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.
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