In Arron Afflalo’s first game since coming back from re-aggravating his hamstring injury, the Denver Nuggets withstood a scrappy effort from the soon-to-be Anaheim Kings to once again win by a comfortable margin. Although things started off somewhat steady, the Kings gave the Nuggets all they had to offer and for a while that effort posed as a great threat for The Boys in Blue. Just like we witnessed in the previous game, the Kings are a team that — although mediocre in talent — is certainly elite in heart. They’re well-coached, play solid basketball and truly make the most out of the parts they have. From the get-go things went back and fourth with both teams fumbling the ball often, yet still maintaining a high level of energy. In the first-quarter the Kings were knocking down shots at a very efficient pace while the Nuggets had to fight for every basket they made. At half, the Kings led by three.
Much like in the previous match-up, the second half was a totally different story. I don’t know what George Karl is saying in the locker room at half these days, but whatever it is it’s working. Once the whistle blew for the third-quarter to start it was almost as if a switch went off causing the Nuggets to kick things into high gear. The passing performance suddenly boosted to a whole different level where a “hot potato” effect seemed to be a required mind-set for those on the floor. The ball moved, and moved, and moved, never stopping until it weaved it’s way through the Kings defense and into the basket. Gallinari — although lending a shaky performance in the first-half — finally immersed himself into the free-flowing offense Karl employs by taking good shots when open, and driving to the hole when the opportunity prevented itself. Meanwhile everyone else followed in line and like a machine, executed their task with near flawlessness; but unlike a machine, did it with intense bravado led by Kenyon Martin. The defense also was as tenacious as it’s been all year. The aggressive nature of how we attacked, even when we didn’t have the ball was distinctly obvious through steals, blocks and pressure that forced the Kings into submission.
Overall the effort tonight was promising. This was a game that I could totally see us losing pre-Knuggets era, but luckily those days are over. What we’re seeing now is the epitome of a team. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that we might be the best team in the entire league. When we play as a cohesive unit, I think we do it better than anybody. It’s beautiful basketball the way the game is meant to be played, and for fans that translates into a fascinating viewing experience. It’s almost feels like a privilege to be able to watch such Hoosieresque style hoops at the NBA level.
Next up is the Lakers in L.A. on Sunday. It’s going to be another real test/measuring stick to see how we handle the Western Conference’s elite. I’m confident we can win this game but L.A.’s hotness should not be overlooked. It’s currently approaching a near inferno level and with the Spurs faltering, you have to believe Kobe and crew are going to come out gunning in order to secure the number one overall seed in the playoffs. But if Felton’s comments after the game (“We’re ready for the playoffs right now.”) are any indication, you can count on the Nuggets coming to the table with that exact mindset too.
Bits ‘O’ Gold:
— As far as numbers go, Nene was probably the best performing Nugget on the night. The Brazilian Big Man finished with 12 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and one steal (not to mention a great, aggressive mindset as well). Felton meanwhile led the Nuggets in scoring with 17, 14 of which came in the final quarter. Oddly enough he finished with the lowest plus/minus of the entire team at negative 11.
— This game had a chippy, almost neurotic feel to it at times. I can’t help but think the assistance of Cousins’ and his loose-cannon demeanor had something to do with it. To be fair, he was getting beat up all night in the post and rarely had calls go his way. Still, that didn’t stop him from whining and throwing a fit every time he got the chance.
— Speaking of Cousins, I had quite the epiphany watching him play tonight. At some point in occurred to me that he’s non other than the JR Smith of big men. You know, extremely talented with nearly all the physical tools in the world but just as equally maladroit when it comes to making great decisions on the basketball floor. That said, you can’t help but root for the guy to one day break through those mental barriers, because the results would be so fulfilling to witness.
— Gallinari at this point, is the enigma of the team. One minute I think he’s the next coming of Manu Ginobili and the next I’m scratching my head asking, “What the hell was that?” The combination of ill-advised shot attempts and exuberant flops are enough to drive one mad, but the heart and fight he shows on a nightly basis often times make up for it. Much like Melo, I wish Gallo could take more of his shots in the rhythm and flow of the offense, then utilize his size to penetrate in the lane a la Lebron James. He’s still a work in progress, but if he can implement as much effort into his offensive game as he does his passion for the game, he should be fine.
— To me, this win was extremely interesting in that for the first time since the big you-know-what went down everybody on the floor seemed to be on the exact same page. Everybody knew their role, everybody played great defense and most importantly everybody had an unrivaled determination to win. Things were just clicking. This is beyond awesome to see with the playoffs right around the corner.