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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
I owe a big thank you to one of my least favorite shows, The Bachelor. When my wife found out it was the final episode of the ridiculously hokey show where we find evidence that no matter what the last man on earth is like, he will clearly have his choice of women, especially if he spends more time on his abs and pectoral muscles than helping children or old ladies.
The Bachelor saved me from having to watch the second half of a very depressing outing by the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets were coming off of a rough loss against the rival Lakers and playing their fourth game in five nights. Add in the absence of Ty Lawson and the fact that Chris “Birdman” Andersen was a ghost of himself before leaving the game early because his chronic patella tendonitis ended his night early. Ultimately, I do not care how badly the chips were stacked against the Nuggets their collapse in the second quarter was simply inexcusable.
Teams go through cold patches on offense where the shots just do not fall. Denver certainly hit one of those cold patches. The problem was not that the Nuggets could not hit shots, it was that the lack of quality shots that ruined them. The source of the offensive collapse was nothing other than a 2-3 zone defense.
There is a reason why zone defenses are the exception rather than the rule in the NBA. A zone defense in the NBA is working from a disadvantage from the beginning because of the defensive three seconds rule. The central defender is forced out of position before the offense even has to do anything. In addition to that, there is much more floor to cover because of the difference in the three point lines. While it is true NBA defenders are bigger, faster, loner and quicker, those physical advantages are not enjoyed solely by the defense.
For the Nuggets to struggle so mightily against a zone defense, with all of their talent, is inexplicable. They have been much more effective since Chauncey Billups returned to Denver thanks to his ability to shoot from distance and ability to drive when pressured.
There are several ways to beat a zone. The best option is to get to the rim before the defense gets set. That did not work because Denver did not exert the energy necessary to run and Phoenix did a good job of getting back on defense.
Option two, the option the Nuggets always immediately fall back on, is to shoot the zone into oblivion. We already mentioned how the Nuggets’ shooting ability went bye-bye so they had to find another way.
A third option is to penetrate the zone, forcing all the defenders to collapse into the lane, thus leaving their area of responsibility allowing for a quick pass to an open teammate. The Nuggets rarely attacked the lane and when they did, their decision making was subpar at best.
The other option for defeating a zone is to utilize quick passes to draw the defenders out of position and once again open lanes for driving, or to free a teammate for an easy shot.
Instead of employing any of those techniques, apart from missing a few three point attempts, the Nuggets drew a couple pages out of the what not to do against a zone. Namely, standing around, playing passively and missing open shots.
The coaching staff bears some blame as well for Denver’s performance against the zone as they did not seem prepared to handle it at all. Although at this level, players should not need much coaching in order to overcome a zone. I did notice on one occasion that Chauncey Billups was looking at the bench and shrugging his arms and shoulders in the international symbol of confusion as if to say, “What do you want me to do?”
The fact the Nuggets abided a 33-11 quarter and then came out after the half and gave up a 16-7 run, which was fueled by a 14-2 stretch after Denver scored on their first two possessions of the half.
The sad thing was the Nuggets played with such intensity and purpose in the first quarter on their way to building a 13 point lead early in the second. Their pick and roll defense was stout and they were active on both ends of the court. As was pointed out on the broadcast, as soon as the game was handed over to the respective benches in the second quarter the Suns simply exploded and Denver did not have a response.
After playing four games in five nights Denver only has two games over the next five days and three over the next eight games, all at home. I certainly expect a much better effort on Wednesday against Oklahoma City although the Nuggets have to be concerned about their depth with Birdman and Lawson both nursing injuries.
There is no guarantee the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers are going to face off again in the playoffs this spring, but today we got a taste of what a late May matchup between these two teams will be like. If that is indeed the case, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant may not have very much fun during that series.
The two superstars combined to make a mere 10 of their 36 shots. Ron Artest was all over Carmelo on one end while Arron Afflalo was harassing Kobe on the other. The difference in the game was Kobe adjusted his plan to fit what was going on around him while Carmelo did not. The proof is in their passing stats. Carmelo tallied only one assist, an over the head heave to J.R. Smith who was all alone after a steal, while Kobe ended the game with 12 assists. Compounding the problem even further Melo turned the ball over eight times good for a stunningly bad .13 assist to turnover ratio.
The Lakers have had a lot of success defending Carmelo in the past by crowding him with players like Vladimir Radmanovic or Luke Walton to take away his jumper while pre-rotating a defender over, either the power forward or center, to help if Melo chooses to drive. The only somewhat open shot available is a pull up jumper from eight to ten feet which is not a shot most players practice. Today, LA showed how effective that defense can be when the role of Radmanovic or Walton is filled by a motivated Ron Artest.
Artest was able to muscle Melo all over the court, pushing him out to the three point line on several occasions when Anthony was trying to post up. In fact on one play you can see Melo smiling as if to say “You do not bother me” as Artest pushed him towards the sideline only to see Ron jump in front of the entry pass and continue down the floor unmolested for a dunk. It happened again in the second half as Artest pushed Carmelo beyond the three point line and jumped the pass leading to another LA fast break.
When Carmelo drove, Artest guided him left repeatedly and funneled him expertly to his waiting help. Even when Melo drove past Artest, Ron was able to tip the ball away from behind on several occasions. Artest played a great defensive game and executed the Lakers’ scheme perfectly. It was the best defensive game I have seen from him in a long time. Plus his three point shooting helped keep the Lakers in striking distance in the first half.
While Artest deserves credit, Carmelo is not completely blameless. In fact, in some ways he allowed Artest to handle him. Carmelo tried to be a little too cool for school. He did not hold his position well at all and seemed to have a nonchalant attitude about where he received the ball. It almost appeared that he was willing to let Artest have his way in an attempt to prove that he could score no matter where he received the ball, which as we saw was not the case. Early in the game he made an attempt to find the holes in the Lakers defense with his passing, but after a couple were tipped away, he gave up and tried to do too much on his own.
All of the blame for Carmelo’s performance does not fall on the player. The coaching staff failed to put him in the best position. As we have seen in the past, when the Lakers play Melo with the crowd and help style they employed today, the best thing to do is to give him the ball in the middle of the court. That way, help must be ready on both sides of the lane and it gives Carmelo more of an opportunity to pass off. Carmelo repeatedly receive the ball on the left wing. With Artest forcing him left, he was driving with his offhand towards the baseline. On the right side of the court if Artest wanted to funnel Melo to the baseline, he would at least be driving with his strong hand, plus if the Lakers still tried to force him left, he has proven his effectiveness driving into the lane with his left hand from the right wing.
Even with the poor performance from Carmelo I think had Ty Lawson not been knocked out of the game with a bruised shoulder, Denver would have had a great chance to win that game. Anthony Carter played seven nondescript minutes in the second half and Denver clearly lacked the threat for penetration that Lawson provides.
There are some encouraging things to take out of this game. For the second time in three games Denver has done a solid job defending Kobe. Playing Denver is not longer a guaranteed 30 point night for Mr. Bryant. However, the Nuggets still need to find a way to deal with him in the post as he was able to back down and pass off for easy baskets in the fourth quarter.
Nene did a very solid job on Andrew Bynum and the team as a whole did a good job of keeping Pau Gasol from dominating the lane with his excellent post game. In fact Denver’s first half defense was some of their best of the season and they did not drop off much in the second half.
Additional Game 59 Nuggets
By the way, make sure you check out the two podcasts on Land O’Lakers. First off, the interview former NBA assistant Dave Miller on how to stop the Nuggets high powered offense and secondly they talk to Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post about the game and how George Karl is holding up.