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