Fortunately the Bulls did not shoot as well as the heat or Hawks, but the Nuggets are definitely not playing their best ball right now.

Advanced Game Stats

Pace Factor: 89.9 – very slow
Defensive Efficiency: 99.0 – very solid
Offensive Efficiency: 100.1 – very average

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Update: Here is a pretty conclusive view of Miller’s shot (hat tip to Blog a Bull).

The Stephen Jackson Rumors Will Not Die

I do not think I have said anything about the Nuggets rumored interest in Stephen Jackson. Well, it is a story that just will not die. Originally the Nuggets’ interest in Jackson made little sense to me, but when RMC reader BMer emailed me the link on TrueHoop where Marc Stein again emphasized the Nuggets have interest in Jackson I realized it was time to take the possibility that the Nuggets would trade for Jackson seriously.

It took me a while to try to come up with a reason why Denver would be interested in Jackson after all he really is a small forward and clearly Denver does not need a replacement there. Plus Jackson is a chucker who loves having the ball in his hands towards the end of games and has famously said the he “makes love to pressure.” Once again, late game marksmanship is not a big area of need for Denver.

After a few minutes of consternation it finally donned on me why the Nuggets are interested in Jackson, his defense. I completely understand if you are confused. Jackson is not known as a defensive stopper. However, he has a history of frustrating Dirk Nowitzki and his defense on Dirk was a major factor in the Warriors defeat of the Mavs in the first round in the spring of 2007.

Even then the Nuggets’ interest in Jackson was not entirely clear. The Nuggets are better than the Mavericks and you usually do not make moves to address a weakness against a team you can beat despite that weakness. I kept thinking and I think I figured it out. Jackson has not only spent time guarding Dirk, but he has experience in covering Kobe Bryant.

Could that be it? Are the Nuggets looking for a two way player they trust to throw out against Bryant? Jackson is not the number one Kobe stopper out there, I am not entirely sure there is a number one Kobe stopper. Still the way to cover Kobe is to pressure him with a player long enough to challenge his jumper and strong enough to keep Kobe from getting prime position on the block while pre-rotating help in case Kobe drives. Jackson fits the bill as good as anyone.

The question then becomes what would the Nuggets have to give up in order to acquire him? From the rumors I have read I have not seen any names appear, but I am sure a few have been bandied about behind closed doors. I would think the Warriors would be interested in Nene and if that is the going price, it is no wonder Jackson is not a Nugget. In order for the Nuggets to give up a big man, they would need one back. The only combination that makes any sense to me is to include Kenyon and Andris Biedrins. Biedrins might help with the Nuggets defensive rebounding problem, but Golden State is not going to trade two starters away for Kenyon and filler. The biggest problem is the Nuggets most tradeable assets are guards and that is the area where the Warriors are the deepest.

The only deal that makes sense to me is if J.R. Smith is sent to a third team who sends a player to Golden State and Denver ends up landing Jackson (something like J.R. to Miami, Udonis Haslem and another player or pick to Golden State and Jackson to Denver). The only place for Jackson to get minutes in Denver would be shooting guard. As mentioned above Denver has a small forward and Jackson or Melo can play power forward from time to time, but Denver has a defensive rebounding problem as it is and that would only exacerbate it. I doubt J.R. would take kindly to Jackson coming in and playing at least half the game at shooting guard and Smith is the best combination of talent and contract the Nuggets have available.

Even if trading J.R. is on the table a three way trade would be very difficult to consummate. In the example above Miami is a very unlikely trade partner as they are making a point of preserving as much money for next summer as possible with dreams of teaming Wade with Chris Bosh or another high level big man. Maybe a team like Minnesota is interested and San Antonio showed interest in J.R. two summers ago when he was a restricted free agent. Then you have to worry about having J.R. haunt Denver for either a division rival or a fellow contender.

Ultimately, I do not see any realistic way Stephen Jackson ends up in Denver, but do not rule anything out.

Sometimes two minutes is not enough

There was another post on TrueHoop today by Chris Broussard that told an interesting story about the sale of their second round draft pick (number 34) last June. Apparently Cleveland had made an offer of $2 million to move up and draft DeJuan Blair. However, the Rockets came in with their record offer of $2.25 million. As you may know you only have two minutes to make your trade or selection in the second round and time ran out before Denver could go back to Cleveland to see if they would up their original offer. As good as I think Blair could be, I wonder if that extra $250,000 is worth having him end up in the Western Conference.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to see a little picture of what goes on behind the scenes on draft night and what a little bit of what could have been.

Movin’ on up

I missed this article by Chris Tomasson last week, but apparently it did not take very long for George Karl to stop thinking of Ty Lawson as just a rookie.  Karl also bristles at the claim he does not play rookies who deserve playing time.

Karl on coaching

Mike Torico interviewed George Karl as well as Pat Rilley and Hubie Brown. Karl talks about the changes in coaching over the past decade or two and it is an interesting discussion. Karl tells a story about how Dean Smith told him he had to be able to take the blame for every loss and if he could not handle it, he should not be a coach. I do not think Karl has always been the first to take the blame over his coaching career.

And you want to be here because?

I was very surprised to hear that Renaldo Balkman had signed an extension with the Nuggets last week.  I guess I should never be that surprised when a player agrees to be paid, in Balkman’s case he is receiving north of $5 million for three years, but I would think Balkman would be looking for the answer to the same question many fans are.  Why doesn’t he play?  Players like Balkman who play hard and do not demand a certain amount of shots to give an effort are typically held in high regard and I doubt he would have a difficult time finding a good team who would want him on board.

I do not think anyone who knows me would call me a prima donna or high maintenance, but if I thought I should be on the court, and I was not seeing playing time, I would look to play somewhere else whether I was offered a contract extension or not.

Then again, maybe the experience of playing for the circus that was the New York Knicks convinced him that as long as you can be on the roster of a good team with little drama, you do it.  Balkman has never complained about playing time to the media and has claimed that he wants to play, but will do what the coach wants.

The Nuggets’ stance that he is a player who can still be developed is interesting and I agree he can get better, but the guy can play now.  Let him.

In Game Tactics

I was just watching the end of the Cleveland Cavaliers/Chicago Bulls game and Cleveland may have lost, but LeBron James did something that caught my eye. A play after Derrick Rose had scored off a pick by Brad Miller LeBron told Anderson Varejao to switch from Brad Miller to Luol Deng. At first I was confused, which is my natural state, but then realized that James took Miller so that when Miller set the screen for Rose he could switch onto Rose. The plan worked and LeBron forced Rose to pass and then he even grabbed the rebound on the missed shot, raced up the floor and made an unselfish cross court pass to Mo Williams for an open three that would have put the Cavs ahead. Williams missed the shot and the Cavs lost, but I was impressed with how LeBron manipulated the Bulls into a situation where Cleveland had the advantage. He knew Rose was looking to score and wanted to take the best option away from Chicago.

The next step in Rose’s development is to recognize that and send Miller away so there is no chance to switch on the screen. Then if LeBron comes off of Miller to double it will leave one of the best shooting big men in the league open for a jumper.

2009-10 Game 5: Denver Nuggets 122 – New Jersey Nets 94

I realize the Denver Nuggets ran the New Jersey Nets off the floor last night 122-94. I know they are 5-0 for the first time since Love Boat was considered good television. I get that the game was the second night of a back to back. Even so, I am a hoops perfectionist. I look at every game and compare it to what needs to be done to beat the best teams in the NBA. If you are looking for someone to cheer and be happy with a win against a bad team, I will probably frustrate you. Just know that everything I say is with the intention of seeing the Nuggets win an NBA championship.

With that being said, the biggest question I have about last night’s game is how difficult is it to change your defensive scheme? Throughout the first half it was clear the only way the Nets could score was by driving to the rim. The lineup they had on the floor could not shoot to get out of a Jane Austin movie. However, the Nuggets had no response to New Jersey’s dribble drive attack. The perimeter defenders were getting beat regularly and the bigs and weak side defense was always slow to help.

The difference between the Nuggets’ defense in the second half compared to the first was like the difference between a Jane Austin movie and a Michael Bay movie. The Nuggets perimeter defenders were laying off their men daring them to shoot a jumper while the bigs and weak side defenders were all standing as close to the lane as possible ready to help. The Nets had a more difficult time scoring and when Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups both heated up in the third quarter the game was over.

My question is what took so long? Do you really need a 12 minute halftime break to change your defensive plans? How long did it take you to read the paragraph above? Thirty seconds? Go find a friend and time how long it takes you to say, “We are getting beat off the dribble and these guys cannot shoot. Sag off on the man with the ball on the perimeter and everyone else get a foot in the lane and be ready to help?” Could you effectively communicate that idea during a two minute television timeout? I hate to toot my own horn, but I coached middle school players and we made bigger adjustments than that in less time.

In fact I will go a step further and say that you should have had that arrow in your quiver as a contingency plan entering the game. The only two players I am worried about making threes on the Nets’ roster are Bobby Simmons and Courtney Lee. Knowing the Nets are a team full of slashers instead of shooters shouldn’t you be ready to implement a clog the lane style defense from the get go?

The other primary observation I have is that if Anthony Carter plays more than a handful of minutes a game after J.R. Smith returns I am going to swallow my tongue. Part of me wonders if George Karl is using Smith’s absence to get Carter as much run a possible before he becomes a fixture on the courtside padded folding chairs. It cannot be more obvious that Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson are superior players to AC. I still think there will be nights where Denver may need Carter’s defense off the bench, I still think about what an amazing job he did on Dwyane Wade last season in Miami, and I think it will be important that he can enter a game like that without tired legs. Last night he stayed in front of his man like I would stay in front of an oncoming train, only for a split second.

Additional Nuggets from Game 5

  • I told you you would like Afflalo. He is not going to shoot so well from three every night, but he has shown more of an ability to get to the rim than I thought he could and his defense is solid. He will provide a great combo at the shooting guard with J.R. Smith.
  • When you are watching Lawson, look at how accurate his passes are. Whether Lawson is set or on the move almost all of his passes arrive right in the shooting pocket of the receiver. You hear a lot about shooters being in rhythm. One thing that can take a shooter out of his rhythm is to have to reach high or low for a pass. Lawson does a great job of not breaking a shooter’s rhythm.
  • I guess we cannot dismiss Carmelo’s MVP candidacy after a couple of rough shooting nights, but he is not going to be Western Conference Player of the Week two weeks in a row. I was hoping to see him do a little bit more on defense or to set up his teammates when he was struggling, but I though he did adjust in the second quarter by trying to get his shots at the rim. Unfortunately he had two or three roll off and another was blocked. Those shots started dropping in the second half, including a left handed lay in along the baseline. After he hit a jumper or two I think he believed he had his shot back and it led to a couple bad shots from the perimeter. Still Melo had a solid all around game and did a good job of not letting his first half struggles ruin his second half too.

Game Stats
Pace Factor: 98.5 – On the high end
Defensive Efficiency: 95.4 – Very good despite the first half issues
Offensive Efficiency: 123.9 – Also very good, the free throws and hot three point shooting helps

Take this with you: Denver has enjoyed some terrible thee point shooting from their opponents the past two games. The Pacers and Nets combined to make only five of 37 three point attempts. At some point the Nuggets will face a team as hot as those two were cold.

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Denver Nuggets at New Jersey Nets Pregame Q & A

I was fortunate enough to exchange questions and answers prior to tonight’s conflagration between the undefeated Denver Nuggets and the defeated New Jersey Nets with Mark Ginocchio of the TrueHoop Network Nets blog, Nets are Scorching.  You can check out Mark’s responses to my riveting questions below and I implore you to head on over to Nets are Scorching to read my responses to his well though out inquiries.

RMC: With the Nets in rebuilding mode do you like the young talent they are amassing or are all their hopes of turning things around contingent on LeBron signing on to make the move to Brooklyn?

Mark: I think, overall, the Nets have some interesting young players in their stead, but they still seem to lack a true star, which may, or may not come next year via free agency depending on the odds of guys like LeBron or Chris Bosh leaving town. Devin Harris had a breakout year last season, but he gets injured a lot, and I wonder if that will ultimately affect him from taking it to the next level. Brook Lopez shows a lot of promise, but with more defenders targeting him now, I’m starting to see what guys like John Hollinger were trying to temper the enthusiasm of Nets fans. I think Courtney Lee and Terrence Williams will be very nice complimentary pieces down the road. I still don’t know what to make of Chris Douglas-Roberts. He seems to need the ball a lot to be effective.
RMC: It can be painful to cheer for a struggling team, but tell the RMC readers who may not know how likeable some of these guys are (by the way in case you were wondering, I am not referring to Sean Williams).
Mark: Well Brook Lopez may be one of the most likeable players in the NBA. This is a guy who has no shame about dressing up for Halloween or showing up at Comic Con, though I still don’t understand why he won’t join Twitter (he said he rather do “real” writing). Terrence Williams may be unselfish to a fault, which is something you like to see in a young player. Chris Douglas-Roberts has a chip on his shoulder, but also has a certain toughness and meaness thata lot of players lack. And believe it or not, I’ve really enjoyed seeing what a healthier Eduardo Najera brings to the table. You guys would probably know better than I, but he really does do a lot of the “little things,” that I think make up for his talent-level.
RMC: Coming off an outing where the Nets only managed to score 27 second half points is there any hope they can score enough points to beat a team like Denver? What are the odds the Nets beat the Nuggets by 44 as they did last season?
Mark: Well, never say never in the NBA, but with no Devin Harris, and it appears, no Yi Jianlian for Wednesday night, I don’t know if the Nets will be able to score 44 points in a half, no less have a margin of victory by that level. Nets fans should have known from the onset that with no Vince Carter, putting the ball in the hoop was going to be a problem. Now, with all of these injuries, a big problem may have become an insurmountable one.
RMC: So far this season the Nuggets’ two biggest weaknesses have been defensive rebounding and transition defense. Are the Nets capable of taking advantage of either one of those weaknesses?
Mark: Well, the Nets got killed on the boards against Charlotte Wednesday night, so I wouldn’t worry too much on that end. They’re two best rebounders are Brook Lopez and Yi – and that’s not saying much when you include Yi in the conversation. (Editor’s Note:  It has since been announced Yi will be out indefinitely with a knee sprain.) As for transition D, the Nets do have some quick wings that can run the floor, so maybe they can steal a few points there, but I would hate to see the Nets get into a shootout with the Nuggets because that’s just not going to end pretty.
I would like to offer a big thank you to Mark for taking the time to provide his insights and I hope everybody enjoys tonight’s game, except for Nets fans.  The Nuggets owe them a thumping to make up for last season’s 114-70 drubbing.

2009-10 Game 4: Denver Nuggets 111 – Indiana Pacers 93

Box Score | Highlights

I only have time for a few thoughts on tonight’s 111-93 win in Indiana against the Pacers.

  • Carmelo looked more like the Melo of old. I think he got caught up a little too much in trying to score on Dahntay Jones and took more difficult shots than he has been in the first three games. Even so Melo scored 25 points on only 17 attempts.
  • The game was very sloppy and I thought the Nuggets were lacking focus for much of the evening. There were several occasions where there was a long rebound or a loose ball and no one went after it until they all realized no one was trying to run it down. The worst example was when Kenyon Martin perfectly executed the “pull the chair” defense on Roy Hibbert and Hibbert, who was on his butt nearly retrieved the ball before Anthony Carter jumped in and beat him too it. There were also numerous occasions where Nugget players did not even raise their hand in the air when their man was shooting.
  • Arron Afflalo is not a player who is very good at creating his own shot, but he did an excellent job of doing so tonight. Whether he was dribbling to get to the rim or to gain space for a jumper, he was able to clear space all night long.
  • Anthony Carter should not be starting, nor should he be playing 30 plus minutes as he did tonight, but he deserves a lot of credit for only turning the ball over three times in 90 minutes on the court so far this season. Could he be experiencing a late career renaissance? Yeah, probably not. Chauncey continued to do a good job of taking care of the ball too as he has not posted more than two turnovers in any single game this season.
  • After Ty Lawson said he was very tired following the first back to back set this season, I wonder if George Karl purposely held him to only 13 minutes in order to try to keep him fresh for the rest of the road trip and that is why Carter was on the floor for 31 minutes.
  • We have noted that Nene has been known to shy away from going at taller players in the paint, but he clearly is not intimidated by Hibbert. Nene was aggressive in the paint for most of the game.
  • Danny Granger, Troy Murphy and Brandon Rush combined to shoot 2-18 on threes while Nuggets not named Anthony Carter were 8-13. I do not think we can credit the Nuggets defense with all of those 16 misses. The Nuggets did a good job of making shots whenever it looked like the Pacers might make a run to get back into the game.
  • The Nuggets’ transition defense was once again very shoddy. On one occasion Danny Granger was bringing the ball up the middle of the floor and when he reached the top of the free throw circle Kenyon realized no one was paying attention to him, but was so far out of position that when he tried to reach out and grab him he was too far away.

Tomorrow the Nuggets are in New Jersey and they have the opportunity to wipe away two of last season’s worst memories. The last time the Nuggets were in Indy, Carmelo ended up being suspended a game for not coming out of the game when Karl told him to. Even worse than that memory is the 44 point drubbing the Nets laid on Denver last year at the Meadowlands. Hopefully Denver will exercise that dark night as well.

Check out the concise recap of the game over on Eight Points, Nine Seconds.  And I mean concise.

There was also a Nuggets related blog post over at Basketball Reference looking at Melo’s hot start and his plus/minus. Whether you agree with the analysis or not, it makes for an interesting read.

2009-10 Game 3: Denver Nuggets 133 – Memphis Grizzlies 123

Box Score | Highlights

Well, that was less than satisfying.

The Nuggets had serious defensive issues, but managed to overcome their shoddy mental effort on that end of the floor thanks to another impressive offensive display by Carmelo Anthony in a 133-123 defeat of the Allen Iverson-less Memphis Grizzlies.

Things started off poorly on the opening possession as Nene and Kenyon Martin needlessly switched on a back screen which left Kenyon guarding the much larger Marc Gasol. After Gasol received an entry pass from Rudy Gay with inside position on Martin, Nene barely moved to try to help as Gasol popped in an open layup. After a three second call on Zach Randolph, who had Martin pinned beneath the rim on the Grizzlies’ second possession, Anthony Carter gambled for a steal leaving O.J. Mayo wide open in the corner to splash a three. That shot sprung Mayo to an amazing 17-25 shooting performance.

To be fair, Memphis made things difficult on the Nuggets. They submitted a very impressive shooting performance. Four of the five starters converted more than half their shots and Mike Conley, who is far from a dead eye shooter, was 4-9 and made 2-5 from behind the arc.

Even with the Grizzlies’ hot shooting the Nuggets made enough mistakes to make tomorrow’s film session last long enough to make them late for their game in Indiana on Tuesday.

The Grizzlies do provide some difficult matchups for Denver now that they have Zach Randolph. Randolph is a little too big of a load for Kenyon Martin to handle and even a slimmed down Gasol is a tough cover for Nene. Denver also suffered from a self inflicted matchup problem as George Karl chose to start AC again.

The Nuggets starters have been outscored in all three games this season at the point Carter departs the game in the first quarter. Plus with Karl playing two point guards quite frequently opposing shooting guards are having big nights against the Nuggets. In game one Ronnie Brewer scored 16 points on nine shots. Game two saw Brandon Roy drop 30 and tonight Mayo tossed in 40. Do not be surprised if Brandon Rush goes for 50 on Tuesday. I find it difficult to believe Karl will continue to start Carter once J.R. Smith returns, but you can never be sure when it comes to AC, Karl does not always thing rationally.

Offensively the Nuggets were much more impressive. Melo continues to play with incredible confidence and every shot he takes is a good one. He knows what he wants to do and so far no one has been able to stop him. The best way I can describe how Melo looks this season is to compare it to the scene in The Matrix when Neo finally believes in who he is and becomes The One. What once was doable, but difficult has become effortless second nature.

Kenyon and Nene matched the damage Gasol and Randolph inflicted combining for 34 points on only 19 shots. Nene was a perfect 6-6 and Kenyon continued to be effective driving the lane and finishing with a little right handed running hook. Martin’s jumper has been a little better and is almost tolerable with the changes he has made to his mechanics.

Chauncey Billups compiled 12 assists, although only four came at the rim. His best pass of the night, a bullet he threw behind a defender to a cutting Arron Afflalo who blew the layup. Equally as impressive as his assists was the fact he has yet to commit more than two turnovers in a single game.

Ty Lawson had another solid outing.  Other than discovering firsthand how tall a 7’3″ player actually is he did a good job of setting his teammates up.  He did end up with only three assists, but did make several passes that resulted in open looks or trips to the free throw line.  Lawson also had a pass that I thought matched Chauncey’s for assist of the night as he somehow saw Joey Graham running along side of him to his left.  A perfect angle opened up for the pass, but I did not think there was any way Lawson knew Graham was there.  At the perfect moment Lawson dropped a no look bounce pass that hit Graham in stride for an easy lay in.

Aside from Billups and Lawson the entire Nuggets team continued to take care of the ball. After three games they are averaging a minuscule (well, minuscule for them) 11 turnovers a game. Even high turnover players like Carmelo and AC are taking care of the ball.

As far as the Nuggets’ other known issues, they were outrebounded 39-31, but rebounding was not a major factor in the game.  The other big problem of transition defense, or lack thereof, was an issue as the Grizzlies tallied 31 fast break points.  In case you are wondering, 31 is a lot.

Then again, instead of complaining about the defense, I guess I should just be happy the Nuggets are 3-0. The last time they accomplished that feat was October of 1985. Yeah, that is more than a little sad.

Game Stats

Pace Factor: 103.6 – Just like the old school Nuggets
Defensive Efficiency: 118.7 – Far worse than either of the first two games
Offensive Efficiency: 128.3 – Far better than either of the first two games

Take this with you: The Nuggets appear to be in great shape. They have been the stronger team down the stretch in each of their first three games. That will be put to the test though as their next six games are three back to back sets and all of them are on the road.

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