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.