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
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.