2009-10 Game 75: Denver Nuggets 93 – Dallas Mavericks 109

Box Score | Highlights

I hate to say I told you so:

While the Nuggets announced that Kenyon “is expected to return” at some point this season, there is no timeline. No week to ten days or two to four weeks. Expected to return makes me a little bit queasy.

Honestly, Denver can handle life without Kenyon for a few games here and there. If they are forced to play without him for a prolonged period of time I think you can kiss any shot at the second or third seed goodbye and perhaps even home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Saying the Nuggets would struggle without Kenyon was not quite as inspired as Columbus declaring the world was round or Copernicus promoting the heliocentric universe, but many fans dismissed the possibility Denver could lose home court advantage. I have some bad news for you Nuggets boosters, after losing in Dallas the Nuggets are a half a game behind the Phoenix Suns who have slid up to fourth.

Any hope of Kenyon returning to right the ship still has little merit. We are three weeks into his treatment and during the broadcast when asked by Chris Marlowe if there is a timetable for his return or if he was still in “wait and see mode” Kenyon replied, “Wait and see. I know what my pain level is. I am going to have to play in some pain, but as long as it is not the pain I had before I sat out.”

Looking at the game itself part of me wanted to turn it off when it was 9-2. However, the Nuggets did show some heart as they fought back in the second and fourth quarters. The best stretch of the game for the Nuggets came in the middle of the second quarter and if you think jacking up contested jumpers and switching every screen had anything to do with that section of the contest you have not been paying attention.

Ty Lawson changed the pace of the game during that time. In fact, there was one sequence where the Nuggets were inbounding the ball from under the Mavs’ basket and Altitude was showing a replay where Lawson scored a one man fast break layup before they could get the feed switched back to what was going on on the floor. Joey Graham had a nice drive for a basket and the defense played with very impressive cohesion. From the double teaming of Dirk and recovery to the rotations and they way they tried to fight over screens the defense was solid.

The Nuggets were within four and then for some unknown reason Anthony Carter entered the game. Carter gave Jason Kidd an open three after leaving Kidd to not really double Dirk, which was the same shtick he foisted on Denver against Orlando the day before. Carter also had a horrible turnover on a lob pass into Nene in a “what on the freaking earth was he thinking throwing that pass?” moment and air balled a three pointer. Carter was a key component of the Mavs’ late second quarter run that destroyed any momentum the Nuggets bench had established.

The bottom line is Denver never was a threat to win this game. The Mavs were rested and jacked up to play that game while the Nuggets were playing their fifth game in seven nights and Chauncey and Carmelo were both completely incapable of creating any offense. It begs the question over a five and a half month regular season is there any need to have teams play two sets of back to back games in the same week? Good teams can win on the second night of a back to back. Few can win on the fourth game in five nights and I doubt the fifth game in seven nights is much better.

If you are looking for a silver lining other than five of Denver’s final seven games are at home how about Ty Lawson returning to his proper status as the backup point guard (thanks for listening Coach Dantley). Lawson played much better than in his first stint in Boston, which is to be expected, but the fact that he did not play in New York possibly transformed this road trip from a frustrating 2-3 trip to a potentially devastating 1-4 trip.

The Nuggets finally get a couple of days off before facing off with the hot Portland Trail Blazers who have won eight of their last nine.

Additional Game 75 Nuggets

  • Chauncey again chucked up seven threes despite the fact he is ice cold. It is one thing to shoot yourself out of a slump. It is another entirely to shoot your team out of a game. Chauncey was red hot in February and he took more threes than usual, 6.8 per game as opposed to his season average of 5.5. However, through the month or March when Billups was cold as the dark side of the moon he continued to shoot 5.5 a game. In half of the games in March, eight out of 16, Chauncey shot at least five threes while making fewer than 30% of them.
  • Some of you may remember when the Golden State Warriors upset the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2007 playoffs it was Stephen Jackson who hounded Dirk Nowitzki game after game. If the Nuggets have a player that fits that mold it is Carmelo Anthony. I was hoping to see Melo spend some time covering Dirk and I got what I asked for. Melo worked hard, fought for position and kept Dirk on the perimeter. He could have done a better job boxing out, but it would be interesting to see what Melo could do on Dirk for an extended period of time.
  • I think we can look forward to a few battles between Rodrique Beaubois and Ty Lawson.  I am not sure how good of a passer Beaubois is, but he is certainly quick enough to get to the rim.
  • Joey Graham played well and was a big key to the Nuggets’ run in the second quarter.  Going small is not always the answer, but I would rather have Graham on the court than Malik Allen.
  • Yes Melo and Chauncey were that bad.  They were 6-30 from the floor.  The rest of the team were 26-48.
  • J.R. had a very good scoring game, shooting 10-16, but again had no assists and turned the ball over five times.

Featured Blogs: The Two Man Game | Mavs Moneyball

2009-10 Game 74: Denver Nuggets 97 – Orlando Magic 103

Box Score | Highlights

At this point in the season there are no moral victories. The Denver Nuggets may have given the Orlando Magic a really tough game on Sunday, but with the Nuggets now just half a game out of fifth place and facing a very difficult game in Dallas on Monday their 103-97 defeat was a costly one indeed.

Denver once again lost a game in which they held a double digit lead, the twelfth time that has happened this season, and it was all the old problems that caused the collapse. After looking very good to start the third quarter the Nuggets offense completely collapsed. A combination of bad perimeter shots and one on one over dribbling turned a 67-57 Nuggets lead into a 77-77 tie at the end of the third quarter.

From that point on the end result was just about set in stone.

While there were plenty of mental mistakes, the final 18 minutes on offense could be considered one big mental mistake, the players were able to keep the game close despite some poorly conceived strategy. When you play the Magic it is there perimeter shooting that kills you, not Dwight Howard. However, the Nuggets paid way too much attention to Howard in the post and gave up far too may open looks from behind the arc as a result. I have no problem with doubling Howard, but too often there were three or four Nuggets all paying attention to him when at this point he is not a big enough scoring threat to warrant that much respect from the defense. Orlando missed quite a few of those open looks yet they still managed to score 33 points on threes, most of which came in the second half, but it could have been much worse.

Denver played hard, they were victims of a poor plan and poor execution.

What makes things worse is I believe Adrian Dantley is hurting the team with his rotations. I praised the way he changed the course of the first game he filled in for George Karl in Minnesota, but since then things have not been quite as impressive.

The biggest problem is Anthony Carter.

Carter started the first six games of the season in place of J.R. Smith who served a seven game suspension to start the 2009-10 campaign. Even before Carter’s fill in status as a started ended Lawson was clearly the number two point guard. He was clearly better than Carter and any concerns about Lawson sitting because Carter was the “scrappy veteran” had been alleviated.

So how come at this point in the season is Lawson relegated to the bench and Carter is the number two guy behind Chauncey Billups? I admit that Carter had a couple of solid games when Lawson initially injured his shoulder, but those performances are a thing of the past. What has he done to wrest the backup point guard spot from Lawson? It is absolutely inexplicable and it is costing the Nuggets wins.

The bench is clearly struggling during the current road trip, but what do you expect when you keep a talent like Lawson chained to his cushy folding chair? The degree of difficulty has already been ratcheted up with the absences of George Karl and Kenyon Martin. How does it make sense to further complicate things by benching Lawson?

If Carter is in there for his defense, he sure did a poor job of validating it. On two or three occasions he blitzed Howard in the post, but flew past him while flailing at the ball completely taking himself out of the play. I question why you would double a player Howard’s size with a tiny point guard who he can easily see over, but Carter made it worse by failing to actually double. On one occasion in the fourth quarter Carter ran at Howard, and instead of getting in his face and trying to form a wall alongside the other defender, he just floated back a couple of feet so he was not guarding Howard, he was not guarding anyone else, plus he was not in a position to react to a cutter. Matt Barnes came right down the middle of the lane and made a layup thanks to Carter’s odd decision to basically do nothing.

The fact is you could build a decent case against Adrian Dantley for sabotage. It does not matter if you compare Lawson and Carter aesthetically, statistically or anecdotally Lawson is unconditionally the better player.

With the Nuggets playing their fifth game in seven nights on Monday it would be a real good time to unleash a fresh Lawson on the Mavericks. The Nuggets will not advance in the playoffs without Lawson playing a significant role.

Additional Game 74 Nuggets

  • I love how Vince Carter hurt his toe bad enough he had to come out of the game, but he still launched a three pointer before leaving the game. That is dedication to scoring.
  • Denver shot a season low 11 free throws despite the fact for much of the first three quarters Carmelo attacked the rim and drew a great deal of contact. Orlando is a very good defensive team and their defenders certainly got the referees’ respect. The previous low was 16 at Phoenix and it was only the third time all season they attempted fewer than 20 free throws.
  • J.R. had only his second game out of the previous 28 without an assist. He certainly did not look to set his teammates up at all.
  • At this point I do not know who the Nuggets miss more, George Karl or Kenyon Martin.
  • Can someone please tell Chauncey he is in a shooting slump.  It does not appear he has noticed.  He took three absolutely abysmal threes between the time Denver built their double digit lead and the end of the game.

Advanced Game Stats

Pace Factor: 82.8 – Slowest game of the season

Defensive Efficiency: 124.4 – Horrible

Offensive Efficiency: 117.1 – I was surprised to see the Nuggets shot 52.5%, sure did not seem like it.

Featured Blogs: Orlando Magic Daily | Orlando Pinstriped Post

Nuggets/Raptors Q & A with Raptors Republic

Heading into what has become the first must win game of the season I had the opportunity to get the lowdown on what is going on north of the border with Sam Holako of the sensational blog Raptors Republic.

Roundball Mining Company: The Raptors are 3-7 since Chris Bosh returned from his ankle injury.  Is that record indicative of the quality of the team or are they just in a slump right now?

Sam: It’s indicative of the quality of team. The Raptors have assembled a group of quality scorers, but they can’t defend to save their lives. Turkoglu has been a bust, and Bargnani has seen his production actually drop as the season has progressed (and has admitted to being lazy, swear to God). There is no commitment to defense, and it just seems as though people are going through the motions. They weren’t as bad as how they started the season (7-13), or as good as when they went on that tear up until the All-Star game (22-10), or as bad since the All-Star game (6-12); they are somewhere in the middle (give or take a game or two) and are on pace to finish right around where they should be, in the low 40 win range.

RMC: Jose Calderon was supposed to be the Nash to Bosh’s Stoudemire.  While some of his statistics compare favorably to Nash he seems to be on the downside of his career at the age of 28.  Are his struggles simply due to injury or is he no longer the player he was just a season ago?

Sam: He’s exactly the same player. With the additions of Turkoglu and Jack, he no longer has to produce as much on offense, since the three share the playmaking load. This has translated into less minutes, so his numbers are down. On a per 36min basis though, his numbers are almost the same as last season, so he’s producing at the same rate per minute. Simply put, Jose was overrated last season, and underrated this one. Full stop.

RMC: The Denver Nuggets traded Sonny Weems this offseason and he ended up on the Raptors. Weems was the lone youngster with potential on the Nuggets last season and his progress in the D-League and performance during Summer League was big doings amongst Nuggets fans.  I always thought he had the midrange game and athleticism to be a rotation player and he is getting minutes in Toronto.  Does he have a future in Toronto?

Sam: He definitely has a future here, and in fact, many folks think he should be our starting shooting guard. I personally think his energy and talent are better suited as that spark coming off the bench, which is his role now. His mid-range game has been a pleasant surprise, but his willingness to attack the rim every chance he gets, and his crashing of the boards are what will give him a career in the league if you ask me. He’s easily one of the best deals in the NBA when you consider he gets paid $736k.

RMC: Zach Harper wrote a fantastic comparison of Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh that was posted on Raptors Republic Thursday.  I know Raptors fans want to see Bosh play for a winner in Toronto, but are the fans nearing the point Timberwolves fans reached with KG where they practically wanted him to leave so he could be free from the organization that constantly failed him?  If he signs somewhere else this offseason, will fans hold it against him?

Sam: If he signs elsewhere this summer, the fans will hold it against them for the rest of his playing career; much like how they do with Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter (VC played himself out of this team, he didn’t leave – although he would have if he was a UFA). The Raptor fans that want him to leave, are the few who (incorrectly) think that Bosh isn’t worthy of a max deal, and can’t lead this team to post-season success. The rest of us (myself included) are a selfish lot who want him to stay here forever because we can’t stomach watching a team headlined by Bargnani,  flanked by an aging Turkoglu and an overrated Calderon.

Make sure you swing by Raptors Republic to see my answers to Sam’s intriguing questions.  Both of these teams are struggling right now so we will find a little something out about both of them tonight.

Possessions Versus Minutes

I have been an admirer of the increased utilization and availability of advanced statistics in the NBA. I have tried to the best of my ability to incorporate them into my analysis of games in a relevant way. From time to time I have wondered about stats I would love to see such as assists at the rim as opposed to assists on that come from a long jumper or how many calories I burn yelling at the television.

The other night I was watching the barn burner between the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns and witnessed Anthony Tolliver play nearly every single second of the game, 47:28 to be exact. The thought struck me that 47:28 during that game, where the two teams combined to score 234 points, Tolliver was responsible for covering Amare Stoudemire, carried a significant load of his own team’s offensive burden and was bammed on like few have been bammed on before, was much more grueling than 47:28 of a game between to slower paced teams.

I wondered instead of talking about simply how many minutes a player played in a game, why not look at how many possessions he participated in? Instead of simply tracking who played the most minutes per game or in a season, why not determine who played in the most possessions? I am not sure if anyone has asked this question. As far as I can tell no one has in the manner I am suggesting it.

A simple way to determine possessions could be to divide pace factor by the percentage of minutes played. Using the formula 0.96*(FGA +(0.44*FTA)+TO-ORB) to determine pace for the Suns/Warriors game we arrive with a pace factor of 107.7. Tolliver played 47.42 minutes so he was on the floor for 106.5 possessions.

There are two problems with this idea as I see it. First, certain players or combination of players play at a faster pace than others and simply dividing by minutes is not necessarily an exact determination of possessions every player was on the floor for unless like Mr. Tolliver, they were on the floor for nearly all of them. Secondly, is participating in fewer possessions necessarily more work than having to defend for 16 or 18 seconds every possession even though you may have played in fewer possessions? After all not every player runs the floor during a fast break, but conversely at any one time there are two or three players standing around during a defensive possession and not exerting any energy either. The consensus seems to be that playing at a fast pace is far more strenuous than playing at a slow pace regardless of the quality of defense that is played. The Nuggets have relied on that fact to dominate at home for years.

Some could laugh at my little formula as there are legitimate advanced statisticians who probably already know exactly how many possessions a player participates in during every game. That information is required in order to calculate on and off court stats such as offensive and defensive efficiency ratings by player. As I mentioned above, I suspect no one has really cared much about documenting possessions per game or possessions per season. Let this be the call to look at possessions instead of just minutes and games as a measure of longevity or current service time.

What kind of information could we figure out based on possessions played instead of minutes played? Currently Gerald Wallace leads the league in minutes per game at 41.8 and Monta Ellis is second at 41.4. These two provide a perfect example for how pace can show the difference in the disparity in the possessions these two actually play every game. Using John Hollinger’s team stats the Bobcats are one of the slowest paced teams in the league with a pace factor of 92.9 while Golden State leads the league in pace at 102.7. When we calculate the possessions they would have participated in based on the minutes they played we see that while Wallace was a part of 80.9 possessions, Ellis easily surpasses him at 88.6 possessions per game despite playing four tenths of a minute less.

Apart from trivial things such as who plays more possessions could there be any value to it? Is that kind of information really significant? Bill Simmons talks about the anecdotal evidence that many players lose their legs after playing in 1,000 games. Could that number be lower or higher based on the style of play that player has been a part of during his career? What if a player plays a significant number of seasons on a fast paced team?

We have seen how a fraction of a minute can make a big difference in possessions per game with our example of Monta Ellis and Gerald Wallace. Over the course of nine or ten games Ellis will compile an entire game worth of possessions above Wallace. Over the course of a season Ellis might play in enough additional possessions equal to eight or nine more games than Wallace. Playing for Golden State for seven or eight seasons could possibly take nearly a full season off of a players’ career in additional wear and tear.

That is something a GM might be interested in knowing, for all I know maybe they already do. If not, maybe this can be my little contribution to advanced statistics.

2009-10 Game 72: Denver Nuggets 99 – Boston Celtics 113

Box Score | Highlights | ESPN360.com Replay

I am done pulling my punches with this team. All year long I have proclaimed them the second best team in the west. Defended their softer defense and looked the other way with their bad habits. Now that they are shorthanded on the court and on the bench all of the little things they have failed to do all season long are catching up to them. The result is a three game losing streak and what appears to be the beginning of a downward spiral that is threatening their season.

What I really wanted to do with this post is list all the lazy defensive plays the Nuggets made in the fourth quarter alone, but I rarely trust my instincts. Then I remembered that the opposite of my instincts are usually wrong too so here we go.

11:30 – Carmelo jogs back on defense and thus was not in position to defend the pass to Tony Allen after Ty Lawson stopped the ball.

10:49 – J.R. Smith allows Allen to step inside of him on a shot giving up his position for the defensive rebound. The ball came off to the other side and because Smith was not in the lane Rondo was able to collect the ball and then score on the other side of the rim because J.R. was not where he should have been.

9:19 – Rajon Rondo begins a left handed drive from five feet beyond the three point line. He gets Chauncey, who was playing several feet off of Rondo to defend against the drive, on his hip at the free throw line. Carmelo Anthony who is actually under the basket at the time has no idea Rondo is coming because he is walking along side Pierce as he moves from the right side of the lane to the left with his back to the ball. Melo was under no physical or mental duress to prevent him from seeing the ball and staying with Pierce at the same time. It was a simply unconscionable non play.

8:53 – Paul Pierce brings the ball up the floor at a trot. Carmelo for some reason has decided to go over to Rondo even though Chauncey is close by and Pierce is Melo’s man. After an attempt to communicate and get back to covering their assigned man neither one covers Pierce who drives from half court to the rim for a layup. Nene did slide over to help, but instead of being ready to make a play on the shot simply stood still allowing Pierce to easily glide past him for the layup.

8:15 – A solid defensive possession where Nene hedged on the screen, Chauncey recovered and Lawson sunk into the lane to cover Garnett on the roll until Nene could recover leads to a travel. It really is not that difficult to defend a screen and roll.

6:48 – Pierce drives away from a screen and gets past Joey Graham. J.R. Smith makes a half hearted swipe at the ball, but honestly with the assignment of covering Ray Allen it is best that he stays home. Carmelo, covering the much less dangerous Tony Allen who is in the offside corner, barely budges and never comes over to help on the penetration by Pierce. Result a three point play

6:06 – Despite the fact he has about eight feet between he and Rondo Chauncey lays back and runs into a screen instead of moving one foot closer to his man and stepping over the pick. After Chauncey gets taken out, Melo shoves Rondo for a foul despite the fact he had done a half way decent job of keeping Rondo from turning the corner coming off the screen.

5:55 – Later that same possession after J.R. and Nene do a decent job trapping Ray Allen on a pick and roll no one steps over to help cover KG on the roll. Garnett catches a pass from Allen just above the block with no Nugget within five feet of him. Graham rotates over late and flies in front of Garnett who blows the easy layup. Once again Carmelo paid tribute to ancient Greece by impersonating an ancient ruin as he stood motionless on the weak side block.

4:59 – On a shot by Pierce Carmelo stood watching the ball as Tony Allen moved past him into the middle of the lane and Rondo cut past him along the baseline both in position to nab an offensive rebound. The ball caromed off the back iron flying well over all of their heads and Melo’s laziness goes unpunished.

4:35 – After a make by Graham Rondo is walking the ball up the floor. J.R. is walking near Tony Allen. The problem is he is supposed to be guarding Ray Allen who is wide open in the corner. The pathetic thing is Smith realizes his mental error, but instead of hustling to where Ray Allen is and possibly drawing attention to his mistake he shuffles slowly as if he has nowhere in particular to be. Rondo finally notices Ray and passes the ball. Smith is completely out of position and has no chance to cut off the baseline drive. Nene saves a basket by blocking the layup attempt. On the weak side Melo looks on. Joey Graham, who was coming over to do what he could kept Tony Allen, Melo’s man from getting the loose ball and getting a layup. Still the ball goes off of Graham and Boston retains possession.

4:26 – After having success with hedge and recover and trapping schemes on the pick and roll Denver is back to switching. Carmelo is brushed off of Pierce about 30 feet from the rim and decides to sling back into the lane covering no one in particular. Meanwhile Nene and Afflalo double KG on the block after Arron switched over to Garnett on a screen. Kevin passes to Ray Allen in the corner and Chauncey leaves Rondo to run at Allen. Melo had three choices. One, he could look for Chauncey’s man, Rondo who was the leading rebounder in the entire game, and get in front of him as he crashes the offensive boards. Two, he could go box out Tony Allen who is alone in the middle of the lane. Three, he could stand still. Melo chose to stand still and Rondo swept in for the rebound.

3:56 – Carmelo is playing Tony Allen to drive as he is a good seven feet off of him. Allen still chooses to drive and blows by Carmelo who was practically standing straight up instead of crouched and ready to defend. Afflalo rotates late and fouls Allen at the rim.

3:15 – Nene and Afflalo trap Ray Allen on the left wing after a screen by KG. Chauncey is at the top of the circle and when KG gets the pass back from Allen Chauncey plays him to swing the ball instead of getting in front of him and closing a wide open lane to the rim. This time Melo does come over to help, but only to take a weak swipe over his head at the ball. Nene recovers to challenge KG at the rim and forces a miss. J.R. Smith plays the role of statue on this play as he allows Tony Allen to run from the corner all the way along the baseline to tip the rebound to Rondo who passes to KG for an open layup.

2:37 – Chauncey and Nene trap Rondo after a screen by Garnett. The Big Ticket rolls into the lane while Carmelo inexplicably waits too long to react to the play. Melo must not realize that you can be in the lane, just not for three consecutive seconds. There is no reason he was not planted and ready to prevent KG from being wide open. Melo does foul Garnett which I guess counts as a moral victory.

1:57 – Rondo drives the left side of the lane and dumps the ball to Garnett. Tony Allen dives into the lane completely unnoticed by Melo. By the time Garnett shoots Allen is back outside the lane, but he runs right around Melo who is this time impersonating an individual viewing a solar eclipse with the ball filling the role of the sun. Allen gets the rebound in front of Carmelo and extends the possession. Ray Allen hits a three to put the Celtics up 15.

I think you get the idea. The really sad thing is that was probably the best quarter the Nuggets played defensively. It did not include the offensive rebounds off of free throws or instances where Denver was leaving the entire lane wide open.

It goes to show how one player can ruin a defensive possession. All too often that player is Carmelo. He showed some real moxie early in the season on defense and I praised him for his willingness to cover LeBron during their win in Cleveland. Right now he is playing some of the worst defense of his career and it is inexcusable.

The one thing that stood out to me in going over the film again was how hard Nene played. He did a great job of making it difficult for the Celtics bigs to set their screens and he prevented the ball handler from turning the corner and getting in the lane. Arron Afflao worked very hard too and kept the mental mistakes to a minimum.

The bottom line is Denver is in danger of falling into fifth in the West by the end of this road trip. If the coaching staff does not alter their tactics and get away from switching screens and the players do not begin to play with focus and attention to detail they are going to dig themselves a very dangerous hole.

Additional Game 72 Nuggets

  • Ty Lawson finally saw some game action and his presence provided a visible, albeit short lived, boost of energy and confidence. The players know who should be playing and who should not. From the day he stepped foot in Denver Lawson’s teammates talked about how good he was and how he should be on the court. It had to have been a little demoralizing to see Anthony Carter constantly enter the game when Lawson was physically able to play. Now the bad news, Lawson was not very good. Following a very good initial possession on defense where he fought over the screen and along with a strong hedge by Birdman forced Nate Robinson to turn the ball over resulting in a dunk for J.R. Smith Ty looked very rusty and turned the ball over three times, all of which were absolutely horrid passes. Still, Lawson got in the game and the derustification has begun.

  • J.R. played a very good game on offense. He only took three three pointers which is much better than seven or nine and two of those three came at the end of quarters. His lone make came at the end of the third as he caught a perfect pass from Chris Andersen as he ran a streak pattern up the left sideline, a play that showed great presence of mind by Birdman. J.R. took a rhythm dribble to gather himself and hit a big shot that narrowed the lead down to seven.

  • The Celtics crushed the Nuggets on the offensive boards. According to ESPN Stats and Information Boston entered the game 28th in the league in offensive rebound rate, but that did not stop them from posting an offensive rebound rate near 38%. Their 90 shot attempts was a season high.

  • Advanced Game Stats

    Pace Factor: 91.5

    Defensive Efficiency: 123.3 – embarrassing

    Offensive Efficiency: 108.2 – below average, but short of embarrassing

    Featured Blogs: Celtics Hub | Celtics Blog

Let the Carmelo Anthony Free Agency Rumors Begin

I was not expecting to write about this today, but an article in the New York Post has speculated that the New York Knicks could target Carmelo Anthony in the summer of 2011.

Anthony, who headlines the 2011 free-agent class, visits the Garden tonight with the powerhouse Nuggets, looking to duplicate the 50 points he hung on the Knicks in Denver on Nov. 28 in a 128-125 win.

Knicks president Donnie Walsh has been on a campaign to alert the team’s fans that all the cap room does not have to be filled this July, when the Knicks have space to sign two maximum free agents.

If they sign one maximum guy such as James or Joe Johnson and re-sign David Lee, they’ll probably be in position to have enough room for another maximum player in 2011, with Eddy Curry’s $12M coming off the books after next season.

“We got this thing [cap] down under, and now have to manage our cap to the best of our ability, taking into consideration what could be available to us as we go on [each summer],” Walsh told The Post yesterday.

Walsh admits he’s not going to waste money on a free agent he’s not crazy about just to fill up their 2010 cap space.

“I won’t,” Walsh promised. “Without in any way encouraging you to write about the names of the 2011 free-agent, class, yes. Of course. We’re looking at it over a five-year period.”

It is misleading to say Carmelo is a free agent in 2011 as he is under contract through 2011-12 and would have to terminate the lucrative final season of his contract in order to be a free agent in 2011.  I posted my thoughts about the chances of Carmelo heading to New York in the Daily Dime (box three) because if we do not speculate about it, we are not using the Internet to its fullest potential.

One point I did not have enough room to really expand on is that we do not know what these two teams will look like in 2011.  Who knows who the Knicks add between now and then.  I am sure they will get at least one very good player this summer plus they are no longer giving their draft picks away.

On the flip side, Denver could look drastically different as well.  Chauncey is playing very well this season, but it is unlikely that he will continue at this level as he ages.  Kenyon is struggling with knee problems and who knows what happens to him.  The Nuggets are going to be far enough past the luxury tax level next year they will need the Sword of Omens to see it.  There is a legitimate chance they choose to make another salary dump trade this summer.  All of those are within the realm of possibility and would damage the quality of the Nuggets and thus it is possible that in a little more than a year the Knicks could be the better location from a competitive standpoint.

I do not expect all of that to happen, but if the Nuggets are not going to spend money, that could be a big red flag to Carmelo.

I know what you are thinking, you do not want this post to end, but do not worry, we have as many as 15 months to two years depending on the coming labor strife of this kind of speculation to percolate.

My Annual March “The End is Near” Post

Box Score | Highlights

I have no idea where to start after that monstrosity.

The combination of horrific defense, staggeringly gruesome offense, conspiracy theory inducing end of game officiating and Anthony Carter was mind numbingly stupefying.

Let’s get the officiating issue out of the way so we can focus on how dismal the Nuggets were. With Denver down three and 3:30 remaining in the game J.R. Smith drew a charge on David Lee. It was not a difficult call to make. As soon as you heard the PA announcer say it was Lee’s sixth foul the refs pulled entered into a caucus and somehow the call was overruled because J.R. was supposedly inside the circle. During live action he seemed to be well away from the circle and replays confirmed it. If the side official was so sure J.R. was inside the circle why didn’t he call it right away? Why was there even any discussion? Not only did Lee not foul out, but he made both free throws and the Nuggets were down five.

That blown call was not the reason Denver lost. They had plenty of time to get over it and failed. Still, I firmly believe that entire episode would not have happened if it was not Lee’s sixth foul and as we all know perception is reality.

We do not need to spend much time on the lackluster offense. It was the typical lack of movement overkill on the jumpers. J.R. Smith was horrible as not only did he take far too many threes, although a couple came in the closing seconds of the game, but he badly forced his two point attempts as well. Also, for the second time in three games he had a possession where he missed three shots that were not repeated tip in attempts either. He then followed it up with a missed shot on the next possession.

Chauncey did a good job of attacking the rim, but conversely he launched five threes and at least three of them were terrible. Melo shot the ball well and had a good scoring night so I guess he gets a pass although most of his points came on jumpers and he only totaled two assists.

Even with all of those issues what was the most disappointing aspect of the game was Adrian Dantley’s insistence on sticking with Anthony Carter. In a game where the Nuggets were too perimeter oriented and struggled to score for stretches Carter did nothing to help. Lawson would have infused better energy and provided a spark. The Nuggets are saying Carter has played well while Lawson was out and that was true for about four or five games. He has not been helpful the past four or five games and Lawson must be on the floor. If Ty does not play tomorrow in Boston it will be inexcusable.

(Another big negative on Dantley’s record is that during the discussion about Lee’s sixth foul he was right there next to the referees. Instead of making sure they knew there was no way they should have been even considering changing the call he was talking to Chauncey. Chauncey had come over to get involved in the conversation between the refs that included David Lee by the way telling them J.R. was definitely inside the circle. Not only did Dantley not get involved, he prevented Chauncey from counterbalancing Lee’s lobbying. Not that it would have mattered, but the Nuggets needed a voice in that conversation.)

All of those things were incredibly frustrating the most infuriating aspect of the Nuggets play is their insistence on switching screens. I spent much of last season railing on utilizing switching screens as your primary defensive strategy on playing the pick and roll. I even have a switching screens tag for my posts. I guess I grew tired blogging about it, but whatever the reason I have not been as aggressive in my assessment of the Denver defense despite the fact they are doing nothing but switching screens. The Denver Nuggets are a very mediocre defensive team. No matter what stat you look at (Defensive Efficiency, Opponent FG%, Defensive Rebounds, Opponent Points per Shot) Denver is not good and the primary reason is they constantly switch screens. The only stat they crack the top ten in is steals per game and that has to be partly discounted due to the pace at which they play.

The Nuggets were a very solid defensive team last season and they were able to win games with their defense. That is not the case this season. They are an offensive team and that is that. I have been patiently waiting the Nuggets return to being at least a decent defensive team. The fact that they continue to rely on switching screens has torpedoed any hopes I had of that happening.

I could write 10,000 words on the problems that switching screens create. My two biggest issues with switching screens are you are voluntarily entering into mismatches and it fosters an environment of passivity and a complete lack of accountability.

There is a reason coaches do not assign a power forward to cover a point guard and a point guard to cover the opposing power forward. It leads to your opponent scoring. There are byproducts of this tactic. If you want to prevent the power forward from posting up the point guard or the guard from blowing by your big man, you have to help. That opens up holes all over for other offensive players to exploit.

There were plenty of examples of this happening in the loss to the Knicks, but here are two from the second quarter. Just past the halfway point in the quarter After Chris Andersen and Afflalo switched Afflalo was stuck on David Lee. Chauncey left his man Giddens, who was in the weakside corner to double. Giddens was just waiting for him to leave and cut to the rim. Carmelo was just a microsecond too late dropping down to replace Chauncey and the pass got through to Giddens for the layup.

A second example came with just over two minutes remaining in the second. Carmelo and Nene switched for absolutely no reason in the right corner leaving Melo on David Lee. Arron Afflalo, who had switched onto Al Harrington, was laying off of Harrington on the left wing. Afflalo turned his head anticipating having to help Carmelo should Lee back him into the post. Because Afflalo was so focused on the possibility of helping Melo who voluntarily switched into a mismatch, he lost track of Harrington who dove to the rim and drew a foul to prevent a layup.

The lack of accountability was evidenced late in the second quarter as well. The next possession after Harrington cut into the lane Chauncey was stuck on Gallinari, although honestly after looking at it again it was not because of a screen, Carmelo doubled and the ball was swung to the weakside. Chauncey rotated to the offside corner and Melo left Gallinari to kind of return to Duhon. The result was no one was guarding Gallinari and he cut to the basket and Nene had to foul to prevent the layup.

There are two secondary problems with switching that I cannot keep myself form touching on. First, the way the Nuggets cheat on the switches it actually opens up perimeter jumpers. The guards, instead of fighting over the screen, know they have to get behind the big to prevent the roll as a result the ball handler has all the space they want to shoot. Look at how much room the Nuggets give the ball handler on a high screen and roll. It would be so easy to step over the screen because there is frequently five feet between the ball handler and the screener. There is no pressure to force the defender into the screen and no pressure to keep the ball handler from turning the corner and blazing into the lane.

Secondly, the bigs who switch out on guards are not in the lane to box out the opposing team’s bigs. For a team who is missing their best rebounder I would think your scheme would seek to keep your rebounders in the paint. The Nuggets struggle on the defensive glass and switching screens is only compounding the problem.

And oh by the way, Toney Douglas hit a easy 15 foot jumper to put the Kincks up three with 27.8 seconds left in the game thanks in large part to a switch.  Nene found himself on Douglas who drove towards the rim, stopped and dribbled between his legs to get his rhythm and drilled the jumper.

This was a bad loss and it was made even worse by the way the Nuggets played.  It was on March 8 of last season where the Nuggets lost a game in Sacramento and I proclaimed they would be nothing other than a first round patsy again. From that point on they finished the season on a 14-4 tear and you all remember what happened in the playoffs. This loss feels a lot like that loss did so I reserve the right to overact.

I continue to question the contention that Kenyon Martin will be able to play again this season despite the fact he is riding a stationary bike “slowly.” News broke today that it was entirely possible that George Karl would miss the rest of the regular season due to his physically and emotionally draining cancer treatments.

Now add in the fact the Nuggets are bottoming out on defense, the offense has become increasingly reliant on the three point shot and acting coach Adrian Dantley would rather play Anthony Carter than Ty Lawson and they just lost the most winnable game in a five game in seven night road trip.

When Kenyon went down I commented that we had to entertain the possibility that Denver could fall out of the top four in the West and open up the playoffs on the road against a team like Phoenix or Utah. After what we saw tonight that outcome is absolutely on the table.

What is most frightening is for the second straight game Denver was out worked by a team playing on the second night of a back to back. Tomorrow they are going to be the team playing for the second night in a row against a surging Celtics team. Redemption is waiting around the corner, but I am not sure the Nuggets can capture it.

Featured Blogs: KnickerBlogger | Posting and Toasting | Chris Sheridan (Daily Dime)

Appreciating the Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks and the Denver Nuggets have a lot in common. Both franchises had tremendous teams in the 1980’s, but neither team reached the finals. In fact, the Bucks made it to the conference semifinals or finals every year except for one from 1981 to 1989. In the early 80’s they were knocked out by the great 76ers teams, in the mid 80’s it was the Celtics and in the late 80’s they were victims of the Detroit Pistons. They were then one of the worst teams of the 1990’s missing the playoffs for seven straight seasons.

Things turned around when a coach named George Karl came to town and the franchise made it as far as the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost to Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001. Milwaukee was a very good team in the 80’s, miserable in the 90’s and enjoyed a resurgence under George Karl. Sound familiar? (The Bucks did win the NBA championship with some young whippersnapper named Lew Alcindor in 1971, but that was long enough ago very few current fans were around to witness it.)

Milwaukee has been down again lately. Interestingly enough the Bucks have not finished over .500 since Karl left town. After witnessing their 102-97 victory in Denver it looks like things in Milwaukee might be back on the upswing.

The Bucks came into Denver a night after winning a double overtime game in Sacramento on the dreaded late game in the Pacific time zone one night, trip to Denver to play the next. The level of difficulty was increased even more as their best player, Andrew Bogut their most important player on both ends of the floor, only played 15 minutes because of foul trouble.

The Bucks did not seem to care one iota. It did not matter who was in the game, the rotations were perfect, the offense was seamless and the effort was relentless. I kept waiting for the Bucks to tire and slow down, but they never did. They absolutely deserved to win that game, and I was amazed by the quality of their play.

Honestly, I was a little jealous.

Milwaukee did all the little things that the Nuggets do not. They pressure the ball and help each other when necessary. It was not a rare occurrence to see all five defenders in the paint. They all take responsibility for their assignments. They do not switch screens, but get a strong hedge from the help defender while the player getting screened fights through the pick. There were also instances where they would double the player with the ball on the perimeter just to be pesky knowing they could recover to their man on a pass.

Offensively, they do everything 100%. They run their cuts at full speed. The screeners run to their spots at full speed and then set solid picks. You do not get the sense anyone feels they are owed shots.

It is a perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

The perception of Scott Skiles is that he is too intense and demanding and as a result he loses his players. That may be true, but right now he has his team playing as well as anyone and you can see how they have taken on his unselfish and scrappy persona.

Hopefully the Nuggets will watch film of this game closely because there is a lot they could learn from the way Milwaukee plays.

2009-10 Game 69: Denver Nuggets 93 – New Orleans Hornets 80

Box Score | Highlights

The Denver Nuggets walloped the tired and lethargic New Orleans Hornets.  Beat them to a pulp.  No contest.  Then the second half started.  The Nuggets saw their scoring output slashed in half from the first half to the second scoring 62 in an impressive first half followed by 31 in an ugly forgettable second.  The second half was nothing new to Nuggets fans.  After playing a near perfect offensive first half scoring in the paint at will, the second half was the polar opposite with plenty of long jumpers that should have never been attempted.

After seeming full of life in the first 24 minutes Denver looked like the solitary day of rest was not enough to recover from their four games in five nights stretch that ended with a win over the Washington Wizards.

The big news from the game was George Karl was forced to miss his first home game due to the effects of his battle with cancer.  If you have not already, read this article by Ricky Reilly that chronicles exactly what Karl is going through.

The other piece of big news is Kenyon Martin said that his knee is feeling better and is scheduled to start riding a stationary bike on Monday in his recovery from a patella tendon injury.  Riding a bike is a long way from returning to the court, but it is progress.

In happier news, Carmelo was spectacular although it was not his scoring that left me all atwitter, but his rebounding.  Carmelo tallied a career high 18 rebounds including another career high 14 defensive rebounds.

For more insight on the game check out the Daily Dime where I participated in the chat and whipped up a little piece on the Nuggets much maligned mental toughness (item number two).

Advanced Game Stats

Pace Factor: 90.5

Offensive Efficiency: 102.8 – lowest rating since the back to back losses in Los Angeles and Phoenix two and a half weeks ago.

Defensive Efficiency: 91.0 – fourth lowest rating of the season and only the second time they have posted back to back sub 100 defensive efficiency ratings this season.

Featured Blogs: Hornets 24/7 | At the Hive

Outdated Bonus Links: NBA Playbook breaks down the Nuggets’ collapse in Houston

2009-10 Game 67: Denver Nuggets 123 – Houston Rockets 125

Box Score | Highlights

The Denver Nuggets’ six game winning streak came to an end at the hands of the Houston Rockets in a high scoring 125-123 back and forth battle.

The first half was full of breakdowns on both ends of the floor for Denver as they consistently gave up open shots to the Rockets on one end while missing a plethora of layups on the other. The Nuggets were down 12 at halftime and came out with a great deal of energy to start the second half. The Rockets’ lead had been whittled down to two in less than six minutes and Denver earned their first lead of the game at the 4:05 mark of the third quarter.

Denver then scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter to take a double digit lead of their own. They appeared headed for their seventh straight win, but it would not last. The Rockets showed great determination and increased their intensity over the final ten minutes and the Nuggets were not able to match.

Even with the increased defensive pressure from the Rockets the Nuggets held a six point lead with 2:30 left and a five point lead with under 70 seconds remaining. However, on a night where Carmelo Anthony scored 45 points, it was the Rockets who made plays down the stretch to pull out a two point victory.

The Rockets outscored the Nuggets 9-2 over the final 68 seconds thanks to the keys that fueled the victory. Timely three point shooting, points in transition, free throws and their guard play.

The Nuggets struggled with covering Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks all game long thanks to Brooks’ superlative quickness and Martin’s exceptional ability to move without the ball. The two combined for 60 points on 33 shot attempts.

The one big advantage the Nuggets had over Houston, size, did not ultimately decide the game. Denver was constantly able to get shots at the rim, but failed to convert on a large number of them. Nene was 5-14 despite the fact I do not think he attempted more than two shots more than two feet from the rim. Carmelo missed a handful of layups in the first half as well before catching fire in the second half.

Fittingly it was a missed layup that sealed the Nuggets’ fate. Down a point with 41 seconds remaining Dantley drew up a play to go to Nene on the left block. Nene was able to maneuver his way in front of the rim, but lost control of the ball on his way to attempting a left-handed layup and the ball ended up in the Rockets’ hands. I have criticized Nene in the past for the way he shoots so many underhanded flip shots around the rim and that shot was a perfect example why such a technique is dangerous. Not only can you lose control of the ball as happened in this example, but the ball can roll off in any number of ways creating sideways spin and thus making it more likely to roll off the rim. Despite Nene’s high conversion rate I think we can all count dozens of times Nene has had a shot roll off the rim because of the unnecessary spin that was applied to the shot.

The decision to go to Nene is one that could be easily questioned. Carmelo had been carrying the Nuggets for most of the second half and Nene was 5-13 from the floor with numerous missed layups. On one hand the play call worked as Nene clearly had an advantage over Luis Scola all night and he was able to get right in front of the rim. On the other hand the play failed and a player that had failed to come through for the most part, failed one more time. The decision was even more glaring when Carmelo drove right to the rim and laid the ball in to tie the game on the very next possession.

I would love to know if Dantley would do anything different in the timeout to set up the play for Nene if he had the chance to do it over again. I find it difficult to criticize him seeing as how he did put the player in position to succeed. It was up to Nene to convert his opportunity and he did not do so.

I thought Dantley did a pretty good job of coaching. He called for a switch from the switching scheme the Nuggets employed in the first half to a more aggressive trap and recover style defense in the second half. It worked wonders as Denver was able to mount an immediate comeback. However, the Rockets, coached by one of the top coaches in the NBA in Rick Adelman, stopped running so much pick and roll and that change reignited the Rockets offense as it opened up the floor for Brooks and Martin was able to free himself for good looks more often than not.

I think Adelman was able to outmaneuver Dantley ever so slightly, but it was good to see Adrian go toe to toe with one of the game’s best in a tight contest and hold his own.

Getting back to the finish following Nene’s miss Chauncey made a bad mistake as he fouled Brooks at half court. I was disappointed in Chuancey’s decision to foul for two reasons. First of all, there was a nine second differential between the shot clock and the game clock and Denver was only down one. A defensive stop, which admittedly occurred as frequently as I win the lottery, would have given the Nuggets the ball with plenty of time to work with. Secondly, it was Chauncey’s sixth, and obviously last, foul.

The only argument I could accept for the foul is if Chauncey was afraid that Brooks would get all the way to the basket, which was a possibility. The Rockets had a season high 28 fast break points and according to a post game tweet by Daryl Morey scored 60 points in transition. Still, J.R. was coming up the floor on the offside and Nene was behind Chauncey, although not by much, in position to potentially hassle Brooks. I would have liked to see how the game would have played out without that foul, but I would also like to see the return of Peanut Butter Twix.

The foul did not lose the game for Denver though as Brooks missed one of his two free throws and Denver tied the game on Melo’s drive. Brooks then made a mistake by shooting a bit too early on his game winner, but Melo, who had 2.9 seconds to work with, was content to take a strongly contested three that had no chance of falling. Melo had plenty of time to get to the rim, drive and kick to a teammate or even fake, dribble and give himself more room at the three he wanted to shoot.

Ultimately, the Rockets were able to take advantage of their quickness more effectively than Denver did their size. It is also important to note that while Denver was credited with 16 offensive rebounds and over 20 second chance points, they only had one offensive rebound in the fourth quarter as the Rockets really took control of their defensive glass.

Dantley impressed me one more time following the game as he refused to be content with going 3-1 on the road trip saying that this loss hurt.

Denver now returns home to face the Wizards on Tuesday as they play their fourth game in five nights, each one in a different locale. As of yet there is no word on the availability of Chris Andersen who left the game late in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle.

Advanced Game Stats

Pace Factor: 95.8

Defensive Efficiency: 135.1 – overall a terrible showing. The 135.1 is a season worst and Denver gave up a season high 66.2 TS% and a second highest EFG% of 61.4%

Offensive Efficiency: 128.4 – that should be good enough to win any game.

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Denver Nuggets Win Two More on the Road

Denver at New Orleans – Box Score | Highlights

Denver at Memphis – Box Score | Highlights

The Denver Nuggets have won six games in a row and are now back above .500 on the road after back to back wins in New Orleans and Memphis. The common denominator in both games was Denver’s ability to make plays in the fourth quarter however both games had different stories to tell.

Through three and a half quarters the Hornets game felt much like the previous loss the Nuggets suffered at the hands of the Hornets in New Orleans earlier this season. A close game where Denver was obviously the better team, but they simply could not get their act together long enough to pull ahead. Then with the score tied at 86 and just under six minutes Denver finally took control of a game that was waiting for one team or the other to claim ownership of the contest.

The Nuggets received a gift when rookie Marcus Thornton drove directly into Darius Songalia, who had just set a screen for him, causing a turnover that triggered a two on one break for J.R. and Melo. The result was a lay in for Anthony. On the other end New Orleans settles for a second jumper by Songalia in about 70 seconds that missed. Chauncey received the outlet, sets up on the left wing, drove left and fed Nene at the rim. Nene is fouled and makes both free throws. The teams trade baskets and then Nene tips two passes on one possession both of which were intended for Emeka Okafor and prevented him from getting an open layup. The ball eventually finds its way to Okafor who misses what is now a contested jump hook instead of a dunk. Nene grabs the rebound and throws a beautiful outlet pass to J.R. who does his best to screw up another two on one break with Carmelo, but Melo is there for the rebound and finishes after adroitly making contact with Okafor to avoid getting his shot blocked. Before New Orleans can catch their breath Chauncey steals the inbounds pass and is fouled. Billups dropped in both free throws the Nuggets then parlay a very good defensive possession into a 30 foot desperation three pointer by Thornton which misses. Chauncey then closed out the game deciding 12-2 run with a drive and dish to Nene for an emphatic dunk that announced to all those watching that it was not going to be the Hornets’ night.

The Hornets were able to stay in the game thanks to a big first half by Thornton and a big third quarter from West. However, once those two options failed to produce in the fourth quarter the Nuggets were able to overwhelm the undermanned Hornets with little plays such as forcing turnovers, deflecting passes, and getting into the lane on offense.

The biggest surprise of the game was the way the Hornets chose to defend Carmelo. New Orleans has typically doubled Carmelo as soon as he would catch the ball and their aggressive scheme has been largely successful. In two games against the Hornets this season Melo had shot only 14-44 and the two teams split two close games, both teams winning at home. For some reason the Hornets decided to go away from that attacking defense and played Carmelo largely one on one choosing to play more of a prerotating scheme that the Lakers have been successful with. The difference is the Hornets do not have the same quality of personnel as the Lakers do. Melo was able to find space for his midrange jumper and scored 32 points on 13-27. The funny thing is as poorly as Denver shot from behind the arc, 3-22 to be exact, had New Orleans been aggressive with Carmelo and not allowed him to play so much one on one they might have cruised to an easy win.

Two other comments that need to be mentioned are, why on God’s green earth do the Nuggets insist on shooting threes on nights when it is obvious none of them can make any? The Nuggets had the advantage all night when they drove into the lane and as I am sure you noticed in the breakdown of their fourth quarter surge above Chauncey was able to get Nene two great looks the two times he drove at the rim. Secondly, J.R. Smith deserves credit for his fourth quarter defense on Thornton. Smith was all over Thornton as New Orleans ran him through and around screens. On one occasion Thronton caught the pass and jumped to shoot only to see J.R. flying at him so close that he had to dump the ball off towards David West and the play nearly resulted in a turnover.

The next night in Memphis instead of a defensive battle, the Nuggets found themselves in a wild shootout.

The Grizzlies jumped out on the Nuggets early on with a combination of layups and dunks to start the game off and then a hoard of threes to close out the first quarter. The Nuggets were obviously out of sync on defense as they allowed the Grizzlies’ bigs to roll into the lane and get great position at will. The Nuggets had just enough offense to stay close while their defense struggled.

Then late in the third quarter the Nuggets found their stride on both ends of the floor. The Nuggets were down 83-77 with two minutes remaining in the third quarter and went on a 20-2 run to smother the any hope that Memphis had for a victory.

The three keys to the Nuggets run were their bigs ability to finally seal off the middle and effectively eliminate the easy shots Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol had been getting all night long. Secondly, Denver got out and ran with Anthony Carter pushing the pace. Thirdly, J.R. Smith turned white hot and splashed three straight threes during the run.

It did not end there though as the Nuggets continued to explode offensively and pushed that 12 point lead up to 24 before taking their foot off the gas. J.R. would convert on five of seven threes over the final 14 minutes including five in a row. Denver wound up outscoring Memphis 48-25 over the closing 14 minutes.

I was growing concerned about Anthony Carter as he has been forced to log minutes in seven consecutive games.  I have believed the key to his effectiveness has been fresh legs and with every passing game that advantage dissipates.  Against New Orleans I though he was starting to look a little sluggish.  Defensively he began reaching which is a sign of fatigue due to the fact it gets more difficult to move your feet.  However in Memphis he was very good, especially down the stretch when his desire to push the pace helped earn Denver some easy scores.  Now if we can just get him to stop shooting threes…

Johan Petro has continued to play respectably.  He did struggled a little defending players like David West and Zach Randolph, but most players do.  Petro continues to rebound pulling down ten boards twice in the past four games.  Plus he has scored 23 points on 14 shots during those same four games.  He has struggled to catch the ball while moving in the past, but has shown some improvement in that area as of late.

One quirky thing to note from the win in Memphis is it was the first game all season where Carmelo attempted fewer than three free throws. In fact, he did not get to the line once. The last time that happened in the regular season was December 12, 2008 in Cleveland although he did have two games in the 2009 playoffs where he did not attempt a free throw, game two against New Orleans and game five against Dallas and somewhat surprisingly both games were wins.

The good news in my mind, apart from winning on the road without two of their top eight players, was that there were no signs of moping or any indication of a lack of purpose as we saw early on in Minnesota. Denver played hard from start to finish in both games. They seem to be comfortable with Adrian Dantley and while Dantley did not have any strokes of genius that swung either game as he did in Minnesota when he went small, he certainly has not done anything to slow the team down.

Denver at New Orleans Stats and Links:

Pace Factor: 96.3

Defensive Efficiency: 97.7

Offensive Efficiency: 105.9

Hornets 24/7 | At the Hive

Denver at Memphis Stats and Links:

Pace Factor: 87.2

Defensive Efficiency: 122.2 – not good, but…

Offensive Efficiency: 143.4 – best efficiency rating of the season topping their 139.1 versus Dallas

3 Shades of Blue

George Karl to Miss Final Three Games of Current Trip

The Denver Nuggets have announced that George Karl will not join the Nuggets for the final three games of their current road trip.  Adrian Dantley will coach the team through games in New Orleans, Memphis and Houston.

Karl had a feeding tube inserted into his stomach during a surgical procedure on Monday.

“I have tremendous trust in A.D. and my staff,” Karl said. “I think they’ll keep the team in a good place over the next few days, and hopefully I’ll be ready to rejoin them when they come home next week.”

I would have been shocked if Karl was able to rejoin the team for these next three games, but I was not going to put it past him trying to be there.

Dantley did a very good job in Minnesota and it will be interesting to see how he handles extended duty over the next three games.

2009-10 Game 64: Denver Nuggets 110 – Minnesota Timberwolves 102

Box Score | Highlights (make sure to see J.R.’s huge alley oop dunk at the 34 second mark)

J.R. Smith started the game missing his first two three point attempts and closed the game out missing his final five. In between those seven misses he converted three in a row during a one minute and 22 second stretch in the middle of the third quarter that sparked the Nuggets to a 110-102 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Up until J.R. converted his barrage of bombs the Nuggets had the body language of a first grader who did not get to eat the last cookie. They were walking up the floor on offense and going through the motions on defense. The Timberwolves collected seven offensive rebounds in the first quarter. Of course, they missed 19 of the 27 shots they attempted, but it allowed them to stay in the game.

Even after coming out of halftime down five against a team that had lost 12 of their last 13 games the Nuggets were playing as if they had nothing to gain from winning. Rarely can a game swing as quickly as this one did. The Wolves did not fold as they were able to get back to within six points in the fourth quarter, but starting with J.R.’s first made three pointer the Nuggets went on a 28-9 run and the Nuggets were never in serious danger of losing.

Apart from Denver finally getting it together in the second half and winning a game they absolutely should have won we had our first chance to really see Adrian Dantley tested as a coach. I had never developed a feel for how he would react to adversity or what kind of coach he could be. Tonight’s game presented an opportunity to see exactly what Dantley could do.

There are little things coaches do during games such as encourage players, provide insight and direction, but we all know for the most part it is a players’ league. Much of the strategy comes before the games in the shootaround. At that point the game plan is set and the players know well before the game starts how they are supposed to defend a certain set or what to do in the pick and roll. Once the game begins those pregame strategies rarely go away. Come tipoff coaches need to keep the right mix of players on the floor, call for slight alterations to the game plan and not botch the end of close games.

I thought Dantley did an excellent job of rotating his players and he forced Kurt Rambis’ hand and I thought the way the rotations played out were a big key for the Nuggets. George Karl has a very tightly set rotation when he is coaching with a full complement of players. J.R. checks in for Afflalo midway through the first quarter. Nene comes out with about four minutes or so left in the first. Melo will usually depart late in the first although it is not abnormal to see him play into the second. Chauncey comes out after the first quarter is over and Kenyon typically plays a couple of minutes into the second quarter before Nene checks back in to give him a break. Melo, Chauncey and Kenyon rest for a few minutes and then return. The second half can go differently depending on what is going on in the fourth quarter situation wise and foul trouble can mix things up, but you can usually tell who is coming or going based on what the clock says.

Tonight Dantley did not have the good fortune of running Karl’s regimented rotations because of the absence of Kenyon and Lawson. On one hand Anthony Carter can fill Lawson’s minutes, but dealing with Kenyon’s absence is a much bigger problem.

Johan Petro was in the starting lineup for the second straight game and I agreed wholeheartedly with that decision as Denver needed his size to combat the offensive rebounding abilities the Wolves possess. Of course you may remember from earlier in this post that the Wolves killed the Nuggets on the offensive glass in the first quarter so I do not think you can say Petro did his job as well as he should have, but starting him was the right decision.

I was wondering how they would handle the big man rotations without Kenyon. Dantley’s answer, certainly with input from Coach Karl and the rest of the staff, was to have Nene fill Kenyon’s role as he played the first 14 plus minutes of the game. I am not sure if Nene played a stretch that long all season, but he handled it well. Chris Andersen entered the game at his regular time in the first quarter for Petro and Malik Allen came in for Nene and then Nene spelled Birdman with five minutes left in the second quarter which gave Andersen a slightly longer stint that usual and Nene slightly less rest than he typically receives.

The truly interesting moves came in the third quarter. With the Nuggets struggling to score Dantley called on J.R. to replace Petro, going small and forcing Melo to play power forward, which he has not done much of the past couple of seasons. Birdman checked in for Nene a short time later preventing Nene from having to play the full third quarter and Anthony Carter entered the game for Afflalo at the point where J.R. would usually enter the game. The result was a small lineup of Billups, Carter, Smith, Melo and Birdman.

Not coincidentally these substitutions coincided with the turning point of the game. The Nuggets outscored the Timberwolves by seven points and Kurt Rambis responded by pulling both Al Jefferson and Kevin Love out of the game at the same time with 3:35 left in the third quarter. At that point the Wolves were up 69-68. Three minutes and 35 seconds later at the end of the quarter the Nuggets were up 79-72.

Dantley took a risk with the lineup he threw out there, but it was Rambis who blinked and responded to a little run by pulling his two best players out of the game. Love was clearly overmatched trying to guard Melo on the perimeter, but Melo was dealing with a similar mismatch in the lane at the other end, although he did manage to steal a couple of entry passes when Love failed to hold his position.

Not only did the small ball lineup get the Wolves to change tactics, but it helped get the Nuggets running and they were able to get some easy buckets. I was incredibly impressed with the way Dantley handled his rotations, see the game flow here, and I think he did a great job in the second half of forcing Denver to change how they were playing and in turn he forced Rambis to make a bad decision. I do not think there is a coincidence between the fact Love only played 3:38 in the third quarter and the fact Denver outscored Minnesota 31-19 in that quarter.

Overall, the Nuggets won a game that was not a must win game, but a must not lose game, I finally have an opinion of Adrian Dantley as a coach and it is a positive one, but I do have concerns about how this team will handle the absence of Kenyon Martin and with the thought in the back of their head that their coach is struggling with something much more serious than basketball. If the first two and a half quarters of the game in Minnesota is an indication, we might be in for a long month as it certainly did not look like they were pulling any motivation from their circumstances.

Additional Game 64 Nuggets

  • Before the game Carmelo talked about making his teammates better. He did not score his typical allotment of points, but he filled up the box score. His handed out five assists, three of which resulted in dunks, pulled down six boards, all defensive, tallied five steals and even stopped a fast break singlehanded. He knocked the ball out of a player’s hands, I think it was Jefferson, and then when Ryan Gomes collected the lose ball and tried to shoot Melo swatted the shot out of bounds. There were certainly some frustrating aspects of Melo’s defense, such as when he walked away from Corey Brewer into the middle of the lane neither helping nor defending anyone when Damien Wilkins was posting up one of the Nuggets guards only to see the ball kicked out to Brewer who drained the open three, but he worked really hard for the couple of minutes he was guarding Love and convinced Rambis that it was a mismatch Minnesota could not win resulting in the benching of Love and Jefferson mentioned above.
  • That was a super long sentence.
  • The one thing that really bugged me was how the Nuggets continued to switch screens late into the game. If I had a criticism of Dantley it was that he stuck with that tactic for so long. Early in the third quarter it seemed like Denver was determined to fight over screens, but that resolve seemed to wilt away and was never rekindled. The guards did do a good job of fighting for position and the issue was more with the bigs not being able to slow the Wolves’ guards. There was one play that was documented on Altitude where J.R. switched onto Kevin Love and he did an excellent job of boxing him out and pulling down the rebound when Brewer decided to shoot a jumper off the screen.
  • Another thing I noticed that Dantley did was twice coming out of timeouts in the fourth quarter with the Wolves making a surge he called the same play. Chauncey passed off to Melo and then ran off to the left side of the floor cutting off a back pick, changing direction and then running back out off a down screen from the same player who set the back pick. The first occasion saw Chauncey hit the open 18 footer. The second time they ran it the Wolves jumped Chauncey which allowed him to dribble past them into the lane which set up an open three for Afflalo. Arron missed it, but the rebound bounced right to Chauncey who drove and dished to Nene for a dunk.
  • Not only did Denver seem physically lethargic in the first half, but they were very slow to do much of anything on offense. There were many occasions where the shot clock wound down to the last couple of seconds. On one occasion Chauncey just sat there in the middle of the floor looking at Melo for several seconds before he finally passed it to him. The result was Melo basically had to make a move and shoot.
  • Both AC and Birdman played great in the second half and I would be remiss if I did not at least mention them because they were both crucial to the comeback. Carter is back to being the change of pace point guard. He has 34 assists and only 8 turnovers since Lawson was injured in L.A. Birdman did very well on the defensive boards, not only did he block shots, but he altered a lot of shots, which is not always the case with him, and he made his free throws going 6-7 from the line. Plus they hooked up on two alley oops, one on a sideline inbounds play that was very impressive.

Advanced Game Stats

Pace Factor: 94.4 – Thanks to the second half they ended up slightly above average

Defensive Efficiency: 105.7

Offensive Efficiency: 116.5

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Pulling for Plateletes

We found out two pieces of news about Kenyon Martin today. His patella tendon injury does not appear to be a season ending and he has already received an injection of platelet-rich plasma. Both of those tidbits could not be more vague.

While the Nuggets announced that Kenyon “is expected to return” at some point this season, there is no timeline. No week to ten days or two to four weeks. Expected to return makes me a little bit queasy. I have expected a lot of things to happen that did not happen. I expected the girl I took to homecoming to dance with me. I expected to graduate college in four years. I expected Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra to make my summer the best one ever.

I would like to think if something is expected to happen the chances of it occurring are better than 50/50. Then I thought about weather forecasts and if there is only a 30% chance of rain or snow they expect rain or snow. Cold the chances of Kenyon playing again this season really be as low as 30%?

Of course, I am being a little silly. If the team says they expect Kenyon to play again this season, I believe them, but still, the lack of a more specific prognosis is not encouraging.

After a little digging, and by digging I mean I conducted an internet search and clicked on at least three links, the reason why the team cannot give us more specific information on Kenyon’s return is because the platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment is a bit of an unknown.

According to Scientific American, which has a really official looking website and might even be a real magazine with subscriptions and everything, is a procedure that has displayed anecdotal success, but is yet to be proven to be more effective than alternative treatments, such as laying on your couch, in legitimate clinical trials.

The procedure involves removing some of your own blood, separating the platelets, thingamabobs from your own blood that your body utilizes to heal itself, and then injecting them into the injured area. The treatment was originally “developed the mid-1990s to aid bone healing after spinal injury and soft tissue recovery following plastic surgery.” More recently the procedure showed signs of speeding the healing of tendons that suffer from microscopic tearing leading to chronic tendinitis especially in locations where there is not a surplus of blood flow.

As mentioned above there have not been any official studies involving humans to prove or disprove the effectiveness of the treatment. Dr. Dennis A. Cardone from the Hospital for Joint Diseases at New York University claims that sometimes patients believe it worked and sometimes it was completely ineffective. Overall he cites a success rate of “maybe around 60 percent.”

If Dr. Cardone is right, perhaps we are looking at a 60 percent chance of Kenyon returning to the floor again this season and thus a 60 percent chance Denver will be a team to reckon with in the playoffs.

Honestly, Denver can handle life without Kenyon for a few games here and there. If they are forced to play without him for a prolonged period of time I think you can kiss any shot at the second or third seed goodbye and perhaps even home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Kenyon is certainly a limited player, but he is the Nuggets’ best rebounder and a very versatile defender. In addition to his defensive abilities, he is a very good passer and was always a threat to score 18 or 20 points. As long as Kenyon can return healthy for the playoffs the Nuggets will still have as good of a chance as anyone to unseat the Lakers although the road will be much more difficult.

The Nuggets have been linked with players such as Mikki Moore and now we can add Jake Voskuhl and Brian Cook. How much do you want to count on any of them at this point in the season? If our worst fears end up a reality and Kenyon is unable to play again this season I am afraid the Nuggets season will be irreparably damaged as well.

Kenyon’s platelets have gotten him through two microfracture surgeries. Hopefully they can come through one more time.

Thrashing the Thunder, Melo vs Durant, Adding Bigs and Some Links

Box Score | Highlights

What can we take from the Denver Nuggets 119-90 dismantling of the Oklahoma City Thunder? The Nuggets were certainly due for a breakout game and the Thunder apparently forgot to drink their energy drinks this morning. The Nuggets certainly rediscovered their ability to pass, score in the paint and run the floor. However, Oklahoma City did not put up much of a battle.

In an attempt to document the expected conflagration between Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant Royce Young from Daily Thunder and I were asked to carry on an email conversation for the Daily Dime. Unfortunately, for Royce, the game was a disappointment, but we still managed to compare and contrast Melo and KD.  (In case you missed it David Thorpe provided his own in depth breakdown of how Melo and Durant match up earlier today.)

After the duel between the two superstars failed to materialize Nuggets fans were still treated to some good news. Chris Andersen looked healthy again. Just two days after moving around the floor in Phoenix like an octogenarian he was spry and bouncy. All the evidence I needed to see came when Andersen stepped away from his man to challenge Russell Westbrook as he approached the rim from the right baseline. When Birdman met Westbrook in the air the point guard dished off to Birdman’s man Nick Collison. Andersen landed, recovered and leapt in time to block Collison’s point blank shot before it started on its way down. It was an impressive play and hopefully a sign that Bird’s chronic patella tendinitis will not be a problem in the near future.

As far as all the regular things we fret over from game to game such as pick and roll defense, rotations and offensive tactics, with the lack of competition I do not think there is anything to draw any hard and fast conclusions.

I guess there is one other thing we can say and that is Kenyon stop shooting from outside the paint. Please, you are killing me. He bricked a three pointer so badly off the backboard that security had to put the ball out of its misery to ease its suffering.

With little to reflect on as far as game action instead of calling it a night we will turn our attention to a question from drewjay. Should Denver be preparing to welcome Mark Blount to the team?

With the Nuggets searching for big man depth the bought out player field never quite materialized. As much fun as it was to daydream about Zydrunas Ilgauskas coming to Denver to hit shots and be really tall, there was never any real chance of that happening. He has played his entire career in Cleveland. They kept him around early in his career when it appeared he would never be able to run from one end of the floor to the other without breaking his foot and this is the best Cavs team, perhaps ever. There was never any chance he would end up anywhere else.

I had hopes of Drew Gooden becoming available, but after conflicting reports as to whether or not the Clippers were going to buy him out we found out the Clippers wanted him to stay. It makes sense for the other LA team to try to win as many games as possible to appear as a better destination for free agents. Had Gooden not been shipped from the Wizards to LA he likely would have been bought out, but alas it was not meant to be.

So who is left? Umm…how about Mark Blount and Mikki Moore?  Any takers?

Considering the way the Nuggets are spending money, or should I say not spending money, the only way they will bring in another player is if that player is significantly better than one, or both of the Nuggets spare bigs, namely Malik Allen and Johan Petro. It is clear that Karl does not trust either one. They only get significant playing time when someone in front of them is injured or during blowouts.

I cannot see Blount enticing the Nuggets at all and I cannot imagine a player who has been played 15 minutes over the past 13 months coming onboard and earning any more trust than Allen has. However, with Moore there is certainly smoke. As Chris Tomasson has reported Moore is recovering from surgery to remove a bone spur on his right heel and could be ready to play be mid March.

Moore is no spring chicken at the age of 34, but he has only played in 557 games and as long as he is healthy could provide an upgrade over Malik Allen. If Moore does come to Denver it will certainly not be to play 20 minutes a night, but as a fourth big who can run the floor, bring energy off the bench and most importantly give Renaldo Balkman a run for his money in the bad hair competition he is probably worth the gamble.

Heck according to the video below Moore is a deadly shooter, great finisher, has an excellent post game and is an all around dominate force (you have to watch it simply to see where on the backboard the ball hits the backboard as he banks a turnaround jumper at the 50 second mark).

If the Nuggets pass and decide not to sign anyone I am not going to lose a second of sleep. I would much prefer not signing anyone to signing Blount. However, signing Moore would be a cheap move with little downside.

Sticking with news from Tomasson he has reported that Carmelo received an IV this morning and that he was slightly dehydrated which could help explain some of his lackadaisical play. If Melo plays like he did tonight after getting some fluids, I say hook him up to an IV every morning.

John Hollinger explains why Chauncey Billups’ 43.9% shooting percentage is historically misleading.

One more link to pass along although it is a little outdated. Sebastian over at NBA Playbook breaks down a lob play the Nuggets ran at Golden State to help ice the game last Thursday.

Additional Game 61 Nugget

Arron Afflalo hurt his thumb and reported had it x-rayed following the game, but he claims via twitter that he is fine and will play Friday.

The Return of Game Stats

I finally updated my spreadsheet and the advanced stats on the right sidebar after only three quarters of the season have passed.

Pace Factor: 98.6

Defensive Efficiency: 100.0 – OKC produced a Nuggets opponent season low FG%, 32.5%, and EFG%, 37.3%.

Offensive Efficiency: 120.6 – 30 assists on 44 makes

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