If anyone was expecting to see the Denver Nuggets fold after the latest round of speculation and innuendo that all but had Carmelo Anthony getting sized for his new Knicks Uniform, sorry to disappoint you. The Nuggets proved to be completely unaffected by the rumors surrounding the team as they put together what was probably their best all-around performance of the season since the opening night dismantling of the Utah Jazz as they downed the Orlando Magic 111-94.
Carmelo himself played a fantastic game. He was in attack mode from the start. Fourteen of his 21 shot attempts came in the lane and he also made 11 trips to the free throw line. It was the most aggressive offensive game I have seen from him all season. Orlando was without Quentin Richardson and Mickael Pietrus, their two best perimeter defenders. Without those two Carmelo possessed a quickness advantage over Rashard Lewis and when Vince Carter was guarding him, Carmelo knew he could do almost anything he wanted.
The Magic ran a lot of double teams at him when he would catch the ball in the post, but Melo responded by making quick moves to prevent the double from trapping him. On the occasions where he found himself in straight up man to man coverage, he simply went to the rim. The result was 35 points on 14-21 from the floor and 7-11 from the line. It was a very impressive performance.
The other really interesting aspect of this game was for the first time in a game where Nene and Dwight Howard played against each other, they did not start the game guarding one another. I can understand not having Nene cover Howard when Shelden Williams is available, but I was surprised to see Dwight Howard start off on Williams instead of Nene. Maybyner has been playing great as of late and if you want proof that the rest of the league has taken notice, look no further than the fact the Defensive Player of the Year was not told to check him to start the game in order to prevent Howard from getting into foul trouble.
As a team offensively, apart from the first few minutes of the third quarter, the Nuggets played with a great deal of movement and cohesion. Orlando is one of the best defensive teams in the league, currently fourth in defensive efficiency allowing 98.6 points per 100 possessions, and they have Dwight Howard patrolling the lane. Even so the Nuggets were not afraid to go to the basket and Melo, Ty Lawson and J.R. Smith went right at Howard on multiple occasions. The combination of the attention Melo draws from all five defenders on the floor, Denver’s spacing and their quick passing resulted in plenty of open looks from downtown. The Nuggets’ long range shooters delivered with Afflalo, Smith, Harrington and Lawson shooting a combined 10-22.
Defensively, Denver really clamped down in the fourth quarter and the biggest key was not an adjustment or scheme change, but flat out hard work and intensity. The only noticeable tactical change came during a timeout with 8:52 left in the game. Redick had scored 8 points in the first two plus minutes of the quarter, including a five point play where he made a three, was fouled by J.R. and also shot a second free throw due to a technical foul that was levied against Smith. With Anthony Carter in the game the Nuggets shifted assignments sticking J.R. Smith on the offensively ineffective Jameer Nelson, Afflalo covered Vince Carter and Anthony Carter was lined up against Redick.
The Magic would score only six more points the rest of the game as Denver ran away and hid.
Additional Game 19 Nuggets
- Ty Lawson started in place of Chauncey Billups and he continued his strong play when pressed into the starting lineup. Chauncey could miss a few games due to a partially torn ligament in his wrist and it is comforting to know Lawson is capable of getting the job done. There was not one occasion where I thought to myself, “Denver is really missing Chauncey right now.” Lawson was not quite as bold as he was in Toronto and New York, but he had a couple of nice finishes in the lane, made good decisions with the ball and simply played a very good game. The biggest difference with Chauncey out of the lineup was Denver did not get to the line nearly as often as they usually do.
- The Nuggets play at the second fastest pace in the league while Orlando came into the game as the fifth slowest team in the NBA. The Magic are always mindful to get back on defense and they are willing to give up going after offensive rebounds to do so. They did hold Denver to only four fast break points. You have to wonder if they are really helping themselves though as Denver is susceptible to giving up offensive boards to big teams. The Magic actually played Howard and Marcin Gortat together for a while, but not only did they not get many offensive boards, seven to be exact with a miniscule offensive rebound rate of 17.5, the Nuggets won the rebounding battle 40-34.
- The Melo rumors appear to be altering fan behavior more than player behavior. Once again it was a relatively quiet crowd and the Pepsi Center. Towards the end of the third quarter you could clearly hear a fan yelling, “You suck Reddick!” That changed in the fourth quarter when the officials stirred things up. Nene was hit with a double technical with after Dwight Howard pushed him, look for that one to be rescinded by the league, and George Karl was nailed with a “T” after a ball was called out of bounds off of Al Harrington. As the Nuggets pushed their lead late in the game the crowd simmered down again. When Karl made a point of taking Melo out of the game so the crowd could acknowledge his tremendous performance, he received a tepid sitting ovation.
- Carmelo and Vince Carter were going at each other pretty good and it looked like there was some jawing between the two of them. Carter showed some spunk up until early in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Melo just took it to Vince and Carter ended up getting yanked in favor of Redick although Vince did return later in the game.
- Melo punctuated his fine performance with two minutes left when he caught the ball on the left wing. He passed up the open 20 footer to run some clock. However, when he realized Dwight Howard was the defender who came to meet him Melo backed up a step to lull Howard to sleep before crossing him over with the left hand as he blew past Howard on his way to a one handed tomahawk jam. It left the Magic players pointing fingers and Stan Van Gundy beside himself with the lack of help.
- It was beautiful to see J.J. Redick fling himself to the ground on a rebound that came directly to Nene in an attempt to draw a foul only to see Nene turn and pass the ball to Afflalo, the man Reddick should have been guarding, who splashed a three from the corner to give Denver their first double digit lead of the second half 105-93.
- Redick was called for an offensive foul after he bumped into Shelden Williams after an out of control foray into the lane. I was afraid the head of the referees might explode as he tried to figure out which flopping former Duke player would get called for the foul.
- Denver has now won three of their last four games versus the Magic.
Advanced Game Stats
Pace Factor: 94.1 – We discussed this above, Orlando controlled the pace, but the Nuggets were still able to score in the half court.
Defensive Efficiency: 99.9 – It was good to see the Nuggets apply some defensive pressure after the dismal road trip they just completed
Offensive Efficiency: 118.0 – Denver played a very good game from start to finish, save a few minutes early in the second half, they shredded the league’s fourth best defense.
Featured Blogs: From Eddy Rivera of Magic Basketball:
After the Magic went 1-3 against the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, and Denver Nuggets, one thing has become clear.
Orlando isn’t an elite team or a championship contender.
Evan Dunlap of the Orlando Pinstriped Post writes:
Nenê got physical with everyone tonight, though. Though Howard put up impressive numbers, Nenê’s ball-denial late forced the Magic to look elsewhere offensively. He also forced two three-second violations by locking Howard up and holding him in the painted area for too long. No, that’s not legal, but the officials didn’t notice it and they proved to be sound plays.
At Howard the Dunk Brian Serra observed:
The technical foul that was called on J.R. Smith seemed to ignite the always hot-headed Nugget and Carmelo Anthony continued his domination from the entire game. During the final 9 minutes both Smith (8) and Anthony (9) outscored the Magic.
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