The hallmark of the 2013-14 Denver Nuggets is inconsistency on every imaginable front: shooting, effort, defense, rebounding, you name it. A team that is equally capable of going to Oakland and beating one of the hottest teams in the league on their own court, and then two days later getting outplayed and beaten at home in the Pepsi Center by one of the worst teams in the league: This is who the Nuggets are.
Tonight, despite a late game push that brought them within as few as three points, Denver fell 109 to 117 to Cleveland, who never relinquished the lead they established in the second quarter. Grades after the jump.
|J.J. Hickson, PF 32 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 8 PTS | -11The accolades Hickson rightfully got for his performance against the Warriors are unlikely to be matched by the equally deserved criticism he should receive in this game for his utter lack of defense. But it needs to be recognized that, as much of a boon as his offense (and in particular his pick-and-roll game with Lawson) can be a boon for the Nuggets, his defense is just as much, if not more, of a bane. He may be out of position at center, but that doesn’t absolve him from his responsibility to protect the rim, which he consistently fails to do.|
|Kenneth Faried, PF 22 MIN | 3-6 FG | 2-4 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | -8The nearly nonexistent defense of Faried and Hickson was perhaps the biggest contributing factor to this loss. Kenneth was, according to Brian Shaw, suffering from the flu in this game, and he made a noble effort in finding some energy in spurts, including one highlight reel block. But he let Tristan Thompson trounce all over him and score 20 points on 8-9 shooting, and failed to challenge almost any players who drove into the lane.|
|Wilson Chandler, SF 35 MIN | 7-17 FG | 4-6 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 23 PTS | -3It’s great to see Chandler hitting his shots from the arc a a healthy clip. He shot 5-12 (.417) in this game, and if he can continue to knock them down it will help greatly with Denver’s floor spacing (although it would be nice to see him a little less in love with the three and a little more aggressive in driving the lane). Additionally, he did a very good job of containing Luol Deng, who shot just 6-17 (.353) from the field. Hopefully Wilson’s recent spate of solid performances is a sign of better consistency to come.|
|Ty Lawson, PG 40 MIN | 5-16 FG | 7-7 FT | 4 REB | 11 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 19 PTS | -3Lawson looked sluggish early, and it was in part his lack of aggression that allowed the Cavs, from the beginning of the game, to dictate a slow, plodding pace and take Denver’s best asset – speed – away from them. By the time he found his higher gear later in the game, it felt like too little too late. Although he did a good job of setting up his teammates, he had a hard time getting his own shot falling. And while guarding Kyrie Irving is no easy task, Ty really couldn’t do anything to stop him. Irving was getting open looks and getting into the paint at will the whole game, and in turn doing a good job of preventing Lawson from doing the same. Ty’s stat line doesn’t look terrible, but he really needs to do a better job of taking charge at home against inferior opponents.|
|Randy Foye, SG 35 MIN | 5-15 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | -4Foye continued his hot 3-point shooting in this game, going 4-9 from the arc. Unfortunately, however, he shot just 1-6 from 2-point range, including 1-5 in the paint. He also had a hard time containing C.J. Watson. This is about what we can expect from Foye, and in games where the Nuggets are getting better production from his teammates it will be enough.|
|Quincy Miller, SF 12 MIN | 0-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 0 PTS | -3Quincy Miller played a total of 26 minutes in the 2012-13 season, and as such is still a rookie in every meaningful sense of the word. And tonight his rookie mistakes were on full display. For some reason he can’t seem to shake the habit of shooting all his 3-pointers flat-footed, and the poor results are of course not surprising. He often seems confused about positioning on offense and rotations on defense. He’ll keep having his ups and downs as he develops, but tonight was a pretty rough outing.|
|Timofey Mozgov, C 26 MIN | 5-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 11 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 5 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | 0Mozgov was the only bright spot in the Nuggets’ front court tonight. Early in the game he shared the woes of Hickson and Faried, but he steeled up in the second half to provide some genuine rim protection and some badly needed offensive toughness down low. He led the team in rebounding with 11 (including six offensive), and was Denver’s only big to put up any kind of contest against Varejao and Thompson. Shaw has said his concern in starting Timo would be breaking up the second unit, but at this point getting better starts defensively sure seems like a more pressing concern.|
|Nate Robinson, PG 21 MIN | 8-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 19 PTS | -9The toughest grade of the night. The good: Nate poured in a highly efficient 19 points in 21 minutes on 8-11 shooting. For a while there, it looked like he might get it going and pull off another hero game like he did in Oakland, but that would not come to pass. The bad: He wasn’t any more of a help defensively than J.J., Kenneth or Ty were. At the very least, however, he brought the effort and energy the entire time he was on the court, which unfortunately is more than some of his teammates can say.|
|Evan Fournier, SG 16 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +1It was surprising (as it often is) that Shaw didn’t give Fournier more burn in this game. He came out with intensity and aggression, and though his 3-pointers weren’t falling (0-4 from the arc), he was playing with a lot of effort on defense, and it was fairly effective for the short time he was on the floor. If the Nuggets can cultivate Evan’s defense it will be very valuable, and if Shaw wants to reward the players who are putting in the effort, giving him a few more minutes would be a good way to accomplish both goals.|
Simply put, the Nuggets should have been better prepared for this game. The Cavs came at Denver with essentially the same game plan they employed last time, and it worked again. Maybe they’re a better team than their record suggests (with the addition of Deng this is certainly the case). Maybe the Nuggets just don’t match up well against them, especially being depleted by injuries (the only factor which prevents the F grade). But none of that really matters. Despite the fact that they pretty much knew exactly what Cleveland would do, they weren’t ready for it, and they got caught on their heels playing to the Cavs’ strengths right out of the gates. If this were a playoff series, the fans would be asking why Shaw didn’t make any adjustments, and that’s the right question to ask now.
You can follow me on Twitter here: @denbutsu
Next up: Sunday, Jan. 19, 6 p.m. (MST) at Phoenix. Going to the game? Save money and get cheap Denver Nuggets tickets here.