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.

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