2010-2011 Game 56: Denver Nuggets 102 Houston Rockets 121

Box Score | Highlights

This was a game and effort simply not worth the time it would take you to read about. Long story short, the Nuggets move to 0-2 on their three game road trip in demoralizing fashion at Houston. Since more important matters like the trade deadline loom, I’ll limit this exercise to some story-telling and general commentary while I watch this latest loss wind down.

The game started off very strange, with the Nuggets hitting shots and the Rockets throwing a very early zone at Denver in response. At first, it didn’t seem to matter as Houston struggled to convert stops into points at the other end. The Rockets offense looked lifeless and Denver took control quickly. It was almost as if Houston was offering up the game at that moment, saying “just be patient, play some defense and you guys can go ahead and have this one.” At one point, the Nuggets lead reached 15 in the first quarter. Then…

The reason the zone was a good idea is it made Denver think long enough to throw themselves off their game. The Nuggets got tentative and walked the ball up without a clue what to do with it. They were simply trying to survive with the ball long enough to hold on to a lead they didn’t work that hard to get. The Rockets may not have gotten stops out of their zone, but they found momentum and a small spark of energy they started the game without. Once the Rockets actually woke up and started playing, it was game over. The Nuggets are down by 30 as I write this.

Al Harrington is one strange dude. No joke, his game started off normally with a couple of missed threes and a few quick fouls. In one sequence he gave up a wide open dunk to Chase Budinger; then responded with a three and a rare fast break finish for an and-one. The very next play, he palmed the basketball in a failed attempt at dribbling. Al Harrington, even when he’s great – is so bad at the defensive end you have to wonder if his shooting and scoring talents are worth the trouble. The way Denver uses him as a big man makes no sense. Gary Forbes played the first half in Birdman’s place and Harrington found himself matched up on Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger at times. Those are two players even Big Al should be able to handle. It didn’t happen.

There was a clear point when the Nuggets stopped playing this game. The sad thing is I believe it actually occurred before they lost their big leads. Even with Denver up big, you could smell a bad loss coming from a mile away. George Karl actually called a timeout when the Nugget lead shrunk to only nine. That was the pivotal and deciding point in the game. Whatever happened in that huddle, the Nuggets responded to it with one of the most pathetically lifeless efforts all year.

I can’t know if Karl avoids taking timeouts because he doesn’t feel he can reach the team in them. I’ve heard that theory, and I don’t know what to say. When your team doesn’t listen to you to a point that even attempting to talk causes disaster, maybe your problems are bigger than calling timeouts.

I see no evidence that this team hasn’t quit on the season. They are now 3-7 in their last 10 with two games before the deadline. Since getting a fully healthy roster the Nuggets have played their worst.

Change beckons. With the Nuggets sliding further out of the playoff race, these last few games can’t get over with soon enough. With the trade deadline approaching, losses may not be the worst thing in the world. The front office thought they might face a tough decision in blowing up a team with promise. The Nuggets are making it easy for everyone by blowing themselves up early.

Additional Game 56 Nuggets

  • You might think that Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen playing tonight means back-to-back restrictions are a thing of the past. Not exactly.  Birdman actually sat out the first half as Gary Forbes filled in to the rotation for some reason. Birdman did play later in the game during garbage time for some unknown reason.
  • Kevin Martin, who was instrumental in Houston’s win at the Pepsi Center last week, had an off-night shooting and was a non-factor in the Rockets blowout victory. Arron Afflalo was aggressive with him throughout and never allowed him to get in the game. Ultimately, it didn’t matter as Denver allowed Houston’s bench to dominate. Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee, and Jordan Hill were all so much better than anyone on Denver’s bench the game quickly became a joke.
  • George Karl. I don’t want to say he has lost the team, but I don’t understand why Denver didn’t try some different things tonight. Melo got very few touches despite torching Houston for 50 last week. He did not ever receive the ball in the post or anywhere except in isolation sets. The Nuggets had no movement off-ball and didn’t seem to do anything other than run a single high pick and roll while everyone else watched. The team truly looks dead and demoralized.
  • I hate to say it, but Denver may not be good enough to make the playoffs even with this roster intact and at full strength. Their success defending the pick and roll is too tied to health of aging role players like Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen. The truth is, they won’t be healthy and Al Harrington is a liability to use as replacement.  Regardless of the Melodrama this team has too much trouble in front court matchups to compete for anything.
  • The Nuggets should seriously consider shaking up their bench rotation. The Rockets bench scored 68 points one week after the Nuggets allowed the Mavericks bench to score 72 on them at home. Casually looking at this Nuggets team from afar, you might think Denver should have an advantage against most benches. Like the Chauncey matchup, that’s a myth. I only say that because while you might assume Chauncey has a very favorable matchup over many other point guards in the NBA, it’s in fact completely false. The Nuggets bench is a huge area of weakness right now, especially on defense.
  • With this loss Denver drops to the 8th seed ahead of Memphis by only one game. Furthermore, Denver is worse on the road than all West playoff teams. 8th seed contenders like Portland, Phoenix, and Memphis are also better than Denver on the road. We’ve been watching sub .500 basketball for a while now, but it’s time to officially welcome being fringe playoff contender. Looking at the schedule, I see Denver having a very tough time making the playoffs. The March road schedule is brutal.
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Charlie Yao

Managing Editor at Roundball Mining Company and writer since 2010. Unhealthily obsessed with Nuggets basketball since 2002. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at the links on the left.
  • Evan

    This is getting ridiculous. Something has to change – if not finally dealing Melo, something else needs to happen this trade deadline. And as much as I love George Karl, he’s got to go. Bring in a coach who knows how to motivate a team and get them to actually play basketball, not this garbage we’ve seen the last few weeks.

  • ParkHillNative

    Jeremy’s idea, that the whole thing should just be blown up so the Nuggets can stink for a while and land somebody great in the draft lottery, gets harder to argue with every day.

  • k

    The fact that the nuggets play random offense is such a poor reflecton on george karl. I feel with him coming back from being sick and all the melodrama he is getting a free pass for his teams effort. Not only melo, but nene,jr,kmart, chauncey (with the buyout), and afflalo are in contract years. You would think it wouldn’t take much to motivate them. Play g forbes more. At least he is going to run around and give you max effort. Its easy to blame melo for all this but he isn’t the one calling the offense. Shouldn’t chauncey,kmart be holding everyone accountable for their efforts? If the nuggets do decide to hold on to melo after the trade deadline it would be nice to see this team rededicate themselves. Or if a trade does happen then maybe everyone will know where they stand and settle in and play hard. Can’t wait until feb 25th to get here.