2010-11 Game 70 Recap: Denver Nuggets 98 Miami Heat 103

Box Score | Highlights

There are certain games at certain times of every season that I get a funny feeling about and just dread having to watch. In the past, it was the predictable slumps and offensive hell the Melo-era Nuggets so often fell into during big-time road games. After losing to Orlando in nothing short of heartbreaking fashion, it was an unwelcome case of déjà vu giving me that oh-so familiar feeling that tonight’s back-to-back in Miami would not be a fun one. It’s not that I haven’t been a believer in the remarkable strides this team has made in a short time playing together, I am just naturally skeptical of the Nuggets in big time “show up” games on the road. With that said, attempting to stay grounded about this team’s progress brings a certain understanding that maintaining an identity with grit and determination in a loss to a premiere team is nothing to sneer at. Call it complacency, but in my mind these last two losses are a sign that the NBA is taking notice and adjusting to a surprisingly tough team that is not without flaws – and crashing the new-look Nuggets party like this might be something that needed to happen.

For all the consternation and hoopla surrounding the Miami Heat, this is still a team with the best scoring margin in the league, not to mention a starting five that is a nightmare to deal with.  Then on the Nuggets side, they just lost to a soul-crushing jumper where not only did they struggle all night but also lost Raymond Felton to injury just as Arron Afflalo and Danilo Gallinari eased back into the rotation. That is why all things considered, I look at the way Denver fought through this game and the last without a whole lot of surprise or despair that they ended up losing. There are certain things the Nuggets have been getting away with that are easy to overlook when you’re winning in blowout fashion. On the other hand you have to think they are begging to get exposed and whether it’s now or in the playoffs, the Nuggets will need to address them at some point if they want to better.

My first feeling is that Denver has benefited from playing a lot of unorthodox small lineups that teams are failing to adjust to and exploit defensively. After finally seeing obvious flaws in the Lawson-Felton backcourt against Orlando, the Heat were able to break down Denver’s defense tonight to the tune of 50.7% shooting and an efficient 30 a piece for Lebron and Wade. The past two nights we’ve seen teams force tempo against Denver and exploit them with size. The Heat and Magic were in a position to give up lots of rebounding opportunities by running so many back in order to slow Denver’s transition offense. Both times the Nuggets failed to capitalize and lost the rebounding battle.

That ties into my second thought which is that Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin have been playing far above their heads during this stretch. As the only real size on Denver’s roster playing actual minutes, they are sorely needed to spearhead the team’s rebounding effort. While neither has played a totally bad game the last two nights, their rebounding production has come back to earth and we’ve seen the likes of Brandon Bass, Joel Anthony and Chris Bosh outmuscle them on the glass. Of course, not to go un-noticed is the pathetic two rebound effort from Nene in his 29 minutes tonight. It simply raises the question of whether Denver has the frontcourt that can match up with the best teams in the league and whether or not they may be making a poor decision by continuing to force small lineups despite having more size available.

While the Nuggets haven’t been consistent on defense, they have been good enough to win. Just as the poor rebounding has ruined their chances, the turnovers and the stalling of Denver’s offense have played an equally large role. After recording only 19 assists against Orlando last night, the Nuggets managed a paltry 14 against the Heat. They are playing unselfishly, but still falling victim to teams who can bottle up Nene and take away Denver’s transition game. While it bears repeating that Nene’s flat out refusal to be an aggressive scorer is a big factor, both the Magic and Heat have put him in foul trouble and that is what teams are going to do to him in the playoffs. Denver needs to overcome and while they have a plethora of decent shooters and scorers, it’s hard to find consistency out of anyone. Against natural scorers like Lebron and Wade, it’s something that became painfully evident. The Nuggets bench dominated Miami’s yet all Denver lineups seemed mired between frustrating extremes of hot and cold shooting. When the Nugget shooters aren’t getting hot at the right times the Nuggets are screwed and it is an area they need to develop a more structured offense.

While it’s easy to focus on the bad, these are flaws and strategies the Nuggets have been getting away with. Naturally against really good teams who play defense and rebound, they are struggling and not adjusting as well as they should. It’s part of the growing pains that come along with such a radical change to the team.

There are still plenty of good things to take away from these performances in which the Nuggets have not gone down without a fight. Gallo is about five games into his career as a Nugget and is frequently showing an ability to be the best scorer on the floor. With Afflalo and Felton hobbled and hurt, Denver’s perimeter defense is naturally starting to suffer as a result. JR Smith is finally learning to act like a decent player away from the Pepsi Center. Above all, Denver’s defense is giving them chances to win. The Nuggets are not melting down, imploding on their own and being outmatched on the road against great teams. They have building blocks and it’s a matter of adjustments and execution that keeps them from making the next step.

While the Nuggets don’t have any superstars who make life so laughably easy for mediocre players like Mike Bibby and Joel Anthony, they have a gritty team that is playing respectable ball. Ty Lawson continues to learn on the job and does at least one or two things every game that are jaw-dropping amazing. Despite a really tough loss last night which Denver arguably deserved to win, this was a game lost to a better team that should be a valuable lesson to a team that still needs to prove they can contend. While I’ve been impressed and inspired by the new brand of basketball this team has adopted, I will never be sold that these guys are good enough to skip the speed bumps and gut-wrenching losses that are part of becoming a great team.

Advanced Stats

Pace Factor: 93.5 – Really slow and bad for the Nuggets offense
Offensive  Efficiency:
104.8 – Solid against Miami, misleading as they were hot and cold but trailed by double digits more often than not.
Defensive Efficiency:
110.8 – Bad, mostly due to Lebron exploding for a great game

Additional Game 70 Nuggets

  • The Nuggets only turned the ball over nine times but Miami was able to turn that into 17 points. That’s bad transition defense but also indicative of how impossible it is to stop Lebron and Wade on the fast break. Nine turnovers isn’t bad and the Nuggets shouldn’t be complaining as they only tallied 14 assists and did not run ay coherent offense the entire night.
  • Gallo is still getting into game shape and played 31 minutes basically in what amounted to a starter’s role after Arron Afflalo got hurt in the second quarter. He has not got into a rhythm on offense and often haphazardly drove to the rim for foul shots, which he was able to get at will for the second night in a row. Gallo creates a favorable matchup whenever he touches the ball and if the Nuggets create more opportunities for him to score in different ways he will be their leading scorer easily. He seems to be able to create better shots on his own than anyone on the whole team by far.
  • Gary Forbes got a few minutes tonight and, while still struggling, showed a little bit of improvement and potential to provide a spark. The problem with Gary is his carelessness with the ball and complete lack of identity as a player. I am a big fan of Forbes and see him as an undeveloped Wilson Chandler. However he seems to have no idea what his role should be. Gary should pick one thing he wants to be great at and make it his calling card. Whether its defense, three point shooting, or a hustle rebounder off the bench Forbes needs to specialize and dedicate himself to being some sort of sparkplug. Gary had a few nice defensive sequences and hit a big three tonight but looked completely lost for about 6 of his 8 minutes. He went up so soft against Wade on a fast-break layup attempt I had to wonder what he was thinking even trying it.
  • Ty Lawson shows several flashes of brilliance in every game, yet he still struggles a lot with clutch decision making and half court execution. Lawson threw the ball away carelessly during a huge possession against Orlando last night and had similar problems in another slow, half court game tonight. Lawson thrives when dictating pace using his speed to create confusion. Teams are now giving him a lot more early pressure on pick and rolls and Ty often makes a bad decision when dribbling away from it. I am fine with Lawson making a risky pass when his speed and penetration are creating it but he needs to be smarter with the ball in big possessions where Denver has to protect the ball. He’ll be fine when he learns a little more patience and when things break down Ty has to be more aggressive and learn to create for himself rather than forcing a bad pass.

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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.
  • Peter

    Hey, nice recap. Agree that its not a loss to feel too crappy about, but definitely not perfect.

    Think the lack of front-court size is why Moz’ got some burn tonight? Not sure he’s exactly earned it.

  • Kalen

    Tough game once again, and though there were things I could point to, I have to believe this loss was solely based on three things: exhaustion, injuries and an opponent on fire.

    A) This was the fourth game in the last 6 nights and second of a back-to-back, all on the road, so it was hard to see us winning from the start.

    B) The injuries to Afflalo and Felton really had an impact. Those are two guys who have played key roles on this team lately and combined average nearly 25 ppg. That’s a lot to lose.

    C) The Heat played great tonight. I know it’s hard hearing that since so many people want to see them fail, but they truly played like a title contender against us. In almost every aspect of the game, they outplayed us.

    After the game Wade gave us some props saying they knew this was going to be the toughest game they’ve played in a while (Keep in mind the Heat have gone up against the Thunder, Lakers and Spurs recently). You add this to Van Gundy’s comments that we’re playing the best basketball in the league, and it’s clear we’re getting recognized as a dangerous team now.

    I was watching NBA Tonight on LeESPN and Broussard said that our front office thinks Danilo could be a future star. He said we know that we need a superstar to contend and that we are really hungry for one, but that we’re kind of hoping Danilo could be that guy. Then the host suggested that maybe Danilo needed out of N.Y. to really become THAT GUY. It was interesting.

    I agree with you on a few things Charlie, mostly Nene. I love the guy and want him to be in our future plans for sure, but nights like this frustrate the heck out of me. How can you only get two boards the entire game? That just doesn’t make any sense for a guy his size. Often times when I watch him closely he’s not even boxing out or mixing it up, but rather hoping the ball bounces to him. I don’t want to complain too much, but as a big man, that’s just one of your jobs. Birdman and K-Mart are much better rebounders than Nene in my estimation.

    I also agree on the offense bogging down at times, and would think that a few plays could jump-start that, but Karl likes his loose-flowing offense that’s for sure.

    As far as Forbes goes, it would be nice if he could improve his defense to become a lock-down type of dude. He’s talented, but he’s lost. He needs something to stick too like you said, and defense is always the best.

    Lawson in my opinion needs more time to get comfortable. You mentioned it, we’re seeing flashes of pure genius with this kid (Tonight where he made that runner, then stole the ball and hit that three was crazy!), but he’s still unsure of himself and what his role is at times. That will develop as he does though and the only way to do that is more playing time so he can get comfortable with those types of situations. I like Felton and hope he carries us some in the playoffs, but Ty is the PG of this team’s future and I don’t want anybody else cutting into his minutes.

    • Charlie

      I probably should’ve said more about Nene’s awful game, but I do think Miami executed a very solid scheme against him. They just mauled him whenever he got near the ball and never let him see less than 2 defenders at all times. That is not new, but Denver’s spacing was so bad last night and it seems like when the jump shooting cools off the Nuggets have no flow to their offense and I’d like to see some more creativity and structure in terms of execution.

      Nene was soft last night, the Heat took advantage of that but I still think this team should be good enough to exploit teams playing him like that. Kenyon and Birdman, while they did not play poor proved to poor second options and they are regressing to what they are – bad offensive players and Denver has to be looking for ways to work around that rather than counting on them to change.

      The other thing is while it’s great to be unselfish – when you have a team full of decent and not-great players there are going to be nights where nobody has it going and somebody needs to step up and elevate their game. Against Lebron and Wade it hurts to see passive play out of guys like Nene and Ty Lawson who are so reluctant to step up and carry more of the load themselves. I mean Nene was being guarded by Joel Anthony and Dampier for good parts of this game. Most of the game Ty Lawson was being guarded by Mike Bibby. And yet I just saw very little aggressiveness out of either guy and that is something that needs to change because no matter how much you want to play the right way, winning is everything and good teams just do it whatever it takes to get there.

  • Warner

    I agree with everything said above. I’m not too concerned with nene because now I think he truly believes that he’s essential to the teams success. I believe these types of games will become less frequent. I also believe we really really missed felton at the end of the orlando game and this game. No doubt Ty is the pg of the future but Felton has been a shock absorber of sorts and has allowed ty to play his style more freely. Miami was on fire, Nuggets were tired, we were 500 on a very difficult road trip so I’m pleased. The league has definitely taken notice and even more so I believe melo has. He couldn’t even face media after the piston game… worth 20 mil?? Don’t think so

    • J Birdman

      No Felton was the biggest thing that jumped out at me. Although Ty Lawson is the point guard, the Nuggets need to have Felton on the floor for at least 30 minutes a game. Before these two losses, Felton had been avergaing over six assists this month off the bench. The Nuggets need him to be a secondary creator out there, if they are going to make up for their below average front line. They do not have players who can create their own shots so it really helps to have two guys out there who can set guys up.

      Nene needs to be more assertive and this offseason they need to get another bigman who can score AND defend.

      But I’m good with .500 on a road trip as tough as this one was. Hopefully they can win almost all of their remaining home games and half of the road games. I’m hoping to see Dallas in the first round, it will be fun to see how it pans out.