The Denver Nuggets Lose in Phoenix, Can Still Win Northwest Division

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That was painful to watch. With a division title on the line it was stunning at how the Nuggets failed to compete. I know Denver was playing their fifth game in five nights, but for anyone who questioned my assertion that there was no worse matchup for the Denver Nuggets than the Phoenix Suns I give you tonight’s contest. The Suns jumped on the Nuggets from the get go as they opened the game on an 18-2 run and never looked back.

Even though the Nuggets were closing out a grueling schedule to close the season, I do not think we can site fatigue for the Suns early 16 point lead.

The most vexing aspect of Denver’s play was the decision to revert back to switching ball screens after playing back to back games of relatively acceptable pick and roll defense predicated on the bigs challenging the ball handler. The Nuggets’ switching scheme was so bad they basically allowed the Suns to get any shot they wanted.

Now the Nuggets season rides on the very team that crushed them. Should the Suns win tomorrow night in Utah Denver will back their way into the division title they let slip away by losing games to San Antonio and Phoenix (and Minnesota, the Clippers, Sacramento -twice, Detroit, Washington and New York). That would give Denver the fourth seed and home court advantage in a series against the Utah Jazz.

Should the Jazz win tomorrow, they will win the Northwest Division, Phoenix will be fourth and Denver will fall to fifth where they must face the Suns. I am not sure how much of a chance Denver would have to knock off the Jazz, but it is infinitely more likely they could beat Utah than Phoenix.

If you are feeling down, just remember. What has past is merely prologue to the playoffs and a healthy Nuggets team can beat anyone in the NBA…aside from the Suns that is. Regardless of who the Nuggets face off against, I am going to do my best to give you the best coverage and analysis that is humanly possible.

Anticipating Victory for the Karl Family

As a father of two, I know how special even the most minor accomplishment or achievement your child might enjoy is. Conversely, every bump on the head or skinned knee feels like a tragedy. Most parents pour their soul into their children and that amount of investment is incalculable. I can only imagine how that sense of investment and connection is amplified after the difficulties George Karl and Coby Karl have shared together.

The addition of Coby to the Nuggets will undoubtedly provide George Karl with a tremendous mental, physical and emotional boost. As significant as that is to the recovery of a cancer patient and the ability for his son to be near him during this difficult time they can both draw satisfaction from the fact that Coby Karl was not brought to Denver as an elixir to treat his father’s broken body.

Coby is a very good basketball player and deserves to be in the NBA. He may not be a great athlete. You will never see Coby in a dunk contest, nor will there ever be highlights on SportsCenter where he breaks an opponents’ ankles. The man can simply play basketball and we saw a glimpse of that ability in his impressive performance in the Las Vegas Summer League as well as his time in the D-League and for a few games with the Golden State Warriors.

His many talents consist of the ability to shoot out to the three point line, he takes care of the ball and is smart as you would expect the son of a coach should be. He is nearly always in the right place at the right time and is a very adept passer. He is probably not a player a contending team would want starting for 82 games, at least not yet. However, he is a player who will give his all and do whatever his team needs him to.

While both George and Coby would probably like this to be a basketball story, as we saw in the emotional scene just off the 18th hole in Augusta, Georgia on Sunday, sometimes sport has a way of combining excellence on the field of competition with inspiration off of it.

I do not know how long Coby will play for Denver, or what his father’s future is with the organization. I do know we are fortunate to witness one of those rare occurrences where a sport can help provide victory and strength to people who are hurting. Hopefully the result is spectacular both on the court and off.

The Denver Nuggets Take Care of the Memphis Grizzlies, the Phoenix Suns Await

The Denver Nuggets 123-101 blowout win over the Memphis Grizzlies had a kind of preseason feel to it. It was Kenyon Martin’s second game back from injury and he is still working his way into shape (although he needed the practice, I was relieved we did not have to watch him try to shoot free throws again). The Nuggets seem to be working their way through a transition from switching ball screens to a combination of hedge and recover and trapping the ball handler. As a team Denver had been struggling to get to the line at the rate they are accustomed to and the offense seemed to be not only stuck between first and second gear, but the clutch was grinding like drunks at a dance club.

In many ways the contest with the Grizzlies was simply a tune up for the big matchup against the Phoenix Suns that could decide the fate of the Nuggets season.

After a shaky first quarter that saw Memphis exploit some minor defensive breakdowns in defending the pick and roll and failing to aggressively rebound numerous misses by the Grizzlies, the pieces stated falling together.

Defensively, Denver began to tighten up the pick and roll defense. The lane was successfully sealed off and thanks to some aggressive trapping the Nuggets started forcing turnovers. Turnovers lead to a plethora of fast break points and for the first time in weeks the Denver Nuggets began to resemble the team that was the favorite to finish second in the West and challenge the Lakers.

On offense, Nene was fed early and often and he delivered in a big way. On the heels of his thee point two rebound stink bomb against the Spurs Nene tied a career high by fighting his way to the line 14 times and he made 12, which surpassed his old career high of ten. Denver was able to get the ball in the lane thanks to displaying much more patience on offense than they had in the previous several games combined. J.R. Smith found his shooting stroke, at least temporarily, as he made four threes in the first half and for the first time in five games the people of Colorado can get four tacos for a dollar and the purchase of a drink at participating Taco Bells as the Nuggets finally broke the 100 point barrier.

While it was good to see the Nuggets surge to an easy win they now face a red hot team in Phoenix. As I noted after the loss to the Spurs the Nuggets are making progress in the quality of their pick and roll defense (including video evidence) thanks to both a change in tactics as well as increased effort and focus. Now the real test comes in the form of Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.

I have long thought the Suns provided the most difficult matchup for Denver this season thanks to their abilities to run the pick and roll, make threes and score in transition. The question is will the two game crash course refresher course the Nuggets just completed against San Antonio and Memphis on how to properly play pick and roll defense be enough. Can Denver really execute their hedge and recover and/or trapping scheme against the best pick and roll point guard in the world?

Despite their improvement against Memphis, Mike Conley lit Denver up for 18 first half points, all of which came off of ball screens or transition, suggesting the Nuggets will still have problems dealing with Nash. The flip side of that coin is Denver was clearly more worried about Zach Randolph than Conley in the first half and after shifting their focus in the second half Conley was held to only four points. The Nuggets will be focusing on Nash from the second they set foot in Phoenix, but Conley is clearly not Steve Nash. The Nuggets must do better.

In addition to the difference between Conley and Nash, Memphis does not have a player who is in any way comparable to Amare. No big in the league is as dangerous rolling to the basket than Amare, largely thanks to the artistry of Nash. One way to prevent Amare from catching the ball in the lane with a head of steam is pressure on the ball. The Nuggets did a good job of forcing bad passes against Memphis, but Nash will not be as easy to fluster. In addition to pressuring the ball handler, Denver must have weak side help to make sure any pass intended for Amare is challenged. What they cannot do is just stand behind him because that is a surefire way to give up an and-one.

If you can manage to keep Nash out of the lane, prevent him from getting an open jumper and shield him from passing the ball to Amare, you still must worry about Jason Richardson, Channing Frye and Jared Dudley. They are all deadly thee point marksmen and if you can manage to slow the pick and roll, your recovery and rotations must be crisp and instantaneous to prevent open three point attempts.

I feel confident Denver can trap Nash, I feel slightly less confident they can keep him from passing to Amare in the lane, I am highly dubious of their ability to do both of those things and prevent Phoenix from earning those deadly opportunities from behind the arc.

I have said it before and I will say it again. Phoenix is the one team who can go toe to toe with Denver and win a Wild West shootout. That being said, they really do not have any player who is capable of handling Carmelo Anthony. Jason Richardson is too small, Dudley is too slow and Grant Hill is too old. Carmelo must be aggressive going to the basket and Denver has to take advantage of the fact Robin Lopez will not be patrolling the paint. Plus Amare has been known to get into foul trouble and if Denver can bait him into committing some early fouls it could change the complexion of the game significantly.

The other factor in the Suns favor is Denver will be playing their fifth game in seven days on Tuesday. The last time Denver played in that situation they were demolished in Dallas. There is a difference between those five games in late March and these five. Denver has only had to fly twice as their last three contests have all been in Denver. That should surely help prevent the kind of fatigue that plagued them against the Mavericks. It also helped that no player had to be on the floor for more than 33 minutes because of the nature of the Memphis game. Still, five games in seven nights is draining for anyone and Phoenix has a distinct advantage because of it.

I will add one other note and that is look out for Anthony Carter. At first I was thrilled that Ty Lawson received all the minutes backing up Chauncey until I realized that Adrian Dantley was quite possibly saving Carter’s legs for the Suns game. If that turns out to be the case, it will make things ever more difficult for Denver should their point guard who is best suited for a fast paced game and is the best pick and roll defender out of the three ends up watching the game while AC is on the court.

The Nuggets may have blown their chance to win the division, earn the third seed and possibly match up with a Portland team who suffered yet another injury, this time to Brandon Roy, by losing at home to the Spurs. Still, all it will take to redeem themselves is one final herculean effort in game 82. They have the talent and ability to beat the Suns in Phoenix. Their fate is in their own hands.

For some insights on the Phoenix Suns check out Valley of the Suns and be sure to stop by Bright Side of the Sun as well.

Nuggets/Grizzlies Box Score | Highlights | Thee Shades of Blue

2009-10 Game 80: Denver Nuggets 85 – San Antonio Spurs 104

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Things were falling into place for the Denver Nuggets. Utah had dropped a game to Houston and opened the door for the Nuggets to claim the Northwest Division title and ensure the worst they would finish in the Western Conference would be third. All the Nuggets had to do was beat the San Antonio Spurs, who came into the Pepsi Center the night after losing at home to Memphis, and then beat Memphis on Monday night. Plus Kenyon Martin was making a return from a knee injury that could have potentially caused him to miss the remainder of the regular season and possibly the playoffs as well.

San Antonio had other ideas as they played a near perfect game and beat the tar out of the impotent Nuggets 104-85.

With the loss to San Antonio the Nuggets are going to have to either win in Phoenix, a game that will be their fourth in five days and the Suns will have a day of rest at home, or hope Phoenix can win in Utah on the final night of the season. Their only other hope is for Utah to lose at Golden State and I would not count on that happening.

Getting back to the game itself it was the Nuggets once potent offense that completely disappeared in the second half that allowed the Spurs to take control of the game. After a layup by Carmelo Anthony cut the Spurs’ lead to six early in the fourth quarter, San Antonio rattled off 12 straight points in only 2:39. During that time the Spurs scored on seven straight possessions, that streak would reach nine before the Nuggets finally earned a stop, while the Nuggets turned the ball over four times and missed two shots. On their six possessions they threw a total of five passes and two of those five were caught by players in black jerseys.

The most disconcerting aspect of the game was how the Nuggets completely checked out mentally. The combination of frustration created by the sound defense of the Spurs and the anger they felt towards the officials was apparently too much to handle. This game was in my mind the most important contest of the season, and it was made so largely due to the fact Denver blew so many easy games early in the season, yet Denver was completely unable to rise to the occasion. The way they failed to answer the bell in the fourth quarter was very distressing.

There was a slight glimmer of good news though. Despite the fact the Spurs picked Denver’s defense apart, the Nuggets actually showed significant improvement on their pick and roll defense. I am sure you will read that and scoff because the Spurs seemed to score at will. My high school coach used to say that any offense that is run correctly, will eventually earn an open shot. The pick and roll is the perfect example of that principle. A combination of a solid screen and the ball handler making sure he runs his man into the screen always creates an advantage for the offense. The Nuggets did a very good job of hedging, recovering and rotating against the Spurs pick and roll. The Spurs simply responded by executing their offense. The contrast between the motion and passing the Spurs exhibited on offense and the I-got-the-ball-so-I-better-shoot-it offense the Nuggets exhibited was very exacerbating.

I suspect there are some doubters out there regarding my claim the Nuggets improved their pick and roll defense so I put together a few clips as video evidence.

Denver still has time to get their act together for the playoffs, but I fear the way the season is playing out the most likely result for Denver will be a first round matchup against the Suns without home court advantage and that is very bad news for the Nuggets.

Additional Game 80 Nuggets

  • Kenyon Martin looked to be physically well. He did throw down a dunk with some of his trademark ferocity. I never did get a good feel for his lateral movement though. He did get beat off the dribble a couple of times, but I do not think it was necessarily due to his knee injury. Obviously all Nuggets fans will continue to watch him very closely over the next couple of days.
  • I was once again disappointed by Chauncey Billups’ play. While he had a good scoring night, he played to score instead of playing to ensure the Nuggets ran any semblance of offense. As the point guard he must demand his teammates share the ball. As long as he is bringing the ball up the floor and shooting without making a single pass, there is no way anyone else will feel the need to do anything other than shoot.
  • Nene has played very well against Tim Duncan and short of Amare Stoudemire I do not think anyone gives Duncan as much trouble as Nene. However, Maybyner was practically a no show on offense. He played solid defensively, but in 32 minutes he only collected two rebounds. While I am confident Nene will not play that poorly again for a very long time, he hurt Denver dearly on Saturday and played a significant role in Denver’s offensive struggles.
  • Another very frustrating aspect of the game was the way Carmelo practically begged out by getting tossed. Instead of fighting to the very end, he basically threw in the towel. I realize he has a very adversarial relationship with Tony Brothers it does not excuse his tantrum that resulted in getting ejected. On the flip side, if a referee continually butts heads with a player, it is clearly not always the player’s fault. If lawyers can ask that potential jurors be removed from jury selection, why can’t teams ask for certain referees to not officiate their games? I realize the league would never allow such a veto over officiating assignments to come to fruition, because that would be admitting their referees might not be wholly impartial. Still, it takes two to tango and Brothers is always dancing with Melo.
  • The Spurs completely controlled the tempo of the game. I was amazed at how frequently they possessed the ball deep into the shot clock. The sad thing is Denver has the ultimate pace changer on the bench in Ty Lawson and for some reason despite nearly a full season of excellent play, Adrian Dantley has not confidence in him. Lawson was tied to the bench until the final six minutes of the game when things had already been decided. In case you were wondering AC was on the court for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter and played a role in the collapse.
  • Dantley also chose the wrong team to go small against. Denver has had success with Chauncey, J.R., Afflalo, Melo and Nene on the floor together, but Saturday he tried Chauncey, AC, Afflalo, Melo and Nene.
  • If you want an example of how goofy plus/minus can be, Johan Petro was a +11.
  • Denver scored an embarrassingly low 28 points in the paint. The Spurs defense made things difficult for them, but instead of passing and moving without the ball, Denver played right into their hands.
  • Thank God Denver will not be playing San Antonio in the first round.

2009-10 Game 79: Denver Nuggets 98 – Los Angeles Lakers 96

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For the second night in a row the Denver Nuggets delivered a feel bad win. For the second night in a row the Nuggets lost a sizeable third quarter lead. For the second night in a row the Nuggets were behind in the fourth quarter and looked like a cooked goose. For the second night in a row the Nuggets made the plays down the stretch and pulled out a victory.

This time it was against the Los Angeles Lakers who were playing without Kobe Bryant and the victory dropped the Nuggets’ magic number for the Northwest Division title down to two. Denver can clinch the division title and seal home court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs with any combination of Nuggets’ wins or Jazz losses that add up to two.

There was some gamesmanship prior to tipoff as word leaked that Phil Jackson just might sit some of the Lakers key players and low and behold Kobe Bryant did not play a second. Early speculation as to why Kobe was held out surrounded the fact that it would provide a built in excuse for L.A. if they lost the game, and thus the season series, Denver would know it was because Kobe did not play. My initial reaction was that the Lakers wanted to do what they could to avoid playing the Nuggets in the first round. You can draw your own conclusion, but while the Lakers should be able to clinch the top seed in the west, they are now tied with the Orlando Magic and may have sacrificed home court in the finals should those two match up again in the NBA Finals.

There was nothing new to Nuggets fans in this game. Denver plays a so-so first half, builds a lead, gives it up after the offense becomes stagnant and perimeter oriented leading to easy baskets at the other end of the floor, and then somehow Denver manages to barely hang on for the win. While I am not thrilled with how the game went, at this point in the season a loss would have been devastating so I will gladly take the W, tainted though it was.

Once again the Nuggets tightened their defense and honed their focus over the final few minutes. Still they found themselves down five, 92-87, with just over three minutes remaining. Melo was a little slow meeting Lamar Odom as he cut into the lane, but recovered well enough to deflect the pass and it went out off of Odom. On the other end of the floor Melo showed some real savvy. He received the ball just left of center above the three point line. He had Anthony Carter on the wing and J.R. smith in the corner. Melo directed Carter to go to the other side of the floor and thus he and J.R. were now alone. Melo then drove left on Odom. Had Melo not repositioned Carter Jordan Farmar would have been in position to help and could have done so without worrying about Carter making him pay by hitting a three. However, with J.R. in the corner Sasha Vujicic was not about to leave Smith to help Odom. With no help available Melo blew past Odom for a layup. Odom was miffed with Vujacic, but he was not about to leave Smith, who had made five threes, alone. Plus any help from the weak side would be shielded off by Odom. Gasol did make an effort to help and block the shot, but he was too late. It was a very intelligent decision by Melo and he then executed it perfectly.

On the next Laker possession Nene, Billups and Carter all collapsed on Derrick Fisher resulting in a deflection and then a rushed shot. Denver rebounded the miss and pushed it up the floor. Carter passed to Melo who drilled a game tying three.

On the next defensive possession Nene hedged beautifully and forced Vujacic into the corner and when Carter recovered he was able to force a jump ball. Los Angeles controlled the tip and Billups was called for a foul when he tried getting a little too close to Fisher on a jumper. Fisher made both free throws, but J.R. drove baseline on Vujacic and hit a little floater to tie things up at 94.

The Lakers once again had the ball, but could not get a shot off thanks to Nene playing strong denial defense as Pau flashed out to the free throw line. Nene tipped the pass into the backcourt and by the time Vujacic recovered it, he ran out of time to shoot.

Denver then ran pick and roll with Chauncey and Nene that was so effective down the stretch in Oklahoma City. Nene only made one, but made up for it by stealing the ball from Gasol. Melo drew a foul on Odom and made both freebies to put Denver up 97-94.

Fisher was able to draw a foul on J.R. and made both free throws to get the Lakers within one. Denver then ran pick and roll, but Chauncey lost picked up his dribble and had to pass to J.R. who had his shot deflected. Denver caught a big break when Shannon Brown flipped a pass up the sideline allowing Chauncey to get in and deflect the pass. After a lengthy video review it was decided the ball was off of Fisher.

At this point I thought Adrian Dantley made a mistake. He had Melo, his second best free throw shooter inbound the ball and when Fisher did his best impression of a coffin on Chauncey, gripping him like grim death, Melo had to pass in to J.R. who has not been the most effective late game free throw shooter. Perhaps Dantley wanted to avoid a replay of what happened in the conference finals from last season when Denver turned the ball over twice on late game side inbounds plays. Still, Melo should have been a one of the potential receivers instead of the passer.

True to form J.R. missed the first free throw and failed to push the lead back up to three.

Down two with 12.7 seconds left Phil Jackson chose not to call a timeout. Melo and Chauncey switched a screen between Odom and Fisher. Fisher chose to try to get a jumper off over Melo. Fisher never threw any kind of a move at Melo to freeze him and as a result when he tried to launch a jumper Melo was able to lunge and block it.

While I would have preferred a 30 point victory, I was impressed with how Denver made the little plays to pull out a win. In the final three minutes alone, they scored at the rim twice, Melo hit a big three, the deflected two passes, stole the ball twice, defended the pick and roll successfully three times and blocked a desperation shot.

Denver now must continue to win on Saturday hen San Antonio comes to town. A victory over the Spurs and Memphis the following outing will clinch the division.

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2009-10 Game 78: Denver Nuggets 98 – Oklahoma City Thunder 94

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There are certainly two ways to look at the Denver Nuggets’ 98-94 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. The positive view is on a night where the Nuggets were missing Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen and acting coach Adrian Dantley suffering with kidney stones and in addition to those issues Denver was struggling to execute on both ends of the court, they made the plays they needed to make and came out with a win. The pessimistic view is the Nuggets did not play winning basketball, but pulled out a victory solely because the Thunder ran out of gas due to playing their fourth game in five nights, including the night after a mentally and physically draining overtime loss in Utah.

Honestly, both of those views have some merit. With playoff positioning on the line Denver had to win this game and they did. Regardless of how winded the Thunder might have been the Nuggets still had to make the shots and come up with the stops to complete their comeback.

The Thunder appeared to take control of the game with a 26-6 run spanning the third and fourth quarters. The Nuggets were 0-14 from the floor and turned the ball over seven times during that stretch. At that point I had tagged the body and was zipping up the body bag. Oklahoma City’s spurt was fueled by too few passes when the Nuggets had the ball. To make things worse, when Denver did pass, it was typically a poor decision, such as a lob by Chauncey Billlups in to Johan Petro who was being fronted on the block resulting in a travel when the help came from the weak side and on a three on one fast break J.R. Smith passed to Chauncey instead of Carmelo resulting in a easy block by Kevin Durant. (I do have to give Durant credit for how he played it. He shaded towards Melo’s side to bait J.R. into passing to Chauncey, then when the pass was made he simply closed in and blocked the shot. Still, it was a three on one and all it would have taken was for J.R. to realize Durant was baiting him into passing to Billups, fake to Chauncey and then dump the ball to Melo, or after KD committed to Chauncey he could have dropped the ball to J.R. or Melo for the score.)

So how did Denver manage to get back in the game? First and foremost, the defense finally made an appearance. After falling behind 89-76 with just over seven minutes remaining the Nuggets forced four turnovers and blocked two shots in the next three minutes and Denver ran off ten straight points. The key in my mind was the help defense. For much of the game OKC players were able to drive the lane and finish without worrying about encountering resistance.

Nene did a much better job of hedging on screens. The one time he was out of position, Chauncey squeezed down and tipped the ball away from Russell Westbrook. On another occasion Nene and Chauncey trapped Westbrook in the corner. Nick Collison cut to the basket, but Melo was in perfect help position. He slid over and was able to force a jump ball, which he then won against the taller Collison.

As the Nuggets picked up steam, the Thunder had clearly lost their legs. I believe every shot Durant took in the fourth quarter was short and jumpers from Westbrook and Green consistently hit the front of the rim. Defensively for OKC, the rotations that had closed off the lane for much of the night became a half step slower.

With Kenyon and Birdman sidelined the group that pulled off the comeback was the small ball bunch consisting of Chauncey, J.R., Afflalo, Melo and Nene. Despite the height disadvantage the Nuggets outrebounded the Thunder by nine. The starting back court of Billups and Afflalo corralled 13 rebounds while Carmelo tallied 11.

Defensively, Denver was simply much more active and they did a great job communicating.

There was some good and some bad by Adrian Dantley tonight. He continues to make the stunningly bad decision to give Anthony Carter playing time instead of Ty Lawson. It blows my mind that especially after the way Lawson played against the Clippers Dantley thinks it is a good idea to play Carter. Lawson is so vastly superior Carter’s stranglehold on playing time is difficult to fathom. I also thought it was odd that Petro started instead of Joey Graham. Oklahoma City plays Jeff Green at power forward so Graham would have been a good matchup to combat Green. Also, if Petro checks in for Nene you avoid the situation where your only big on the floor is Malik Allen.

Sticking with questionable decisions by the Denver coaches I was also blown away that coming out after halftime assistant Chad Iske said that the Nuggets were happy that the game had turned into a “defensive game in the second quarter” adding they wanted to slow the “young fast guys” from OKC down. The biggest advantage the Nuggets had was the fact the Thunder were playing their fourth game in five nights. Add in the fact that Denver was missing two of their three best bigs and I fail to see how a defensive half court game gave Denver the best chance to win.

Both coaching staffs engaged in a bit of a battle around Carmelo. Thabo Sefolosha is a very good defender, but he lacks the lateral quickness that other lockdown defenders possess. The Thunder gave Thabo the opportunity to try to handle Melo one on one. Melo blew by Sefolosha twice for layups and after that the Thunder switched to the pressure and pre-rotate system we have seen the Lakers make famous. For the remainder of the first half Melo was held in check. To start the second half the Nuggets made an adjustment that has worked to negate the pre-rotating defense that has been effective against the Lakers in the past. Instead of feeding Melo on the wing, they started giving him the ball in the middle of the floor. That adjustment allowed Melo to get into the lane again. The Nuggets also started curling Melo off a screen to get him the ball on the right side about 12 feet from the rim. That forced the defense to worry about Melo coming off the screen and shooting, Melo continuing to curl and drive to the basket and the fact that the screener was rolling to the rim. I thought Anthony missed some chances to dump the ball to Nene on the roll and once passed up the open short jumper to fake, spin and shoot a much more difficult turn around, but the set succeeded in getting Carmelo the ball.

I did like the play Dantley drew up with the Nuggets down four and 2:20 remaining in the contest. Afflalo threw the ball in to Billups from the right side of the floor. He then ran around a double screen by Melo and Nene. With the defense shifting to account for Afflalo Nene set a down screen for Melo who popped out to the free throw line wide open. Melo caught the pass and instead of settling for the jumper, drove into the lane and converted a short flip shot amongst four Thunder defenders. Sadly for the home team, three of those four defenders were doing more watching than helping.

With the Jazz losing in Houston tonight if the Nuggets can win their final three home games they will win the Northwest Division and have home court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs. That is easier said than done as the Los Angeles Lakers roll into town on Thursday on three days of rest and smarting after a demoralizing loss to the Spurs in Staples Center on Sunday.

Additional Game 78 Nuggets

  • How bad was the Denver Nuggets’ defense against the Oklahoma City Thunder for the first three plus quarters? The Brakes Plus Stop of the Game was an unforced error where Kevin Durant simply lost control of the ball. Needless to say if they had waited a few more minutes there would have been several much better plays to choose from as Denver really turned up the defense down the stretch.
  • Another very odd decision by the Nuggets’ coaching staff was to attempt to avoid calling a timeout while Carmelo Anthony was laying motionless on the court so that trainer Jim Gillen could make sure Carmelo was not paralyzed. Only after J.R. practically tried using Melo’s lifeless body as a screen to get off a shot did play finally stop.
  • Denver once again gave us some examples of good switching and bad switching. The bad switching was on display for much of the game, but especially early on when Carmelo consistently chose to pass Durant off to Johan Petro. Leaving Petro exposed on the wing against a player he had no business guarding. Believe it or not, Petro picked up two early fouls. The good switching came late in the game as the Nuggets guards successfully passed Durant off to one another on the perimeter in order to ensure he could not get space to fire off an open three pointer.
  • I am really impressed with how well the Thunder are coached. Scott Brooks may have some things to learn at the end of games, but it was interesting to watch how quickly the adapted to what the Nuggets would try to do defensively. If they could get the lane, they would drive and dunk. When Denver pre-rotated some help both weak side players immediately flashed to open areas that could not both be defended. Defensively, they are cohesive and challenge every foray into the lane. Even so, they are still the team I want to play in the first round.
  • After watching the closing sequence over a couple of times, I have no idea how Westbrook did not end up with the rebound after Durant missed a runner that would have tied the game at 96. One second it looks like he has it and then a split second later Melo is holding the ball. Not that I am complaining or anything…
  • Denver would not have won without shooting exceptionally from the charity stripe. They drained 10 of 11 attempts in the fourth quarter including two by Chauncey to give them the lead and two more by Melo to shut the door.

Kenyon Martin Might Practice on Tuesday

The AP is reporting Kenyon Martin has been scheduled for “limited practice tomorrow” by the Denver Nuggets.  There is still no date set for his return, but this is a big step in the right direction.  He has been running without a setback for a few days and if he can continue to progress he may be able to reach his goal of returning prior to the beginning of the post season.

There is also mention of possible lingering tension from the April Fool’s Day popcorn prank between Kenyon and J.R. Smith.  J.R.’s driver, Laquan Johnson, has taken the fall although the fact that Kenyon and J.R. have supposedly talked since the incident it sounds like J.R. was more involved than he would like for Kenyon to know.  Ryan Schwan of Hornets 24/7 recalls that that the popcorn prank was a staple of Hornets players when J.R. was in New Orleans.  Add in a history of questionable decision making on and off the floor by J.R. and Schwan thinks J.R. was the “mastermind” of the plot.

As long as they come to an understanding along the lines of do not mess with Kenyon I think everything will be OK and we can expect Kenyon to agree to play in the playoffs.

Keeping Things Lively in Denver

There is rarely a dull moment in Denver anymore. On Thursday they returned to their winning ways with a big win over Portland, saw Chris Andersen suffer an ankle injury, some foreign object flew into his mouth and the team had to deal with a locker room meltdown. Next Denver said all the right things about not taking the Los Angeles Clippers lightly, only to take them lightly causing a near disastrous first 18 minutes, we found out George Karl will not be able to come back from his cancer treatment unless Denver can make it out of the first round and news that Kenyon has begun running to test out his knee.

Aside from the Nuggets earning their first two game winning streak in over two weeks, I think the best news was actually the tantrum Kenyon Martin threw after his Range Rover was filled with butter popcorn on April Fool’s Day.

Do not get me wrong, yelling at and threatening your teammates after a big win is not something I prefer to have happen, but it was what Kenyon said that caught my ear. In an effort to coax information from those listening on who pulled the prank Kenyon exclaimed, “How ’bout if I don’t play in the playoffs until somebody tells me who did it.”

I learned in political science in studying deterrence that in order for a threat to be effective it must be credible and you have to be capable to pull it off. For instance the credibility comes from there being some kind of logic or connection between what behavior you are attempting to prevent and what you are threatening to do. For example, if I tell my daughter that if she does not turn down the television I am going to burn the house down, she immediately will realize that the chances of me burning down our house are remote. Therefore the threat is not a deterrent because it is simply not credible.

Secondly, the party attempting to deter someone else from doing something must be capable. Again, using the example of my daughter and the blaring television set if I tell her to turn it down or I will get iCarly canceled and removed from the air, she knows regardless of how badly I want to do it I am not capable of pulling off such a stunt and therefore my threat is without merit.

I would imagine you are wondering what my point is. Kenyon attempted to use his return as a threat to spur those around him to provide him with information. Kenyon did find out who was responsible for the joke and though his threat may not have carried much water I suspect it failed the credibility test as opposed to the capability test. In other words, it sounds to me like Kenyon fully expects to return and play in the post season.

It may not be much to go on as the official word is that no one knows if he can play again this season or not. Still I think it shows his mindset as well as the mindset of his teammates. Combine this threat with the fact that he is running and doing something other than peddling on a stationary bike and I am optimistic that he will at least attempt to return in the next couple of weeks.

Whether or not the comeback is successful is another story.

The Re-Return of Ty Lawson?

The other piece of really good news from this weekend was that Ty Lawson played 28 minutes and hopefully put the backup point guard spot in a strangle hold for the remainder of the season. Of course, we thought we had reached this point when Lawson played 20 minutes in Dallas last week, but then only garnered eight minutes against Portland on Thursday. At some point, with playoff positioning, and perhaps the season, on the line Adrian Dantley will stop trying to throw bones to Anthony Carter and let Lawson play.

There was a scary moment against the Clippers where Ty bumped his left shoulder and came out flexing and rotating his arm, but it certainly did not seem to have any kind of negative effect on his play.

George Karl Nearing End of Treatment

Again we send out our best wishes to Coach Karl as he has reached the end of his radiation treatment and only has one more round of chemotherapy remaining.  The physical toll of what he is going through is still very high, but with treatment coming to an end his body can begin to recover.  Get better coach and keep fighting!

Brian Butch Come on Down!

The Denver Nuggets finally signed some big man insurance.  They passed on players like Mikki Moore and Jake Voskul and signed center Brian Butch of the Bakersfield Jam for the remainder of the season. Butch played his college career at Wisconsin closing out his senior season in 2008. In 2008-09 he played overseas and signed with Bakersfield this season. He has posted very good numbers in the D-League, 17.7 points and 11.9 rebounds, and had a very impressive March boosting his averages to 18.5 points and 15.7 boards.

I honestly do not know much about Butch, but Ridiculous Upside does a great job covering the D-League and has some insight on Butch complete with video highlights.

I would not expect Butch to play much, he is likely just an insurance policy, but it is entirely possible he could take a few minutes from Malik Allen against teams with size.  Perhaps the real story is that Chris Andersen’s ankle will keep him out of commission longer than we had hoped, but that is only speculation.

An interesting aspect of the story is Butch’s contract reportedly contains a non-guaranteed salary for 2010-11. I would imagine it is for the league minimum, or close to it, but it still could be a small trade chip to be used this summer.

Hopefully, with Bakersfield losing a top notch athlete it will make things easier on Taft.

Update: Scott over at RU has posted his thoughts on the call up for Butch and he thinks Denver pulled the trigger on the wrong guy.

Fight or Flight

We are close enough to the end of the season to start projecting what might happen with some level of certainty. Honestly, I have no idea what order Dallas, Utah and Phoenix will finish in or how the bottom three spots will be sorted among Oklahoma City, Portland and San Antonio. I do believe two spots are locked in place. Obviously the Lakers will be the top seed and I think the Nuggets are all but guaranteed to finish as the fifth seed.

While that is a very frustrating sentence to type, Denver can be a dangerous fifth seed or they can be a pushover as the fifth seed. It all depends on how the finish the regular season and the Nuggets’ closing schedule is an interesting one. Almost every contest features a team playing at the end of a difficult stretch of games.

Portland comes to town Thursday playing their fifth game in eight days. Wednesday they bombed the Knicks, but still have to travel for the fifth straight game. Denver has been sitting at home since Monday night dwelling on how badly they have sucked for the past week. If we do not get a big effort from the Nuggets against Portland, it will be very bad news. I think the result is a win for Denver.

Next the Clippers, without Baron Davis who is out with back spasms, arrive in Denver on Saturday in the only battle between two rested teams remaining on the docket. The Nuggets will be on one day of rest while the Clippers will have had two days off after getting blown out in Toronto on Wednesday. That game should absolutely be another win for the Nuggets.

Denver then has three days off before their final five games in seven nights stretch to close out the regular season. The first outing is in Oklahoma City. The way Denver has been playing this would seem like a sure loss. However, this game will be the fourth game in five nights for the Thunder, who play in Utah the night before, and will have traveled before each of the four games. That smells like a win and a three game winning streak.

The next night the Nuggets return home to play the Lakers who are having some serious struggles on the road right now and really have nothing to play for. Even so LA/Denver has become a heated mini-rivalry and with the Lakers enjoying three days off I expect them to play well. Denver will be motivated to do well also with the division crown still within their grasp, but without Kenyon Martin and Coach Karl I suspect they drop this one.

After a day of rest Denver gets a visit from the San Antonio Spurs who will be playing their fourth game in five days. It will be interesting to see if the Spurs will knock themselves out in an attempt to avoid the eight seed and a first round matchup with LA. I suspect the Spurs will sit Tim Duncan and/or Manu Ginobili against Denver and I think this is another Nugget victory.

Two days later in the penultimate matchup of the regular season the Grizzlies come calling. It will be Memphis’ fifth game in seven days as they provide another victim for the now rolling Nuggets.

That brings us to game 82, a visit to Phoenix. The Nuggets will arrive in Phoenix with a solid stretch of five wins in six games and sporting a 53-28 record a half a game behind the Jazz who will be 53-27 and playing a game at Golden State on the same night. Denver will be playing their fifth game in seven nights, although unlike their recent horrific five in seven trip out east, they only have two travel days of which this is the second. The Suns enter the battle after a day off. Phoenix is a very difficult matchup for Denver when the Nuggets are full strength and the chances of earning a W in Phoenix are slim. Chalk that one up as a loss with Denver finishing the season 53-29, fifth overall in the conference.

These final seven games will be a test of Denver’s mental attitude and determination as there are “official” reports backing up my intuitive suggestions that they very well could be without Kenyon and Karl even after the playoffs begin.

Thursday night is the Nuggets’ fight or flight moment. Do they fold the tent and enter the playoffs a slumping has been or embrace the fact they can still capture the Northwest Division and remain relevant? Momentum changes come at unexpected times and as bad as they have looked recently all it will take for the Nuggets to recapture some of their lost mojo is a well played victory against the Blazers.

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