Revisiting Efficiency and Carmelo Anthony

The analysis of the quality of shots Carmelo Anthony attempts compared to some of the other elite offensive swingmen in the league garnered quite a bit of attention and also quite a bit of feedback from readers.

First of all, I would like to simply clarify what I was attempting to convey.  The efficiency with which Carmelo Anthony scores is lower than expected for a player of his skill level to the point people are beginning to question his ability.  Based on my observations the gap between Carmelo and other players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant is his propensity to attempt a larger percentage of challenged shots than his fellow star scorers.

I believe I accomplished that through my study, but it was a limited and very basic look at a complex subject.  Because of that I wanted to address some of the questions and comments that were posed to me.

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2009-10 Game 80: Denver Nuggets 85 – San Antonio Spurs 104

Box Score | Highlights

Things were falling into place for the Denver Nuggets. Utah had dropped a game to Houston and opened the door for the Nuggets to claim the Northwest Division title and ensure the worst they would finish in the Western Conference would be third. All the Nuggets had to do was beat the San Antonio Spurs, who came into the Pepsi Center the night after losing at home to Memphis, and then beat Memphis on Monday night. Plus Kenyon Martin was making a return from a knee injury that could have potentially caused him to miss the remainder of the regular season and possibly the playoffs as well.

San Antonio had other ideas as they played a near perfect game and beat the tar out of the impotent Nuggets 104-85.

With the loss to San Antonio the Nuggets are going to have to either win in Phoenix, a game that will be their fourth in five days and the Suns will have a day of rest at home, or hope Phoenix can win in Utah on the final night of the season. Their only other hope is for Utah to lose at Golden State and I would not count on that happening.

Getting back to the game itself it was the Nuggets once potent offense that completely disappeared in the second half that allowed the Spurs to take control of the game. After a layup by Carmelo Anthony cut the Spurs’ lead to six early in the fourth quarter, San Antonio rattled off 12 straight points in only 2:39. During that time the Spurs scored on seven straight possessions, that streak would reach nine before the Nuggets finally earned a stop, while the Nuggets turned the ball over four times and missed two shots. On their six possessions they threw a total of five passes and two of those five were caught by players in black jerseys.

The most disconcerting aspect of the game was how the Nuggets completely checked out mentally. The combination of frustration created by the sound defense of the Spurs and the anger they felt towards the officials was apparently too much to handle. This game was in my mind the most important contest of the season, and it was made so largely due to the fact Denver blew so many easy games early in the season, yet Denver was completely unable to rise to the occasion. The way they failed to answer the bell in the fourth quarter was very distressing.

There was a slight glimmer of good news though. Despite the fact the Spurs picked Denver’s defense apart, the Nuggets actually showed significant improvement on their pick and roll defense. I am sure you will read that and scoff because the Spurs seemed to score at will. My high school coach used to say that any offense that is run correctly, will eventually earn an open shot. The pick and roll is the perfect example of that principle. A combination of a solid screen and the ball handler making sure he runs his man into the screen always creates an advantage for the offense. The Nuggets did a very good job of hedging, recovering and rotating against the Spurs pick and roll. The Spurs simply responded by executing their offense. The contrast between the motion and passing the Spurs exhibited on offense and the I-got-the-ball-so-I-better-shoot-it offense the Nuggets exhibited was very exacerbating.

I suspect there are some doubters out there regarding my claim the Nuggets improved their pick and roll defense so I put together a few clips as video evidence.

Denver still has time to get their act together for the playoffs, but I fear the way the season is playing out the most likely result for Denver will be a first round matchup against the Suns without home court advantage and that is very bad news for the Nuggets.

Additional Game 80 Nuggets

  • Kenyon Martin looked to be physically well. He did throw down a dunk with some of his trademark ferocity. I never did get a good feel for his lateral movement though. He did get beat off the dribble a couple of times, but I do not think it was necessarily due to his knee injury. Obviously all Nuggets fans will continue to watch him very closely over the next couple of days.
  • I was once again disappointed by Chauncey Billups’ play. While he had a good scoring night, he played to score instead of playing to ensure the Nuggets ran any semblance of offense. As the point guard he must demand his teammates share the ball. As long as he is bringing the ball up the floor and shooting without making a single pass, there is no way anyone else will feel the need to do anything other than shoot.
  • Nene has played very well against Tim Duncan and short of Amare Stoudemire I do not think anyone gives Duncan as much trouble as Nene. However, Maybyner was practically a no show on offense. He played solid defensively, but in 32 minutes he only collected two rebounds. While I am confident Nene will not play that poorly again for a very long time, he hurt Denver dearly on Saturday and played a significant role in Denver’s offensive struggles.
  • Another very frustrating aspect of the game was the way Carmelo practically begged out by getting tossed. Instead of fighting to the very end, he basically threw in the towel. I realize he has a very adversarial relationship with Tony Brothers it does not excuse his tantrum that resulted in getting ejected. On the flip side, if a referee continually butts heads with a player, it is clearly not always the player’s fault. If lawyers can ask that potential jurors be removed from jury selection, why can’t teams ask for certain referees to not officiate their games? I realize the league would never allow such a veto over officiating assignments to come to fruition, because that would be admitting their referees might not be wholly impartial. Still, it takes two to tango and Brothers is always dancing with Melo.
  • The Spurs completely controlled the tempo of the game. I was amazed at how frequently they possessed the ball deep into the shot clock. The sad thing is Denver has the ultimate pace changer on the bench in Ty Lawson and for some reason despite nearly a full season of excellent play, Adrian Dantley has not confidence in him. Lawson was tied to the bench until the final six minutes of the game when things had already been decided. In case you were wondering AC was on the court for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter and played a role in the collapse.
  • Dantley also chose the wrong team to go small against. Denver has had success with Chauncey, J.R., Afflalo, Melo and Nene on the floor together, but Saturday he tried Chauncey, AC, Afflalo, Melo and Nene.
  • If you want an example of how goofy plus/minus can be, Johan Petro was a +11.
  • Denver scored an embarrassingly low 28 points in the paint. The Spurs defense made things difficult for them, but instead of passing and moving without the ball, Denver played right into their hands.
  • Thank God Denver will not be playing San Antonio in the first round.

2009-10 Game 78: Denver Nuggets 98 – Oklahoma City Thunder 94

Box Score | Highlights | Featured Blog: Daily Thunder

There are certainly two ways to look at the Denver Nuggets’ 98-94 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. The positive view is on a night where the Nuggets were missing Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen and acting coach Adrian Dantley suffering with kidney stones and in addition to those issues Denver was struggling to execute on both ends of the court, they made the plays they needed to make and came out with a win. The pessimistic view is the Nuggets did not play winning basketball, but pulled out a victory solely because the Thunder ran out of gas due to playing their fourth game in five nights, including the night after a mentally and physically draining overtime loss in Utah.

Honestly, both of those views have some merit. With playoff positioning on the line Denver had to win this game and they did. Regardless of how winded the Thunder might have been the Nuggets still had to make the shots and come up with the stops to complete their comeback.

The Thunder appeared to take control of the game with a 26-6 run spanning the third and fourth quarters. The Nuggets were 0-14 from the floor and turned the ball over seven times during that stretch. At that point I had tagged the body and was zipping up the body bag. Oklahoma City’s spurt was fueled by too few passes when the Nuggets had the ball. To make things worse, when Denver did pass, it was typically a poor decision, such as a lob by Chauncey Billlups in to Johan Petro who was being fronted on the block resulting in a travel when the help came from the weak side and on a three on one fast break J.R. Smith passed to Chauncey instead of Carmelo resulting in a easy block by Kevin Durant. (I do have to give Durant credit for how he played it. He shaded towards Melo’s side to bait J.R. into passing to Chauncey, then when the pass was made he simply closed in and blocked the shot. Still, it was a three on one and all it would have taken was for J.R. to realize Durant was baiting him into passing to Billups, fake to Chauncey and then dump the ball to Melo, or after KD committed to Chauncey he could have dropped the ball to J.R. or Melo for the score.)

So how did Denver manage to get back in the game? First and foremost, the defense finally made an appearance. After falling behind 89-76 with just over seven minutes remaining the Nuggets forced four turnovers and blocked two shots in the next three minutes and Denver ran off ten straight points. The key in my mind was the help defense. For much of the game OKC players were able to drive the lane and finish without worrying about encountering resistance.

Nene did a much better job of hedging on screens. The one time he was out of position, Chauncey squeezed down and tipped the ball away from Russell Westbrook. On another occasion Nene and Chauncey trapped Westbrook in the corner. Nick Collison cut to the basket, but Melo was in perfect help position. He slid over and was able to force a jump ball, which he then won against the taller Collison.

As the Nuggets picked up steam, the Thunder had clearly lost their legs. I believe every shot Durant took in the fourth quarter was short and jumpers from Westbrook and Green consistently hit the front of the rim. Defensively for OKC, the rotations that had closed off the lane for much of the night became a half step slower.

With Kenyon and Birdman sidelined the group that pulled off the comeback was the small ball bunch consisting of Chauncey, J.R., Afflalo, Melo and Nene. Despite the height disadvantage the Nuggets outrebounded the Thunder by nine. The starting back court of Billups and Afflalo corralled 13 rebounds while Carmelo tallied 11.

Defensively, Denver was simply much more active and they did a great job communicating.

There was some good and some bad by Adrian Dantley tonight. He continues to make the stunningly bad decision to give Anthony Carter playing time instead of Ty Lawson. It blows my mind that especially after the way Lawson played against the Clippers Dantley thinks it is a good idea to play Carter. Lawson is so vastly superior Carter’s stranglehold on playing time is difficult to fathom. I also thought it was odd that Petro started instead of Joey Graham. Oklahoma City plays Jeff Green at power forward so Graham would have been a good matchup to combat Green. Also, if Petro checks in for Nene you avoid the situation where your only big on the floor is Malik Allen.

Sticking with questionable decisions by the Denver coaches I was also blown away that coming out after halftime assistant Chad Iske said that the Nuggets were happy that the game had turned into a “defensive game in the second quarter” adding they wanted to slow the “young fast guys” from OKC down. The biggest advantage the Nuggets had was the fact the Thunder were playing their fourth game in five nights. Add in the fact that Denver was missing two of their three best bigs and I fail to see how a defensive half court game gave Denver the best chance to win.

Both coaching staffs engaged in a bit of a battle around Carmelo. Thabo Sefolosha is a very good defender, but he lacks the lateral quickness that other lockdown defenders possess. The Thunder gave Thabo the opportunity to try to handle Melo one on one. Melo blew by Sefolosha twice for layups and after that the Thunder switched to the pressure and pre-rotate system we have seen the Lakers make famous. For the remainder of the first half Melo was held in check. To start the second half the Nuggets made an adjustment that has worked to negate the pre-rotating defense that has been effective against the Lakers in the past. Instead of feeding Melo on the wing, they started giving him the ball in the middle of the floor. That adjustment allowed Melo to get into the lane again. The Nuggets also started curling Melo off a screen to get him the ball on the right side about 12 feet from the rim. That forced the defense to worry about Melo coming off the screen and shooting, Melo continuing to curl and drive to the basket and the fact that the screener was rolling to the rim. I thought Anthony missed some chances to dump the ball to Nene on the roll and once passed up the open short jumper to fake, spin and shoot a much more difficult turn around, but the set succeeded in getting Carmelo the ball.

I did like the play Dantley drew up with the Nuggets down four and 2:20 remaining in the contest. Afflalo threw the ball in to Billups from the right side of the floor. He then ran around a double screen by Melo and Nene. With the defense shifting to account for Afflalo Nene set a down screen for Melo who popped out to the free throw line wide open. Melo caught the pass and instead of settling for the jumper, drove into the lane and converted a short flip shot amongst four Thunder defenders. Sadly for the home team, three of those four defenders were doing more watching than helping.

With the Jazz losing in Houston tonight if the Nuggets can win their final three home games they will win the Northwest Division and have home court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs. That is easier said than done as the Los Angeles Lakers roll into town on Thursday on three days of rest and smarting after a demoralizing loss to the Spurs in Staples Center on Sunday.

Additional Game 78 Nuggets

  • How bad was the Denver Nuggets’ defense against the Oklahoma City Thunder for the first three plus quarters? The Brakes Plus Stop of the Game was an unforced error where Kevin Durant simply lost control of the ball. Needless to say if they had waited a few more minutes there would have been several much better plays to choose from as Denver really turned up the defense down the stretch.
  • Another very odd decision by the Nuggets’ coaching staff was to attempt to avoid calling a timeout while Carmelo Anthony was laying motionless on the court so that trainer Jim Gillen could make sure Carmelo was not paralyzed. Only after J.R. practically tried using Melo’s lifeless body as a screen to get off a shot did play finally stop.
  • Denver once again gave us some examples of good switching and bad switching. The bad switching was on display for much of the game, but especially early on when Carmelo consistently chose to pass Durant off to Johan Petro. Leaving Petro exposed on the wing against a player he had no business guarding. Believe it or not, Petro picked up two early fouls. The good switching came late in the game as the Nuggets guards successfully passed Durant off to one another on the perimeter in order to ensure he could not get space to fire off an open three pointer.
  • I am really impressed with how well the Thunder are coached. Scott Brooks may have some things to learn at the end of games, but it was interesting to watch how quickly the adapted to what the Nuggets would try to do defensively. If they could get the lane, they would drive and dunk. When Denver pre-rotated some help both weak side players immediately flashed to open areas that could not both be defended. Defensively, they are cohesive and challenge every foray into the lane. Even so, they are still the team I want to play in the first round.
  • After watching the closing sequence over a couple of times, I have no idea how Westbrook did not end up with the rebound after Durant missed a runner that would have tied the game at 96. One second it looks like he has it and then a split second later Melo is holding the ball. Not that I am complaining or anything…
  • Denver would not have won without shooting exceptionally from the charity stripe. They drained 10 of 11 attempts in the fourth quarter including two by Chauncey to give them the lead and two more by Melo to shut the door.

2009-10 Game 74: Denver Nuggets 97 – Orlando Magic 103

Box Score | Highlights

At this point in the season there are no moral victories. The Denver Nuggets may have given the Orlando Magic a really tough game on Sunday, but with the Nuggets now just half a game out of fifth place and facing a very difficult game in Dallas on Monday their 103-97 defeat was a costly one indeed.

Denver once again lost a game in which they held a double digit lead, the twelfth time that has happened this season, and it was all the old problems that caused the collapse. After looking very good to start the third quarter the Nuggets offense completely collapsed. A combination of bad perimeter shots and one on one over dribbling turned a 67-57 Nuggets lead into a 77-77 tie at the end of the third quarter.

From that point on the end result was just about set in stone.

While there were plenty of mental mistakes, the final 18 minutes on offense could be considered one big mental mistake, the players were able to keep the game close despite some poorly conceived strategy. When you play the Magic it is there perimeter shooting that kills you, not Dwight Howard. However, the Nuggets paid way too much attention to Howard in the post and gave up far too may open looks from behind the arc as a result. I have no problem with doubling Howard, but too often there were three or four Nuggets all paying attention to him when at this point he is not a big enough scoring threat to warrant that much respect from the defense. Orlando missed quite a few of those open looks yet they still managed to score 33 points on threes, most of which came in the second half, but it could have been much worse.

Denver played hard, they were victims of a poor plan and poor execution.

What makes things worse is I believe Adrian Dantley is hurting the team with his rotations. I praised the way he changed the course of the first game he filled in for George Karl in Minnesota, but since then things have not been quite as impressive.

The biggest problem is Anthony Carter.

Carter started the first six games of the season in place of J.R. Smith who served a seven game suspension to start the 2009-10 campaign. Even before Carter’s fill in status as a started ended Lawson was clearly the number two point guard. He was clearly better than Carter and any concerns about Lawson sitting because Carter was the “scrappy veteran” had been alleviated.

So how come at this point in the season is Lawson relegated to the bench and Carter is the number two guy behind Chauncey Billups? I admit that Carter had a couple of solid games when Lawson initially injured his shoulder, but those performances are a thing of the past. What has he done to wrest the backup point guard spot from Lawson? It is absolutely inexplicable and it is costing the Nuggets wins.

The bench is clearly struggling during the current road trip, but what do you expect when you keep a talent like Lawson chained to his cushy folding chair? The degree of difficulty has already been ratcheted up with the absences of George Karl and Kenyon Martin. How does it make sense to further complicate things by benching Lawson?

If Carter is in there for his defense, he sure did a poor job of validating it. On two or three occasions he blitzed Howard in the post, but flew past him while flailing at the ball completely taking himself out of the play. I question why you would double a player Howard’s size with a tiny point guard who he can easily see over, but Carter made it worse by failing to actually double. On one occasion in the fourth quarter Carter ran at Howard, and instead of getting in his face and trying to form a wall alongside the other defender, he just floated back a couple of feet so he was not guarding Howard, he was not guarding anyone else, plus he was not in a position to react to a cutter. Matt Barnes came right down the middle of the lane and made a layup thanks to Carter’s odd decision to basically do nothing.

The fact is you could build a decent case against Adrian Dantley for sabotage. It does not matter if you compare Lawson and Carter aesthetically, statistically or anecdotally Lawson is unconditionally the better player.

With the Nuggets playing their fifth game in seven nights on Monday it would be a real good time to unleash a fresh Lawson on the Mavericks. The Nuggets will not advance in the playoffs without Lawson playing a significant role.

Additional Game 74 Nuggets

  • I love how Vince Carter hurt his toe bad enough he had to come out of the game, but he still launched a three pointer before leaving the game. That is dedication to scoring.
  • Denver shot a season low 11 free throws despite the fact for much of the first three quarters Carmelo attacked the rim and drew a great deal of contact. Orlando is a very good defensive team and their defenders certainly got the referees’ respect. The previous low was 16 at Phoenix and it was only the third time all season they attempted fewer than 20 free throws.
  • J.R. had only his second game out of the previous 28 without an assist. He certainly did not look to set his teammates up at all.
  • At this point I do not know who the Nuggets miss more, George Karl or Kenyon Martin.
  • Can someone please tell Chauncey he is in a shooting slump.  It does not appear he has noticed.  He took three absolutely abysmal threes between the time Denver built their double digit lead and the end of the game.

Advanced Game Stats

Pace Factor: 82.8 – Slowest game of the season

Defensive Efficiency: 124.4 – Horrible

Offensive Efficiency: 117.1 – I was surprised to see the Nuggets shot 52.5%, sure did not seem like it.

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My Annual March “The End is Near” Post

Box Score | Highlights

I have no idea where to start after that monstrosity.

The combination of horrific defense, staggeringly gruesome offense, conspiracy theory inducing end of game officiating and Anthony Carter was mind numbingly stupefying.

Let’s get the officiating issue out of the way so we can focus on how dismal the Nuggets were. With Denver down three and 3:30 remaining in the game J.R. Smith drew a charge on David Lee. It was not a difficult call to make. As soon as you heard the PA announcer say it was Lee’s sixth foul the refs pulled entered into a caucus and somehow the call was overruled because J.R. was supposedly inside the circle. During live action he seemed to be well away from the circle and replays confirmed it. If the side official was so sure J.R. was inside the circle why didn’t he call it right away? Why was there even any discussion? Not only did Lee not foul out, but he made both free throws and the Nuggets were down five.

That blown call was not the reason Denver lost. They had plenty of time to get over it and failed. Still, I firmly believe that entire episode would not have happened if it was not Lee’s sixth foul and as we all know perception is reality.

We do not need to spend much time on the lackluster offense. It was the typical lack of movement overkill on the jumpers. J.R. Smith was horrible as not only did he take far too many threes, although a couple came in the closing seconds of the game, but he badly forced his two point attempts as well. Also, for the second time in three games he had a possession where he missed three shots that were not repeated tip in attempts either. He then followed it up with a missed shot on the next possession.

Chauncey did a good job of attacking the rim, but conversely he launched five threes and at least three of them were terrible. Melo shot the ball well and had a good scoring night so I guess he gets a pass although most of his points came on jumpers and he only totaled two assists.

Even with all of those issues what was the most disappointing aspect of the game was Adrian Dantley’s insistence on sticking with Anthony Carter. In a game where the Nuggets were too perimeter oriented and struggled to score for stretches Carter did nothing to help. Lawson would have infused better energy and provided a spark. The Nuggets are saying Carter has played well while Lawson was out and that was true for about four or five games. He has not been helpful the past four or five games and Lawson must be on the floor. If Ty does not play tomorrow in Boston it will be inexcusable.

(Another big negative on Dantley’s record is that during the discussion about Lee’s sixth foul he was right there next to the referees. Instead of making sure they knew there was no way they should have been even considering changing the call he was talking to Chauncey. Chauncey had come over to get involved in the conversation between the refs that included David Lee by the way telling them J.R. was definitely inside the circle. Not only did Dantley not get involved, he prevented Chauncey from counterbalancing Lee’s lobbying. Not that it would have mattered, but the Nuggets needed a voice in that conversation.)

All of those things were incredibly frustrating the most infuriating aspect of the Nuggets play is their insistence on switching screens. I spent much of last season railing on utilizing switching screens as your primary defensive strategy on playing the pick and roll. I even have a switching screens tag for my posts. I guess I grew tired blogging about it, but whatever the reason I have not been as aggressive in my assessment of the Denver defense despite the fact they are doing nothing but switching screens. The Denver Nuggets are a very mediocre defensive team. No matter what stat you look at (Defensive Efficiency, Opponent FG%, Defensive Rebounds, Opponent Points per Shot) Denver is not good and the primary reason is they constantly switch screens. The only stat they crack the top ten in is steals per game and that has to be partly discounted due to the pace at which they play.

The Nuggets were a very solid defensive team last season and they were able to win games with their defense. That is not the case this season. They are an offensive team and that is that. I have been patiently waiting the Nuggets return to being at least a decent defensive team. The fact that they continue to rely on switching screens has torpedoed any hopes I had of that happening.

I could write 10,000 words on the problems that switching screens create. My two biggest issues with switching screens are you are voluntarily entering into mismatches and it fosters an environment of passivity and a complete lack of accountability.

There is a reason coaches do not assign a power forward to cover a point guard and a point guard to cover the opposing power forward. It leads to your opponent scoring. There are byproducts of this tactic. If you want to prevent the power forward from posting up the point guard or the guard from blowing by your big man, you have to help. That opens up holes all over for other offensive players to exploit.

There were plenty of examples of this happening in the loss to the Knicks, but here are two from the second quarter. Just past the halfway point in the quarter After Chris Andersen and Afflalo switched Afflalo was stuck on David Lee. Chauncey left his man Giddens, who was in the weakside corner to double. Giddens was just waiting for him to leave and cut to the rim. Carmelo was just a microsecond too late dropping down to replace Chauncey and the pass got through to Giddens for the layup.

A second example came with just over two minutes remaining in the second. Carmelo and Nene switched for absolutely no reason in the right corner leaving Melo on David Lee. Arron Afflalo, who had switched onto Al Harrington, was laying off of Harrington on the left wing. Afflalo turned his head anticipating having to help Carmelo should Lee back him into the post. Because Afflalo was so focused on the possibility of helping Melo who voluntarily switched into a mismatch, he lost track of Harrington who dove to the rim and drew a foul to prevent a layup.

The lack of accountability was evidenced late in the second quarter as well. The next possession after Harrington cut into the lane Chauncey was stuck on Gallinari, although honestly after looking at it again it was not because of a screen, Carmelo doubled and the ball was swung to the weakside. Chauncey rotated to the offside corner and Melo left Gallinari to kind of return to Duhon. The result was no one was guarding Gallinari and he cut to the basket and Nene had to foul to prevent the layup.

There are two secondary problems with switching that I cannot keep myself form touching on. First, the way the Nuggets cheat on the switches it actually opens up perimeter jumpers. The guards, instead of fighting over the screen, know they have to get behind the big to prevent the roll as a result the ball handler has all the space they want to shoot. Look at how much room the Nuggets give the ball handler on a high screen and roll. It would be so easy to step over the screen because there is frequently five feet between the ball handler and the screener. There is no pressure to force the defender into the screen and no pressure to keep the ball handler from turning the corner and blazing into the lane.

Secondly, the bigs who switch out on guards are not in the lane to box out the opposing team’s bigs. For a team who is missing their best rebounder I would think your scheme would seek to keep your rebounders in the paint. The Nuggets struggle on the defensive glass and switching screens is only compounding the problem.

And oh by the way, Toney Douglas hit a easy 15 foot jumper to put the Kincks up three with 27.8 seconds left in the game thanks in large part to a switch.  Nene found himself on Douglas who drove towards the rim, stopped and dribbled between his legs to get his rhythm and drilled the jumper.

This was a bad loss and it was made even worse by the way the Nuggets played.  It was on March 8 of last season where the Nuggets lost a game in Sacramento and I proclaimed they would be nothing other than a first round patsy again. From that point on they finished the season on a 14-4 tear and you all remember what happened in the playoffs. This loss feels a lot like that loss did so I reserve the right to overact.

I continue to question the contention that Kenyon Martin will be able to play again this season despite the fact he is riding a stationary bike “slowly.” News broke today that it was entirely possible that George Karl would miss the rest of the regular season due to his physically and emotionally draining cancer treatments.

Now add in the fact the Nuggets are bottoming out on defense, the offense has become increasingly reliant on the three point shot and acting coach Adrian Dantley would rather play Anthony Carter than Ty Lawson and they just lost the most winnable game in a five game in seven night road trip.

When Kenyon went down I commented that we had to entertain the possibility that Denver could fall out of the top four in the West and open up the playoffs on the road against a team like Phoenix or Utah. After what we saw tonight that outcome is absolutely on the table.

What is most frightening is for the second straight game Denver was out worked by a team playing on the second night of a back to back. Tomorrow they are going to be the team playing for the second night in a row against a surging Celtics team. Redemption is waiting around the corner, but I am not sure the Nuggets can capture it.

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George Karl to Miss Final Three Games of Current Trip

The Denver Nuggets have announced that George Karl will not join the Nuggets for the final three games of their current road trip.  Adrian Dantley will coach the team through games in New Orleans, Memphis and Houston.

Karl had a feeding tube inserted into his stomach during a surgical procedure on Monday.

“I have tremendous trust in A.D. and my staff,” Karl said. “I think they’ll keep the team in a good place over the next few days, and hopefully I’ll be ready to rejoin them when they come home next week.”

I would have been shocked if Karl was able to rejoin the team for these next three games, but I was not going to put it past him trying to be there.

Dantley did a very good job in Minnesota and it will be interesting to see how he handles extended duty over the next three games.

2009-10 Game 64: Denver Nuggets 110 – Minnesota Timberwolves 102

Box Score | Highlights (make sure to see J.R.’s huge alley oop dunk at the 34 second mark)

J.R. Smith started the game missing his first two three point attempts and closed the game out missing his final five. In between those seven misses he converted three in a row during a one minute and 22 second stretch in the middle of the third quarter that sparked the Nuggets to a 110-102 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Up until J.R. converted his barrage of bombs the Nuggets had the body language of a first grader who did not get to eat the last cookie. They were walking up the floor on offense and going through the motions on defense. The Timberwolves collected seven offensive rebounds in the first quarter. Of course, they missed 19 of the 27 shots they attempted, but it allowed them to stay in the game.

Even after coming out of halftime down five against a team that had lost 12 of their last 13 games the Nuggets were playing as if they had nothing to gain from winning. Rarely can a game swing as quickly as this one did. The Wolves did not fold as they were able to get back to within six points in the fourth quarter, but starting with J.R.’s first made three pointer the Nuggets went on a 28-9 run and the Nuggets were never in serious danger of losing.

Apart from Denver finally getting it together in the second half and winning a game they absolutely should have won we had our first chance to really see Adrian Dantley tested as a coach. I had never developed a feel for how he would react to adversity or what kind of coach he could be. Tonight’s game presented an opportunity to see exactly what Dantley could do.

There are little things coaches do during games such as encourage players, provide insight and direction, but we all know for the most part it is a players’ league. Much of the strategy comes before the games in the shootaround. At that point the game plan is set and the players know well before the game starts how they are supposed to defend a certain set or what to do in the pick and roll. Once the game begins those pregame strategies rarely go away. Come tipoff coaches need to keep the right mix of players on the floor, call for slight alterations to the game plan and not botch the end of close games.

I thought Dantley did an excellent job of rotating his players and he forced Kurt Rambis’ hand and I thought the way the rotations played out were a big key for the Nuggets. George Karl has a very tightly set rotation when he is coaching with a full complement of players. J.R. checks in for Afflalo midway through the first quarter. Nene comes out with about four minutes or so left in the first. Melo will usually depart late in the first although it is not abnormal to see him play into the second. Chauncey comes out after the first quarter is over and Kenyon typically plays a couple of minutes into the second quarter before Nene checks back in to give him a break. Melo, Chauncey and Kenyon rest for a few minutes and then return. The second half can go differently depending on what is going on in the fourth quarter situation wise and foul trouble can mix things up, but you can usually tell who is coming or going based on what the clock says.

Tonight Dantley did not have the good fortune of running Karl’s regimented rotations because of the absence of Kenyon and Lawson. On one hand Anthony Carter can fill Lawson’s minutes, but dealing with Kenyon’s absence is a much bigger problem.

Johan Petro was in the starting lineup for the second straight game and I agreed wholeheartedly with that decision as Denver needed his size to combat the offensive rebounding abilities the Wolves possess. Of course you may remember from earlier in this post that the Wolves killed the Nuggets on the offensive glass in the first quarter so I do not think you can say Petro did his job as well as he should have, but starting him was the right decision.

I was wondering how they would handle the big man rotations without Kenyon. Dantley’s answer, certainly with input from Coach Karl and the rest of the staff, was to have Nene fill Kenyon’s role as he played the first 14 plus minutes of the game. I am not sure if Nene played a stretch that long all season, but he handled it well. Chris Andersen entered the game at his regular time in the first quarter for Petro and Malik Allen came in for Nene and then Nene spelled Birdman with five minutes left in the second quarter which gave Andersen a slightly longer stint that usual and Nene slightly less rest than he typically receives.

The truly interesting moves came in the third quarter. With the Nuggets struggling to score Dantley called on J.R. to replace Petro, going small and forcing Melo to play power forward, which he has not done much of the past couple of seasons. Birdman checked in for Nene a short time later preventing Nene from having to play the full third quarter and Anthony Carter entered the game for Afflalo at the point where J.R. would usually enter the game. The result was a small lineup of Billups, Carter, Smith, Melo and Birdman.

Not coincidentally these substitutions coincided with the turning point of the game. The Nuggets outscored the Timberwolves by seven points and Kurt Rambis responded by pulling both Al Jefferson and Kevin Love out of the game at the same time with 3:35 left in the third quarter. At that point the Wolves were up 69-68. Three minutes and 35 seconds later at the end of the quarter the Nuggets were up 79-72.

Dantley took a risk with the lineup he threw out there, but it was Rambis who blinked and responded to a little run by pulling his two best players out of the game. Love was clearly overmatched trying to guard Melo on the perimeter, but Melo was dealing with a similar mismatch in the lane at the other end, although he did manage to steal a couple of entry passes when Love failed to hold his position.

Not only did the small ball lineup get the Wolves to change tactics, but it helped get the Nuggets running and they were able to get some easy buckets. I was incredibly impressed with the way Dantley handled his rotations, see the game flow here, and I think he did a great job in the second half of forcing Denver to change how they were playing and in turn he forced Rambis to make a bad decision. I do not think there is a coincidence between the fact Love only played 3:38 in the third quarter and the fact Denver outscored Minnesota 31-19 in that quarter.

Overall, the Nuggets won a game that was not a must win game, but a must not lose game, I finally have an opinion of Adrian Dantley as a coach and it is a positive one, but I do have concerns about how this team will handle the absence of Kenyon Martin and with the thought in the back of their head that their coach is struggling with something much more serious than basketball. If the first two and a half quarters of the game in Minnesota is an indication, we might be in for a long month as it certainly did not look like they were pulling any motivation from their circumstances.

Additional Game 64 Nuggets

  • Before the game Carmelo talked about making his teammates better. He did not score his typical allotment of points, but he filled up the box score. His handed out five assists, three of which resulted in dunks, pulled down six boards, all defensive, tallied five steals and even stopped a fast break singlehanded. He knocked the ball out of a player’s hands, I think it was Jefferson, and then when Ryan Gomes collected the lose ball and tried to shoot Melo swatted the shot out of bounds. There were certainly some frustrating aspects of Melo’s defense, such as when he walked away from Corey Brewer into the middle of the lane neither helping nor defending anyone when Damien Wilkins was posting up one of the Nuggets guards only to see the ball kicked out to Brewer who drained the open three, but he worked really hard for the couple of minutes he was guarding Love and convinced Rambis that it was a mismatch Minnesota could not win resulting in the benching of Love and Jefferson mentioned above.
  • That was a super long sentence.
  • The one thing that really bugged me was how the Nuggets continued to switch screens late into the game. If I had a criticism of Dantley it was that he stuck with that tactic for so long. Early in the third quarter it seemed like Denver was determined to fight over screens, but that resolve seemed to wilt away and was never rekindled. The guards did do a good job of fighting for position and the issue was more with the bigs not being able to slow the Wolves’ guards. There was one play that was documented on Altitude where J.R. switched onto Kevin Love and he did an excellent job of boxing him out and pulling down the rebound when Brewer decided to shoot a jumper off the screen.
  • Another thing I noticed that Dantley did was twice coming out of timeouts in the fourth quarter with the Wolves making a surge he called the same play. Chauncey passed off to Melo and then ran off to the left side of the floor cutting off a back pick, changing direction and then running back out off a down screen from the same player who set the back pick. The first occasion saw Chauncey hit the open 18 footer. The second time they ran it the Wolves jumped Chauncey which allowed him to dribble past them into the lane which set up an open three for Afflalo. Arron missed it, but the rebound bounced right to Chauncey who drove and dished to Nene for a dunk.
  • Not only did Denver seem physically lethargic in the first half, but they were very slow to do much of anything on offense. There were many occasions where the shot clock wound down to the last couple of seconds. On one occasion Chauncey just sat there in the middle of the floor looking at Melo for several seconds before he finally passed it to him. The result was Melo basically had to make a move and shoot.
  • Both AC and Birdman played great in the second half and I would be remiss if I did not at least mention them because they were both crucial to the comeback. Carter is back to being the change of pace point guard. He has 34 assists and only 8 turnovers since Lawson was injured in L.A. Birdman did very well on the defensive boards, not only did he block shots, but he altered a lot of shots, which is not always the case with him, and he made his free throws going 6-7 from the line. Plus they hooked up on two alley oops, one on a sideline inbounds play that was very impressive.

Advanced Game Stats

Pace Factor: 94.4 – Thanks to the second half they ended up slightly above average

Defensive Efficiency: 105.7

Offensive Efficiency: 116.5

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