Somehow, the boys in powder blue and gold keep on doing it; “it” being finding a way to win, in this case for a seventh straight time. Thanks to Aaron Afflalo’s career-high 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting and a gigantic 27 and 11 from Nene the Nuggets were able to hold onto a lead that at one point was as large as 21 with a single-point victory.
Despite blowing their huge lead in a third quarter in which they were outscored 30-14, Denver resurrected itself in the fourth thanks in large part to some solid bench minutes from J.R. and Ty (though their stats may not show it) and Afflalo’s career night. A game which could have been a disastrous loss for the Nuggets instead remains part of a winning streak that couldn’t have come at a better time for Denver, who will head into a brutal four-game roadtrip out east starting in Charlotte tomorrow night and finishing at the Garden against the Knicks on Sunday.
Here are some thoughts from the game, in bullet format to speed things up a bit-
- About Afflalo’s game and this season in general; yes, he is a primarily a catch and shoot player who is streaky (like his backup J.R. Swish, at least in the streaky part) and gets most of his points from long range. But that is not what makes Aaron dangerous on offense (nor why he is having a breakout season). He is posting up smaller guards and using good elevation on his jumper to hit that mid-range shot (which he is fairly accurate with). He is running the floor and finishing in transition, not afraid to keep the ball himself and take contact instead of dishing it to a running mate. And he isn’t settling for treys, putting the ball on the floor and knocking 15-footers (most of which are contested and tough shots to make).
- I am loving Denver’s bench more and more with each passing game. I am a huge Birdman fan (which makes me even sadder that he’s injured again) despite people knocking him for his lack of toughness and on-ball defense; the guy is good at a few things (knocking down an open shot, passing) and great at a few (help defense aka monster blocks on unsuspecting guards, running the break, hustle rebounding) and his contract isn’t that ridiculous. Trust me, the Nuggets could do a lot worse with $4.5 million a year. You gotta love Forbes’ energy; Harrington (despite shooting terribly from long distance recently) has played much better-than-advertised defense and can always explode for 25 a night; J.R. has played his way out of George’s dog house and is reminding Nuggets’ fans of how this team got to the Western Conference Finals; and Ty Lawson is a top-flight backup point guard in this league. (and probably could start for some teams)
- I said in my season-preview that Nene needed to make that leap into the next echelon of centers, and his play of late is suggesting he may be moving towards that. Yes he is still inconsistent, but his ability to steal the ball as a center, run the floor, finish in the lane with authority and contact (can Nene’s patented palming the ball, two big gallops and one-handed throwdown be called the “Nene” from now on?) and out-muscle centers bigger than him makes him a threat no matter who he is matched up against. If he can play like this against the Lakers, Spurs, Mavericks, etc., lookout Western Conference.
- Memphis’ 4-5 combo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is one of the best in the league, and Grizzlies’ coach Lionel Hollins should have gotten those two the ball more. Yes, I love Rudy Gay too and he is slowly but surely working his way into a top 20 (dare I say 15?) talent in this league, but Gasol and Randolph will outwork, outbang, out…power (is that a word?) any tandem in the league. Gasol only put up 6 shots (and made five, despite tough D from Nene) and while Z-Bo put up 21, he didn’t seem to get in the rhythm of tha game. Conley is solid, Mayo and Gay can light it up, but if Memphis can get their two bigs involved every game they should make a playoff run (if you don’t believe me, ask the Miami Heat).
One last thought that passed through my mind before we turn the page; as I watch this group play more and more, the more and more I think they could survive (nay, dare I say thrive?) without Melo. Some are speculating that Chauncey would want out if Melo is dealt, but Mr. Big Shot loves playing here and wants to retire a Nugget. And what other competing team needs a point guard (ok, there is a team in South Beach but unless they offer Haslem and….five first round picks (that’s what I’m saying, not gonna happen!) why would you make that deal if you were Denver? Miami offers nothing the Nuggets would want, and in Denver you have-
- A top 15 center (Nene)
- Some quality role players (Affalo, Lawson, Andersen, Harrington)
- A top-notch sixth-man, if he’s not in the coach’s doghouse (J.R.)
- And a HUGE expiring contract (K-Mart)
The Nuggets proved they could win when Melo was gone and even on these recent nights when he’s struggled to find his shot (as Chauncey has) they’ve still found a way to win. They can parlay Melo and/or K-Mart’s deals into some good (maybe great pieces) to build a contender around. Who you might say? Well we’ll save that for another day. Just know the Nuggets are heading to Charlotte (close to Karl’s old stomping grounds in Chapel Hill) with a chance ot get their coach his 1,000th all-time victory. My quandary is, would number 1,000 be better in the head man’s alma mater or on national TV, in the Garden, against the defending Eastern Conference champs? Just saying…