Head on over to the ESPN.com Daily Dime and send in your questions during the Nuggets/T-Wolves game.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Head on over to the Daily Dime on ESPN.com and ask me your Nuggets questions during the game tonight.
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
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
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.
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
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
Advanced Game Stats
Pace Factor: 89.9 – very slow
Defensive Efficiency: 99.0 – very solid
Offensive Efficiency: 100.1 – very average
Update: Here is a pretty conclusive view of Miller’s shot (hat tip to Blog a Bull).
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.