2010-11 Game 1: Denver Nuggets 110 – Utah Jazz 88

Box Score | Highlights

The Denver Nuggets absolutely dismantled division rival and playoff foil Utah in the opening game of the 2010-11 season.  There were several good things to take out of the game, but the number one aspect of the beat down for Nuggets fans to be most excited about is the way the Nuggets defended.

Even at the high point of last season when Denver looked like a contender their half court defense was borderline abysmal.  The Nuggets played such solid defense in 2008-09 it was surprising to see them fall off so badly in that area last year.  The Jazz are a team who will typically put extensive pressure on their opponent with their system of screens, cuts and ball movement, but tonight it was the Nuggets applying the pressure with intense defense that flustered the Jazz.

The most significant change for Denver from last season was tonight there was always help ready to close things down in the lane.  Excellent team defenses have a flow to them just like great offenses do.  They are not full or herky jerky reactions based on surprise, but a cohesive synchronized and perfectly orchestrated wave of collective movement.  Each player recognizes the action by the offense and positions themselves correctly based on what is going on around them.  Denver formed a unified front where every change in position had a purpose behind it.

It was honestly quite stunning to see Denver play at such a high level against a team that has given them fits in the past.  The Jazz thrive on getting easy opportunities in the paint.  Against Denver the only open looks they could find were on the perimeter and that was like the difference between bacon and lettuce from last season’s playoff matchup.  For the Nuggets to look so good against a team like Utah while incorporating three new big men into their rotation was impressive.

I voiced my concerns about what Al Harrington would bring to the defensive end of the floor.  We studied some video which showed that he was a decent help defender and would fight hard down low on the block, but his pick and roll defense was less than stellar.  Harrington, as well as Shelden Williams and Melvin Ely did a very solid job containing the ball handler when the Jazz did run pick and roll action.

While the Nuggets played very solid team defense, the Jazz seemed passive and even lost from time to time.  Denver’s defense deserves a good portion of that credit, but it was more than that.  The Jazz turned the ball over repeatedly making mistakes that appeared to be a function of lacking familiarity. Half of the twelve players who suited up for the Jazz last night were playing their first game for Utah.

Of course, the big question for most Nuggets fans is, “How did Melo do?”  Carmelo played a decent all around game.  He was part of Denver’s success on defense and did a good job of not forcing anything offensively.  Melo only attempted 16 shots and received the ball in different areas of the floor working from the middle of the court from time to time as well as the left block. Anthony made a couple of nice passes and showed a willingness to pass up an open jumper to get a teammate an ever better look on a couple of different occasions.  As I mentioned above, Melo did his part on defense and at one time even ran a play down from behind and blocked a fast break layup.

Many people wondered how Denver would react as a team to all of the rumors that are swirling.  It was obvious that the Nuggets were ready to get on the court and put the media frenzy behind them.  If there is any hope of Carmelo staying in Denver it is for the team to win.  Melo may want to play in New York, but if Denver is playing at a high level and residing at the top of the standings, how will he gracefully remove himself from the equation?  Both Melo and the Nuggets will be forced to stay together in order to play this thing out.  After seeing how Denver performed in the opener, for the first time I am willing to admit that may be a possibility.

Getting back to the game, the real surprise on offense was Arron Afflalo.  Afflalo had an exceptional preseason from a scoring standpoint, but you had to wonder whether or not he would be able to continue that success in the regular season.  All Afflalo did was to score 22 points on 8-11 shooting, including going 3-5 from behind the arc.  Afflao has not been the kind of player who would get his own shot, however, he did a great job of picking his spots to drive and was able to not only get to the rim, but finish as well.  Afflalo is not going to score 20 every night, but if he can produce 12-14 points while playing excellent defense he significantly increases his value.  I am excited to see if Afflalo is simply in a short term groove, or if he can sustain this level of play for an entire season.   He definitely has a different mentality which suggests he this could be a big season for him.

It is only one game and there is still a cloud of uncertainty that is rolling in on the horizon.  Even so, the Nuggets looked fantastic and dispatched of a team most observers expected to be one of the best in the league.  It is a step in the right direction and sure beats the alternative.

Additional Game 1 Nuggets:

  • I was not only impressed with the fact Afflalo was making his shots, it was the type of shots he was making.  Last season he stood motionless in the corner awaiting a kick out or swing pass to shoot a three.  That is basically an instant shot, just add the ball.  Tonight, Afflalo was running the baseline and coming off of screens.  It may sound simple, but the additional movement requires good footwork and balance.  When you are on the move, especially running away from the rim to the corner, you must catch and turn in the air as you come down on a jump stop, square up and make the shot.  It is far more difficult than a flat footed catch and shoot and it is the kind of play the great shooters make look easy.  Afflalo appears to be on his way to being an elite shooter.
  • Sticking with the shooting guard position, J.R. Smith was not good.  He was solid on defense, but did noting offensively.  He was not aggressive with the ball and was 1-7 from the floor including 1-4 from behind the arc although I honestly do not remember seeing him make a three.  He did only take one questionable three, but with the growth Afflalo is showing offensively, J.R. is at risk of becoming somewhat marginalized unless he can become much more consistent and fast.
  • Both Nene and Chauncey had to leave the game in the first four minutes after getting struck in their respective faces.  Nene was hit in the eye on a shot and Chauncey was hit in a way that caused him to bite through his lip.  Both players returned and played well and the fact the Nuggets were able to get through their absence was good to see.
  • Nene put forth a typical Nene game.  He was aggressive early and had a nice first half, but he did not do much in the second half disappearing on offense as he only scored three points after the break.  Nene must find a way to keep from vanishing for such long periods of time.   His teammates need to help him avoid sinking into the periphery too by making sure he gets some touches.
  • Shelden Williams filled in admirably for Kenyon Martin nabbing a game high 16 rebounds.  Even so he has a propensity of passing the ball to the opposition and bobbled away a couple more rebounds.  Williams is still a very nice and cheap addition to the Nuggets and you can look forward to seeing a few more performances like this one from Mr. Williams.

Featured Blogs: Neither of the major Jazz blogs have recaps up yet.  They must be in shock.  You can click over to them anyway if you would like. Salt City Hoops | SLC Dunk

By the way, local superstar Andrew over at Denver Stiffs was fortunate enough to spend the night before the season opener with George Karl and his closest associates.

I was on Daily Dime Live earlier this afternoon and after the Nuggets game ended.  You can check out the replay here.  I will also be on tomorrow, Thursday, at 1:00 Mountain.

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  • Chris Coutts

    Really pleasantly surprised. AAA was incredible, Melo was ‘okay’, and thought the 2 major additions (Harrington and Williams) were just fine.

    Williams’ hands are questionable, but for a guy who isn’t an offensive force, I’m not tooooooo worried, just yet.

    I love JR, but man. That just stunk. He’s got some issues he clearly needs to sort out.

  • http://mergenchuluun.com Mergen

    boy, really hope george karl is right when he says he’s really hopeful for this team to do some damage

  • aussie nugs fan

    If we go 82-0 he can’t leave then! Crazy to think AAA is on a minimum contract (or close to it) while Portland gave wes mathews a $30m contract this offseason and I honestly think afflalo is superior, if JR comes good we will have 4 legit guards needing minutes I would love to see us play small in spurts with nene/harrington at centre, melo at pf, jr/affalo at sf/sg, chauncey and or ty too. Yeah we might get killed on defense but you could have 5 3pt threats on the court!

  • DH

    Jeremy, It was great having you in the DDL chat last night. There isn’t usually much Nuggets representation in those chats, so I usually feel outnumbered like Stan Kroenke at Melo’s wedding.

    One thing I noticed was that early in the fourth quarter, Chauncey had 28 minutes and Ty only had 13. And this was in a game where our lead had been in the 20’s for much of it. Do you think Ty’s short minutes were the result of it being early in the season? Or is George going to struggle with limiting Chauncey’s minutes all year?

    Anyway, it was a great win. It was especially encouraging that guys like Afflalo and Williams continued to build on their terrific preseason performances.

  • DH

    Not to bring anyone down, but Yahoo Sports interviewed Melo after the game last night and here are some disturbing portions of the article…

    “Anthony told Yahoo! Sports Wednesday night that he still doesn’t intend to sign the team’s three-year, $64 million contract extension.”

    “Anthony actually considers these Nuggets more talented than the team he helped take to the 2009 Western Conference finals. But even that doesn’t seem enough to convince him to stay…”

    “It ain’t got nothing to do with the new GM, Josh, the players. For me, I feel it’s a time for change. If I do nothing now, I’m never going to do anything.”

    The article can be found at:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=mc-anthonynuggets102810

  • DHinNYC

    Seeing how good the Nuggets could be this year makes the thought of losing Melo even more excruciating. Maybe we should have traded him before we got our hopes up. Those comments to Yahoo are the most damning yet.

  • http://nothing sven

    I attribute most of the Nuggs great defense to a team in the Utah Jazz that has no cohesion or chemistry yet. They were accustomed to getting their points at certain spots on the floor and now they are going to have to figure that out all over again with Al jefferson. The Nuggs will continue to be an apathetic defensive team at best

  • asstman

    Melo’s recent comments prove that he will not be a Nugget next year.
    The funny thing for him is that he has no better shot at a title almost everywhere else. Neither New York nor New Jersey would best the Heat… Melo couldn’t put a single lottery team over.
    So if he sticks around for the season, and Portland falls short of thier ambitions, I think they would make the best trading partner next summer, and the closest thing to a win-win for the rival teams. In which (following raises for) Batum & Fernandez we get both those guys, plus Aldridge. With thier bigs (Oden at 5/Camby at 4), Melo, Roy, and Miller they are clearly in win-now mode. We get 3 starters back, and Batum may be an all-star one day, wait & see.

    Alternately, if it means keeping Aldridge, they might part instead with those same 2 other guys above, plus Oden. Or even Roy. That sounds crazy, but if I’m Portland, I’d consider it. And until Oden proves otherwise, and Roy proves he can play with Miller, it’s worth it to get Melo.

    The only other team that can offer (a distant second) win-win (to Denver) is Orlando. Gortat should be a starter anyway. So they give up him and a few #30 picks in order to get rid of Rashard Lewis. Lewis can give us scoring through 2012, playing SF. This trade leaves us weaker than a lot of teams, but we would be bigger and better inside, and rebuilding with Lawson, we could sadly trade Billups for an off-guard &/or more draft picks.

    Either Portland or Orlando would be a contender with Melo. Orlando would be heavy favorites. I can’t see any other top teams making us an offer than could work for us. And short of landing in Portland or Orlando, Denver is Melo’s best bet… but, he’s made up his mind to leave.

    He’d have an (very) outside chance in Chicago, although Deng isn’t gonna help us much. As far as the Knicks go, they can’t afford to add CP3, and are too small inside to ever get it done. If Melo goes there, he’ll regret it forever, and we will all forever laugh and say I told you so.

    Thing is, neither ORL or POR is likely gonna make a huge mid-season trade (they each think they are set as is — it will take some more falling short to open their eyes), so we’ll probably have to take a lesser deal at the deadline next spring.

    YES or NO:
    Aldrige, Batum, Fernandes?

    Settle for Gortat, Lewis, and picks? And make subsequent trades.

    Beware the alternative is nothing, but a flurry of dust.

  • Clayton

    Melo CLEARLY does not have any real interest in winning a championship. Of course he is out of here. I think it is pretty clear to everyone that his best option to win is to stay put and continue to work and keep taking swipes at LA or wait for Kobe to finally loose the finger(s) that keep breaking. Melo’s (and feel free to insert LaLa at any time) main determination is to increase his BRAND. Money is secondary because he knows most of his dough comes from brand. And brand only comes from big markets. I don’t even think being back home in the East is a big concern – all that matters is the TV/marketability… It’s clearly on his mind, let him go.

    There is no way we are going to trade him to Portland, nor would he actually accept going there – see brandability (yes I think I just made that up). Orlando is intriguing. I was actually just looking over their box score from tonight and wondering why they don’t make more of a play for Melo. They seem to have some pieces that would work for the Nugs and he might just go there. Orlando isn’t that bad for exposure and there is always the free income tax break.

    I was fairly impressed with the rest of the team last night and still hold out hope that they can compete. Without Melo this would still be much much MUCH better than those previous lottery teams we had to endure for so many years. It basically looks like they have set themselves up in a really good position to basically tell our head-cases to “don’t let the door hit you in the backside on your way out”. Williams and Harrington combo easily makes KMart expendable. I had hopes for JR coming into camp, but he just seems lost and miserable. And now Melo has stopped saying everything right. Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye