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.
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.
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.
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.
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.