2009-10 Game 54: Denver Nuggets 118 – Cleveland Cavaliers 116 OT

Box Score | Highlights

If you did not enjoy that game, you probably should not bother watching basketball anymore. When Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James first entered the NBA, tonight’s game is what the league had in mind. Two all-stars at the top of their game playing for two contenders going at each other possession after possession in a tight nationally televised game.

Ultimately, it was Carmelo Anthony who made the game winning jumper when LeBron’s last second heave, that was dangerously close to going in, bounced off the rim.

The final Nuggets possession was very fascinating to watch. It looked to me like Carmelo set a screen that was just bad enough to ensure LeBron did not have to switch onto Chauncey and then immediately set himself up for a pass from Chauncey. He did not think of rolling and having the Cavs defense collapse on him and thus take away his chance to take the final shot. Carmelo had been driving by LeBron regularly and in his post game confab with Craig Sager shared that he knew LeBron would expect him to drive. Melo gave him a jab step and to get just enough room to get the shot off and drained it in LeBron’s face.

It was a magnificent shot and even more so for the way Carmelo chose what he wanted to do, set it up and then calmly knocked it down.

You can read my thoughts about Carmelo announcing his return to the upper echelon of super stars on the Daily Dime (box 9), plus I answered a bunch of trade deadline related questions during the game in the Daily Dime Chat so check that out too.

Apart from the incredible back and forth between LeBron and Carmelo another part of the game I was interested to see was how would the Nuggets react to all the distractions that have surrounded them the previous few days not only with the shocking announcement by Karl on Tuesday, but with the trade deadline passing.

I fully expected Denver to come out and play hard for Coach Karl and they certainly did not disappoint. Their intensity and effort in the first quarter was sensational. I also thought it was interesting to see Karl let Denver play. With the Nuggets having the ball in a tie game at the end of both regulation and overtime George Karl chose to let the possession play out and not call a timeout. I liked the decision both times. There was plenty of time to work with and why let the Cavs take time to discuss exactly what they want to do. Plus with Carmelo and Chauncey on the floor, you know one of them will get a makeable shot.

I think the situation with Coach Karl will help keep this team focused. They obviously respect him and I think they will go their best to give their all for him.

The other distraction for the Nuggets was the passing of the trade deadline. They could have sulked about how they did not make a move to improve the roster, but it was almost as if the trade deadline did not ever exist. Then again with what little the Nuggets had to offer other teams, the existence of the trade deadline was somewhat fictional for Denver. Still, it is a stressful day for players and coaches alike.

All in all it was a great win for Denver. The played well on both ends of the floor and earned a win against a team that had won 13 straight and is nearly impossible to beat at home.

Additional Game 54 Nuggets

  • Carmelo and LeBron combined for 63 points in the second half and overtime.
  • Sebastian Pruiti of Nets are Scorching, started a side project called NBA Playbook where he details interesting plays and end game situations. He noticed in the all-star game George Karl had Kevin Durant play LeBron instead of pressuring the inbounder and as a result LeBron could not receive the inbounds pass. He wondered if this scheme would be implemented to stop LeBron in late game situations. Well tonight the very same coach, George Karl, guarded the inbounds pass and did not provide help when LeBron flashed to the ball to receive the inbounds pass. During the all-star game there were almost six more seconds on the clock and thus more of a risk LeBron catches the ball and gets a very good shot off or makes a pass to an open teammate. Still, I find it intriguing that Karl used two completely different tactics on LeBron in less than a week.
  • Birdman left the game early with a back strain. No word as of yet as to his status for tomorrow, but to my knowledge Andersen does not have any kind of history of back trouble.

Featured Blogs: Cavs the Blog | Fear the Sword

Quiet Trade Deadline for the Denver Nuggets?

With the trade deadline just over 12 hours away, it seems to be highly unlikely that the Denver Nuggets make a move. The only players they have been rumored to be interested in are Tyrus Thomas and Ben Wallace. I thought Wallace was a logical option for Denver as he has a small expiring contract and might be interested in playing for a team that doesn’t suck. The problem with Wallace is he is not an ideal defender for the Lakers’ long front line, but he could certainly help the Nuggets hang on to the second seed.

I never understood the Tyrus Thomas rumors although I have repeatedly read the Nuggets have inquired about him. The only way Denver could send the Bulls enough expiring contracts to match Thomas’ $4,743,598 contract is if Johan Petro and Anthony Carter approve of the trade. In addition to that roadblock Denver would have to part with not only Petro, but Malik Allen too leaving them with only four bigs and Thomas is not much of a banger. If the Bulls were interested in taking Renaldo Balkman back instead of an expiring contract, it would make such a trade more palatable for Denver, but all this is under the assumption that the Bulls would be willing to part with a player they drafted fourth just three years ago for expiring contracts and Balkman. As we have pointed out before, Denver has very little else to offer with the Grizzlies already owning Denver’s 2010 first rounder and the only other tradable asset being the rights to Linas Kleiza.

The only other way the Nuggets could acquire Thomas from the Bulls would be part of a larger deal where they take on an undesirable contract from Chicago, but the Nuggets are not likely to be in the business of adding long term salary with the contracts they already have on the books for next season and furthermore, agreeing to accept more than Thomas would require the Nuggets parting with one of their key rotation players. It just is not worth it.

Denver does have one ace up their sleeve, a $3.696 million trade exception, one of the largest current trade exceptions in the league, thanks to the trade that sent Steven Hunter to Memphis.  It could prove useful in acquiring Ben Wallace, but do not look for Denver to offer anyone salary relief as that does not jive with their budget conscious philosophy.  Still, if the right offer comes along, it is a nice arrow to have in the quiver.

The one developing situation to keep an eye on is whether or not Drew Gooden will be bought out by the Los Angeles Clippers. There are currently conflicting Twitter reports regarding Gooden’s future with the Clips. David Aldridge is saying he is staying in L.A. while Adrian Wojnarowski is saying he is on his way to a buy out. I am not sure if the Nuggets would have any interest in Gooden if he were a free agent, but I am certain Denver will be a destination of choice for any big men who are bought out following the trade deadline.

Some have wondered if the announcement from yesterday regarding Coach Karl would make the Nuggets more or less likely to make a move. I firmly believe it plays no role in what the Nuggets do tomorrow and beyond. If they have a chance to make a move or signing to improve the roster without compromising their budget, they will pull the trigger.

I find it unlikely that trigger is pulled tomorrow, but keep an eye on the TrueHoop Trade Reports page for all the latest news.

George Karl to Battle Cancer a Second Time

I was shocked and saddened by the announcement today that George Karl has been diagnosed with throat cancer. Just yesterday I was writing about how I believed Karl had come through his battle with prostate cancer, reorganized his priorities and had reached a point where he could have passion for coaching while keeping his professional life in the proper perspective. Now he could potentially miss the chance to coach his team over the final few weeks of the season.

According to the Nuggets, Karl has been stricken with a very treatable squamous cell neck/head cancer and the chances for a full recovery are very good. The initial statement was that treatment would last six weeks, but later in the article the time frame is listed as 45 days. During that time Karl will be subjected to painful and draining radiation treatment.

During his press conference Karl was emotional, but resolute. He asked for support instead of sympathy and while clearly not looking forward to what lay ahead was also confident he could beat cancer a second time.

Karl claimed he will be around the team as much as his strength allows him to be. Although he announced that he is currently only going slated to miss two upcoming games, at Golden State on February 25 and at Minnesota on March 10, it is likely he will miss several other games as his body struggles to handle the onslaught of radiation. He will continue to attend practice as frequently as possible although most likely as an observer instead of a participant.

Obviously the primary concern for Nuggets fans is the health of Coach Karl and even though his announcement today leaves many questions in the minds of fans about how the team and front office will deal with the possibility of their head coach being physically incapable of fulfilling his duties, I do not feel this is the time to discuss the more trivial points of this story. There will be plenty of time for that over the next few days and weeks.

I trust Coach Karl knows we are all pulling for him and I know personally I will be praying for both him and his family as they fight this battle together. Good luck coach, and may God be with you.

Additional Thoughts on the George Karl Extension

I promised some additional thoughts on the George Karl contract extension. There are two issues with the one year, $4.5 million extension Karl and the Denver Nuggets agreed to last week. First, should George Karl coach the Denver Nuggets next season and secondly, is $4.5 million too much or too little?

With the progress the Denver Nuggets have made under George Karl, earning their first appearance in the Western Conference Finals in 24 seasons and they, currently legitimate contenders and in second place in a competitive Western Conference, I certainly believe he deserves to coach here until it is clear that he is not physically able to do the job, the team is obviously backsliding or Phil Jackson or Greg Popovich call Mark Warkentien and ask for a job.

I was never of the opinion that Karl should have been sent packing primarily when that movement was at its peak two seasons ago, because there was no one that made sense as a replacement. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but now in 2009-10 I think it is clear that sticking with him was the right choice.

My biggest issue with him was he seemed to have lost his fire and was very passive. I cannot blame him either as dealing with cancer, both his and Coby’s, can put what is important into perspective. (I want to point out right now that the following is speculative although Karl touches on the increased focus he wanted to give to his family in interviews here – a must read piece from 5280 – and here.) Karl talked openly about some of his regrets as a father and he did his best to correct some issues in that area. It makes sense that basketball would have seemed somewhat trivial until he was able to get those other priorities in place. I believe now that Karl has dealt with his personal life, he is able to once again delve into basketball with a passion while knowing how to keep it from taking over his life.

As far as the money, Karl is still behind coaches like Phil Jackson, Popovich, Larry Brown, Doc Rivers, Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni, Jerry Sloan, Don Nelson and most likely Stan Van Gundy who just agreed to an extension to a contract that paid him $4.0 million a season. Karl is on the top ten wins list of all time, and is coaching a team that is potentially on the verge of their greatest season of all time. Even for a team that is trying to keep costs down, the Nuggets are fair when it comes to compensation and $4.5 million is fair for a coach with Karl’s credentials. Not to mention, Karl is currently slightly underpaid at $3.0 million (even though I hate to consider anyone who makes $3 million a year underpaid).

If you were looking for something scathing, sorry to let you down, but this is another level headed move by the Nuggets that will only help to stabilize the franchise as they pursue their first ever NBA Finals appearance.

George Karl and Denver Nuggets Agree to One Year Extension

From Ric Bucher:

Denver Nuggets coach George Karl has agreed to a one-year, $4.5 million contract extension, according to a league source.

For now I have to say that is a good thing, but look for a little more analysis later.

2009-10 Game 53: Denver Nuggets 92 – San Antonio Spurs 111

Box Score | Lowlights

Give the San Antonio Spurs credit. They came into the Pepsi Center and flat out whooped the Denver Nuggets 111-92. I have mentioned the heart that this Nuggets team has, but the Spurs were so good that it looked like the Nuggets realized early in the fourth quarter that they had no chance to stage one of their comebacks and they basically taped out.

After defeating the Spurs twice in San Antonio this season the Nuggets seemed to take the Spurs lightly. San Antonio has not been playing their typical stout defense as they had in the past. However, tonight they looked as good as they have in a long time on that end of the floor and the Nuggets certainly did not appear to be prepared for the defensive effort the Spurs put forth.

Denver took the easy way out settling for jumpers and playing incredibly stationary on offense. Even on the possessions where Denver passed the ball, they were barely probing the membrane the Spurs set up at the three point line rarely making any threatening movements. To make things worse the shots the Nuggets repeatedly settled for were not falling and they were done in not so much by their inability to make a three, but their inability to keep themselves from jacking up the next one.

Chauncey forced several threes in the second half on his way to a 1-8 performance while J.R. attempted four, although none of his could be considered poor shots. Carmelo was the lone Nugget who shot well from behind the arc, finishing 2-3 from distance, but his shot selection was no better than Chauncey’s.

Melo started off the game probing the defense and making a couple of nice passes as he did against Dallas, but the way he played against the Spurs was wildly different from how he played against the Mavs. Instead of showing any kind of patience, he forced contested jumper after contested jumpers. The Spurs give Carmelo as much respect as any team in the league as the frequently send a player to double while the other three all have at least one foot in the lane ready to help at a moments notice.

While Melo forced a good number of bad shots that lead to his 6-17 performance we once again have to go through the chicken and the egg discourse questioning if Melo did not pass because no one would cut or if no one cut because Melo would not pass. Personnel certainly played a role with Denver’s immobility. Kenyon is Denver’s best slasher and he was wearing fancy clothes on the sideline. Neither Birdman nor Malik Allen like to cut both preferring to stand aside incase a pass comes their way off of penetration. Still it is frustrating to see Denver fall back into their no movement jumper chucking mode all the while watching and wondering if they have any idea how badly they are shooting themselves in the foot.

While I hate any loss, I have to wonder if Denver needed a wakeup call following their drubbing of the Mavericks to make sure they stay focused during the all-star break and do not enter the backside of the season overly confident.

Additional Game 53 Nuggets

  • George Hill was fantastic for the Spurs and I cannot fathom Tony Parker helping San Antonio tonight as much as Hill did. Hill was a bullet in transition always getting to the rim when he had the ball no matter how many backpedaling Nuggets were in his way. He did a very good job of penetrating and getting into the lane and defensively he is a bulldog. Rumor had it the Spurs were dead set on drafting Nicolas Batum when he was snatched up right in front of them. With Batum gone they “settled” for Hill. Let me tell you, if San Antonio had Batum instead of Hill, I am not sure they would be one of the top eight teams in the west right now.
  • Not only were the Spurs on their game defensively, but they carved Denver’s defense up with relative ease. The Spurs took advantage of Denver on the pick and roll no matter how it was defended. On switches the guards patiently backed out and attacked the big man who was in front of them. If Denver trapped, the ball handler threaded a pass to his rolling teammate. When the guard tried to fight over the screen whichever Spur had the ball would dart directly into the lane. Regardless of what scheme Denver is going to use, they need to tighten up their positioning as they are once again too easy to pick apart with the pick and roll.
  • The play that summed up the night was when J.R. Smith missed a breakaway layup because he was afraid of 35 year old Antonio McDyess who was hustling back behind him. Instead of sprinting up the floor and throwing down a dunk, he slowed a bit to make sure his body was shielding the shot off from McDyess, who has had multiple knee surgeries and has yet to block a shot in the month of February, and missed the lay in. He recovered the miss and later in the possession had a chance to redeem himself with a wide open three from the left wing, but missed. San Antonio pushed the ball up the floor and Roger Mason splashed a three of his own for the five point swing putting the Spurs up 15 instead of ten.
  • Malik Allen has done fine on a couple of occasions, but I wonder what would have happened had Johan Petro started instead of Allen.  The way both teams played it probably would not have made a bit of difference although Allen seems to struggle when called upon too frequently.  Plus for a guy who lives for the 18 footer, he has passed up an open look in order to drive into traffic and toss up a hopeless shot in each of the past two games.  Allen did do a decent job defending Tim Duncan in the opening few minutes and I guess that is about all we can ask of him.

Featured Blogs: 48 Minutes of Hell | Pounding the Rock

2009-10 Game 52: Denver Nuggets 127 – Dallas Mavericks 91

Box Score | Highlights

If you were wondering what would have to happen tonight in order for the top story after the game to be something other than the return of Carmelo Anthony I think we found our answer. Carmelo played a very solid game, but the story of the night was the severity of the 127-91 drubbing the Nuggets laid down on the Mavericks.

I do not want to hear one word about how Dallas played in California last night and had to travel east to play at altitude on the second night of a back to back. The Nuggets were in a very similar position Saturday night as they played in Utah the night after winning in Los Angeles against the Lakers. While it is true the flight to Denver from the west coast is longer than the flight to Utah, the Nuggets had to play without their two all-stars. Denver did fall behind by 18, but fought back to get to within three. Dallas on the other hand folded like an origami swan.

The Nuggets did not do anything special on either end of the court. They ran their offense, moved the ball and made shots. Defensively, they switched the high screen with Dirk to ensure he did not get an open look on the pick and pop, but apart from that did a little less switching than normal. Afflalo and J.R. did a solid job of chasing Terry around the many screens that were laid in their path.

The bulk of the credit for the blowout I believe belongs to the Nuggets’ bigs who controlled the paint and dominated the Mavericks front line. The group of Nene, Chris Andersen, Johan Petro and Malik Allen out produced Dirk, Drew Gooden, Eduardo Najera and James Singleton by fifteen points, 54-39, and seven rebounds, 25-18. It was not a matter of floor time as both foursomes played a combined 96 minutes.

Of course, it was great to see Carmelo back on the court. I was worried about how patient he would be with his offense as there was the possibility that he would try to get himself going by taking many quick shots early on. Those fears proved to be unfounded as Melo looked to pass as often as he looked to shoot. Carmelo started off with a nice drop off to Chauncey who ran behind him to get room for a midrange jumper on the right side. He then fed Nene off a drive that earned the big man two free throws. He made another nice drop off to Chris Andersen that sent Birdman to the line for two free throws a few minutes later. Carmelo only attempted four shots in the first quarter, making two threes and missing two midrange jumpers, but he totaled three assists good for six points and that is not including the four points that were created by his passing that came from free throws by Nene and Birdman.

Carmelo ended the game with six assists and 19 points on 8-16 shooting. Carmelo mixed in some drives and post ups and he dealt adequately with the double teaming scheme the Mavs threw at him. Overall it was a very smooth return to action and with one game remaining before the All-Star break I expect we will see Carmelo hitting on all cylinders heading into the last two months of the season.  Any concern about the ankle problem lingering ended in the closing seconds of the third quarter.  Carmelo caught the ball just right of the top of the circle and blew past Josh Howard with a nice move where he stepped across Howards’ body with his left foot as he ripped the ball across to his right triggering a right handed drive that terminated at the rim with an uncontested layup.

If Melo wanted to wait until his explosiveness was back before he returned, it looks like he waited long enough.

Additional Game 52 Nuggets

  • My favorite sequence of the game came with 3:03 left in the third quarter. J.R. Smith had just hit a three in transition to put Denver up 90-60. Coming out of a Mavericks’ timeout J.R. was hounding Jason Terry 40 feet from the basket, Johan Petro was all over Drew Gooden, who had the ball outside the three point line, and Carmelo stayed with Josh Howard tight enough when he tried cutting towards Gooden to get the ball that Gooden chose to call another timeout just ten seconds after the previous break. Of course after the second time out J.R. fouled Jason Terry shooting a three, which was not quite as high on my list of favorite moments, but I loved seeing the Nuggets playing that hard on defense with a 30 point lead.
  • Did Dirk know that Kenyon Martin did not play tonight and that he was being guarded by Malik Allen for the first seven minutes of the game? Usually Dirk is a very smart and aggressive player. Against the Nuggets tonight he was overly content to toss up contested jumpers. Dirk is no jitterbug, but he sure as heck has a quickness advantage on Allen and I was shocked that Nowitzki never attacked Allen off the dribble.
  • Anyone who watches the Nuggets on Altitude knows all about the four tacos for a dollar with the purchase of a drink promo when Denver scores over 100 points from Taco Bell. There needs to be a filet minion for a dollar with the purchase of a drink promo for when Johan Petro scores in double figures.
  • When Petro gets important minutes he usually does not disappoint. Last season he was more than adequate covering Dwight Howard in the Nuggets big win in Orlando. Petro’s biggest problem is that his hands have a negative reaction to leather that causes the ball to repel from them when he tries to catch it. Tonight, he displayed very good hands latching on to passes and rebounds alike.
  • Denver has had three incredible shooting performances from behind the arc over the past six games. In San Antonio on the final day of January they were 9-12. Five days later in Los Angeles they converted 15-22 against the Lakers and tonight versus Dallas they drained 11-18 three point attempts. Over their previous six games Denver has converted 45.6% of their threes. I do not recall a stretch like that ever although I am sure some of those great shooting teams of the 80’s had similar streaks.
  • These two teams play one more time this season on March 29 in Dallas with the winner earning the tie breaker. The bad news is that game is the fifth game in seven nights, all of them on the road, for Denver while Dallas has a day off at home before the game.
  • The Nuggets had possibly their best shooting night in years as they posted a true shooting percentage, which accounts for free throws and three pointers, of 71.3%. The closest they have been to 70% in the year and a half I have charted their game by game performances was last season when they posted a 69.6% true shooting percentage when they blew out the Raptors in the game that finally ended the Sam Mitchell era in Toronto.
  • The Nuggets used to struggle mightily with zone defenses, but they seem to have overcome their inability to deal with them.  The Mavs themselves have been able to frustrate Denver with their 2-3 zone, but ever since Chauncey arrived he has opened up the floor thanks to his shooting ability.  As long as the Nuggets move without the ball and refrain from holding the ball for too long, they can tear any zone up quickly.
  • By the way, Kenyon sat out with knee tendinitis while Dallas played without Shawn Marion, back tightness, and Erick Dampier who is suffering from a sore knee.  Ty Lawson and Birdman deserve a mention for how well they played.  Birdman is playing some of his best ball of his career over the past few games and Lawson followed up his stellar performance in Utah as a spot starter with a tremendous game tonight.  He ran the one man fast break on a couple of occasions and did a very good job of setting up open teammates.

Featured Blogs: The Two Man Game | Mavs Moneyball

The Denver Nuggets Continue to Impress

The Denver Nuggets split a back to back in Los Angeles and Utah over the weekend and despite the loss in Utah, I continue to be impressed with this team and the way they are playing.

Denver started the weekend off in style defeating the Lakers 126-113 (Box Score, Forum Blue & Gold) . Obviously the Nuggets played great on offense lead by Chauncey Billups’ career high 39, 37 of which came in the first three quarters thanks to nine fancy threes. Chauncey was slowed in the fourth quarter after rolling his ankle, but J.R. Smith picked up where BIllups left off dropping in 16 fourth quarter points to close out the Lakers.

It is one thing to be hot on offense. Any team can catch fire for a night and bury their opponent. To me the real story was the way Denver defended the Lakers in the second half. The two Lakers who have had their way with Denver in the past are Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Those two combined to score 33 of the Lakers’ 64 first half points. However, in the second half Denver held L.A. to 49 points and Kobe and Pau only netted 17 between the two of them.

Kobe was red hot in the first quarter producing an impressive 20 points. Kobe is an incredibly competitive individual, which is news to no one. After the credit Arron Afflalo received for his performance against Kobe in the first meeting this season, you knew the Black Mamba would be out to prove Afflalo could not handle him. Despite the big scoring quarter, I thought Afflalo did about as good a job as he did previously. Kobe was just hitting difficult shots. Even with Afflalo playing solid D, the Nuggets chose to double Kobe for much of the second half to prevent him from having one of those nights.

With the double teaming of Kobe, it would stand to reason that Pau would get loose inside and dominate with his touch and passing ability. Not so. The Nuggets also had a new wrinkle for Pau. When Pau caught the ball with his back to the rim, the Nuggets waited for him to put the ball on the floor and then sent a double team at him as well. Gasol tends to take his time in the post and once he starts dribbling, you can expect him to dribble more than once or twice. Knowing that, Denver was able to wait for him to dribble before they doubled him. This prevented him for working to get exactly the shot he wanted and either rush the shot or pass out of the double.

It was a significant change for Denver who generally dislikes doubling anyone, but it was an effective strategy and a big reason why they were able to win the game. With Kobe and Gasol held in check, none of the Lakers supporting cast failed to rise to the occasion. Ron Artest was 3-9 and scored 12 points. Andrew Bynum shot 5-7, but only scored two second half points. Derek Fisher had four points on seven shots. Sasha Vujacic missed all five of his threes and only totaled four points on six shots.

The Los Angeles bench did manage to score 37 points, which is a good total. The kicker is it took them 36 shots to get there. Conversely the Denver bench (J.R. Smith, Ty Lawson and Chris Andersen) racked up 47 points, but did so on a mere 27 shots. Birdman actually outrebounded the entire Laker bench by himself 15-13.

If there is bad news, it has to be that despite Birdman’s aforementioned 15 boards and stout 12 rebound effort from Kenyon Martin L.A. pulled down 18 offensive boards and outrebounded Denver by 7.

The other aspect of the game that I found interesting was Nene was aggressive offensively against Bynum, which has not always been the case. In the past Nene has shied away from attacking bigger defenders such as Bynum, but he went right at him on a few occasions and had success. Now he just needs to pull down a few more rebounds to help reduce the Lakers’ offensive rebounding advantage.

The very next night Denver found themselves in Utah once again playing without Carmelo Anthony, but this time sans Chauncey Billups as well. Denver had already defeated Utah three times this season, the Jazz had been red hot and were sure to be highly motivated to dump the shorthanded Nuggets.

I do not have time to go into detail on that game, (Box Score, Highlights, Salt City Hoops, SLC Dunk) but I will say that I was thrilled with the effort and heart the Nuggets displayed. Playing without Melo and Chauncey and on the second night of a back to back (one of the late game in the Pacific time zone flying east that Greg Popovich thinks are unfair) and with Utah sitting at home for two days waiting for Denver to roll into town, the odds were not in the Nuggets’ favor.

Instead of folding after getting down 18 in the third quarter the Nuggets fought back and were within six points of the streaking Jazz with less than three minutes left.

Denver certainly lacked effort in some games earlier in the season, but they seem to have focused in on how important every game truly is. That bodes very well for the future even as Denver heads into possibly the toughest stretch of their regular season schedule.

In closing, I will say that most people, especially most guys young or old, fancy themselves as being tough. One thing I learned as a father is to never assume you could handle the pain someone else is experiencing. That point was struck home to me when my son was about 12 years old and foolishly decided sun tan lotion was unnecessary for someone who was in the sun as much as he was and returned from a trip to the lake with friends with skin that could easily be classified as well done. When it was time for bed, he was crying because his skin hurt so badly. My first reaction was to tell him to quit being such a baby until I stopped to put myself in his place. Maybe it was his own fault and maybe I would not be crying as he was had I scalded my exposed skin as badly as he did, but would I be able to lay down and fall asleep without uttering a single complaint? I had to figure as tough as I believed myself to be, a sunburn like that was certainly painful and while it was my job to make sure my son was not a sissy, it was not my job to dismiss his pain and label him a pansy.

I am sure you are wondering why I am telling you such a boring story. My point is I am really shocked that Carmelo Anthony has not played since spraining his ankle two weeks before the Utah game. Carmelo himself said the ankle was not as badly sprained as those he has suffered in the past. After seeing video of him working out before the game against the Lakers and knowing he has been practicing I started questioning both his toughness and how badly he wants to play. I do not take making accusations like that lightly, which is why I shared the sunburn story. Perhaps Carmleo’s ankle is much worse than any of us know, or have been led to believe. Perhaps working out is causing more pain than you or I could endure. We simply do not know. While an absence of this length is suspicious, it is not enough to lead me to proclaim Melo is a sissy or is more interested in making sure he can drop 30 points a night when he returns.

I have not seen evidence of Melo skipping out on playing when he was banged up in the past. In fact, if you recall he finished the game against the Indiana Pacers in which he broke his hand last season.

Do I want Carmelo to play? Absolutely. Is the fact he is missing games causing more harm than good? I think that question is up for debate. Maybe the Nuggets go 6-2 or 7-1 instead of 5-3 over the eight games he has missed. However, players like Kenyon Martin and Arron Afflalo have been forced to raise their game and now the team knows that those two are capable of answering the bell should the need arise. That is a good thing and had Melo only missed a game or two Kenyon might not have been such a force against San Antonio and Afflalo probably does not get the opportunity to hit the game winning shot against Sacramento.

The wins in Houston, San Antonio and Los Angeles without Carmelo were big wins for this team and I believe have helped build tremendous momentum for this team and helped them truly believe in what they can accomplish together.

Chauncey Billups is an All-Star

The Denver Nuggets have announced that Commissioner David Stern has named Chauncey Billups as the player who will replace the injured Chris Paul in the 2010 NBA All-Star game.  Congratulations to Chauncey on a well deserved honor.

2009-10 Game 47: Denver Nuggets 103 – San Antonio Spurs 89

Box Score | Highlights

Who needs Carmelo Anthony when you have…Kenyon Martin?

When Kenyon announced before the season that he wanted to be more aggressive offensively I do not think any Nugget fan thought to themselves, “Thank God, it is about time!” With Carmelo Anthony dressed in fancy clothes for the fourth straight game Kenyon lead the Nuggets in scoring and rebounding and Denver won 103-89 in San Antonio against the Spurs.

Typically when Kenyon has a big scoring night he has three or four, or more, highlight reel dunks. Today I do not think Martin had even one slam dunk, but converted on a variety of right handed jump hooks and open jumpers. He even tossed in his patented and this one is for your mother late game three to close off his work week.

To be honest, when I saw Joey Graham’s name in the starting lineup, my heart sank. It was not that I did not think the Nuggets were capable of winning in San Antonio without Melo, just that it was not very likely. However, the fact that Melo was out again gave us a chance to see which of the previous two games would be validated. Would it be the gritty win in Houston, or the no show in Oklahoma City on Friday night? I firmly believed the true Nuggets were on display in Houston and the loss in Oklahoma City was the fluke and I think today’s win proved that to be the case.

The Nuggets did two things very well on defense. They forced Tim Duncan off the block when he tried to post up and the guards really tried hard to fight over top the high screen the Spurs kept throwing at them possession after possession. The bigs did a decent job of hedging and doing just enough to prevent the Spurs guards from getting in the lane too often.

More than anything I was impressed with Denver’s resiliency.

There were four or five times during this game where the Nuggets could have gotten down on themselves and at any of those times had they started feeling sorry for themselves or doubted themselves the Spurs would have taken advantage and thrown a knockout punch. Denver held a 21-17 lead with 2:34, but less than four minutes later the Spurs had gone on a 10-0 run and were up 27-21. Three and a half minutes later Denver had taken the lead back. At another point in the second quarter Manu Ginobili hit a three to put the Spurs up 41-33. The Spurs did not score another point over the final 3:26 of the first half and Denver ran off 12 straight points. Even with all the good things Denver was doing, the Spurs were right with them in the third quarter. On three occasions the Spurs grabbed a one point lead, but the Nuggets never blinked and took the lead back on the next possession all three times.

To close out the third quarter and open up the fourth the Spurs did not score for almost four minutes as Denver reasserted control. Still the Spurs fought back and were able to get to within two points three times in the fourth quarter. Denver answered yet again as they scored on the next possession two of those three times and the instance where they did not score on the possession immediately after the Spurs got within two, Denver scored on the second one. The result was the Spurs only had the ball with a chance to take the lead once over the final 15:47 of the game and after the Spurs’ miss on that possession Chauncey pulled down the rebound, dribbled up the floor, threw a shimmy at Richard Jefferson that tricked Jefferson into giving Billups about six feet of space and he promptly drained a three to put Denver up five.

I kid about Kenyon Marin filling the role of Carmelo. Chauncey was incredible, as he has been through the entire month of January. The Spurs took the lead for the final time with 4:41 left in the third quarter. From that point on Denver converted on 13 field goals. Chauncey scored three of those 13, all three were from behind the arc, and he assisted on eight of the other ten.

Chauncey continually worked the Spurs defense to get the shot he wanted for himself or for Kenyon. It was beautiful to watch and he deserves all the credit in the world for the way he played and for this victory.

If there is any bad news for Billups it is that he played a game high 45 minutes. Chris Paul is going to miss the All-Star game and if Billups is not named the replacement I think we all need to pay a little visit to Commissioner Stern in NYC. One can only hope Chauncey will be playing at this high of a level come May and dare I say June?

The Nuggets have now defeated every team in the Western Conference except for Dallas, who they have only played once, and the Sacramento Kings and the Kings will be in Denver Monday night. Whether Carmelo is able to play or not, I do not expect to see the Nuggets fall or 0-3 against the third worst team in the conference.

Additional Game 47 Nuggets

  • Not only did Chauncey and Kenyon raise their level of play, but Arron Afflalo and J.R. Smith were very good on both ends of the floor. J.R was an efficient 5-9 making 3-5 from behind the arc. Afflalo was even better making all six of his shot attempts including two from behind the three point line. Arron even dropped in a couple of contested jumpers off the drive, which is not his strong suit. It was good to see J.R. cut his three point attempts in half from the previous three games as he only shot off the catch and not off the dribble. Smith can certainly knock any three he attempts down, but he is much better on the catch and shoot than the pull up. As a result of taking better attempts, J.R. has converted on 11 of his previous 22 threes. J.R. is a second half player as his best months last season were March and April and in 2007-08 he was tremendous following the All-Star break beginning with his 43 point outburst in Chicago.
  • With the Nuggets defense looking more and more solid, the rumored return of Carmelo Anthony to the lineup and J.R. potentially playing smarter and better there is no doubt in my mind the Nuggets are at worst the second best team in the west.
  • Speaking of Arron Afflalo and defense in the first two Nuggets, according to ESPN Stats and Research Afflalo yields the six fewest points per defensive play in the entire NBA at only .77 points per play. Watching Afflalo play defense reading that stat is no surprise to me. What is a surprise is that players like Mehmet Okur and Nenad Krstic are on the list ahead of Arron. I guess there is something to be said for not having to guard the opponent’s best scorer every night. Unlike Okur and Krstic, Afflalo is facing slightly stiffer competition.
  • The Nuggets do not like to double in the post and they largely played Tim Duncan one on one although the Spurs really did not go to him on the block very often, especially in the second half. Even without Tony Parker the Spurs were content to run their high screen and roll for most of the game. On the other end, the Spurs were very weary of whoever was in the post as they ran a second defender at the post frequently. There was even a play where J.R. smith was on the block being guarded by George Hill and Duncan started to cross the lane to double, but J.R. beat him to it by launching a turnaround jumper that had little chance of going in.
  • According to Elias, George Karl is now 22-11 against Greg Popovich for a winning percentage of 66.7%. That is the second best percentage against Popovich behind only…Danny Ainge who was 9-4 against Coach Pop good for a 69.2% success rate.

The Return of Game Stats

Combined Pace Factor: 89.4 – Much to the Spurs liking
Defensive Efficiency: 99.6 – Impressive performance
Offensive Efficiency: 115.2 – That is even higher than the Nuggets’ average of 108.8
Bonus – Denver’s Effective FG%: 60.1%
San Antonio’s EFG%: 44.9% – Denver was 9-12 from downtown while the Spurs were only 3-17

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