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.
- 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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