Maybe not, but the intensity on display Wednesday was certainly something different from what we’ve seen in the summer league so far. The Nuggets defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 87-82 in their first “playoff” game in Las Vegas, advancing to the round of 16 in the tournament with their first win in four tries.
The Denver Nuggets fell to 0-2 in summer league play Monday night, losing again by double digits while struggling to find their footing on defense.
Inconsistency is the universal given in summer league, and right now the Nuggets look like an inexperienced team facing too much of it from every direction. Progress was on display on the offensive end, where the Nuggets had more success shooting the ball and creating off the dribble, but much of that was negated by their inability to guard the pick and roll or string together more than a couple possessions of mistake-free defense.
Denver’s small army of summer league coaches was active on Tuesday night, getting a lot of one-on-one time with individual players after frequent breakdowns on both ends of the floor. I found myself lamenting how difficult it must be to stay focused while having a gang of grown men yelling at you after every possession, but ultimately that’s what summer league is all about. It’s a format where coaches are going to live with those mistakes and start the process of creating the right kind of habits.
Once again, it was another sloppy game that didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know. Evan Fournier has looked like a bonafide NBA player while everyone else… hasn’t. Luke Harangody’s reckless all-out effort has been fun, but none of Denver’s bigs have looked passable on defense and outside of Evan, none of the guards have managed to stand out yet either.
I got my first chance to speak with players and coaches after the game and here’s a few storylines to keep an eye on heading into the tournament portion of summer league, which starts on Wednesday.
Charlie is in Vegas and will be doing a full recap of this game tomorrow morning, so for now please leave your thoughts, ruminations, rants and declarations in the comments section below. Here is the box score.
In the first game of the 2013 Las Vegas summer league, the Denver Nuggets fell to the Milwaukee Bucks in what ended up being a blowout shortly after halftime. While there were a few bright spots, the Nuggets ultimately sealed their fate by shooting a low percentage from the field and giving a halfhearted effort on the defensive side of the ball. But, this is summer league we’re talking about, so those things can be expected.
A look at the rollercoaster year of Nuggets basketball
Hopes were high for the Nuggets at the end of the 2012 offseason, with some analysts predicting up to 59 wins and a top two playoff seed. Masai Ujiri had acquired Olympic gold medalist and star defender Andre Iguodala in a trade, and extended Ty Lawson and JaVale McGee with long-term contracts. He surrounded the team’s young core with veteran Andre Miller and cheap talent like Anthony Randolph and Evan Fournier.
But a difficult early schedule loomed. The Nuggets would play 22 of their first 32 games on the road, including 8 sets of back-to-back games. By the end of November, the team had a pair of four game winning streaks sandwiched in between three losing streaks of three games each, including worrying losses to the lowly Suns and Magic.
Capitalizing on the many mistakes made by the Warriors down the stretch, the Nuggets put themselves in a position to win this game near the end. They closed the deficit to just two points with 32 seconds remaining after having trailed by as many as 18 earlier in the fourth quarter. But with poor offensive execution in those final seconds, punctuated with symbolic flair by a missed Andre Miller 3-pointer on their final possession, they ultimately fell short of a comeback, and fell to their ninth first round playoff exit in ten seasons, eight (or seven) under the tenure of George Karl.
There is a lot that could be said about this one game. But it was essentially a microcosm and extension of the entire series. The Nuggets were (more…)
Denver got up big early and held on late to win the first of three straight elimination games, thanks to a dominant effort by Andre Iguodala who scored 25 points and added 12 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and a block. Denver also got good games from Wilson Chandler and Ty Lawson among others.
|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.
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.
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.
Thanks to an incredible offensive game that included the game winning bucket from Professor Miller the Nuggets took game 1, 97-95. Miller took over the game on the offensive side of the floor in the fourth quarter, willing the Nuggets to points. Defensively the Nuggets kept Stephen Curry in check for most of the game despite him hitting a three to tie the game up late.
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.
The Nuggets defeated a bad, tanking Trailblazer team to win their franchise record 55th game this season. The Nuggets were up 18 in the second half and let the game get closer in the fourth quarter but were able to put the game away thanks to a dominant effort from Andre Iguodala and a great game from Evan Fournier. On a down note Denver lost Kenneth Faired with an ankle injury which right now is being reported as a sprain. Faried is listed as day-to-day at this point.
The Nuggets came up with a series of big plays late in regulation to tie the game, but couldn’t get it done in the extra period, falling to Dallas 108-105.
|Kenneth Faried, SF 25 MIN | 1-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -18
Faried was quite bad, getting routinely abused on defense despite San Antonio having no one remotely athletic enough to match up with him. Couple that with a measly one offensive rebound and it sure looks like he was simply outhustled and outworked by a hobbled, inexperienced Spurs front line. He made a big defensive play and secured a key rebound late, but his 25 minutes were pretty generous considering the way he played most of the night.
|Kosta Koufos, C 21 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -10
Koufos had a confusing game. He’s never been much of a rim protector but he normally beats opposing bigs to the paint and takes away the easy angles. Koufos’ paint defense alternated between sublime and uninspired in this one, but he saved his best play for when the Nuggets needed it most. At this point I expect some consistency and something more than a total zero on offense, where Koufos seems to have lost some confidence.
|Andre Miller, PG 34 MIN | 4-8 FG | 4-6 FT | 1 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 12 PTS | -7
Miller was not a net positive in this game. He was a spectator for the first 10 minutes and most every meaningful stretch of play. Miller closed the game like a pro and his ability to make free throws and manufacture offense paid off late, but he was not on the floor for the crucial stretches where Denver looked dominant.
|Wilson Chandler, SG 41 MIN | 11-20 FG | 4-4 FT | 8 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 29 PTS | +6
What a great performance, and it’s really easy to forget that Wilson has already scored 30+ two other times this season, both off the bench. Wilson caught fire in the second half and practiced much better shot selection than we’ve seen in the past. He stayed off the midrange stuff the entire night and created several running opportunities with his defense. He has not missed a beat since moving into the starting five.
|Andre Iguodala, SG 43 MIN | 5-11 FG | 1-4 FT | 13 REB | 10 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 7 TO | 12 PTS | +5
Yes, he had seven turnovers and still hasn’t looked decent on offense all year. He also nabbed the first triple-double by any Nugget since Marcus Camby in 2008 exactly one game after predicting he’d soon get one. There were a lot of things working against the Nuggets early and Iguodala’s unwavering effort anchored the defensive push that got Denver back in the game and kept them there.
|Anthony Randolph, PF 8 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | +6
I gave his grade a bump because he looked good as part of an uptempo bench that reinvigorated the Nuggets’ transition attack. Brewer went nuclear off the bench so it just wasn’t his night to see many minutes.
|Corey Brewer, SF 34 MIN | 12-25 FG | 2-5 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 28 PTS | +30
Is this not a match made in heaven? Teams generally don’t want bench players hoisting 25 shots a game but Brewer’s outburst was just what the Nuggets needed after starting the game with two Miller turnovers followed by two Miller isos and predictably, zero points. Karl went small with Brewer early which paid immediate dividends for Denver’s anemic offense. I worry about where else Brewer will play if the Nuggets can’t bring him back because this is just too fun to watch.
|JaVale McGee, C 16 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 4 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +18
Much like Brewer did for the offense, we saw a drastic change in the Denver defense pre-McGee and post-McGee. Denver was flat out soft in the paint until his resounding arrival in the second quarter with three huge blocks. JaVale capped off a nice night with an improved effort on the defensive glass and his second straight game with no turnovers
|Evan Fournier, SG 18 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +20
He should have played much more. Fournier was assertive with the ball in his hands and was the Nuggets second-best creator behind Iguodala. He wasn’t great on defense and didn’t have his shot going but the guy showed remarkable poise under pressure and has a knack for finding Denver the right kind of shots. With Lawson out and the offense quite frankly struggling under an overused Andre Miller, he could use more minutes.
Karl waited way too long to get Miller out of the game. Other than that, his adjustments worked and he got the most out of a small Brewer-Chandler lineup San Antonio had no answer for. He’s pushing his players hard and getting results, but Koufos, Miller, and Chandler all looked gassed after long second-half stints with no relief. Karl should be more trusting of his bench, who clearly got him the win and turned around one of the most dreadful starts in recent memory.
After falling behind by double digits early, the Nuggets turned up the energy and outworked a tired Rockets team, outscoring them by 28 points over the last three quarters to win easily.