You don’t tug on Superman’s cape

Over the last three games the Denver Nuggets have morphed into a team unrecognizable to those who followed them in the regular season. The team that won a franchise record 57 games — and tacked on a 15-game winning streak in the process — has disappeared before our eyes. Though it’s easy to become memorized by the demigod known as Stephen Curry, it’s worth noting that less than two weeks ago Denver was the team whom fans and annalists alike were salivating over — not Golden State.

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Quick thoughts before a pivotal Game 4

After a thrilling loss like that, you need a day just to absorb everything. A 2-1 series hole looms over all the good in game three, where I thought the Nuggets did a better job reacting to small ball than they did in game two. Ty Lawson is turning a pretty good series into a great one but the Golden State Warriors and the emergence of Steph Curry are the definitive stories of this first round matchup. The Warriors weren’t pleased with their game 3 performance and are still in position to take a commanding 3-1 series lead on Sunday, which would effectively make the Nuggets a long shot to get out of the first round… again.

For all the good the Nuggets did in game 3, they still can’t defend the Golden State Warriors, whose offense sure came back down to earth – all the way from 74.3% eFG in game 2 to 57.5% in game 3. That just won’t get it done in the playoffs. Obviously there’s a lot to worry about but as bad as the Nuggets’ issues have been, they still have a chance to essentially hit the reset button on the series with a win tonight.

While we wait to see if the Nuggets can seize that opportunity in a pivotal game four, which is obviously huge, here are some bullet point thoughts on what worked and what didn’t in game three.

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Rapid Reaction: Golden State Warriors 110, Denver Nuggets 108

Denver Nuggets 108 Final

Recap | Box Score

110 Golden State Warriors
Kenneth Faried, SF 30 MIN | 6-7 FG | 3-3 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 15 PTS | +2

Faried’s numbers are better than he actually played. But considering this was only his second game, and first start, since coming back from an injury, it could have been worse. Faried just can’t keep up with the defensive schemes the Nuggets need to run in order to stifle the Warriors on offense. He played valiantly, had some nice dunks and a few strong rebounds, but he’ll need to play out of his mind on defense in order to win more games this series.

Ty Lawson, PG 38 MIN | 11-22 FG | 12-12 FT | 3 REB | 10 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 35 PTS | -2

Lawson had his best game ever in the postseason. His 35 points were a career playoff high and only two short of tying his regular season high. He had about three or four unbelievable plays this game — the type that make you drop your jaw in amazement. That said, he missed some crucial shots down the stretch and turned the ball over when the Nuggets had a chance to win the game. Had he made just one more shot late in the game he likely would have gone down in Nuggets postseason lore.

Wilson Chandler, SG 37 MIN | 4-8 FG | 1-2 FT | 9 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 11 PTS | -6

Chandler did his best playing center. It’s only the second time in his career he’s started at center and neither performances were ones to remember. He gave solid effort on defense for most of the night and hit some big shots, but he hasn’t been the type of scoring machine he was after Gallo went down in the regular season. If the Nuggets want to win this thing, he’s gonna need to step up offensively — which would likely be much easier if he were playing his natural position.

Andre Iguodala, SG 42 MIN | 6-15 FG | 0-1 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | +5

Iguodala had a typical Iguodala game: He started off incredibly hot, then pretty much disappeared offensively for the rest of the night. His defense was excellent through the first half, but once the third quarter rolled around his performance slipped along with every one of his teammates’ sans Ty Lawson. He also made a crucial turnover when the Nuggets had a chance to win the game late.

Evan Fournier, SG 13 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -8

Fournier saw minutes early on and played well, but was inexplicable taken out for almost the entire game after that.

Anthony Randolph, PF 4 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-1 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -2

Randolph had one of the worst goaltending violations I’ve ever seen. That was about all I could recount from his brief, four-minute stint.

Corey Brewer, SF 24 MIN | 6-12 FG | 3-3 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 16 PTS | +11

Brewer was probably the second best player on the team this game. He provided a great spark off the bench that led to the Nuggets grabbing their biggest lead of the game in the second quarter and shot the ball well all night. Late in the game he got a little dramatic with his flopping which led to some bad turnovers, but overall he did a great job of giving the Nuggets a spark off the bench.

Kosta Koufos, C 11 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0

I’m baffled at what’s come of Koufos lately. He’s had a steady decline the last month but he’s been virtually worthless in the playoffs. I hate saying that because he’s been so solid all year, but at this point I can’t see anything positive he’s bringing to the roster. He refuses to score, he’s slow on defense and doesn’t play with a chip on his shoulder anymore. At one point in the year Koufos was the toughest guy on the team. Now he looks as if he just wants to run and hide somewhere safe.

JaVale McGee, C 14 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | -1

McGee was mostly a train wreck. Not full-on train wreck, but close. His defense is just unbelievably bad this series. He’s a guy who needs to stay in the paint and contest shots, yet the Warriors are forcing him to come out of his comfort zone and into the perimeter which is confusing the hell out of him. Like Koufos, he’s slow to react to everything thrown his way. Once the Warriors get him off balance, it takes just a few extra passes to penetrate and get an easy bucket at the rim, or an open shot from downtown. Thankfully his offense is still functioning… somewhat.

Andre Miller, PG 27 MIN | 2-13 FG | 2-3 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 7 PTS | -9

I don’t even want to talk about it. I don’t even want to. This guy is driving me nuts. He’s making me lose my mind when I watch this team. His defense is nothing short of embarrassing. It’s insulting to anyone who’s ever tried to prevent someone doing something in the history of the world. His defensive effort is nonexistent; it’s grotesque at the same time. I just, for the life of me, will never understand what it is George Karl sees in him. I promise, as bad as J.R. Smith was at times, I don’t think I ever remember him underhandedly sabotaging the Nuggets like this. Now, obviously Andre Miller isn’t purposely trying to lose this series for the Nuggets, but if he were he wouldn’t be playing a whole lot differently!!!

Usually his offense bails him out, but his game it only exacerbated his issues. His selfish, “Hero Ball” mentality cost the Nuggets at least eight possessions, which could have been used to actually try something intelligent when it came to scoring the basketball. If he sits out the rest of the series I’ll have no problem with it. In fact, that’s probably the Nuggets’ best shot of winning, as his perimeter defense seems to be the genesis of the Nuggets most costly problem against Golden State.

George Karl

I really want to give Karl an F. I’ll just say that. But he did manage to keep this game close and he did suite up and he did show up and draw up plays and form sentences that made syntactic sense — so because of that I can’t give him an F. But judging his coaching alone, I think an F might be warranted.

He started Chandler at center, which just makes no logical sense whatsoever. He also had wacky lineups all game long, none of which seemed to have any positive effect after the first half concluded. Mark Jackson continued to win timeouts. The “plays” the Nuggets did run didn’t work at all — especially Lawson’s isolation at the end of the game. And overall the Warriors played much better, more focused defense than the Nuggets did, which likely won them the game.

But Karl’s biggest mistake was his insistence to ride Miller until he dragged the Nuggets down to the lowest depths of humiliation that could possibly be felt by someone who refuses to take any sort of defensive pride whatsoever in their game. (Note: Hyperbole likely present in previous sentence.) How fitting it was that Jackson, a first-time playoff coach decided to stick with his young rookies like Barnes and Green, whereas Karl went down gunz-a-blazin’ with Dre Miller and both took the entire team with them. At this point Karl is getting out-coached while his lineups and obsession with going smaller than his opponent just seem like futile, nervous farces that a coach of his experience should not be making.

Anthony Randolph busts the zone

There’s been some recent chatter about getting Anthony Randolph more involved in this first round series with Golden State, and for good reason. The agile 7-footer is actually Denver’s fifth-leading scorer in this series with 16 points in just 16 total minutes.

Randolph came on strong towards the end of the season, where he was a great source of paint points and rebounds when Faried went down. His defense, however, is inconsistent at best and Randolph is prone to forcing up bad shots and falling apart on the offensive end. Because JaVale McGee suffers from a lot of the same stuff and neither one of them can pass, it’s tough to bring both off the bench and George Karl has avoided even messing with it for most of the season.

With Golden State switching to guerilla tactics after the David Lee injury, this series is now small ball all the time and Randolph may have found himself a niche role against the Warriors zone defense, which they’ve favored for important stretches of the first two games.

Here are just a few examples of how Randolph has demonstrated his ability to successfully attack the zone.
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Adjustments, adversity await Nuggets in Game 3

There are two ways to look at the Nuggets’ current 1-1 series tie to the Golden State Warriors. The cheery narrative gives a convenient regular-season excuse for Denver’s familiar playoff woes – it’s only one game, blowouts happen, and losing home-court advantage while squeeking out a 1-1 split really isn’t that bad.

It’s too bad this isn’t the regular season anymore.

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Reaction: Golden State Warriors 131, Denver Nuggets 117

The Nuggets hadn’t lost a home game in over three months. They also hadn’t given up 130 points in a game all year. Both of those trends changed on Tuesday night when the Nuggets submitted one of their worst performances of the year. The fact it came in the playoffs was both surprising and somewhat predictable.

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Game 1 Review: Stephen Curry Shot Attempts

As the Nuggets look towards tonight’s Game 2 a big key will again be limiting the damage Stephen Curry does, especially now that David Lee, the team’s second leading scorer this season and thorn in the Nuggets side, is out for the rest of the season. On the Nuggets side of things Kenneth Faried is expected to play in Game 2, though he probably will not be in the starting lineup.

As a look ahead for Game 2, I went back to Game 1 and took a look at all of Steph Curry’s shots to see if what the Nuggets did was replicable or if it was more of a matter of Curry just missing open shots. Below is a short breakdown of each shot.

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Film Room: The Revelation of Evan Fournier (video scouting report)

At various times throughout the 2012-13 regular season, usually during garbage time in blowout games, rookie guard Evan Fournier offered us some occasional glimpses of his abilities and potential. But it wasn’t until Mar. 29, after Ty Lawson had joined Danilo Gallinari on the injured list, that Fournier was given his first meaningful opportunity to make an impact.

And did he ever..

His career high 19 points in 21 minutes, his feisty defense, and a confident poise that went well beyond his young age were a revelation to Nuggets fans who hadn’t yet been given the chance to see him fully showcase his talent. In the following game against the Utah Jazz he scored 18, and two games later against the Houston Rockets 17 points, all at very efficient percentages. The message over this four game stretch was loud and clear:

Evan Fournier is the real deal, and he’s only going to get better.

In this latest installment of the Roundball Mining Company Film Room, I have set out to make nothing less than the definitive video chronicle of Fournier’s coming out party (more…)

Lee out for remainder of series, Landry likely to see spike in minutes

According to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, Warriors forward David Lee will miss the remainder of the season with a torn right hip flexor. While nobody likes to see players seriously injured, it’s difficult to ignore how beneficial this is to the Nuggets’ chances of defeating the Warriors in the first round.

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5-on-5: The first round and beyond

The Nuggets kick off their first series of the 2013 playoffs against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday. With injuries still lingering and a rotation in flux, there are certainly questions to be answered — which is what we plan to do below. As always, please feel free to play along and submit your answers to each of the following questions in the comments section.

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Know Your Opponent: The Golden State Warriors

As the Nuggets get set to battle the Warriors in the first round of the Western Conference finals some Nuggets fans may be trying to get more familiar with the opponent. In an effort to help I put together some quick scouting reports on each player on the Warriors roster, from superstar Stephen Curry to superstar celebrator Kent Bazemore. Each report includes the player’s role, where they are the most dangerous offensively, and a ranking on how much Nuggets fans should be worried about a particular player, where a 1 being someone they can basically ignore up all the way to 5 who they should fear could swing a few games almost single handedly.

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Pickaxe Pulse for April 18, 2013

Taking the pulse of the Nuggets at the end of the season

The Nuggets went undefeated in the last week of the season to clinch the third seed in the Western Conference.  Kenneth Faried sprained his ankle early in Sunday’s game against Portland and sat out the rest of the week; he is listed as day-to-day entering the playoffs.  In a closer than expected game against the Trailblazers, Evan Fournier capped his career high 24 point night with two late three pointers to seal the 118-109 win.  The next night in Milwuakee, Ty Lawson hit a go-ahead jumper with nine seconds left and the defense held on for a 112-111 victory.  The Nuggets jumped out to a big lead early against the Suns in the season finale on Wednesday, giving the end of the bench a chance to show their stuff.  All twelve healthy Nuggets players made at least one basket and grabbed at least one rebound in the 118-98 win.  Andre Iguodala averaged 20 points, 6.7 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, and 2.3 blocks for the week.

Record this week: 3-0 (2-0 home, 1-0 road)

Overall record and standings: 57-25, third seed in the West.

Upcoming: the Nuggets have home court advantage in a first round playoff series against Golden State.  Game 1 is on Saturday.

Rapid Reaction: Denver Nuggets 118 Phoenix Suns 98

The Denver Nuggets clinched the three seed after smashing the Suns by 20 points in their final home game of the year. The sun sets on a historic regular season as the Nuggets now await their first round playoff opponent, either Houston or Golden State.

UPDATE: The Nuggets will face the Golden State Warriors in a 3-6 first round matchup with home court advantage. Playoffs start Saturday, April 20, at 3:30 p.m. MST, then continue on Tuesday, April 23, at 8:30 p.m. MST; Friday, April 26, at 8:30 p.m. MST; and Sunday, April 28, at 7:30 p.m. MST. All other games are TBD.
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Playoff positioning thread

As we speak the Nuggets are currently in third place in the Western Conference standings. But both the Clippers and Grizzlies are right on their heels. As Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post recently pointed out on Twitter, if the Nuggets win against the Suns tonight then the three seed is all theirs. There are all sorts of different playoff match-up possibilities still up in the air at this point, so please feel free to use this post as a thread to discuss these scenarios. And as always, thanks for continuing to support Roundball Mining Company.

55: Reflecting on a new franchise milestone

There was muted celebration in the building following the Denver Nuggets’ franchise record 55th win against the Portland Trailblazers on Sunday, enough to cast a subtle gloom over the history being witnessed by a Pepsi Center crowd of Nuggets faithful.

Considering the circumstances, it’s easy to understand why.  Denver lost another starter to injury but ultimately escaped a must-win game, bringing the season-long goal of the third-seed tantalizingly close but still barely out of reach. Like an audience trapped in suspended disbelief at a good movie, Nuggets fans are eagerly awaiting the final twists and turns that set up the climactic moment they’ve all been waiting for.

Until that plays out and we see these Nuggets tested in the sacred arena of the NBA playoffs, any judgments about this team’s place in franchise history seem premature. The true gravity of becoming the Nuggets’ winningest team ever may not be felt until then, but the very fact we’ve arrived here in the midst of a bigger goal is an opportunity to reflect on the process behind what is now a historic achievement.
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