|Corey Brewer, SF 26 MIN | 5-14 FG | 0-1 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 11 PTS | +4
14 shots in 26 minutes is a lot, but Brewer has never been shy about letting it fly and he’s continued to develop into a more consistent offensive player. I thought it was a very tough matchup going against Gerald Wallace and Nic Batum, but Brewer held his own. Karl did a fantastic job managing his minutes and not forcing him out there in a super-small lineup where he’s likely to be overpowered by bigger players.
|Kenneth Faried, F 17 MIN | 6-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 13 PTS | +8
It sounds ridiculous for a player who only saw 17 minutes, but if I had to give an MVP award for this win it would undoubtedly go to Faried. He was instrumental in setting the tone for the Nuggets, defending with vigor and dominating the paint on both ends. Seven offensive rebounds is the most any Nuggets player has gathered this season, and Faried did it in less than 20 minutes. The “Manimal” is growing up quick and when you imagine what he might do with more minutes and a more polished offensive game — it’s downright scary.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 23 MIN | 6-10 FG | 2-3 FT | 9 REB | 1 AST | 14 PTS | +3
Mozgov had a very solid performance. Although he struggled defensively at times, much to Scott Hastings’ chagrin, Mozgov was physical with Aldridge and much more assertive on the offensive end. He’s been struggling with turnovers and rebounding, two areas in which he improved greatly tonight. Mozgov just needs to be more consistent in terms of production with his 20 minutes a night as he continues to prove himself as a valuable role player.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 36 MIN | 4-13 FG | 3-6 FT | 1 REB | 6 AST | 12 PTS | +9
Afflalo’s shot was flat and he missed several big free throws, but outside of that his game was superb. Afflalo’s been much more confident in his offensive game and continues to improve by taking more shots in the flow of the offense. The only things missing right now are the three-point consistency and his reliability at the foul-line. If those areas improve and he continues the kind of production we’ve seen in the last two weeks, Afflalo could be safely considered one of better shooting guards in the Western Conference.
|Ty Lawson, PG 38 MIN | 8-15 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 9 AST | 18 PTS | +17
Lawson started slow after returning from injury and seemed to be going through an up-and-down night as he struggled to find his rhythm. On the other hand, the Nuggets offense looked so markedly different with him back in the mix it became clear how important he is despite not being able to make his shots. Lawson then exploded late and assumed total control of the game behind 6-9 shooting in the fourth quarter. His offense was brilliant most of the night and he delivered the win when the Nuggets needed someone to step up down the stretch.
|Al Harrington, PF 31 MIN | 5-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 13 PTS | +8
Al played a good game, replacing Faried early and often but maintaining good enough defense and rebounding to avoid much of a drop-off in either area. Al was clearly worn out before the break and struggling to work off his teammates for shots. Harrington played 30 minutes and looked tired at the end of his stint, but there’s no denying he took much better shots and gave way better effort in other areas outside of scoring.
|Andre Miller, PG 29 MIN | 1-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 4 PTS | +1
Miller was not as bad as his stats indicate, but just take a look at how dreadful his line was. Although Miller looked spry and was more “active” on the defensive end, he still struggled to rotate and close out on shooters. It should be stressed Miller was better on defense than he has been, but his game is still plagued by inconsistency and frequent stretches of flat-out horrible play. Miller took only four shots, two of which were three-pointers and he committed two bad turnovers late, when all Denver had to do was hold onto the ball in order to win.
|Kosta Koufos, C 25 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 8 PTS | +3
Koufos was his usual productive self, providing a steady rebounding presence and decent enough offense in his limited time on the floor. Where Koufos really shined was in the closing stretch of the game, where Karl trusted him to close out the win in Nene’s usual role. Koufos defense was spectacular in some crucial late-game sequences and he never stopped playing hard. This is some of the most focused defense I’ve seen out of Koufos, who had two of his four blocks in a pivotal fourth quarter where the game was closer than it seemed.
|Jordan Hamilton, G 14 MIN | 5-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 11 PTS | +2
Hamilton was a mixed bag – but mostly good as he’s still finding his way through the first handful of meaningful games in his pro career. Hamilton was extremely aggressive on offense, dishing his way to three nice assists but also taking some bad shots, a couple of which he made in spectacular fashion. You have to love the energy Hamilton is playing with, but he failed to block out Batum on a fourth quarter putback which ended up getting him benched. A double-digit scoring game is progress and Hamilton just needs to work on his fundamentals and accept the short leash that comes with every rookie mistake.
Four Things We Saw
- A weight off the shoulders: The month of February has mercifully come to end, and thanks to a renewed spirit in the face of adversity the Nuggets are ending their worst month in years on a high note. I was worried coming into the game that despite Lawson returning, the Nuggets injury situation remained largely unchanged since before the break. They have been struggling to put up consistent effort and had every excuse to continue that and end up losing to a rested Blazers squad. The Nuggets ended the month with a record of 5-11, a disappointing performance but not a complete disaster. As small as a single win out of those 16 games seems, this one felt great and renewed a sense of hope as the Nuggets came out with their most complete effort since January.
- Go big or go home: The Nuggets have a size advantage against virtually every opponent they play, and that’s with the injuries to Gallinari and Nene. Despite having bigger and more athletic front court players than their opponents, Karl often ignores it in favor of guard heavy lineups designed to get the Nuggets out in transition. Tonight Karl rewarded the promising young bigs and the Nuggets proved they are just as good in the open court without having to play small. The decision to go with Faried and play Koufos down the stretch proved to be the difference in winning this game. Denver’s big men dominated with their energetic play, outrebounding the Blazers and outhustling them in the paint . Faried and Harrington logged double-doubles with Mozgov and Koufos both coming within inches. Denver needs to play like this more often.
- Masai’s revenge: Watching this game I couldn’t help but be reminded of the draft day trade swapping Andre Miller for Raymond Felton, which allowed the Nuggets to draft Jordan Hamilton and Kenneth Faried. Miller had a poor game, but the Nuggets brought him in expecting nothing more than a solid backup. The Blazers made the trade assuming they had a bonafide starter in Raymond Felton, who played a solid game but has faded into the background as Jamal Crawford’s backup. Meanwhile Kenneth Faried dominated the game in 17 minutes and the additional depth provided by that trade allowed the Nuggets to win despite missing Gallinari, Nene, and Rudy Fernandez due to various injuries. Although Portland has gotten the better of their season series with Denver, the Nuggets played both previous games on a back-to-back and I think it’s safe to say Denver will end up on the better end of that trade for the foreseeable future.
- Ty Lawson… the closer?: It’s my belief the Nuggets are best served with the ball in Lawson’s hands during crunch time. Ty does not require a screen to get his shot off, but he is undersized and unselfish to a fault. The Nuggets must preach team-wide execution on offense when a big basket is needed. Without that, you end up with a lot of dribbling and an off-balance heave by Lawson in isolation, which is not his strength. As we saw tonight, Lawson can make his shots but it requires a fluid and less predictable offense. Lawson often scored in isolation by himself when he needed to, but the biggest shot of the game came off an Afflalo drive where the Nuggets moved the ball with precision and found Ty for a spot-up three at the end of the shot clock. Portland played great defense, but the Nuggets got all five players involved and trusted each other enough to create that pivotal shot opportunity as a team. Execution like that is sorely needed late in games where the Nuggets don’t have a dominant one-on-one player.
Game 36 Advanced Stats
Pace Factor: 91.4 – Slow, but heavily affected by Andre Miller and a bad fourth quarter
Offensive Efficiency: 113.7 – A great rating by the shorthanded Nuggets playing their style of ball
Defensive Efficiency: 103.9 – A very inconsistent game, but honestly much better than I’ve seen in weeks.