For the second straight game the Denver Nuggets handily defeated its opponent by at least 17 points. Spearheaded by stingy defense and a flurry of steals, the Nuggets continuously got out on the break and never let up. One wave after another eventually collapsed the opposing players and ultimately left the Jazz feeling “kind of blue.”
Before the start of the game it was great to see the Pepsi Center so alive. I also loved the introduction where long-tenured season ticket holders got to run out of the tunnel with the players. For whatever reason, this year feels like one dedicated to the fans and season ticket holders in general. After the tumultuous Carmelo Anthony saga last year — which no dedicated fan should ever have to endure — you just get the sense that this team, full of unselfish, non ego-driven guys is one you’d be very comfortable paying to see. To make sure the fans knew the 2011-12 Denver Nuggets were appreciative of their presence, rookies Jordan Hamilton and Julyan Stone — who were still rocking the business suites, to my surprise — addressed the crowd before tip-off, essentially saying “thank you” in the least amount of words possible.
The start of the game was sloppy. Afflalo seemed to be the only one showing intense aggression, which was nice to see from the $43 million dollar man. Still, the Nuggets struggled to score, going 0-5 to open up the contest. Eventually however, the game birthed a steady back-and-fourth flow with the Nuggets forcefully pushing the pace while the Jazz managed only to keep up by way of 3-pointers. The game remained relatively close until Denver’s second unit of Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez, Al Harrington and Chris Anderson entered the game, upon which an immediate lead was established. From the time this bench unit hit the floor it was clear that Utah simply could not match the pace or talent that Denver was putting forth. At the end of the quarter Denver led 28-23.
Going into the second period the game again became somewhat sloppy. George Karl was intent on playing his patented “small ball” lineup with Birdman at center and Al Harrington at power forward which clearly worked out in Utah’s favor as the Jazz hauled in one rebound after another. During this stretch Andre Miller shot two 3-pointers, Birdman continuously fumbled routine passes and Al Harrington got leaped over by much taller players like Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. The Nuggets also half-heartedly doubled Al Jefferson in the post which he had no problems maneuvering around. All in all, this was the Nuggets worst quarter of the night in terms of perimeter defense. Though Denver continued to expand on its lead thanks to an explosive second unit, the defense was lackluster and unorganized.
When the third quarter rolled around the Nuggets tightened up its defense, and in turn, created a myriad of turnovers which the offense feasted off. To say the Nuggets came out “on fire” would be an understatement. It was almost as if every time you looked up someone was getting a steal with two or three guys leaking out ahead for a “Showtime Lakers” type of finish. This was probably the most active I’ve ever seen Denver’s defense in terms of forcing turnovers in my entire career as a fan. It was truly a sight to behold and naturally led to the game being blown open for good.
By the time the fourth quarter began the game was already over. Karl trotted out Corey Brewer to start the final countdown with fan-favorite rookie, Kenneth Faried (aka, the Manimal) making his long-anticipated debut at roughly the nine minute mark. Kosta Koufos and DeMarre Carroll then entered the contest at about midway through the quarter and remained in until the final whistle. During “trash time” former University of Colorado standout and 12th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Alec Burks, put on a clinic scoring 15 points on 6-9 shooting in only 10 minutes of playing time. Aside from Burks impressive outing, no player for the Nuggets really stood out, although it’s worth mentioning Koufos had as many points and rebounds as Mozgov did in 10 fewer minutes.
Stud of the night: Nene, with 25 points (10-13 from the field, 5-5 from the line), seven rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocks in only 24 minutes of action
Dud of the night: Earl Watson, who managed to score a whopping zero points in 17 minutes of action.
Next victim: Dec. 29, at the Portland Trailblazers, 10 p.m. EST
— Let’s start off with the Mozgov vs. Koufos debate that I so unnecessarily galvanized with this article yesterday. Look, I know this argument is virtually pointless as neither of these guys are going to become some kind of savior throughout the year, but as mentioned above, Koufos put up the same numbers as Mozgov did in 10 fewer minutes of court time. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was against Utah’s third-string unit, but still, he was down in the post demanding the ball, clearing out his opponent then making some real polished offensive moves towards the basket — which he scored on. Mozgov meanwhile, played OK. His defense was solid, I’ll give him that, but I’m just not exactly sure how much he’s contributing to the Nuggets’ success in other areas of the game. In 18 minutes of action four points and two rebounds is pedestrian at best, especially when you glance across the box score and see Paul Milsap pulling down eight boards to go with 13 points, two steals and an assists in only four more minutes of action. I understand that Mozgov will continue to develop and have no problem with this as long as he continues to play solid defense, but I’m still going to wonder what in the hell Karl sees in him during practice that allows him to log 18 minutes of action and the starting center position come game time.
— Obviously this has been re-hashed to death by now, but Lawson is crazy fast… like… reallycrazyfast!!! I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone as quick as he is off the dribble. If he can continue to master his ability to finish around the basket in traffic, I have no doubts this kid will soon be an All Star.
— “Birdman,” the persona, has officially ruined Chris Andersen, the player. Ever since his admirable comeback in 2009 when he absolutely destroyed the league with his blocked shots, Birdman just hasn’t been the same. Although he still brings an unrivaled amount of energy to the floor every time he steps on the court, his fundamentals have unfortunately been replaced by the constant desire to make “the big play.” Prime example: With only seconds left on the clock in the first quarter “Birdman” followed up a missed Al Harrington jump shot which resulted in a pretty spectacular put-back dunk. Of course, immediately following this impressive second effort, Birdman then turned to the crowd, started flapping his arms and dancing while the Jazz in-bounded the ball right over his head, dribbled down and scored a 3-pointer as time expired, which not only nullified the Birdman’s put-pack but also gave the Jazz a point in the process. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say we all kind of miss the humble, out-to-prove-something Chris Andersen at this juncture.
— Rudy Fernandez is the J.R. Smith Karl always wanted J.R. Smith to be. Both players are excellent athletes and superior outside shooters, but Fernandez might just have the edge when it comes to making the right basketball play. I cannot tell you know impressed I was with him tonight. Though I’m a huge J.R. fan and always will be, there’s no denying that Fernandez probably is J.R. Smith without the… baggage. His court vision is phenomenal and his decision-making outstanding (outside of a few errant lob attempts). If he continues to play as cerebral as he did tonight, I could easily see Fernandez becoming one of Karl’s favorite go-to guys in crunch time.
— Random thought during the game (best read with an Allen Iverson “practice” rant in mind): “Are we really doubling Al Jefferson? I mean, Al Jefferson? Not, Kevin Durant, not Lebron James — Al Jefferson? Wow. Not exactly sure what this means, but it’s interesting either way.”
— After scoring 19 points in the first half and being as aggressive as we’ve ever seen, Nene once again fell short of reaching the 30-point mark. Obviously if he had played all game, things probably would have been different, but still, I’m starting to wonder if he’ll ever drop 30 in an NBA game! Nevertheless, Nene looked straight up nasty and assertive to the fullest, which kind of makes you wonder if moving to power forward really is an important part of his success.
— Forcing turnovers and getting out on the break is already this team’s identity and I have no doubt that as the season progresses, this will remain a constant. The only thing that worries me is complacency. At some point, this Nuggets team will get tired of running teams out of the building and will in turn fall back on ill-advised fundamentals. Let’s just hope Karl has what it takes to keep them focused, as landing a high seed for the playoffs has GOT to be priority numero uno.
— Al “Hamburgler” Harrington is now officially Al “Buckets.” Dude looks like an entirely new person and is playing like the man who used to drop 40 on Melo instead of the one who dropped Big Macs in his stomach before games last year. I was fully on board with signing him before the start of last season and after a brief hiatus, I think I’m back on the Al bandwaggon. In two games this season, he’s been the best small forward on the Nuggets roster.
— Faried didn’t look too good towards the end of the game, which was kind of weird because he looked fantastic in the scrimmage I went to a few weeks back. For whatever reason he was almost lollygagging around the court, seeming a bit lackadaisical, which again is not the Faried I know. Granted, this was his first NBA game ever so I’m not going to look into it too much, but I’d really like to see him be more active when given time even if he’s still struggling to understand the professional game. Karl said during the post-game speech that he thought Faried looked really nervous, which Faried latter admitted via Twitter. But even with the nerves attached he seemed to be moving and playing at NCAA speed. Rookies always say the hardest aspect of the NBA game to adjust to is the speed, and judging by Faried’s performance, this certainly rings true.