|Corey Brewer, SF 32 MIN | 6-16 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 15 PTS | +8
As usual, Brewer was instrumental in setting the tone of the game, especially in the second half. Brewer started off somewhat slow but steadily gained momentum after leading the charge with the fast break in the third quarter where the Nuggets outscored the Rockets 31-24. His defense was solid and his effort, yet again top notch.
|Kenneth Faried, F 30 MIN | 7-12 FG | 2-5 FT | 11 REB | 1 AST | 16 PTS | +11
Kenneth Faried was born to play basketball. What is happening right before our very eyes is difficult to process. In only a short amount of time Faried has taken drastic steps in his game — as a rookie, keep in mind. Against the Rockets he was the Nuggets’ best player for an extended period of time before Ty Lawson took over. And by “best player” I don’t mean strictly with hustle alone. Faried really looks like he’s just on another level at times. His athleticism allows for him to make a handful of plays in one night that most guys wont make in a week. Faried’s impressive 22.8 PER currently leads the team and with more playing time, that will likely only increase. At this point it’s fair to say, the “Manimal” revolution has begun.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 18 MIN | 1-2 FG | 3-4 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 5 PTS | +2
Unfortunately Mozgov re-sprained his left ankle that sidelined him earlier this month, but before going out he was having an impressive performance. While we’ve seen Mozgov steadily improve over the course of the season, we’ve still been waiting for his confidence to catch up. Against the Rockets, he finally appeared to combine his skill set with a confidence level that has been absent all year. Mozgov didn’t hesitate to shoot, rebounded well and actually attempted a few post moves in an assertive manner for once. Because of this, Mozgov gets his first A in six games.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 31 MIN | 7-14 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 17 PTS | +6
Arron Afflalo was sent from above to do one thing and one thing only this game: ignite the Nuggets offense in the second half. Going into the third quarter, even though the Nuggets had played hard, they were still behind and in danger of losing the type of game they had all too often leading up to the All-Star break. Enter Afflalo, who scored 10 of the Nuggets first 13 points in the third quarter which ignited the Nuggets offense for a 15-5 run. Afflalo scored 16 of his 17 points in the second half and was without question one of the main factors that contributed to Denver winning this game.
|Ty Lawson, PG 39 MIN | 6-15 FG | 9-12 FT | 7 REB | 15 AST | 22 PTS | +18
Words really can’t do justice for Lawson’s performance against the Rockets. Was this the best game of his career? You could argue that. He set a new career high in assists with 15, and was three rebounds shy of a triple-double. So statistically speaking, this was one of his better games as a Nugget. However, from an evolutionary standpoint, where upon you only analyze his progress as a player and where it culminates, this was hands down Lawson’s best performance of his Nuggets career. In fact, this was basically what his entire career was leading up to. The monster Ty Lawson we all know is hiding inside that diminutive frame finally emerged. Funny it happened this game too, considering just last night I published the Nuggets midterm grade report where I strongly implored Lawson to be more aggressive with his dribble, especially in the half court set. In all seriousness, if Lawson can have more games like these, the Nuggets will be a totally different team.
Al Harrington, PF 27 MIN | 5-13 FG | 1-4 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 13 PTS | +8
Harrington did nothing of great significance. Although he made a few big shots and played solid overall, this was a somewhat mediocre performance from “Big Al.” Nevertheless, he tried hard and played a role in an important Nuggets victory which shouldn’t go unnoticed.
|Andre Miller, PG 31 MIN | 5-15 FG | 6-6 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 16 PTS | +7
Miller was basically in the same boat as Harrington. Offensively he had a few nice post-ups and key baskets on occasion, but overall, considering how well everyone else played, Miller was fairly pedestrian.
|Kosta Koufos, C 21 MIN | 5-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 10 PTS | +3
In yet another quality outing Koufos provided the size, defense, intimidation and rebounding that is needed from him. He made all five of his shots and had two huge blocks that really gave the Nuggets a much-needed spark. With Mozgov likely out for at least a few more games, Koufos should do a fine job filling in his place.
|Julyan Stone, G 1 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -4
Stone only saw one minute of action, which was really about eight seconds. He was asked to guard the scorching-hot Kevin Martin on the last shot of the first half, and proceeded to strip the ball from him preventing Martin from even getting a shot up. This was outstanding defense and for that alone, he receives a B.
|Jordan Hamilton, G 10 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 3 PTS | +1
I felt Hamilton got somewhat of a raw deal in terms of minutes. He clearly got pulled after Karl didn’t feel he played well, however he didn’t have enough time to atone for his mistakes either. Though he missed all but one of his shots, none of them were bad, which makes the inaccuracy much more tolerable.
Five Things We Saw
- Blastoff: This game was one of the better “feel good” wins of the year. It was a tightly contested match the entire night with both teams battling valiantly back and forth and the Nuggets, thankfully, coming out on top in the end. Denver had perhaps its best team effort of the year, displaying an outstanding willingness to share the ball and defeat its opponent through teamwork rather than hoping for one person to simply get hot. If the Nuggets had played like this the last three weeks, there’s no telling where they’d be at right now and it just goes to show: This team CAN play well through injuries.
- Manimal Report: We’ve been tracking Faried closely since before the 2011 NBA Draft. I’m sure everyone remembers my hysterical post about having seemingly reached nirvana when the Nuggets selected him, and now, for the first time, we’re starting to see why I was so crazy about the NCAA’s all time leading rebounder coming out of college. Faried has done things these last several games that are remarkable. From his insanely athletic blocks, to his uncanny hustle for 50-50 balls, to his put-back dunks after missed free throws — these are plays you simply do not see in the NBA every day. I’ve always said the best way to delineate truly special players from the average is by examining the amount of difficult shots or spectacular plays they make, and right now, Faried is making a lot of spectacular plays. But more than anything, it’s Faried’s heart, desire and passion for the game that have the potential to touch the rest of his team and in turn, make players around him approach the game with the same level of energy he does. When this happens, when one player makes others around him better, that’s when you know you’ve got something special. And it’s certainly no coincidence that on the evening Faried turned in one hell of a performance, so did Ty Lawson and a few of his other teammates.
- Lawson Report: In our recent Nuggets midterm report card piece, I stated how “Lawson needs to be confident in his ability to control the pace of the game even in a half-court set.” One game later, he did exactly that and it led to one of the better games of his career. It’s unclear as to whether Lawson understands his potential and doesn’t tap it (like Nene) or really just doesn’t understand how good he can be at all. Either way, the more assertive Lawson is, the more confident he is, the more willing he is to take on a leadership role with this team and make it his own — the better the Nuggets chances are of doing something special in the Postseason. Lawson MUST continue expressing himself on the floor and controlling nearly all aspects of the Nuggets offense for this team to really take flight. If this means more dribbling and more shot attempts, then so be it. At this point, Lawson has demonstrated that the more he has the ball, the better the team is.
- Credit where it’s due: I’m not sure what got into the Nuggets on Friday evening but whatever it was, it worked. Karl has received a lot of the blame from us and the fans for the Nuggets recent struggles, so it’s only right that we reward him when the team plays well and wins. Hats off to Karl for finally getting the team to coalesce, play as a unit and most importantly, win.
- Bigs showing promise: For the second game in a row the Nuggets have ridden their size advantage to a win despite poor offensive showings from Andre Miller and the guard-heavy lineups designed to keep him in the game. Since shelving Birdman, the confidence of both Koufos and Faried has gone through the roof. They’ve steadily improved their fundamental play and their production is finally earning them George Karl’s trust and the opportunity to close out games. Andre Miller’s pick and roll game was nonexistent and without the 19 offensive boards and 31 second chance points, Denver would not have scored enough points to win this game. Mozgov, Koufos and Faried combined to shoot 13-19 while the rest of the team shot 30-78.
Additional Game 37 Notes (by Charlie)
- I’m not sure I have ever seen so many fouls called at the very start of a game. By the four minute mark of the first quarter, both teams were already in the penalty. By the time the first quarter ended, both teams had combined to shoot 29 free throws, which is two more than the entire amount of free throws shot in Denver’s previous game against Portland. It was bizarre. The over-sensitive whistle continued well into the fourth quarter and neither team was able to build momentum thanks to the frequent stoppages of play.
- Regarding the few seconds of playing time curiously awarded to Julyan Stone, it seemed to be a matter of protecting Corey Brewer, who had 3 fouls. Brew was biting on Kevin Martin’s fakes all night and I’m sure Karl didn’t want to see him pick up a fourth foul just before halftime, when it was clear the red-hot Martin was going to get the ball and try to flop his way to some more points. Karl inserted Stone for Brewer and Julyan ended up stripping the ball on Martin’s attempted flop. It was funny seeing everything go according to plan as the Nuggets perfectly telegraphed what was going to happen on Houston’s final possession of the half.
- Chase Budinger, who smoked Denver for 16 points shooting 4-7 from three in the previous matchup, was curiously left out the rotation. He did play four first half minutes in which he was a minus 9, but didn’t see the floor for the rest of the game.
- When Jordan Hamilton hesitates, even for a split-second after catching the ball, he gets himself into a lot of trouble. Jordan is great and catching and going and needs to be more decisive as soon as he gets the ball. With more experience, Hamilton should be able to adjust and resist the temptation to over-dribble. Hamilton was very good coming off screens and moving without the ball, which will ultimately get him easier opportunities to score.
- The Nuggets should watch tape of their fourth quarter defense and drill those habits into their heads. The bigs did a solid job rotating and shutting down the lane while all five players were engaged in defending the pick and roll. There was no over-aggressive doubling or bewilderment when the ball was swung from one side of the court to the other. The Nuggets would have a much easier time winning games if they focused on playing that sort of defense more consistently, and it proves that they do know how to do it.
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Kalen was born in Durango, CO, in 1988 and graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2013 with a degree in journalism. He's now an itinerant hoping to travel as much as possible before eventually succumbing to the "real world." Aside from writing Kalen likes movies, music, spicy food and the great outdoors. Edward Abbey is his current idol.