Friday Night Links

The Denver Nuggets have just tipped off in Oklahoma City without Carmelo Anthony and I have a couple of links to pass along for your enjoyment.

I will be on Sports Talk Soup tonight at 9:30 Mountain.  Click here for details.

Congratulations to George Karl on being named the coach for the Western Conference All-Stars.

David Thorpe makes the case for Ty Lawson to be in the Rookie/Sophomore Challenge and Chauncey Billups and Nene also have an argument why they should be All-Stars.

A fun idea from Dan at Piston Powered.  Would the Nuggets be interested in bringing in more Detroit Pistons?  I say no, but it is an interesting discussion.

2009-10 Game 45: Denver Nuggets 97 – Houston Rockets 92

Box Score | Highlights

That was freaking fantastic.

Thirty days ago the Denver Nuggets lost in Sacramento. It was their fifth loss in six contests. Their defense was atrocious and Chauncey Billups was injured. Plus that was the game Carmelo bruised his knee and as a result missed the next five games.

Fast forward to today and things could not look more promising. The Nuggets have won 11 of their 13 games since the loss in Sacramento. They weathered a J.R. Smith controversy. They should be at full strength on Friday in Oklahoma City and most importantly, they are looking like a determined team completely different than the bunch that consistently struggled to beat the dregs of the NBA.

With all of the good things the Nuggets have accomplished so far in January tonight’s 97-92 win in Houston might be the most impressive. The Rockets are a solid home team. They play tremendous defense and work together on offense to maximize their somewhat limited talents. Throw in the fact Houston was coming off back to back home losses and the Nuggets had their work cut out for them.

The Rockets, stinging from their recent losses to Chicago and Atlanta, started off the game with a great deal of intensity and they jumped all over Denver surging to a 14-4 advantage. Denver responded getting the lead down to five at 19-14 only to see Houston close out the first quarter on a 12-2 run.

Denver was not shooting well, they were getting outworked in transition and without Carmelo in a building they traditionally struggle to win in, things looked very bleak.

Denver refused to give up and put forth one of the best two or three defensive efforts I have seen from them this season. The bigs did a great job of stopping the dribbler on the pick and roll and the guards were equally as good at fighting around the screen and recovering. Denver did very little switching and as a result their defense was much more focused and aggressive. They also fought hard for rebounds and challenged every shot in the lane.

I wrote after their win against Utah that the Nuggets were the second best team in the west even though their defense was not performing at the level it should have been and that I expected to see their defense return to the level we saw last season making the Nuggets an even stronger team. With what we have seen over the last three and a half quarters against New Orleans and Charlotte and the last three quarters tonight, Denver is well on the way to recapturing the style of play that worked so well for them last season.

The other development was the play of J.R. Smith. Smith’s biggest problem as of late has been his overreliance on the three point shot. In Houston he still fired up eight three point attempts, but only one of them was a poor shot. He went at the rim more frequently than he has in a long time and even hit a pretty floater in the lane with one second on the shot clock to put the Nuggets up 96-89 and only 17 seconds remaining. As far as his shot selection J.R. took five shots and six free throws before he attempted a three pointer, although one of them was a shot with his feet on the line. All eight of his threes came in the final 18 minutes of the game. He made three and one was a desperation half court shot to end the third quarter. All in all I thought J.R. played a very smart and effective game and that is a big relief for Nuggets supporters.

Additional Game 45 Nuggets:

  • Scott Hastings pointed out in the post game that the key stretch in the game was a two minute burst in the fourth quarter when Chauncey returned to the game.  Denver was behind 80-79 and had been hanging tough ever since the end of the first quarter, but was never able to really take control of the game.  On the first play he drove baseline and dumped a beautiful bounce pass to Nene when three Rockets players collapsed on him for a layup.  Next he backed down Aaron Brooks and shot a pretty turn around over him from the right elbow.  On the third possession he caught a swing pass from J.R., passed up the quasi open three, drove the middle of the floor and kicked out to J.R. for a three.  On the fourth possession Chauncey one again backed Brooks down, this time on the left block and when he was doubled thew a diagonal pass to J.R. who made a second long three.  Just like that a one point deficit turned into a nine point lead the Nuggets would never fully relinquish.
  • Denver was only credited with seven assists, which would lead you to believe they played a selfish, one-on-one game and somehow were able to get away with it. The reality is the Nuggets moved the ball pretty well as a team. If you want to know why their assist total was so shockingly paltry, I give you their 39 free throw attempts. A big reason why the Nuggets were able to earn that many free throws was because they were moving the ball and playing patient unselfish offense. By the way, three of those seven assists came from Chauncey in the four possession stretch we just outlined above.
  • We have discussed how there is no doubt that J.R. Smith will bounce back from his shooting slump and have an absolutely red hot stretch. Tonight we saw a correction in the opposite direction with Arron Afflalo. Obviously Afflalo could not shoot as well as he had the past two games, cashing in on 16 of his 23 shot attempts, in perpetuity. Afflalo missed all seven of his shot attempts including two or three layups. For all I know he is still out on the court practicing jumpers still hoping to sink at least one before the team heads to Oklahoma City.
  • No matter how well you play, there is always something to improve on. The Nuggets blew a couple of decent fast break opportunities with poor decision making. On one occasion on a three on two break J.R. had Chauncey on his left and Nene on his right. He actually passed the ball to Nene just inside half court and the result was not surprising as Nene drove as far as he could and just before reaching the rim charged into a waiting defender for the turnover. There was another break where Nene caught a pass by the right side of the rim and dumped a pass to Afflalo who was on his left instead of shooting. The pass off gave the defense that extra second to catch up and Afflalo’s layup attempt was blocked.
  • I have not gushed enough about the play of Kenyon Martin.  Over Kenyon’s previous 15 games where he was not ejected by an insecure referee in the second quarter he has pulled down double digit rebounds in 13 of them.  The other two games, he had nine boards.  For a player who was never known for his rebounding prowess, that is an amazing stretch.  His play is a big reason why the Nuggets are no longer getting demolished on the offensive glass night in and night out.  Here is to you Kenyon Martin, kudos on a job well done and keep it up.
  • The other reason for optimism is the play of Chris Andersen. He is still not blocking shots at the rate he did last season, which is probably not fair to expect, but he is rebounding very well and looks to be more spry (no Word, I am not going to replace more spry with spryer, is that even a word?) than he was earlier in the year when he was battling knee soreness.

Featured Blogs: Red94 | The Dream Shake

2009-10 Game 44: Denver Nuggets 104 – Charlotte Bobcats 93

Box Score | Highlights

I was very pleased with the Denver Nuggets 104-93 victory tonight against the once red hot Charlotte Bobcats. I admit I was a little worried heading into the game after finding out that Charlotte had actually moved ahead of Boston for the top spot in the defensive efficiency rankings as well as in points allowed per game. I had no idea the Bobcats were doing so well defensively and knowing the Nuggets would be without Carmelo Anthony due to a sprained ankle seemed like a dangerous combination.

Fortunately for Denver they still had a red hot Arron Afflalo and Western Conference Player of the Week Chauncey Billups who both continued their stellar play. Afflalo nailed shot after shot as the Bobcats vaunted defense struggled to rotate in time to slow him down.

Defensively the effort reminded me quite a bit of the previous game against the Hornets. Denver did a very good impersonation of a sieve for the first five or six minutes before getting their act together in time to put the clamps down. The Nuggets combined a switch and help scheme with a trap and recover style that kept the Bobcats off balance and succeeded in keeping them mostly on the perimeter.

After building up a double digit lead the Nuggets drove any thoughts of a Charlotte comeback out the window during a stretch of over five minutes spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth where they held the Bobcats to a mere two points.

Offensively the Nuggets racked up the assists thanks to the hot shooting of Afflalo and a running game that tallied 18 points against the team with the fourth slowest pace factor in the league.

The victory is made even more impressive by the ejection of Kenyon Martin in the second quarter. You can argue whether or not it was a good idea for Kenyon to clap vociferously in front of Ken Mauer immediately after Stephen Jackson missed a free throw following the first technical Mauer called on Martin. You can also argue the old adage that no one shows up to watch the refs officiate the game and Mauer surely could have let Kenyon’s enthusiastic response to the miss go.

It only served to add to the quality of the victory as the bench was forced to play an even bigger role. When Kenyon was ejected the Nuggets were up 49-42 and just over 90 seconds later the Bobcats had clawed back to within one. The fact that the Nuggets pulled out an easy win over a decent team down two starters is a very good sign.

To me the biggest storyline from the game was the decision not to suspend J.R. Smith after his antics against the Hornets Saturday night. Smith came out focused and he drained two threes, both within the flow of the offense after entering the game late in the first quarter. George Karl had talked about how the goal of whatever decision the team would make was to help J.R. play better and stop being such a three point chucker. After those first two shots it appeared the staff made the correct decision as J.R. seemed to have derived confidence from the team’s choice to play him.

However, as the game wore on J.R. continued to shoot three after three and he finished the game having missed his final seven three point attempts. He did play hard on defense and did a nice job on the glass pulling down six boards and that is to his credit. However, the nine three point attempts were not a good sign. Karl mentioned that they needed to get J.R. less focused on threes and more focused on getting to the rim, drawing fouls and setting up his teammates, all things he can do. As long as J.R. plays as hard as he did tonight he will help the Nuggets. On the other hand if he keeps shooting threes at this rate he clearly did not learn much from the threat of being suspended.

Additional Game 44 Nuggets

  • As we all know Denver has given away a number of games they should have won, but since the calendar flipped to 2010 the Nuggets have done a much better job of taking control of games they had been losing in 2009. Denver is now only three games behind the suddenly struggling Lakers who are only 5-5 over their previous ten games. I am not ready to call the Nuggets legit contenders for the top seed just yet, but if they can do well on their brief three game road trip against playoff caliber competition (Houston, Oklahoma City and San Antonio) we might have to start talking about giving the Lakers a serious run for their money.
  • In order to build a winning roster you have to win trades.  In 2008 the Denver Nuggets sent their first round pick to the Bobcats who drafted Alexis Ajinca, who to be fair just posted a triple double in the D-League, but has not done anything in the NBA.  The Nuggets were able to trade that pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009 for the rights to Ty Lawson.  Who knows what Charlotte’s pick turns into for Minnesota, but as of now I think it is safe to say the Nuggets won that trade with Charlotte.
  • I think we set a record for most plays in a game where players were left rubbing their face after a play. A lot of incidental contact between limbs and grills none worse than when Gerald Wallace caught J.R. Smith’s cheekbone with an elbow as he brought his arms up to shoot. Smith was left with a bump that would have made Tom and Jerry proud.
  • After Kenyon was ejected it was clear that Malik Allen was going to have to play some significant minutes. You may all know I am not a big fan of Allen’s. Then Chris Andersen sprained his ankle early in the fourth quarter and suddenly Allen was the Nuggets number two big man. Allen played a solid game though and did more good things than bad. Somehow the Bobcats failed to take advantage of the fact he was covering Gerald Wallace for much of the fourth quarter. I will never feel comfortable having to rely on Allen to play many minutes, but it is good to know he is capable of filling in from time to time.
  • Tonight was the last game Jerry Schemmel would call as the voice of the Nuggets. Schemmel is a multitalented man who even coached baseball at Metro State last year. He has ridden his bike across the country to raise money for charity and he also has an amazing story to tell. He was onboard United Airlines Flight 232 that crashed in Iowa in 1989.
  • I have been fortunate enough to hear him recount the horrific events of that day firsthand and it lead him to a relationship with Jesus Christ. I encourage everyone to read the book he penned called “Chosen to Live” that follows the bouts of depression and guilt that were spawned by the weight of dealing with such a tragedy.

    Fortunately for Colorado sports fans Jerry is not going far as he will be calling Colorado Rockies games. I want to wish him good luck with the Rockies, but I hope he will know how much he will be missed.

    Jason Kosmicki was already calling the road games on the radio for the Nuggets and I am sure he will continue to do a great job as he steps in for Jerry on a full time basis.

Featured Blogs: Queen City Hoops | Rufus on Fire

What to do with J.R.?

As I mentioned in my recap of the Nuggets win over the Hornets, I was very displeased with the way the Nuggets played on offense.  They were far too perimeter oriented and did not do enough to work to earn good shots.  As you can imagine, J.R. Smith and too perimeter oriented go hand in hand.

Smith is one of the players who has the athleticism and skills to make the Hornets pay for their hard doubling of Carmelo Anthony.  Sadly, he was all too ready to play into the Hornets hands by launching threes instead of taking advantage of the quickness advantage Smith had over any Hornet who tried to guard him.  J.R. was on the court for 12 minutes, but still managed to launch five threes.

J.R. was not the first guard off the bench in the second half as Karl sent in Ty Lawson to play with Chuancey Billups.  When Smith entered the game to start the fourth quarter, the spot where Lawson usually relieves Billups, he turned the ball over and attempted three three pointers, one of which he did convert.  Karl rightly yanked him and reinserted Chauncey and J.R. started to the bench and then changed direction and headed to the locker room.

I can understand Smith’s frustration.  He has been mired in perhaps the worst shooting slump of his career.  So far in the month of January he is shooting only 25.4% on threes.  If he does not improve his conversion rate January 2010 will be the worst of any single month since he became a Nugget in 2006.  In fact, J.R. is posting his poorest statistical season as a Nugget.  His shooting percentages are down across the board, his turnover rate is the highest of his career and his assist rate is down.  Even with all of his struggles, his usage rate is a career high.  All in all his PER of 12.76 is lower than every season he has played save his rookie campaign as a Hornet.

We all know Smith is too good of a player to put forth an entire season like this.  At some point he will absolutely explode.  The problem is, he knows that when his shot starts falling, it might not stop for a while and he is eager for that day to come.  As a result he is chucking threes every chance he gets in anticipation of the incendiary streak that is undoubtedly around the corner.  When he struggles against a former team, in a game that is close and his team could really use a good night from him, and on top of it sees his role limited and minutes yanked I can understand why he would be upset.  The frustration that is piling up will undoubtedly boil over and that is what appeared to happen when J.R. left the bench and went to the locker room.

The question is how do you reach out to a player who is a key component to your team’s ability to be a contender, is probably very down on himself and has displayed a  sensitivity to criticism?  At this point, the Nuggets are in high level discussions where they are deciding whether or not to suspend J.R.

It is not an easy decision, but as for me, I would suspend him.  The Nuggets have proven that they have the courage to sit a player down when they benched Carmelo last season for refusing to leave a game in Indiana.  If you recall, Carmelo was mired in a bad shooting slump of his own and had finally hit a couple of big shots when his time to rest came around.  Understandably, Melo wanted to ride the hot streak he though he had found.  However, he did so at the expense of his teammates, Kenyon Martin had to sit down because Melo did not want to, and he displayed that he was in charge and not the coach.

J.R. did not cost a teammate playing time, nor did he refuse to follow direction from the coach.  What he did do is put himself ahead of the team by leaving his teammates, even if just for a few minutes as he was back on the bench well before the end of the fourth quarter, and that cannot be tolerated.  J.R. must learn that the coaches, front office and his teammates care about him and they need him.  No matter how rough things are going, no one or nothing is bigger than the team.  If the Nuggets are better off with J.R. playing 12 minutes, then J.R. has to be OK with that.

I have always been a fan of J.R. ever since I saw him play in summer league as a rookie.  He is immensely talented and I honestly believe he has all-star level talent.  His mental state has come a long way since he first arrived in Denver as has his game.  Even so, he still has lessons that he has not learned and his behavior when being removed from the game on Saturday proves it.

With Carmelo Anthony already ruled out of Monday night’s contest with the Charlotte Bobcats, it will be tempting to let J.R. skirt by and play.  I hope the Nuggets take the road less traveled and make the tough decision to demonstrate no player is bigger than the team.

Last season when Carmelo was suspended the Nuggets went out and lost a difficult game to the Detroit Pistons with him on the sideline, but Melo served his sentence and then bounced back and played his best month of the season.  The Nuggets went on to post a 15-6 record to close out the regular season and as we all remember finished second in the conference.

I am not saying if Denver suspends J.R. he will bust out of his slump or it guarantees great things will happen for the Nuggets upon his return, just that making the right decision, especially when it is the most difficult, can help forge perseverance and strength.

Suspensions do not have to be negative experiences, and J.R. is no stranger to having to sit out, but what comes of a suspension is on the player.  Smith needs to be told that he was wrong, there is a consequence for his behavior and that he can use it to become a better player, teammate and person.

2009-10 Game 43: Denver Nuggets 116 – New Orleans Hornets 110 OT

Box Score | Highlights

Once again the Denver Nuggets paid the price for not getting the job done. The penalty was not another loss in a game they should have won, the Nuggets were able to defeat the shorthanded New Orleans Hornets, playing without former all-star David West, 116-110 in overtime last night, but it was an ankle injury suffered by leading scorer Carmelo Anthony. With Denver forced to play an extra five minutes in a game that never should have extended past regulation time Carmelo rolled his left ankle coming down from an attempted jumper and is now out for Monday’s game against Charlotte.

To me the Nuggets’ victory was a very frustrating one as I was constantly aghast at the decision making at both ends of the floor. On defense Denver continually slid behind screens and sagged off of shooters on the perimeter continually giving up open shots. On one occasion in the fourth quarter Carmelo had switched onto Chris Paul and was so worried about trying to challenge the pass into the post he kept jumping back and forth getting ready to spring into the air to steal the ball. He continued to drop deeper and deeper off of Chris Paul, a player who shoots almost 41% from behind the arc, and finally Paul, basically left alone as Melo kept crouching and shifting around, took the unchallenged shot. Fortunately for Denver it rimmed out, but it was just one example of some of the curious decisions that were made at that end of the floor.

Honestly, even with the handful of brain farts Denver displayed I thought they played very well defensively. New Orleans had 50 points with 6:39 left in the second quarter, but apart from a flat opening five or six minutes, the Nuggets were hustling, rotating and playing solid defense. The Hornets were just hitting difficult shots. Sometimes that happens, but streaks like the Hornets were on rarely last and after James Posey hit a jumper for their fiftieth point the difficult shots they were taking stopped falling and they only managed to score four more points over the final 6:39 of the half and one of those points was on a technical free throw.  In fact, over the final 41:39, which is 21 seconds short of three full quarters of basketball, the Hornets only scored 60 points.

Offensively, the Nuggets were far to content to hoist jumpers of their own when they possessed a quickness advantage with nearly every matchup on the court. The Hornets played their scheme very well as they doubled Melo, stayed close to the lane and tried to trick Denver into playing a perimeter game. For much of the game Denver complied as evidenced by their 27 three point attempts.

Still, I was encouraged by the Nuggets effort on defense and they absolutely destroyed the Hornets on the boards 61-37. I thought Chris Andersen played his best game of the season as he was all over the glass, played the pick and roll reasonably well and was able to catch a pass in the lane from Ty Lawson that he usually fumbles away.

All in all it was a win, a frustrating one, but a win none the less.

Additional Game 43 Nuggets

  • I believe the play made by Devin Brown that resulted in Carmelo spraining his ankle was a dirty play (see it at the 1:57 mark of this video).  Brown challenged the shot, but then continued to move into Melo’s feet and the result was a sprained ankle and at least one missed game.  Defenders should not have to give ground, but I would like to see the league review plays like that one and hand out a one game suspension with escalating penalties after that if a player is found to have stepped into an opponents legs like Brown did.  It is not good hard nosed defense and it is not something that the league should allow.
  • The Hornets double Carmelo as aggressively as anyone, and I do not know why more teams do not use that tactic more often. The Hornets send a double team as soon as Melo would catch a pass and most of the time he would sit and let the double team come. However, when Carmelo was aggressive and attacked either the on the ball defender or the defender rotating to double him, he was able to get in the lane and get to the rim. If he were to be aggressive like that prior to the arrival of the second defender, it might serve as a deterrent to use that style of defense.
  • I do not know Carmelo Anthony. I have never met him. I have never seen where he grew up or spent a second with anyone who is close to him so take this with a grain of salt, but I think Carmelo was pretty content with his play on offense because he was able to tally 30 points. I am not sure the fact that it took him 28 shots to get there really bothers him. Granted, he had a lot of shots that looked good that just rolled off the rim, but with the way the Hornets were defending him he seemed like he was determined to still get his points. I firmly believe the Nuggets would have been better off had Melo looked to use the aggressive double teaming against the Hornets against them and used his talents to get his teammates open shots instead of working his tail off to find some space against the defense to get off another contested 16 footer. I would be much happier if Carmelo seemed happier to drop in 16 or 18 points, dish out eight or ten assists while taking 13 or 14 shots instead of bagging his 30.
  • In two games against the Hornets Carmelo has only made 14 of 44 shots. Like I said, I do not know why more teams do not aggressively double Carmelo.
  • One turning point in the game was a blown dunk by Ty Lawson. With the Nuggets up 88-80 Carmelo was able to tip the ball away from Posey and the ball bounced to Lawson who passed it up to Melo who stumbled and had to tip it back towards Lawson to keep it away from Chris Paul. Lawson caught the ball at the top of the circle and it was just he and Melo. Ty tried to throw down a two handed dunk instead of either laying it in or handing off to Melo for a dunk. Lawson missed, was called for offensive basket interference as he touched the ball while hanging on the rim, and two minutes later the Hornets had scored six straight points and it would be nip and tuck the rest of the way.
  • Chauncey has made a lot of threes as a Denver Nugget, but had not really been Mr. Big Shot until the past three games. He saved Denver in Golden State with some huge threes down the stretch and again last night he made two huge threes in the last 2:14 to get the Nuggets into overtime.
  • Carmelo has made a hoard of very difficult game winning shots in his career. He missed the easiest one he has ever had at the end of regulation though as the ball bounced back to him after his initial miss and he had a wide open four footer that was a bit too far offline to the right.
  • Jeff Bower deserves a good deal of credit for the way he has the Hornets playing. They were left for dead when the fired Byron Scott and are certainly not the most talented team in the league, but they play unselfishly and together on both ends of the floor, something the Nuggets could take a lesson in.
  • Looking at the stats, there were a lot of numbers that were very un-Nugget like. Despite pulling down 41 defensive rebounds Denver only converted eight fast break points. They only forced eight turnovers, with only five steals, and had but one block. Those are categories Denver used to dominate in the past even though none of them on their own was necessarily a barometer of wins and losses.

Featured Blogs: Hornets 24/7 | At the Hive

Nuggets vs Jazz Chat

I will be taking part in the Daily Dime chat tonight so swing by and send in your comments or drop me a question or two.  Plus you can watch the game on ESPN 360 right here.

2009-10 Game 39: Denver Nuggets 115 – Orlando Magic 97

Box Score | Highlights

The Denver Nuggets played a solid first half against the Orland Magic. They shot well, played decent defense, did a good job passing, but I just was not impressed with their overall effort and focus. At halftime I found myself anticipating, or at least hoping for, an increase in intensity. After all the Magic are the defending Eastern Conference champions.

Denver absolutely jumped on the Magic to start the third quarter oozing energy and intensity resulting in a 12-0 run to start the third on their way to a 35-19 third quarter.

It was interesting to see how the Magic defended Carmelo. They played a very similar style to what the Lakers usually try to do and that is pre-rotate a big to the block when Melo gets the ball in the post as a deterrent to the drive while the defender on the ball tries to take away the jumper. When it comes to a deterrent there are not many who deter like Dwight Howard. This defense not only slows Melo down, but it makes it much more difficult to get cutters open in the lane because there is one massive dude planted on the strong side block as well as help at the free throw line.

The one thing the Nuggets figured out against the Lakers (skip to the 4:10 mark of this video) was to give Melo the ball at the top of the circle. That way there was no strong side to shade to and every player had to suck in alongside the lane in order to be ready to help. There were only a couple of occasions when Melo received the ball at the top of the circle and two of them came back to back as soon as Mickael Pietrus, the French Michael Jordan, entered the game to cover Melo. Anthony was able to drive on Pietrus and drew two quick fouls on him. However, when Matt Barnes was on Melo he almost exclusively posted up on the right side of the floor. I am not sure if the Nuggets’ planned on Melo taking Pietrus to the middle of the floor when he was in the game, but it sure worked. He only played a few minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.

The weakness of that defense is the backside because there are four players on the strong side of the court. In the third quarter Melo did a good job of staying a little further off the block, thus spreading the floor and opening up the passing lanes. Denver was able to get the ball to Afflalo in the corner and he converted on his opportunities making two threes.

After Afflalo made his threes the Magic stopped pre-rotating and as a result the lane opened up. For example Melo was able to drive from the right wing all the way to the rim on Barnes with 5:30 in the third.

Melo also started getting the ball closer to the lane so on the occasions when Howard did pre-rotate he it opened up the floor for cutters and Melo was able to hit Kenyon a couple of times in the lane for either the basket or a foul.  The Nuggets ended up dominating a very good defensive squad.

The other big story was the Nuggets defense on Howard. A night after demolishing the Sacramento Kings to the tune of 30 and 16 Howard shot 1-7. Nene struggled lately to defend Shaq largely due to the fact he did not start fighting for position early enough in the play. Nene allowed Shaq to set up where ever he wanted before he started pushing on him. Tonight Nene, as well as Kenyon and Birdman when they were covering Howard, did a great job of making contact with him early in the play preventing him from getting deep position. When Howard did get in deep the Nuggets were content to foul, or they swarmed him and forced a miss or a turnover. None were more impressive than when AC ripped the ball away from Howard in the fourth quarter.

All in all it was a great win for Denver. The Nuggets are getting healthy, Ty Lawson was reportedly able to play although he did not see action, and they are playing well. Despite their struggles lately Denver is only a half a game out of second in the west and they have a bunch of home games coming up. The next couple of weeks are huge for Denver and I expect to see them safely in second in the conference by the end of the month. Plus with Kobe Bryant apparently struggling with his broken finger, who knows what will happen the rest of the season?

Additional Game 39 Nuggets

  • J.R. ran the pick and roll several times in the second quarter. The first time he came off the screen hard and was able to get to the rim and draw a foul. The next two or three times he faded and did not look to attack. As a result the play was completely ineffective despite the fact that Marcin Gortat was laying back the way the Nuggets bigs so frequently do.  J.R. made up for it in the second half as he played very efficiently in the fourth quarter to help ensure the Magic would not make a late run.  Smith tallied ten points on only five shots.
  • Spell check does not like Marcin Gortat. It does not really seem to care for Mickael Pietrus either.
  • Terrible play of the night: With two minutes left in the first half Dwight Howard took a shot from the middle of the lane at the top of the charge circle. When he begins his shooting motion Matt Barnes, covered by Carmelo, and Ryan Anderson, being covered by Kenyon, were both outside the three point line. Barnes ran in from the middle of the floor and Anderson ran in from the right side. Carmelo and Kenyon did not budge. When Howard missed, as he had on every other shot from the field up to that point, both Barnes and Anderson where there for the rebound and Barnes put it back for two points.
  • Fantastic play of the night: Trying to chase down a horrible pass by Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson caught up to ball at half court midway between the middle of the floor and the right side of the floor, but was not able to keep from stepping on the line for a backcourt violation. Nelson was in the process of turning to save the ball and threw up a high arcing shot towards the rim and actually made it.
  • In the first half the Magic only had five offensive rebounds, but scored 13 points off of those five chances. My considerable mathematical skills tell me that short of earning a four point play the most points you can score off of five offensive rebounds is 15. That tells me that the Magic were a little lucky, but also that when the Nuggets gave up an offensive rebound, they really gave them up. The sad thing is the Magic are more worried about getting back on defense than they are with offensive rebounding so giving up any second chance points to them is extra painful. Not only are they taking away the easy baskets on the fast break, but they are also managing to hurt you on the offensive glass. Teams should not be permitted to get away with both.
  • One play I really love is to screen for the screener. The Seattle Supersonics used to do it very well when they had Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis together. Either Allen or Lewis would set a screen and the defense would worry about covering the player coming off the screen. They would then bring a player over to set a screen away from the original screen for Lewis or Allen who would then get open for a three. The Nuggets have never really incorporated any screen for the screener tactics, but early in the second half they ran it off an inbounds play. Melo passed in to Kenyon from the left side who swung the ball to Nene in the middle. Melo, who passed the ball in, cut towards the basket and ran off a screen by Chauncey just outside the left block as Kenyon set a down screen for Chauncey. Jameer Nelson played it well, but Chauncey was able to get a 16 foot jumper that he converted.
  • Denver ran a second screen for the screener play in the fourth quarter. Birdman ran pick and roll with AC then Melo set a back screen for Birdman as Carter passed to Nene at the top of the circle who in turn lobed the ball to the rim where Bird flushed it through for a pretty alley oop. I would love to see more of screen for the screener action from Denver in the future. Their offensive efficiency on screen the screener plays was 200.0. Not too shabby.
  • With the hideous ink Jason Williams has on him, how has he never been a Denver Nugget? Williams is the only player I have ever seen get a standing ovation for missing a layup on the road. White Chocolate took the league by storm his rookie season with his flashy play and devil-may-care attitude. In a game against the Wizards he caught an outlet pass and dribbled up the floor. He froze a defender and spun around him at midcourt without missing a beat, the then again spun around a defender at the three point line and then went under the rim to avoid an a player attempting to block his shot and missed the layup. The Washington fans roundly stood and applauded though despite the fact he failed to finish. His coaches may not have loved the risks he took on the floor, but Williams was an entertainer and fans all over could not get enough of him.
  • Melo attempted a left-handed layup after beating Pietrus on the drive, from the middle of the floor again as in the first half, and it rolled out. I am glad he used his left hand, but still saddened that such a great scorer has such a big hole in his game. I hope someone ties Melo’s right hand behind his back this summer. Melo repeatedly drove by Pietrus, even later in the game when he actually backed off a step.
  • At the 8:48 mark in the fourth quarter, and Howard out of the game, the Magic ran a hard double team at Melo. Carmelo calmly threw a cross court pass to Anthony Carter, diagonal passes are a great way to defeat a double team and immediately exploit the under-defended weak side, and Carter drove the gap into the lane and dumped a pass off to Birdman for an easy dunk.
  • When the Nuggets switched the pick and roll and Afflalo ended up on Lewis, Arron did a great job of fighting for position and even drew an offensive foul on Lewis in the second quarter.
  • In the post game comments Bill Hanzlik said that the Nuggets turned Superman into a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

Featured Blogs: Orlando Magic Daily | Orlando Pinstriped Post

2009-10 Game 38: Denver Nuggets 105 – Minnesota Timberwolves 94

Box Score | Highlights

Sometimes it was frustrating, it was frequently ugly, but the Denver Nuggets held onto a double digit lead for all but 2:32 of the second half against a scrappy Minnesota Timberwolves squad on the way to a 105-94 victory.

Denver had sequences where they played very well on offense and others where they played very well on defense, but they rarely played well on both ends of the floor at the same time. In the first quarter the Nuggets seemed a little flat, but they still played very good defense keyed by their ability to rotate and cover for each other. They held the Timberwolves to only 15 first quarter points.

The best example of the Nuggets strong first quarter defense came just over two minutes into the game. Al Jefferson had scored two buckets over Nene on the left block. Damien Wilkins entered the ball into Jefferson as Jonny Flynn and Corey Brewer made parallel cuts from the baseline out to the three point line in an effort to dislodge the defense and make it more difficult for the Nuggets to double Jefferson.

Wilkins cut through the lane after dumping the ball into Jefferson. Chauncey sagged down to dig at Jefferson leaving Flynn and leaving Afflalo in the eye as the Nuggets call it at the top of the circle responsible for the pass out from the double.

Jefferson passed out to Flynn and Afflalo was immediately on Flynn leaving the pass to Brewer open. Kenyon left Kevin Love on the right block to stop any chance of Brewer penetrating. Billups briefly started running towards Brewer, but angled towards the corner when he saw Kenyon closing out Brewer. Brewer then swung the ball to Wilkins in the corner. Carmelo, who had sagged in on Love jumped out to cover Wilkins in the corner as Chauncey seamlessly stepped in front of Love to ensure the ball could not be entered into the post. Melo forced Wilkins baseline and Chauncey quickly jumped the drive stopping Wilkins 16 feet from the basket and triggering a double with Carmelo.

Kenyon slid over to cover Love who floated away from the block to give Wilkins an option to pass the ball out while Afflalo was ready to jump the lob pass back out to either of the two Wolves players outside the three point line at the top of the circle and the opposite side of the floor.

Wilkins only option was to fling the ball into the middle of the floor and Afflalo was in position to pick it off. Unfortunately, Billups was called for a reach on the pass and Minnesota retained possession, however, it was a tremendous defensive possession by the Nuggets and an example of the way they played in the first quarter.

The Wolves also played solid defense in the first quarter. They doubled Melo while pre-rotating a third player in position to help if Melo was somehow able to drive towards the middle of the floor. With both teams struggling to score someone had to create some offense. Enter J.R. Smith who I think dominated the second quarter although it was not with his shooting, but his passing. Denver started going with their most unstoppable play, the pick and roll between J.R. and Nene. As we have noted before, J.R. is very adept at threading bounce passes to the roll man and he ran the high pick and roll with Nene to perfection to spark a 38 point second quarter.

They key sequence began after a timeout at the 8:33 mark of the second quarter. J.R. fed Nene for a layup off the high screen. The next time down J.R. dropped another nice pass to Nene in the lane. Minnesota sunk three players in the lane to stop Nene giving him an easy kick out pass to Afflalo who splashed the three. A minute and a half later J.R., Nene and Afflalo combined to complete the very same play.

After Afflalo showed he was hot the Nuggets ran a play for him where they posted J.R. up on the left block, Nene entered the ball to J.R. and AC, Nene and Birdman all converged setting a three man wide screen for Afflalo who ran off the wall his teammates built to the right wing. J.R. threw a perfect pass from the left block across the court hitting Afflalo, who was on the move mind you, directly in the shooting pocket and Arron drained the jumper. It was a beautifully designed and executed play. Denver ran it a second time shortly after and Afflalo floated to the middle of the floor and sadly missed the three.

All of that happened in just 3:03 and the Nuggets’ lead ballooned from two points to ten points and it was all fueled by J.R.’s passing. Smith went on to show how he is still a frustrating player by reverting to his three point chuckingest best later in the game. J.R. has been struggling with his shot and I can see how a home game against the Wolves is as good a time as any to try to shoot himself out of it. Even so, he is such an all around talent you still wonder when he will realize he can change a game without taking a shot.

The big story of the night though was the return of Carmelo. I thought it was good that the Nuggets did not just start force feeding him the ball right from the start. Still the Nuggets only had six points seven minutes into the game and Melo had only taken two shots, missing both. On a night when Nene was and Kenyon were struggling offensively they needed Melo to put up some points. Melo managed to get to the basket a couple of times over the final four minutes of the first quarter and along with Chauncey was able to get the Nuggets up to 20 points for the quarter.

Melo did appear a little rusty though getting called for a couple of offensive fouls and was never really able to get his post up game going due to the Wolves’ double teaming. He did score eight straight points in the fourth quarter on two threes and a layup and ended up scoring 24 points on 9-17 shooting. It was not a dominant performance, but a solid one.

The Nuggets offense lacked some of the flow they had while Melo was out, but they were able to avoid the sequences where Melo was holding the ball and the other four Nuggets were standing around and watching, which is something I feared might happen upon his return to the lineup.

There was one area where the Nuggets were very disappointing as they were completely unable to keep the Wolves off the offensive boards. Even with Kenyon pulling down 12 defensive rebounds on his own Minnesota collected 21 of their missed shots. Kevin Love corralled an impressive five offensive rebounds, but was easily outdone by teammate Al Jefferson who earned eight. When you consider Minnesota missed 58 shots from the floor it slightly reduces the sting of sacrificing 21 offensive rebounds. Even so, you are not going to win many games only collecting 62.5% of all defensive rebounds.

Additional Game 38 Nuggets

  • No player in the NBA is as fearsome as J.R. Smith when he is all alone heading in for a dunk. The problem is the people experiencing the fear are his own fans. He threw down a beautiful reverse double clutch dunk off a steal, but as soon as I saw him crossing half court with the ball I was fearful he would miss the dunk.
  • Maybe someday we will have the technology to make a basketball jersey narrow enough so that it does not look like Corey Brewer is wearing a potato sack.
  • Brian Cardinal’s career fell apart after he stopped wearing his junior high girlfriend’s volleyball kneepads.
  • Denver once again struggled from the free throw line making only 19 of 28 with Nene leading the charge. Maybyner missed his first four free throws before making his final three attempts.

Featured Blogs: Howlin’ T-Wolf | Canis Hoopus

2009-10 Game 37: Denver Nuggets 100 – Sacramento Kings 102

Box Score | Highlights

If I was a teacher and the Denver Nuggets were students in my classroom, I would go to the school board and demand they get sent back to kindergarten. They keep failing to learn a lesson that has been taught to them over and over and over again this season. You cannot build a modest lead and mail in the rest of the game and expect to win in the NBA. Another lesson I thought they had learned that went completely out the window was that they needed to move the ball and be patient on offense in order to score consistently.

The Nuggets played the kind of solid team oriented offense in the first half that they have displayed since Melo was injured and the result was an 11 point halftime lead. For some reason as soon as the halftime buzzer sounded Denver forgot everything they had been doing the previous four and a half games. The second half turned into a sickening display of one on one basketball with little movement and no attention to detail.

The guards rarely looked to drive (Chauncey was the only one who ever tried to get in the lane, but when he did he was always looking for the foul instead of to score or dish and as a result all he had to show for it was a fat lip). The bigs slipped far too many screens and at no point did anyone on the court seem to stop and wonder why things were falling apart around them. You would think with as many games as this team has given away on the road they would recognize the symptoms. I sure as heck do. I bet every Nuggets fan does.

Stats can be misleading and it is not often you can find one number that defines a game, but tonight I believe we can. Here is the number.

3.

That is the number of assists the Denver Nuggets had in the second half and one of them came 45 seconds into the third quarter. Over the final 14 minutes of the game they had one assist. Maybe that should be the number. OK, make the new number 1.

If Denver fails to earn the second seed in the west and fails to return to the Western Conference Finals it is games like tonight that will be the reason. I do not care who is on the floor or who is out of the lineup, everyone can play smart basketball.

Sacramento is now 2-7 over their previous nine games and both wins have come against Denver.

Additional Game 37 Nuggets

  • J.R. Smith made a play I had never seen before. He took the ball out of bounds after a miss. Tyreke Evans shot a three pointer that only touched the bottom of the net and I am not saying it hit nothing but net in the sense he swished it. It only touched the bottom of the net. J.R. obviously did not have a clear view of the ball because he caught it, backed out of bounds and threw the ball into AC. I think everyone was a little stunned and I even questioned if the ball had actually gone through the hoop thinking it must have since J.R. was throwing the ball inbounds. The result was a turnover unlike any I had ever seen before.

  • (Hat tip to Cowbell Kingdom for the video)

  • After getting manhandled by Brockman in the first half I thought Nene and Kenyon did a much better job of trying to block him out and he only pulled down three second half rebounds.
  • Against Cleveland it did not seem like the Nuggets were getting dominated on the boards, but the Cavs collected 12 more rebounds than Denver. Tonight Denver actually won the rebound battle 39-38, but it sure did not seem like it.
  • After touting J.R.’s newfound free throw prowess he bricked two straight after a clear path foul was called on Sacramento early in the fourth.
  • For the third or fourth time this season Denver dishonored the memory of a nice win with a bad loss. They followed a good home win against Houston with a sad road loss in New Orleans where they blew a 16 point lead. The impressive win over Utah was followed up with the home loss to Philly where Denver had an early nine point advantage. Now the very impressive win over Cleveland was soiled by tonight’s second half stinker where they again lost a big first half lead.
  • A very big turning point came with 6:53 remaining when Arron Afflalo had a three pointer from the corner rim in and out that would have given Denver a ten point lead. Just over a minute later the Kings had cut the Nuggets’ lead to two with a runner by Casspi where Afflalo had to back off because he had five fouls and a three pointer by Evans.
  • The Kings were able to frustrate Nene by playing him very physically. The officials allowed them to push and grab and they took advantage of it. It was ironic to me that the Nuggets’ chances of winning disappeared when Nene was called for an offensive foul trying to post up with 22 seconds remaining. Of course Chauncey’s very poorly timed pass was going to go out of bounds anyway.
  • After stopping LeBron James twice in the final minute last night Kenyon could not get the stop Denver needed on Evans. On the game winning possession Evans got Martin on his hip driving to his left. Nene did a decent job of helping over to keep Evans from getting to the rim, but the help came far too late as Evans was able to stop, spin and splash a short five footer.

Featured Blogs: Cowbell Kingdom | Sactown Royalty | Evil Cowtown, Inc.

2009-10 Game 36: Denver Nuggets 99 – Cleveland Cavaliers 97

Box Score | Highlights

Once again I am thrilled to be wrong. After posting that the Nuggets should rest their injured players against the Cavs, Denver went on and secured a wonderful 99-97 victory over the red hot Cavaliers. In my defense I was working under assumption that Chris Andersen was not playing and Nene would have been limited if he did play. Obviously Birdman played and Nene did not appear to experience any ill effects from the ankle sprain he suffered in the fourth quarter against Golden State.

Denver is now 3-1 without Carmelo with wins in Utah and Cleveland. Even more importantly the Nuggets are playing team basketball. Sadly it took them a little too long to figure out how to win with a truncated roster. The good news is they are still very much in the hunt for the second seed in the West and are close to getting back to full strength.

As far as their win over Cleveland, they played consistently well on both ends of the floor. Offensively once again they were at their best when they avoided one on one basketball and worked both sides of the floor. Denver typically runs pick and roll right away early in the offense, however against Cleveland they frequently ran a cross screen with one of their guards to get the defense uprooted before running the pick and roll. They also utilized their ability to penetrate to get easy baskets either off the drive or with a dump off to one of the bigs who were always ready for a pass.

Defensively Denver played tremendous positional team defense. For most of the game they were very good on the ball, pressuring the ball handler and helping on penetration. I thought the Nuggets played with tremendous focus and cohesion. Of course, the Cavs are not the kind of team who can take advantage of Denver’s issues in transition, apart from LeBron’s one man fast breaks, and the Cavs are not a big pick and roll team. That is not to say they do not run pick and roll, but the Cavs guards do not attack the basket off the screen, but they come off soft which allowed the Nuggets bigs to lay back and cover the paint. Instead of working to get the ball in the paint off the pick and roll Cleveland seemed more interested in finding their three point shooters on the backside of the play who have room to shoot because the defense is preparing to help in the lane.

They did have some issues covering the weak side and did give up a couple of easy buckets off of basket cuts. Fortunately the Cavs were more focused on their perimeter offense.

Of course, anytime you play the Cavs, you need to give most of your defensive attention to LeBron James. The Nuggets relied on hardnosed man to man defense to make tings tough on James. Joey Graham started off on LeBron early in both halves, Afflalo took over for the bulk of the second and fourth quarters and then to close out the game George Karl called on Kenyon Martin to keep LeBron from getting into the lane. All three of them did a marvelous job. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Afflalo and Graham held LeBron to 5-18 shooting and only 13 points. We will get to Kenyon’s play on LeBron a little later.

Chauncey was very good in his return from a groin injury. He looked quick and it did not take him long to find his shot. I thought he did a good job of picking and choosing when to attack the basket, he had three or four impressive drives, and his jumpers mostly came within the flow of the offense. His penetration set up J.R.’s big three with 31 seconds left.

With Carmelo out of commission, one concern was who would take the big shots down the stretch in a close game. Against Utah there were no clutch possessions because Denver pounded them into submission. Versus Philly it was Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo who provided the bulk of the offense down the stretch. In the Golden State game J.R. and Anthony Carter provided the offense down the stretch.

Last night with the Cavs threatening it was another team effort with Afflalo hitting a big three to tie the game at 91, Kenyon making a short jumper off the glass, both of which were assisted by J.R. and then J.R. hit the game clinching shot, a long three his first of the game, to put Denver up five with just 31 seconds remaining.

Even when the Nuggets were struggling it was never due to a lack of effort or desire. They flat out beat the Cavaliers and it was a very good win.

Additional Game 36 Nuggets

  • Kenyon found himself matched up with Lebron twice in the final minute of the game and both times, he got the best of the matchup. After hitting the shot to give Denver the lead for good at 93-91 he switched onto LeBron. LeBron backed out a couple of times almost as if he was expecting a double to come, but when none did he attacked Kenyon. Kenyon covered LeBron’s right and guided him to his offhand. leBron drove left and Kenyon stayed with him. When LeBron pulled up to shoot from about six or seven feet Kenyon got one of his big strong hands on the ball and forced James into a difficult shot off the glass, LeBron missed and J.R. Smith swooped in for the rebound. The other side of that switch was Afflalo covering Anderson Varejao. Varejao had been a force on the glass all night long and had a game high four offensive rebounds (and 15 overall). Afflalo did a great job of boxing Varejao out after LeBron’s miss allowing J.R. to pull down the rebound unchallenged.
  • On the Cavs’ next possession after J.R. three to put Denver up five Kenyon came out to cover LeBron who was heading towards the block in position to receive a down screen from Varejao to allow him to flash to the ball and receive the inbounds pass. When LeBron noticed Kenyon was on him and Afflalo was on Varejao he realized the Nuggets expected a screen from Varejao on Lebron and wanted to be ready to switch Afflalo onto LeBron. James recognized what the Nuggets were doing and instructed Varejao to go to the block and he lined up at the free throw line and popped out to receive the inbounds pass without a screen and once again he was looking to drive on Kenyon. LeBron drove baseline and Kenyon once again stayed with him. James could not get Kenyon on his hip and ran out of room stepping out of bounds for his eighth turnover of the game. I am sure LeBron could get past Kenyon 60 or 70 times out of 100, but Kenyon was up to the task the two times that mattered.
  • The Nuggets were clearly concerned with the Cavs shooters and I do not recall seeing them double once all night. The tactic caused Nene to get in foul trouble as he struggled to handle Shaq in the post, but the tactic worked. The Cavs had a good night overall from behind the arc, but in the second half they were only 2-8 until LeBron splashed his two contested threes in the final 30 seconds.
  • Speaking of those late threes, Mo Williams missed one with 19 seconds left after Chauncey turned the ball over in the corner. Cleveland corralled the offensive rebound and LeBron made the first of his tough threes nine seconds later. Cleveland got their three points on that possession, but the extra nine seconds between Williams’ miss and LeBron’s make may have sealed the Cavs’ fate.
  • I chronicled some of J.R.’s late game free throw shooting woes in my post following the win against the Warriors. I think hitting the first two free throws against the Warriors provided a boost of confidence to J.R. and helped him combine focus and execution in a late game situation. It may not seem like much, but the fact he made his first two leaving the third irrelevant allowing him to miss was significant. He did not need to shoot all three to make two. Against the Cavs J.R. was fouled with Denver up only two points and J.R. calmly stepped up and made both. Before the Golden State game I think Smith probably missed one of those two and LeBron’s three at the other end would have tied the game instead of only cutting the lead to one. J.R. has made all of his previous eight free throws he has tried to make and four of those eight were in high pressure situation. Hopefully J.R. has turned the corner and will shoot free throws as well as a player with his ability should.

Featured Blogs: Cavs the Blog | Cavs BeatFear the Sword | Waiting for Next Year

I Hate Myself for Writing this Post

I have never promoted this before for the Denver Nuggets at any point during a season where they have a quality team capable of going places, but as much as I want to promote the band together and produce a super human effort I think tonight is a situation where Denver should play to win…on Saturday.

According to Chris Tomasson, Carmelo Anthony is out, Chris Andersen is out and Ty Lawson is doubtful.  Benjamin Hochman is reporting Nene is a game time decision and both are saying Chauncey Billups will try to come back for the second time from his groin injury tonight.

Oh, by the way, Denver is playing the East leading Cleveland Cavaliers who have won eight of nine and 13 of their previous 15 games.  The Cavs have crushed the Nuggets the previous two  meetings, especially last year in Denver and I do not see that changing with the current state of health at the Pepsi Center.

The Nuggets can kill themselves, play on bad ankles and work their tails off to hopefully stay close to the Cavs or they can let the bench have their night, give everyone another day to heal up, including Chauncey, and give it their best shot in Sacramento on Saturday.

It pains me to say it, but I say give up tonight to win tomorrow.  Of course, there is no guarantee that Denver will pull out a victory in Sacramento by resting all their injured players against Cleveland, but there is a good chance by sending Nene and Chauncey out there and giving big minutes to Kenyon could greatly reduce your chances of winning on Saturday.

Anthony Carter and J.R. Smith can handle the point.  Arron Afflalo, Joey Graham and Renaldo Balkman can deal with the swing positions, Kenyon martin can play a few minutes at power forward with Balkman and Malik Allen filling in the rest and Petro and Allen can take care of the minutes at center.

It will be horrible to watch and ESPN will undoubtedly be bummed out, but once, just this one time, I think it is the right thing to do.

Is a Foul Always a Foul?

Box Score | Highlights (if you have not watched the ending yet, make sure you do right now)

Before I get to the controversial finish to the Nuggets/Warriors game I have a little message for Altitude.  Stop freaking showing the final score of the Nuggets’ game on the bottom of the screen during the replay.  If I wanted to know the final score, I would look it up.  I doubt too many people watch the game already knowing the outcome or hoping to see the final score before the game ends.  Thanks for ruining a crazy finish for me and likely other Nuggets fans as well.

Now, was J.R. Smith fouled on the Nuggets final possession of the game?  Yes he certainly was.  Was he fouled hard?  No he was not.  Did the contact significantly impact his ability to make the shot?  It certainly did.  Would I be going crazy if the officials made that call against Denver instead of for them?  Absolutely.  Ultimately would I be more angry at the player for committing the foul than the ref for calling it.  You betcha.

Sadly, my true reaction to the call was robbed by Altitude’s inability to suppress the final score from their ticker so I did not get to observe the play unfettered by the knowledge of what I was about to see.  Nevertheless, when I saw the play I was surprised the foul was called.  Monta Ellis clearly bumped J.R. and with that contact he robbed J.R. of any opportunity to make the game winning shot.

So is a foul always a foul or should the referees swallow the whistle in the closing seconds, especially on 40 foot heaves?  It looks really bad to have a player bailed out like J.R. was tonight, but on the other hand, can you honestly look the other way and allow a defender to eliminate any chance of their opponent making a game winning shot with even just a little contact?   I do not think there can be a hard and fast rule, referees can only use their best judgement, but I sure have seen a lot more contact go uncalled late in games than what Ellis did to J.R.

As I mentioned above, if Warrior fans should be upset at anyone it is Ellis.  He was not in a position to challenge the shot and should have made every effort possible to avoid touching J.R.

Whether you agree with the call or not if there was a team that needed a break, it was the Denver Nuggets.  By the end of the game tonight four of their top eight players were out with injuries as Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and Chris Andersen did not suit up and to add injury to injury Ty Lawson rolled his left ankle with 4:16 remaining in the game.  Plus Nene rolled an ankle early in the fourth, but he was able to return and Kenyon had a frightening fall in the last game against Philly.  If I were a Nuggets player right now I would purposely avoid any potentially dangerous situations.  Get a rascal scooter to ride over ice, have the wife wrestle with the kids and definitely no

The interesting thing to me is this is the third time in his career J.R. Smith has been at the line with little to no time left on the clock preparing to shoot three free throws.  Last season on January 8, 2009 he was at the line with five seconds left and Denver down three to Detroit and he only made two of three.  During the 2007-08 season J.R. was in the position to tie the game with three free throws against Indiana and he missed the third one.  Granted tonight Denver only needed him to make two to take the lead, which reduced the pressure, but he still made the first two.

Since J.R. was able to make the first two, it gave Denver the option to miss the third and force the Warriors to call a timeout.  If J.R. needed to make the third to give Denver the lead, the Warriors could have called a timeout and would have had 0.4 seconds to hit a game winning shot of their own.

We also saw what a difference 0.2 of a second makes.  In Chicago earlier this season Chauncey purposely missed his second free throw with Denver up one and 0.6 seconds left.  As the NBA rulebook states, it takes 0.3 seconds to catch a rebound and call timeout.  That was almost enough time for Brad Miller to throw in an incredible game winning shot, but with 0.4 seconds left tonight Chauncey knew there was no way there could be anymore than 0.1 seconds left if J.R. missed his third free throw.  He missed it, the officials correctly put 0.1 seconds on the clock and Golden State had no chance to win.

The Nuggets were not very good on defense, but players like Joey Graham and Malik Allen, yes Malik Allen who I lambasted after the Sixers game, played good enough to help Denver be in position to win even though they were missing four key performers over the final four minutes.  Denver even managed to come back from a five point deficit with under two minutes to play.

Because of that, I am willing to put this in the good win category, even if they needed an assist from the officials.

Featured Blogs: Warriors World | Golden State of Mind

By the way, did Monta Ellis not take about five steps trying to catch the ball just before he made his shot to put the Warriors up one with 15.2 seconds left?  Maybe the final call on Ellis was a make up call, but lets not get into that right now.

Denver Nuggets Win One, Lose One

Nuggets at Jazz Box Score | Highlights

Nuggets vs 76ers Box Score | Highlights

On Saturday before the Denver Nuggets played the Utah Jazz I called for a “herculean” effort that would allow for Denver to pull off an unsuspected, but overdue, road win without Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. They managed to do exactly that thanks to tremendous team play on both offense and defense that actually had the Jazz faithful booing their team in the second half.

Every Nugget player provided a boost. The bigs finally started playing the pick and roll as if they had to share in the responsibility to defend it and offensively the passing was tremendous which lead to a hoard of easy baskets.

Tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers they started out in the same fashion. The defense was moving with purpose and intensity while the offense was full of movement and pin point passing. Sadly, things fell apart in the second quarter and did not get any better in the third when the Nuggets looked to be out of gas.

I thought J.R. Smith eschewed the beautiful passing game the Nuggets were playing and tried going one on one far too much. I mentioned he was focusing too much on his own offense lately instead of using his ability to penetrate to earn easy looks for his teammates. In Utah and again tonight he did a very good job of driving and dishing. However, J.R.’s spirit of giving disappeared as the game wore on and J.R. took a few misguided shots and single handedly shifted the offense into neutral.

J.R. entered the game with 3:15 remaining in the first quarter and within five minutes of floor time had already collected three assists. J.R. played another 30 minutes and tallied not even one assist after that.

The other major issue was fatigue. It really looked like the Nuggets were worn out in the third quarter as they stopped playing the pick and roll aggressively on defense and the movement was nowhere near as crisp on offense.

I expected the Nuggets to build up the strength for one more run, the only question was would it come in time to make a difference in the outcome. Denver saw a return to their aggressive defense over the final eight minutes of the night, but Elton Brand hit a couple of really tough turnaround jumpers with the shot clock running down and Samuel Dalembert threw in a terrible banking perimeter shot on a third occasion. Shots like those were enough to keep Denver from clawing back for the win.

As happy as I was with the effort and execution in Utah I was equally disappointed in the loss to Philly. The Nuggets battled and were oh so close to what would have been a very nice win and I understand how deflating the loss of Birdman must have been, but this is a game they really still should have won.

After tonight’s games the Nuggets are only two games behind Dallas for the second spot in the West and I am sure the return of Carmelo and Chauncey will provide a big boost, but the Nuggets continue to give away games that they need in order to give themselves the best chance at repeating last season’s postseason exploits. The good news is Lawson is proving he is capable of picking up the slack when he has to and hopefully Denver is learning that passing and movement makes scoring much easier and that is something I hope Melo is noticing from the sidelines.

Additional Nuggets

  • As any of you who watched the game saw the Nuggets really killed themselves with turnovers and missed free throws. Kenyon had a decent offensive game continually making himself available for passes in the lane, but his free throw shooting was abysmal. He continues to shoot the ball from the wrong side of his head. Kenyon actually shoots his free throws with the ball starting in front of his left eye. I have said this before, but wherever you are right now try making a shooting motion with your right arm starting with your palm in front of your left eye and observe how your elbow sticks out like a chicken wing. Is he just unwilling to change or are the coaches afraid to make him change his sickening set up? Anyway, Denver missed 12 of their 29 free throws led by Kenyon’s 3-9 performance. Take away a couple of J.R.’s six turnovers and drop in a couple of Kenyon’s six misses from the charity stripe and we are looking at a completely different game. It was not just Kenyon though. Nene had a big miss with just over 30 seconds left that could have cut the Sixer lead to only one and Joey Graham missed both of his attempts.
  • How painful must it have been for Philly fans to watch Ty Lawson? With the seventeenth selection in the 2009 NBA Draft the Sixers drafted Jrue Holiday. One pick later the Timberwolves selected Lawson to trade to Denver. Maybe Holiday will turn out to be decent, but watching Lawson torment Philly every minute he was on the floor had to have left them wondering what could have been.
  • The worst portion of the game in my opinion was late in the third when both Lawson and Nene exited the game for their regularly scheduled rest. Nene and Lawson were the Nuggets two best offensive players against the 76ers and Denver predictably struggled to score with both on the bench. Nene came to the bench with 4:09 left in the third with Lawson following 38 seconds later. When Lawson departed Denver was up 74-73. When Lawson returned 11:11 mark of the fourth the Nuggets were down eight.
  • I have to talk about Lawson some more. I thought he looked tentative down the stretch in Sacramento just a week ago. After logging a few more minutes he looks like a cold blooded thriller. Not only has his ability and willingness to pass in a crowd improved, but he is learning how to lead, especially when to score and when to involve his teammates. His play at the end of both halves was exceptional. Scott Hastings pointed out during the broadcast that Ty checked the clock and noticed Denver could get a two for one at the end of the half and with Lou Williams laying off of him calmly drained a three. Then on the ensuing possession he once again very calmly dribbled the clock down did a little shimmy to freeze Williams and dropped in a 22 footer. At the end of the game, Ty attacked the rim off a pick and roll and made a very difficult running lay in, with Kersey, CO product Jason Smith all over him, to make it a one point game with 11 seconds left. Lawson already seems to always get the shot he wants. He will never be the defensive point guard that Chauncey was in his prime, although he can be very good on that end of the floor in my opinion, but he can absolutely be a better offensive player than Chauncey ever was.
  • I have to give Eddie Jordan some credit for the set he designed after Denver cut the lead down to two in the last minute. After the Nuggets continued to repeatedly stifle the high screen with Allen Iverson, he gave AI the ball up top again, but instead of another pick and roll, he brought Andre Igoudala to the weak side block off a delayed cut. He easily beat the unsuspecting J.R.to the spot and Smith had no choice but to foul.
  • For those of you who were still withholding judgment, Malik Allen is not going to help the Nuggets. I know someone had to replace Chris Andersen, who left the game in the second quarter with an ankle sprain, but after a couple of minutes of Allen, why not try Renaldo Balkman or even Johan Petro. The way the Nuggets were passing the ball around the rim Balkman would have fit in very well with his ability to find openings around the baseline. Allen was only a -9 for the game, but in the 7:54 he played in the second half Denver was outscored 23-8. If Birdman is out for a prolonged period of time, I can only pray Allen is not the first big off the bench.
  • Also, Arron Afflalo played a very good game.  His effort was evident throughout the night and he hit two big jumpers in the final minutes and snagged an offensive rebound, missed, rebounded his miss and forced in a lay up with Dalembert fouling him from behind and Brand in his face.  I continue to enjoy watching him play.  He has struggled a little on defense a little over the past week or two, but his effort is ever present.

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Lots and Lots of Problems

You have no idea how badly I want to sit in on a film session with the Denver Nuggets. I know in this day and age players are given individual DVDs of things the coaches want them to review and I do not even know if the entire team gets together in a room and just sits and watches a quarter or half together. If they still do I want to be there.

Part of me would like to ask, “Why?” Why were you standing there? Notice how you are neither helping a teammate nor are you guarding anyone? Why did you defend the pick and roll like that? Do you see how by standing back here you compromised the entire defense? Why did you not box out? Why did no one find the ball in transition? Why did you not cut to the basket on that play?

Alas, asking those kinds of accusatory questions might not come across as constructive criticism, but watching the way the Nuggets have floundered through the previous few games I have to wonder what goes on behind closed doors. Is there any accountability? There certainly is none on the court.

The reality is Denver played very solid defense last season. They could be a dominant defensive team when they were focused and playing together as evidenced during their playoff run. I expected to see an even better defensive effort from Denver this season due to the fact that they had another year together to build their defensive cohesion and the added motivation that should have been created after reaching the doorstep of the NBA finals last season.

Sadly, the opposite is true. The Nuggets’ defense has been very porous, especially during the current losing streak. Denver has fallen to 17th in the league in defensive efficiency. They have not been that low since the 2001-02 season when they were 26th.

The lack of defense is a problem from the top down. Either the schemes are flawed or the players are not executing them correctly. Sometimes it looks like both of those problems are present at the same time which makes it especially painful to watch. Everything starts with their inability to slow the pick and roll and that filters down to their incapacity to stop penetration or help and recover.

Offensively, Denver has had issues as well. During Chauncey’s absence J.R. Smith has not been playing up to par. He has the ability to get his teammates easy buckets. In both the pick and roll and off of penetration he is an above average passer for a shooting guard. Unfortunately, J.R. has been looking for his own shot almost exclusively. In the six games since Chauncey was hurt J.R. has had either on or no assists in four of them. In fact, his assist rate is tied for the second lowest in his career (11.1).

Carmelo has had some very good offensive games against Memphis, Atlanta and Portland. He was decidedly less effective against New Orleans and Sacramento. The Hornets doubled Melo very aggressively and instead of taking advantage of the gaps in the defense Melo forced a bevy of poor shots. Melo does not deserve all the blame though. His teammates did not give him many options as they spent a great deal of time standing and watching as opposed to cutting to the basket.

Against Sacramento, Carmelo did score 34 points. It just took him 35 shots to do it. He was banged up badly enough he actually shot a free throw left handed towards the end of the third quarter. You would think if he had a difficult time shooting a free throw he would have done his best to avoid shots of that length. That was not the case. For some reason he jacked up nine jumpers after the left handed free throw. If he was injured badly enough he could not get a free throw over the front of the rim, why did he take so many long jumpers after that? On the other hand, perhaps he could not get a better shot off than long jumpers. If that was the case, he should have relied on his teammates to set him up instead of trying to create his own shot.

I am not saying the Nuggets should have won every game without Billups. To be fair missing Chauncey is a big deal. Lawson has played well, probably better than we should expect a rookie point guard to play after being forced into the starting lineup and Anthony Carter has not been horrible, in fact he made a couple of very good plays down the stretch in Sacramento. However, the difference between Chauncey Billups (31.8 minutes a game with a PER of 20.03) and Ty Lawson (20.4 minutes per game with a PER of 16.01) and Ty Lawson (26 minute a game without Chauncey) and Anthony Carter (23.2 minutes a game without Chauncey with a PER of 9.13) is significant.

I can understand losing at New Orleans, Memphis, Portland OR Sacramento. I cannot accept losing at New Orleans, Memphis, Portland AND Sacramento. At some point the Nuggets need to decide enough is enough, put forth a full 48 minute effort at both ends of the floor and win.

Tonight in Utah they will be without Chauncey and possibly Carmelo as well. Honestly, I have no confidence in them to win tonight. The good news is Utah might be without Deron Williams. Perhaps one herculean team effort would indeed earn them a much needed road victory.  Denver has just shown no ability whatsoever to come together and put forth that effort.