As is being reported by Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post, the Nuggets will be extremely depleted on Monday against the Houston Rockets. Three starters including Nene, Afflalo and Mozgov will all be out in addition to Corey Brewer due to the devastating loss of his father. While Mozgov and Brewer will almost certainly miss multiple games, there’s no definitive word out on how long Nene or Afflalo will be sidelined. Starting in place of Mozgov will be Kosta Koufos, who’s coming off a career game against the Blazers in which he netted career highs in minutes played and rebound in route to a 16-point, 12-board double-double. In place of Afflalo will be Julyan Stone and in place of Nene, none other than the “Manimal” himself, Kenneth Faried.
|Nene, C 27 MIN | 1-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 4 PTS | -18
It’s no secret Nene tends to struggle against taller, more talented big men. We saw it against the Lakers and again Saturday night against LaMarcus Aldridge and the Blazers. Early on Nene attempted to go after Aldridge down low in the post but got turned back on nearly every occasion. From that point on he disappeared and never really attempted to get back in the game.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 36 MIN | 7-14 FG | 5-5 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 20 PTS | -20
Gallinari drove aggressively to the hole and for that I commend him. This was a solid bounce-back performance after a few disappointing outings in which he took far too many outside jump shots. Gallo gave it his all for most of the game and looked completely pale on the sidelines at the end of the fourth quarter.
|Kosta Koufos, C 34 MIN | 7-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 12 REB | 1 AST | 16 PTS | -5
This was by far Koufos’ best game as a Nuggets and quite possibly the best game of his career. He logged at least 30 minutes for the first time in a Nuggets uniform and put up season highs in both points and rebounds as a result. More than anything, against the Blazers Koufos proved that if he receives enough playing time, he’ll produce. His 12 boards were a career high and the most of any Nuggets since Nene had 13 against the New York Knicks. His 34 minutes were also a career high.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 20 MIN | 0-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -1
Something has to be up with Afflalo. Nuggets’ radio announcer Jason Kosmicki tweeted after the game that he might have a groin injury, which leads one to question why he’d be playing in the first place. Even if he was truly injured it still doesn’t change the fact that Afflalo has struggled mightily up to this point in the season and is without question the biggest disappointment of the year so far. This was his second game in the last six where he received at least 20 minutes of playing time and has gone scoreless in the process. Maybe Afflalo should just take a few games off, get refocused and come back when he’s ready.
|Ty Lawson, PG 32 MIN | 7-14 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 16 PTS | -19
Lawson was a standout in terms of effort. He was flying around the court all night, looking as if he was the only one who hadn’t succumbed to chronic fatigue like most of his teammates. He penetrated with precision and either ignited or got out on the break every time he was presented with the opportunity. This was clearly one of Lawson’s most effective games in the last week.
|Al Harrington, PF 22 MIN | 3-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 9 PTS | -15
Harrington didn’t take a lot of shots but found a way to contribute in other areas, especially on defense where he played solidly against the much taller LaMarcus Aldridge. Once again Harrington’s passion for the game overflowed on to the court as he could be seen giving 110 percent even in the waning minutes of the game when the Nuggets didn’t have a shot at winning.
|Andre Miller, PG 14 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 2 PTS | -8
Miller looked absolutely lost. Granted, his 14 minutes didn’t allow him to make the type of impact he’s capable of, but there was probably good reasoning behind his lack of playing time in the first place. Batum’s career night began when Miller “attempted” to guard him, and in his first handful of buckets that went in from beyond the arc Miller didn’t even put a hand up to contest the shot. We’ve known Miller struggles on defense at times, but not even attempting to contest a shot is absolutely inexcusable. Because of this, Miller gets the first “F” I’ve handed out all season.
|Corey Brewer, SF 20 MIN | 4-10 FG | 6-7 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 14 PTS | -7
Although a good chunk of his minutes came in garbage time, it’s hard to ignore just how energetic Brewer was in his time on the floor. Fourteen points in 20 minutes to go along with five boards, two assists, two steals and a block is nothing more than pure hustle numbers. His defense continue to impress, although he needs to work on not turning the ball over quite as often as he does.
Rudy Fernandez, SG 23 MIN | 3-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 9 PTS | -19
Fernandez seemed somewhat hidden. Even in 23 minutes of action it was hard to tell what exactly he was doing on the floor. I did notice him playing stingy defense on a few occasions yet I also couldn’t help but look at the box score and “smh” at his five three-point attempts. Rudy simply isn’t hitting 3-pointers at a high clip, so why he continues to take so many is baffling. It would be nice to see him drive to the basket more than just once in a blue moon.
|Julyan Stone, G 3 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 PTS | +5
Stone, like all the rookies, didn’t play very much even though he should have. Still, his defense was great and his willingness to find nearly all of his teammates on offense continues to be a good sign from a young point guard. It’s hard to see Stone play with so much enthusiasm on the defensive side of the ball and not want to see more of him.
|Kenneth Faried, F 5 MIN | 1-2 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 4 PTS | +2
Faried definitely still has a ways to go before he’s a sound NBA player and more than likely this is going to take a while. He’ll go through some growing pains in the process, although I cannot stress enough how his energy, defense and rebounding will cover up most of these flaws. Right now he should be focusing on making the right basketball play rather than the most electric ally oop; nevertheless, just like Stone it’s almost frustrating watching Faried play because you’re always going to want more.
|Jordan Hamilton, G 3 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 3 PTS | +5
You can tell, Hamilton has some offensive fire power up his sleeve. He hit yet another 3-pointer in the final seconds of the game to show off his range and displayed a fairly decent handle to go along with it. After seeing him get a little more comfortable each time out, you’re left to wonder just how effective he might be alongside the second, or first, unit in the heat of a real game.
On Saturday the Denver Nuggets chose to waive DeMarre Carroll, according to Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post. With next Tuesday’s deadline that demands all NBA contracts become guaranteed and Wilson Chandler still not re-signed, waiving Carroll was the simplest way to ensure a roster spot remains open for Chandler upon his return to the NBA sometime in the near future.
|Nene, C 31 MIN | 5-12 FG | 2-4 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 12 PTS | -6
Nene had trouble defending and scoring on the Lakers’ bigs down low. Los Angeles has always been a bad match-up for the Brazilian big man, and Friday proved no different.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 29 MIN | 1-9 FG | 3-4 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 6 PTS | -1
Gallinari started off the game scoring a few buckets but went ice cold from there on out. This is another among a handful of bad performances Gallinari has had recently and the second game in the last three where he’s been relegated to the bench late in the fourth quarter of a tight game. Even considering his struggles, it’s hard to understand why he wasn’t at least on the floor for the final play of the game.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 7 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 4 PTS | +3
Mozgov was playing great yet again until he went down with an ankle injury. He was defending well and made several nice shots in the post. As weird as it sounds, the Nuggets missed him greatly once he exited the game.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 24 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 7 PTS | -7
Afflalo played good defense for most of the game and came up with a few steals in the process. His struggles continue and naturally so does his erratic insertion into the lineup.
Ty Lawson, PG 36 MIN | 6-12 FG | 2-3 FT | 3 REB | 7 AST | 14 PTS | -4
Ty Lawson was one of the strong points to a Nuggets team that had difficulty doing anything well against the Lakers. While Gasol and Bynum offer up an intimidating combo for the diminutive guard to score against, he still found ways to affect the game in other areas.
|Al Harrington, PF 37 MIN | 8-16 FG | 5-6 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 24 PTS | -8
Big Al came up “big” in the fourth quarter where he scored 10 straight points to keep the Nuggets alive. His passion and desire to win are proving to be some of the most valuable intangibles this Nuggets team has to offer. Unfortunately, the rest of his teammates couldn’t quite bring it the way Al did against the Lakers.
|Andre Miller, PG 30 MIN | 5-6 FG | 6-6 FT | 3 REB | 7 AST | 16 PTS | +1
Miller had a solid night numerically but once again had trouble guarding his opponents. Even though he may be one of the better players on the Nuggets roster its perplexing as to why he always closes out games even when he’s pitted against much larger shooting guards where Afflalo might have more success.
|Corey Brewer, SF 9 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -4
Brewer didn’t see much time but in the minutes he did receive he brought the standard infectious energy level that Nuggets fans have become accustomed to seeing.
|Rudy Fernandez, SG 21 MIN | 1-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | +4
This was by far one of Rudy’s worst games of the season. His three-point shot was not falling, yet he continued to hoist up countless jumpers which almost never made it through the rim. Again, it’s imperative that Rudy makes an impact in other areas of the game besides just shooting 3-pointers.
|Kosta Koufos, C 16 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | +2
Koufos wasn’t exactly having his way against the Lakers bigs and finished the night off on the bench for most of the second half as a result. Similar to Nene, this was a tough match-up for the young center even though he gave his best effort in the minutes he was given.
In preparation for today’s slug fest between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets I had the chance to do a Q & A with Andy Kamenetzky from ESPN’s Land O’ Lakers blog and ESPN Los Angeles. You can read my responses to Andy’s intriguing questions over on Land O’ Lakers. You can also look for a 5-on-5 coming later today on ESPN.com where I weigh in on tonight’s doubleheader with the Celtics and Knicks playing before the Nuggets and Lakers.
1. The Lakers have vastly different home and road records. Experienced veteran teams are not typically so deficient away from home so why are the Lakers having such a difficult time winning on the road?
Well, it’s worth noting the Lakers’ early season road schedule has been very difficult. They’ve had games in Sacramento (always a tough venue), Utah (where they won), Denver (the second end of a back-to-back against the Nuggets), Portland, the Clippers, Miami and Orlando back-to-back, Milwaukee, and Minnesota (a win). The Bucks were an inexcusable loss with Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson out, but the rest of those games aren’t automatic gimmes. Factor in how the Lakers played a boatload of games in the first 3-4 weeks and the lack of practice time to learn a new system, and it’s not perhaps shocking they haven’t been good on the road.
Of course, the obvious response is that elite teams with championship aspirations will find ways to overcome these issues. Of course, the Lakers aren’t playing anywhere close to an elite level at the moment, and it’s debatable whether they’ll ever be capable of that on a regular basis. And therein lies the rub.
2. Pau Gasol, while still playing well overall, has slipped a bit from the stellar level we have come to expect from him. Is it a matter of the difficult schedule or is it possible the trade rumors are bothering him more than he has let on?
I don’t think rumors are a factor. Pau certainly wasn’t thrilled with being part of the scuttled CP3 deal, but he showed up to practice the next day, and rode out an awkward situation. I’ll give his ability to block out lingering whispers the benefit of the doubt. The schedule, however, has probably been an issue. Gasol hasn’t just played a lot of games, but a lot of minutes as well. Mike Brown’s defensive schemes demand bigs show hard and recover on pick-and-rolls, and nobody’s been pushed harder than Pau. Doing this for 37-ish minutes a night will take a toll.
There’s also a matter of Pau’s role, which hasn’t been fleshed out to his liking. There was a long stretch where he was basically parked at the elbow and used primarily as a facilitator and jump shooter, and he expressed displeasure about it. Since then, there’s an effort to get him more low post touches or just call his number, but the results have remained erratic. At times, the blame falls on teammates not looking enough for him. Others, the blame falls on Gasol’s indecisiveness and lack of unwillingness to occasionally force the issue himself.
This hasn’t been an easy season for Pau, who entered the year determined to rebound from an awful playoffs. If anything, fans are only more down on him.
3. Derek Fisher continues to wallow in his own mire on the court. Even with his horrific percentages, it still seems like he has hit a few big shots for them this season. Is he more important to the team than his numbers would indicate or does L.A. need to ditch him ASAP?
A little of both. Fisher’s importance as a leader can’t be overstated. He has everybody’s ear, including Kobe’s. Bryant’s said, without any hint of facetiousness, Fish is the only teammate he’ll always listen to. He also trusts Fisher unconditionally. Beyond success draining critical shots, Derek’s completely unafraid to step into those situations where someone other than Kobe needs to be clutch.
Of course, the Lakers might encounter fewer tight fourth quarters if their starting point guard produced more during the first three. Fisher’s dwindling percentages plays a role in the scoring issues this season. (To be fair, he’s also averaging about 4 assists a night, and has done a nice job initiating the early offense.) This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to put Fisher out to pasture, but limited minutes would be helpful. And that had been the approach before Steve Blake went out with a rib injury. Until Blake returns, the PT will naturally increase, and the Lakers will have to make the best of it.
Either way, Fisher doesn’t kill the team quite as much as advertised, but less is typically more.
4. Ty Lawson has done quite well against L.A. in his career. Is he the player the Lakers must focus on, or is there someone else who poses a bigger threat?
The short answer is, “anybody who can operate in transition” is who the Lakers need to key on. And since that includes virtually every significant player on Denver’s roster, nobody can go unaccounted for. Plus, at the end of the day, the Nugs are a very deep, balanced team with plenty of legit threats. Lawson, as you mentioned, is certainly a potential issue for the Lakers, given how quick guards can provide fits. But Andre Miller can be just as tough backing down opponents in the post. Danillo Gallinari can be deadly from outside or on run-outs. Al Harrington was a dizzying cover for Gasol in space during the first meeting. Nene’s spin moves around the basket are ridiculous. Arron Afflalo, if playing like himself, is among the best “3 and D” players in the game, which means he can hurt the Lakers on both ends.
Bottom line, Lawson makes me nervous, but he’s hardly alone.
5. I will spare you the Dwight Howard question, but stick with a hypothetical trade scenario for my final question. If Mitch Kupchak could have a mulligan on the Lamar Odom trade, would he take it? At the time it seemed sending Odom to Dallas was part of a larger plan, but as of yet no such plan has come to fruition.
I’d certainly like to think so. On the court and in the locker room, LO’s absence has left gaping holes still unfilled. Even recognizing his struggles in Dallas (caused in part by an admitted lack of offseason conditioning) and emotional nature (exacerbated by legitimate offseason tragedies), the guy would help the Lakers a lot. Were a time machine — hot tub or otherwise — made available to Mitch Kupchak, I’d be stunned if he didn’t set it to “Dec 11, 2011,” then told Lamar to take a few extra days to cool off because he’s staying put.
Thanks to Andy for the time and I hope everyone enjoys tonight’s game!
|Nene, C 22 MIN | 4-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 8 PTS | +19
Nene fought through early foul trouble and thankfully he got a comfortable amount of rest with another back-to-back coming up. Although you’d like to see a better shooting percentage and fewer turnovers, Nene getting the ball opens up the rest of the offense and he got plenty of touches tonight.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 27 MIN | 7-10 FG | 2-2 FT | 6 REB | 4 AST | 21 PTS | +24
Gallo was on fire. I had no problem with his benching in Memphis and was confident he’d respond with a solid game just as he did after his first bad performance in Philadelphia. Without Gallo providing a spark the game was headed towards becoming a blowout in the wrong direction.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 22 MIN | 5-5 FG | 1-3 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 11 PTS | +12
He’s improving. Made Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan work much harder than they wanted to on defense. The key stat is only one turnover. His weak side defense could be much better but he continues to do a solid job contesting perimeter shots and putting pressure on the opposing guards.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 36 MIN | 3-6 FG | 8-8 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 15 PTS | +12
How bad did Afflalo need a game like this? I missed some of the first quarter where he apparently got off to a rough start, but Arron found a way to fight through it. 8 free throws are outstanding and most impressive was the ball-pressure he applied on Chris Paul, often picking him up at full court and crowding his space all night.
|Ty Lawson, PG 32 MIN | 6-11 FG | 5-6 FT | 4 REB | 6 AST | 18 PTS | +23
Much better game. Not spectacular, but a normal Lawson performance Nuggets fans love to see night in and night out. Turnovers have been a problem and although many of them haven’t been Lawson’s fault, he had much better control tonight. Made some spectacular hustle plays to stretch the lead at critical moments.
|Al Harrington, PF 21 MIN | 3-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 8 PTS | +8
Al started slow but eventually found his stroke in time to put the game away. His minutes finally returned to a reasonable amount and he wasn’t stuck trying to do to much. Harrington could be better guarding the rim but he was somewhat effective against Blake Griffin managing to pull the chair out a number of times.
|Andre Miller, PG 29 MIN | 3-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 8 AST | 8 PTS | +17
Five shot attempts is a much healthier game out of Andre Miller. Didn’t take a three or force shots and bad passes. Not being switched onto Rudy Gay definitely helped him stay fresh and effective throughout the night.
|DeMarre Carroll, F 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 PTS | -2
Carroll is still on the team. He’s also back and finally healthy after a hamstring kept him out much of the season. Don’t read too much into the grade, C means incomplete in this case
|Rudy Fernandez, SG 19 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 10 PTS | +5
Rudy can be a very effective weapon off the bench. The Nuggets need to play him and get him shots more consistently. I’ve been hoping for him to look for his shot more aggressively and resist trying to make the spectacular play. Fernandez did both tonight.
|Kosta Koufos, C 12 MIN | 1-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | -3
Koufos could do a little more with his minutes, but I’m glad he came in ahead of Birdman. I liked his energy on defense in Memphis and he was okay tonight. Perhaps with more of a role Koufos’ game will come around and we can get a better idea of what he brings to the table.
|Kenneth Faried, F 7 MIN | 2-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | -5
Raw is the only way to describe him. The team needs to teach him the fundamentals of playing on offense rather than just throwing up long range lobs when he enters the game. Needs to set better screens and post up some, but I’m probably expecting too much of the Manimal. He was still a beast in the paint and finished everything around the rim. I also think Faried has potential to draw a lot of fouls should he end up seeing more minutes.
|Jordan Hamilton, G 7 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 3 PTS | -5
Hamilton showed off his quick release and smooth jumper. He also showed flashes of passing ability off drives to the rim. I am excited to see what this guy can do in the future.
Let’s be clear about one thing — at 14-7 even after two straight losses the Nuggets’ greatest strength is their depth.
When the Nuggets assembled a roster featuring two starting lineups and a couple of NBA-ready rookies behind them, they instantly gained a big advantage over every other team in a lockout-shortened NBA season. They’ve dealt with injuries better than just about anyone and built the second-highest scoring bench in the league.
Denver is going to be a great regular season team behind their depth. They can afford to limit their starters to 20 minutes per night if need be. In many cases there is little to no difference between the second and third string guys at every position.
I still think there is an intelligent debate to be had about whether too much of a good thing can actually turn out bad. George Karl has said the first 20 games of the season are essentially training camp, and at about one-third of the way into the season we’ve reached that point. The rotation should be shaping up nicely and guys should be settling into their roles as the Nuggets prepare to really start hitting their stride.