As any Nuggets fan can attest this NBA season has been an exhausting journey. As a tumultuous season ends in another close battle for playoff positioning it is important to remember you still get to play the Timberwolves at least once.
On December 18th the shorthanded Nuggets notched a key win in Minnesota after having won only twice in their previous 11 road games. On December 10th 2008 it was against the Timberwolves when Carmelo tied George Gervin’s record by scoring 33 points in one quarter. Whether by pure luck or divine intervention there is something about the Nuggets playing the Timberwolves that just makes great things happen. On April 9th 2011 it was another record-setting night against Minnesota and starting point guard Ty Lawson was at the center of it.
Lawson set a new NBA record by making ten consecutive threes in a single game, eclipsing the nine in a row Kobe Bryant made in 2003. It was a masterful shooting performance by Ty, who after making 41% of his threes in his rookie year has struggled and fallen to 37% this year. Since becoming a starter, Lawson has been reluctant to shoot when defenders either go under the screen or simply give up space on the perimeter in order to protect against drives to the rim. There was no hesitation tonight and Ty’s all-around domination culminated in a final line of 37 points on 16 shots with 6 assists, 7 rebounds and only one turnover.
What was most disappointing about last night’s game versus the Thunder was the soft and timid play out of Lawson in a tough matchup with Russell Westbrook. The rest of the team seemed to follow him into a similar malaise even after establishing an early advantage in a game they had no excuse not to compete in. When Ty is aggressive and assertive with the ball it is hard to envision that not having a positive effect in some area of the game. We saw that tremendous effect tonight as the Nuggets followed Lawson’s lead to a thrashing of Minnesota in a game that was competitive for only a few brief moments.
The bad news is the Nuggets offensive resurgence was marred by another pathetic performance at the free throw line. Nene was the culprit in getting to the line a team-best 8 times and managing to convert exactly zero of them. I don’t mean to take away from his solid all around performance as Nene finally sustained his impact for longer than just a brief spurt. However missing that many free throws is inexcusable and it’s something that really cannot be afforded in a normal game situation.
Danilo Gallinari also missed a free throw and left the game after tweaking an ankle in the first quarter. Wilson Chandler has had a stretch of bad games and sat out tonight’s contest with lingering pain in his own ankle. Add that to the recent two-week injury to Timofey Mozgov and the ongoing absences of Chris Andersen and Arron Afflalo and it is becoming clear that this team is catching the collective injury bug at a most unfortunate time. With two games remaining and the Nuggets needing one win for a fourth straight 50 win season, I have to question whether or not it is wise to push hard for the milestone as yet another injury is something the team likely cannot sustain.
With all that aside this is about tonight’s game and that belonged to Ty Lawson. In a short time he is proving what many fans have known for a long time. Lawson’s emergence since the trade proves he had already earned the title of Nuggets point guard of the future and he’s going to be a good one. With Carmelo and the sad departure of Chauncey Billups consuming much of the season the Nuggets often overlooked the best piece for the future they already had languishing on the bench. Seeing Ty unleashed and free to display his potential has been the blessing in disguise and likely the number one reason the trade has brought nothing but hope thus far.
Pace Factor: 102.9 – A blowout featuring two of the top three teams in terms of pace factor. Minnesota plays at the fastest pace in the league.
Offensive Efficiency: 126.4 – That’s with the injuries and free throw woes. When you see what Denver is capable of some of the numbers they’ve posted recently are just disappointing.
Defensive Efficiency: 103.0 – It’s not fantastic, but the Nuggets won by 24 and both Ely and Koufos got into the game.