Just as the Jazz’s methodical attack showed us the bad habits and weaknesses in this team’s style, you can always count on the discombobulated T-Wolves to bring out the better side of these Nuggets. After losing a gritty battle of wills with Utah, the Nuggets bounce back by getting out of their one-on-one ways long enough to survive their customary defensive lapses.
No offense to the Wolves, but this should have been a routine win Denver needed to have. Yes, Denver played late last night against an angry Utah team they met at just the wrong time – but Minnesota also played last night in Toronto where Michael Beasley left with a minor injury. You had to think this could get ugly between two tired teams who both play questionable defense. Still all Denver needed to do was show up with the effort they showed last night as they just have the more capable team top to bottom.
The game was sloppy and chaotic early, an environment where the Nuggets thrive. Both teams opened up shooting poorly – but Denver got what they wanted and continued to emphasize ball movement early. The law of averages swung back in their favor as Denver made their open shots and had their effort rewarded with the lucky breaks they didn’t catch against Utah. Arron Afflalo, Melo, and Chauncey Billups created for one another and all shot with confidence in the first half.
Minnesota looked all kinds of bad throughout this one. They offered little resistance at the rim and their horrendous guard play precluded them from getting the ball in the hands of their best players. It was nice to see they were the ones standing around and watching as Denver overwhelmed them with a balanced and fast moving offense. Melo in particular played a complimentary role to perfection with what might have been his best shot selection all season.
It was disappointing to see Denver let up and allow Minnesota back in the game, but they couldn’t have known Anthony Carter and Shelden Williams would be needed. Neither have had much of a role on this team all season and they struggled mightily. Thankfully, the Wolves terribly missed every single big shot they took. Kenyon and Nene were worn out, but they returned with enough time to restore order and settle the team down enough to win.
Chauncey and Melo recovered nicely with high efficiency games in an unselfish effort. The player who stepped up most when Denver needed it however was JR Smith. The bench was absolutely abysmal missing Ty Lawson’s speed and having Birdman’s best game of the season cut short. JR asserted himself when Denver needed it and led the anemic bench with strong cuts to the rim and high energy plays on both ends. I blasted JR last night for his inconsistency and passive tendencies at a time when the Nuggets desperately need a good game out of him. JR isn’t always on time but he finally delivered on the kind of game-changing talent Denver desperately needs off the bench.
Additional Game 51 Nuggets
- Birdman re-injured his knee after one of his stronger starts of the year. It’s very unfortunate for the Nuggets, without his athleticism near 100% he is very limited and not of much use to Denver. Just as he looked to shaking some rust off his game, it looked like he suffered another untimely setback
- Ty Lawson was a late scratch as he continues to suffer with a left knee sprain. His minutes and effectiveness have been limited and Denver’s bench has become a liability without his speed being a factor.
- The Nuggets had 7 players record at least 5 rebounds each. They did an incredible job giving a team effort to beat the number one rebounding team in the league at their own game.
- Kenyon Martin, when he’s not taking shots is one of Denver’s best assets on offense as a fantastic passer, both into the post and out on the fast break. He finished with four assists and spoon fed Melo multiple lobs we haven’t seen him get very often this year
- Arron Afflalo and Chauncey Billups were clearly miffed by their poor shooting performances against Utah and both bounced back to sink 4-6 shots from deep. Billups had double digit assists for the second time all year. Billups only averages 4.3 assists per game on the road.
- Nene, after a career high 28 points on 87.5% True Shooting last night, led the team in +/- while chipping in 12 pts, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Check out John Krolik’s fantastic NYT piece on the unheralded season Nene is having.