For the second night in a row the Denver Nuggets delivered a feel bad win. For the second night in a row the Nuggets lost a sizeable third quarter lead. For the second night in a row the Nuggets were behind in the fourth quarter and looked like a cooked goose. For the second night in a row the Nuggets made the plays down the stretch and pulled out a victory.
This time it was against the Los Angeles Lakers who were playing without Kobe Bryant and the victory dropped the Nuggets’ magic number for the Northwest Division title down to two. Denver can clinch the division title and seal home court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs with any combination of Nuggets’ wins or Jazz losses that add up to two.
There was some gamesmanship prior to tipoff as word leaked that Phil Jackson just might sit some of the Lakers key players and low and behold Kobe Bryant did not play a second. Early speculation as to why Kobe was held out surrounded the fact that it would provide a built in excuse for L.A. if they lost the game, and thus the season series, Denver would know it was because Kobe did not play. My initial reaction was that the Lakers wanted to do what they could to avoid playing the Nuggets in the first round. You can draw your own conclusion, but while the Lakers should be able to clinch the top seed in the west, they are now tied with the Orlando Magic and may have sacrificed home court in the finals should those two match up again in the NBA Finals.
There was nothing new to Nuggets fans in this game. Denver plays a so-so first half, builds a lead, gives it up after the offense becomes stagnant and perimeter oriented leading to easy baskets at the other end of the floor, and then somehow Denver manages to barely hang on for the win. While I am not thrilled with how the game went, at this point in the season a loss would have been devastating so I will gladly take the W, tainted though it was.
Once again the Nuggets tightened their defense and honed their focus over the final few minutes. Still they found themselves down five, 92-87, with just over three minutes remaining. Melo was a little slow meeting Lamar Odom as he cut into the lane, but recovered well enough to deflect the pass and it went out off of Odom. On the other end of the floor Melo showed some real savvy. He received the ball just left of center above the three point line. He had Anthony Carter on the wing and J.R. smith in the corner. Melo directed Carter to go to the other side of the floor and thus he and J.R. were now alone. Melo then drove left on Odom. Had Melo not repositioned Carter Jordan Farmar would have been in position to help and could have done so without worrying about Carter making him pay by hitting a three. However, with J.R. in the corner Sasha Vujicic was not about to leave Smith to help Odom. With no help available Melo blew past Odom for a layup. Odom was miffed with Vujacic, but he was not about to leave Smith, who had made five threes, alone. Plus any help from the weak side would be shielded off by Odom. Gasol did make an effort to help and block the shot, but he was too late. It was a very intelligent decision by Melo and he then executed it perfectly.
On the next Laker possession Nene, Billups and Carter all collapsed on Derrick Fisher resulting in a deflection and then a rushed shot. Denver rebounded the miss and pushed it up the floor. Carter passed to Melo who drilled a game tying three.
On the next defensive possession Nene hedged beautifully and forced Vujacic into the corner and when Carter recovered he was able to force a jump ball. Los Angeles controlled the tip and Billups was called for a foul when he tried getting a little too close to Fisher on a jumper. Fisher made both free throws, but J.R. drove baseline on Vujacic and hit a little floater to tie things up at 94.
The Lakers once again had the ball, but could not get a shot off thanks to Nene playing strong denial defense as Pau flashed out to the free throw line. Nene tipped the pass into the backcourt and by the time Vujacic recovered it, he ran out of time to shoot.
Denver then ran pick and roll with Chauncey and Nene that was so effective down the stretch in Oklahoma City. Nene only made one, but made up for it by stealing the ball from Gasol. Melo drew a foul on Odom and made both freebies to put Denver up 97-94.
Fisher was able to draw a foul on J.R. and made both free throws to get the Lakers within one. Denver then ran pick and roll, but Chauncey lost picked up his dribble and had to pass to J.R. who had his shot deflected. Denver caught a big break when Shannon Brown flipped a pass up the sideline allowing Chauncey to get in and deflect the pass. After a lengthy video review it was decided the ball was off of Fisher.
At this point I thought Adrian Dantley made a mistake. He had Melo, his second best free throw shooter inbound the ball and when Fisher did his best impression of a coffin on Chauncey, gripping him like grim death, Melo had to pass in to J.R. who has not been the most effective late game free throw shooter. Perhaps Dantley wanted to avoid a replay of what happened in the conference finals from last season when Denver turned the ball over twice on late game side inbounds plays. Still, Melo should have been a one of the potential receivers instead of the passer.
True to form J.R. missed the first free throw and failed to push the lead back up to three.
Down two with 12.7 seconds left Phil Jackson chose not to call a timeout. Melo and Chauncey switched a screen between Odom and Fisher. Fisher chose to try to get a jumper off over Melo. Fisher never threw any kind of a move at Melo to freeze him and as a result when he tried to launch a jumper Melo was able to lunge and block it.
While I would have preferred a 30 point victory, I was impressed with how Denver made the little plays to pull out a win. In the final three minutes alone, they scored at the rim twice, Melo hit a big three, the deflected two passes, stole the ball twice, defended the pick and roll successfully three times and blocked a desperation shot.
Denver now must continue to win on Saturday hen San Antonio comes to town. A victory over the Spurs and Memphis the following outing will clinch the division.
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
I hate to say I told you so:
While the Nuggets announced that Kenyon “is expected to return” at some point this season, there is no timeline. No week to ten days or two to four weeks. Expected to return makes me a little bit queasy.
Honestly, Denver can handle life without Kenyon for a few games here and there. If they are forced to play without him for a prolonged period of time I think you can kiss any shot at the second or third seed goodbye and perhaps even home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Saying the Nuggets would struggle without Kenyon was not quite as inspired as Columbus declaring the world was round or Copernicus promoting the heliocentric universe, but many fans dismissed the possibility Denver could lose home court advantage. I have some bad news for you Nuggets boosters, after losing in Dallas the Nuggets are a half a game behind the Phoenix Suns who have slid up to fourth.
Any hope of Kenyon returning to right the ship still has little merit. We are three weeks into his treatment and during the broadcast when asked by Chris Marlowe if there is a timetable for his return or if he was still in “wait and see mode” Kenyon replied, “Wait and see. I know what my pain level is. I am going to have to play in some pain, but as long as it is not the pain I had before I sat out.”
Looking at the game itself part of me wanted to turn it off when it was 9-2. However, the Nuggets did show some heart as they fought back in the second and fourth quarters. The best stretch of the game for the Nuggets came in the middle of the second quarter and if you think jacking up contested jumpers and switching every screen had anything to do with that section of the contest you have not been paying attention.
Ty Lawson changed the pace of the game during that time. In fact, there was one sequence where the Nuggets were inbounding the ball from under the Mavs’ basket and Altitude was showing a replay where Lawson scored a one man fast break layup before they could get the feed switched back to what was going on on the floor. Joey Graham had a nice drive for a basket and the defense played with very impressive cohesion. From the double teaming of Dirk and recovery to the rotations and they way they tried to fight over screens the defense was solid.
The Nuggets were within four and then for some unknown reason Anthony Carter entered the game. Carter gave Jason Kidd an open three after leaving Kidd to not really double Dirk, which was the same shtick he foisted on Denver against Orlando the day before. Carter also had a horrible turnover on a lob pass into Nene in a “what on the freaking earth was he thinking throwing that pass?” moment and air balled a three pointer. Carter was a key component of the Mavs’ late second quarter run that destroyed any momentum the Nuggets bench had established.
The bottom line is Denver never was a threat to win this game. The Mavs were rested and jacked up to play that game while the Nuggets were playing their fifth game in seven nights and Chauncey and Carmelo were both completely incapable of creating any offense. It begs the question over a five and a half month regular season is there any need to have teams play two sets of back to back games in the same week? Good teams can win on the second night of a back to back. Few can win on the fourth game in five nights and I doubt the fifth game in seven nights is much better.
If you are looking for a silver lining other than five of Denver’s final seven games are at home how about Ty Lawson returning to his proper status as the backup point guard (thanks for listening Coach Dantley). Lawson played much better than in his first stint in Boston, which is to be expected, but the fact that he did not play in New York possibly transformed this road trip from a frustrating 2-3 trip to a potentially devastating 1-4 trip.
The Nuggets finally get a couple of days off before facing off with the hot Portland Trail Blazers who have won eight of their last nine.
Additional Game 75 Nuggets
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
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.
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.
The Denver Nuggets have won six games in a row and are now back above .500 on the road after back to back wins in New Orleans and Memphis. The common denominator in both games was Denver’s ability to make plays in the fourth quarter however both games had different stories to tell.
Through three and a half quarters the Hornets game felt much like the previous loss the Nuggets suffered at the hands of the Hornets in New Orleans earlier this season. A close game where Denver was obviously the better team, but they simply could not get their act together long enough to pull ahead. Then with the score tied at 86 and just under six minutes Denver finally took control of a game that was waiting for one team or the other to claim ownership of the contest.
The Nuggets received a gift when rookie Marcus Thornton drove directly into Darius Songalia, who had just set a screen for him, causing a turnover that triggered a two on one break for J.R. and Melo. The result was a lay in for Anthony. On the other end New Orleans settles for a second jumper by Songalia in about 70 seconds that missed. Chauncey received the outlet, sets up on the left wing, drove left and fed Nene at the rim. Nene is fouled and makes both free throws. The teams trade baskets and then Nene tips two passes on one possession both of which were intended for Emeka Okafor and prevented him from getting an open layup. The ball eventually finds its way to Okafor who misses what is now a contested jump hook instead of a dunk. Nene grabs the rebound and throws a beautiful outlet pass to J.R. who does his best to screw up another two on one break with Carmelo, but Melo is there for the rebound and finishes after adroitly making contact with Okafor to avoid getting his shot blocked. Before New Orleans can catch their breath Chauncey steals the inbounds pass and is fouled. Billups dropped in both free throws the Nuggets then parlay a very good defensive possession into a 30 foot desperation three pointer by Thornton which misses. Chauncey then closed out the game deciding 12-2 run with a drive and dish to Nene for an emphatic dunk that announced to all those watching that it was not going to be the Hornets’ night.
The Hornets were able to stay in the game thanks to a big first half by Thornton and a big third quarter from West. However, once those two options failed to produce in the fourth quarter the Nuggets were able to overwhelm the undermanned Hornets with little plays such as forcing turnovers, deflecting passes, and getting into the lane on offense.
The biggest surprise of the game was the way the Hornets chose to defend Carmelo. New Orleans has typically doubled Carmelo as soon as he would catch the ball and their aggressive scheme has been largely successful. In two games against the Hornets this season Melo had shot only 14-44 and the two teams split two close games, both teams winning at home. For some reason the Hornets decided to go away from that attacking defense and played Carmelo largely one on one choosing to play more of a prerotating scheme that the Lakers have been successful with. The difference is the Hornets do not have the same quality of personnel as the Lakers do. Melo was able to find space for his midrange jumper and scored 32 points on 13-27. The funny thing is as poorly as Denver shot from behind the arc, 3-22 to be exact, had New Orleans been aggressive with Carmelo and not allowed him to play so much one on one they might have cruised to an easy win.
Two other comments that need to be mentioned are, why on God’s green earth do the Nuggets insist on shooting threes on nights when it is obvious none of them can make any? The Nuggets had the advantage all night when they drove into the lane and as I am sure you noticed in the breakdown of their fourth quarter surge above Chauncey was able to get Nene two great looks the two times he drove at the rim. Secondly, J.R. Smith deserves credit for his fourth quarter defense on Thornton. Smith was all over Thornton as New Orleans ran him through and around screens. On one occasion Thronton caught the pass and jumped to shoot only to see J.R. flying at him so close that he had to dump the ball off towards David West and the play nearly resulted in a turnover.
The next night in Memphis instead of a defensive battle, the Nuggets found themselves in a wild shootout.
The Grizzlies jumped out on the Nuggets early on with a combination of layups and dunks to start the game off and then a hoard of threes to close out the first quarter. The Nuggets were obviously out of sync on defense as they allowed the Grizzlies’ bigs to roll into the lane and get great position at will. The Nuggets had just enough offense to stay close while their defense struggled.
Then late in the third quarter the Nuggets found their stride on both ends of the floor. The Nuggets were down 83-77 with two minutes remaining in the third quarter and went on a 20-2 run to smother the any hope that Memphis had for a victory.
The three keys to the Nuggets run were their bigs ability to finally seal off the middle and effectively eliminate the easy shots Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol had been getting all night long. Secondly, Denver got out and ran with Anthony Carter pushing the pace. Thirdly, J.R. Smith turned white hot and splashed three straight threes during the run.
It did not end there though as the Nuggets continued to explode offensively and pushed that 12 point lead up to 24 before taking their foot off the gas. J.R. would convert on five of seven threes over the final 14 minutes including five in a row. Denver wound up outscoring Memphis 48-25 over the closing 14 minutes.
I was growing concerned about Anthony Carter as he has been forced to log minutes in seven consecutive games. I have believed the key to his effectiveness has been fresh legs and with every passing game that advantage dissipates. Against New Orleans I though he was starting to look a little sluggish. Defensively he began reaching which is a sign of fatigue due to the fact it gets more difficult to move your feet. However in Memphis he was very good, especially down the stretch when his desire to push the pace helped earn Denver some easy scores. Now if we can just get him to stop shooting threes…
Johan Petro has continued to play respectably. He did struggled a little defending players like David West and Zach Randolph, but most players do. Petro continues to rebound pulling down ten boards twice in the past four games. Plus he has scored 23 points on 14 shots during those same four games. He has struggled to catch the ball while moving in the past, but has shown some improvement in that area as of late.
One quirky thing to note from the win in Memphis is it was the first game all season where Carmelo attempted fewer than three free throws. In fact, he did not get to the line once. The last time that happened in the regular season was December 12, 2008 in Cleveland although he did have two games in the 2009 playoffs where he did not attempt a free throw, game two against New Orleans and game five against Dallas and somewhat surprisingly both games were wins.
The good news in my mind, apart from winning on the road without two of their top eight players, was that there were no signs of moping or any indication of a lack of purpose as we saw early on in Minnesota. Denver played hard from start to finish in both games. They seem to be comfortable with Adrian Dantley and while Dantley did not have any strokes of genius that swung either game as he did in Minnesota when he went small, he certainly has not done anything to slow the team down.
Denver at New Orleans Stats and Links:
Pace Factor: 96.3
Defensive Efficiency: 97.7
Offensive Efficiency: 105.9
Denver at Memphis Stats and Links:
Pace Factor: 87.2
Defensive Efficiency: 122.2 – not good, but…
Offensive Efficiency: 143.4 – best efficiency rating of the season topping their 139.1 versus Dallas
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
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
You have no idea how badly I want to sit in on a film session with the Denver Nuggets. I know in this day and age players are given individual DVDs of things the coaches want them to review and I do not even know if the entire team gets together in a room and just sits and watches a quarter or half together. If they still do I want to be there.
Part of me would like to ask, “Why?” Why were you standing there? Notice how you are neither helping a teammate nor are you guarding anyone? Why did you defend the pick and roll like that? Do you see how by standing back here you compromised the entire defense? Why did you not box out? Why did no one find the ball in transition? Why did you not cut to the basket on that play?
Alas, asking those kinds of accusatory questions might not come across as constructive criticism, but watching the way the Nuggets have floundered through the previous few games I have to wonder what goes on behind closed doors. Is there any accountability? There certainly is none on the court.
The reality is Denver played very solid defense last season. They could be a dominant defensive team when they were focused and playing together as evidenced during their playoff run. I expected to see an even better defensive effort from Denver this season due to the fact that they had another year together to build their defensive cohesion and the added motivation that should have been created after reaching the doorstep of the NBA finals last season.
Sadly, the opposite is true. The Nuggets’ defense has been very porous, especially during the current losing streak. Denver has fallen to 17th in the league in defensive efficiency. They have not been that low since the 2001-02 season when they were 26th.
The lack of defense is a problem from the top down. Either the schemes are flawed or the players are not executing them correctly. Sometimes it looks like both of those problems are present at the same time which makes it especially painful to watch. Everything starts with their inability to slow the pick and roll and that filters down to their incapacity to stop penetration or help and recover.
Offensively, Denver has had issues as well. During Chauncey’s absence J.R. Smith has not been playing up to par. He has the ability to get his teammates easy buckets. In both the pick and roll and off of penetration he is an above average passer for a shooting guard. Unfortunately, J.R. has been looking for his own shot almost exclusively. In the six games since Chauncey was hurt J.R. has had either on or no assists in four of them. In fact, his assist rate is tied for the second lowest in his career (11.1).
Carmelo has had some very good offensive games against Memphis, Atlanta and Portland. He was decidedly less effective against New Orleans and Sacramento. The Hornets doubled Melo very aggressively and instead of taking advantage of the gaps in the defense Melo forced a bevy of poor shots. Melo does not deserve all the blame though. His teammates did not give him many options as they spent a great deal of time standing and watching as opposed to cutting to the basket.
Against Sacramento, Carmelo did score 34 points. It just took him 35 shots to do it. He was banged up badly enough he actually shot a free throw left handed towards the end of the third quarter. You would think if he had a difficult time shooting a free throw he would have done his best to avoid shots of that length. That was not the case. For some reason he jacked up nine jumpers after the left handed free throw. If he was injured badly enough he could not get a free throw over the front of the rim, why did he take so many long jumpers after that? On the other hand, perhaps he could not get a better shot off than long jumpers. If that was the case, he should have relied on his teammates to set him up instead of trying to create his own shot.
I am not saying the Nuggets should have won every game without Billups. To be fair missing Chauncey is a big deal. Lawson has played well, probably better than we should expect a rookie point guard to play after being forced into the starting lineup and Anthony Carter has not been horrible, in fact he made a couple of very good plays down the stretch in Sacramento. However, the difference between Chauncey Billups (31.8 minutes a game with a PER of 20.03) and Ty Lawson (20.4 minutes per game with a PER of 16.01) and Ty Lawson (26 minute a game without Chauncey) and Anthony Carter (23.2 minutes a game without Chauncey with a PER of 9.13) is significant.
I can understand losing at New Orleans, Memphis, Portland OR Sacramento. I cannot accept losing at New Orleans, Memphis, Portland AND Sacramento. At some point the Nuggets need to decide enough is enough, put forth a full 48 minute effort at both ends of the floor and win.
Tonight in Utah they will be without Chauncey and possibly Carmelo as well. Honestly, I have no confidence in them to win tonight. The good news is Utah might be without Deron Williams. Perhaps one herculean team effort would indeed earn them a much needed road victory. Denver has just shown no ability whatsoever to come together and put forth that effort.
The Denver Nuggets have announced that Chauncey Billups underwent an MRI today on his strained groin. The results showed that it was a muscle strain and not a tear or something more serious. He is day to day with a status of questionable for tomorrow night’s game at New Orleans.
It will be interesting to see if George Karl gives Ty Lawson his first career start of if he reinserts Anthony Carter back into the starting lineup. Judging by the fact Carter played nearly the entire fourth quarter for the second time in three games I think we have our answer.
The Denver Nuggets played tremendous half court defense against the Phoenix Suns in their 105-99 victory at the Pepsi Center. Below is what was originally supposed to be a few clips that turned into a mass quantity of clips documenting the Nuggets’ successful implementation of their switching scheme.
A couple of things I forgot to mention in the video was that switching defenses are usually employed to prevent a team from getting open perimeter shots. Give the coaching staff and players credit for having the guts to implement the switching scheme and stick with it. Secondly, I forgot to mention that Nene and Kenyon did a very good job of not reaching. It is easier to reach than move your feet and they both expended the additional energy to play defense with their legs and not their arms.
The one comment I will make is I was disappointed that George Karl fell off the wagon and chose to play Anthony Carter over Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo. The Nuggets won and Carter obviously did not make any crippling plays, but I thought Lawson was doing a good job of defending Nash and Afflalo was playing exceptionally well defensively. I would have greatly preferred to see Afflalo in the game down the stretch, but as the Nuggets did pull out the victory it does not make for a very convincing case.
Even so, as was pointed out during the Altitude broadcast, give Carter credit for answering the bell and playing solid basketball.
I also thought the Suns desire to push the pace probably contributed to their downfall. Coming off a tough home game the night before against the Magic, their breakneck pace probably contributed to the outcome in the Nuggets’ favor. The Suns ran Denver out of the gym in the second quarter, but in the second half the Nuggets were much quicker to loose balls and seemed to have a little more spunk to their movements. Plus we have seen the Nuggets settle for jumpers when they become fatigued and I think the Suns played into the Nuggets hands a little bit as they settled for jumpers for much of the second half.
Congratulations to Denver on a good win, but as I pointed out after the loss to the Pistons, the Nuggets do not prove their worth winning home games, but winning road games. Still, a loss to the Suns in that situation would have been devastating and Denver deserves credit for pulling out a hard fought win.
I thought it was interesting Michael at Valley of the Suns mentioned the game last January where Grant Hill lost his balance at the end of a game in Denver. I expected the no call against Nene at the end against Nash would bring back old memories of that finish for Suns fans and I guess it did.
I have no doubt that fatigue played a role in the Denver Nuggets’ 108-102 loss against the Milwaukee Bucks. I wish I could say that fatigue was the only problem.
Defensively Denver is not playing with any cohesion. On many possessions one player makes a mistake or gets beat and the help is not there. I was once again a part of the Daily Dime chat and I mentioned how when the Nuggets drive to the lane they are swamped with defenders, but when the Bucks would drive the lane they frequently only had to deal with one player trying to help and doing a poor job of it.
Honestly, the Nuggets are floundering in nearly every facet of defense. They are not consistently working together on pick and rolls, they are missing rotations, and generally playing lazy. Last night against the Bulls we mentioned how Nene failed to step out on a pick and roll and gave Kirk Hinrich a wide open short jumper. Well, he did it again in the fourth quarter allowing Luke Ridnour to easily drain a short jumper.
There was an instance where Ty Lawson left Brandon Jennings (who was absolutely amazing and is the early favorite for rookie of the year) to double the wing and when the pass came back to Jennings Lawson made no effort to get back to him and Chauncey did not budge from the other wing to rotate over and help. The result? A wide open shot for Jennings. Chauncey apparently blamed Lawson and since he is the veteran, then we all blame Lawson, but it is asking a lot to have Lawson recover from a double and be able to handle a player as quick as Jennings. In that situation Billups has to rotate over and help. We do not know if Lawson was supposed to stay home. Regardless it was an breakdown and no one helped cover for the mistake.
Early in the game Ersan Ilyasova, who was one of the players I mentioned as a cheap potential replacement for Linas Kleiza, was open behind the arc and Kenyon just stood there a few feet away and allowed him to shoot. Either the advance scout did not inform the team that Ilyasova was a better shooter than his percentage indicated or Kenyon did not feel the need to move. Ilyasova hit the three and went on to make two more where there was no Nugget anywhere near him and his offense was a big boost for the Bucks.
Just like on defense the Nuggets are not playing together on offense. I realize Carmelo is comfortable being isolated on the wing, but he can get easier shots by giving the ball up and relying on the talents of his teammates, movement and passing to get him the ball in a position where the defense is dislodged instead of well positioned and ready to pounce on him.
The poor decision making extends beyond the court as George Karl continues to force feed Anthony Carter minutes at the expense of the Nugget who puts forth the most effort on the team, Arron Afflalo. Carter only played six minutes, but Afflalo was only on the floor for 15. I honestly believe the game might have had a different outcome if Carter’s minutes had been given to Afflalo.
The best example of how hard Afflalo plays was when Nene turned the ball over in the lane and all five Nugget players were underneath the free throw line. Nene never made a move to retrieve the ball, nor did any other Nugget despite the fact the ball was in the lane. As the Bucks took off on a fast break Afflalo was the only player in blue who even tried to make a play and he sprinted all out up the floor in an attempt to stop the Bucks from getting a hoop. There was a similar play where again Afflalo was the only Nugget to try to stop the break and he surprised Jennings with his presence and almost forced a turnover.
I keep hoping the other Nuggets will be inspired by Afflalo’s intense play, but he continues to stick out like a sore thumb as a player who is clearly working harder than his teammates.
Denver was fortunate to escape this six game road trip with a split. They were stomped in Miami and Atlanta, outplayed in Milwaukee and were a tenth of a second away from losing in Chicago. Next up is the Pau Gasol-less Lakers back at home.
Other Game 9 Nuggets
Before we get to the controversial ending in Chicago tonight, I need to address the game itself.
I cannot go as far as to say the Nuggets did not deserve to win, they earned their lead that barely held up in the end, but I was seriously disappointed in their play in the fourth quarter.
Primarily I feel like a dolt for getting caught up in the Carmelo hype after his great first two games. Tonight, in a very important game based on their two game losing streak, he made awful decisions on offense, played lackadaisical on defense and in my opinion nearly cost Denver the game.
To his credit even in the games at New Jersey, Miami and Atlanta Carmelo did seem to be trying to get to the rim more. Tonight in the second half he had three straight drives result in misses and all three times Melo thought he was fouled. After that he seemed to rely more on his jumper. When it was not falling he did try to get to the rim, but again, the Bulls were ready to collapse on him and the results were not good.
To his credit though, as we have seen time and again, Melo hit the shot he had to. With the score tied and 33 seconds left J.R. Smith entered the ball to Melo on the left wing. Melo took two dribbles towards the baseline, picked up his dribble and with Luol Deng still hanging on him pump faked and drained a fifteen footer.
His shot selection was not the only problem. As I discussed in the Daily Dime Chat I do not know who to blame more, Carmelo for forcing bad shots or his teammates for doing their best impression of the Washington Monument. Was Melo not passing because his teammates were not cutting, or were they not cutting because he was going to shoot?
I suspect blame is to be laid at the feet of all involved.
The offensive problems were not all Melo though. On at least three, and maybe four, occasions Denver was able to collect an offensive rebound and immediately hoisted a shot. Chauncey did it once, J.R. did it once, Nene did it once (although he did drive to the rim before taking his shot) and I think Afflalo was guilty as well.
Nene was very effective when he could get a shot off, but he turned the ball over five times. J.R., or Earl, sorry J.R., I mean Earl, is off to his typical slow start shooting 1-9 in his first action of the season. Even his arms-at-his-sides-with-his-hands-held-out-in-disbelief protest was not quite as angular as usual. Although he did compile five assists and played solid defense. Chris Andersen was outworked by Joakim Noah.
As bad as most of the fourth quarter was, the final seconds were even worse.
The Nuggets tried to do the smart thing twice in the final 11 seconds and nearly were beaten because of it. Up two and with a foul to give Chauncey tried to grab Derrick Rose, but the foul was not called until Rose was in the act of shooting. Rose made both free throws to tie the game and then Chauncey was fouled with 0.6 seconds remaining.
After he made the first free throw to put Denver up one, I commented that he should miss the second one on purpose. He did and it nearly cost Denver the game. Noah pulled the board cleanly as every member of the Bulls team and coaching staff yelled for a timeout. It was determined that three tenths of a second would come off the clock which gave Chicago another three tenths to get a shot off. Had the rebound been tipped or mishandled, and Earl Smith III nearly got a finger on it, the game would have been over.
After the timeout Brad Miller caught the inbounds pass and quickly flipped the ball at the rim. The shot went in and it was initially ruled a basket on the court. However, NBA rules mandate the play be reviewed. After about five minutes led official Mark Wunderlich declared that the ball had not completely left Miller’s hand before the buzzer.
I can certainly understand why Bulls fans are upset. In my opinion if there is enough evidence to overturn the call, it should have been apparent quickly. However, as J.A. Adande pointed out, who cares how long it takes as long as they get the call right.
Regardless of whether or not you agree with the decision, you have to give the NBA credit for doing everything they can to get these calls correct. Starting with the rebound off Billups’ missed free throw to the review of Miller’s final shot the NBA has stipulated exactly what can and cannot happen.
From the Official NBA rulebook (page 57):
“NO LESS than :00.3 must expire on the game clock when a player secures possession of an unsuccessful free throw attempt and immediately requests a timeout. If LESS than :00.3 expires in such a circumstance, the time on the game clock shall be reduced by at least :00.3.”
“The game clock must show :00.3 or more in order for a player to secure possession of the ball on a rebound or throw-in to attempt a field goal. Instant replay shall be utilized if the basket is successful on this type of play and the clock runs to 0:00.”
“Regardless of when the horn or red light operates to signify the end of period, the officials (as aided by instant replay, if required) will ultimately make the final decision whether to allow or disallow a successful field goal. THE CREW CHIEF MUST TAKE CHARGE OF THE SITUATION.”
Between the rules which dictate how long actions, such as securing a rebound and calling a timeout take, the use of instant replay and the implementation of the lights along the backboard and along the scorer’s table the league has tried to idiot proof the process as much as possible. Even so I find it intriguing that the crew chief can overrule the audible evidence of the horn and the visual evidence of the lights that come on and declare a basket no good.
I think Adande had the best line of the night when in response to my comment that there was no way Milller got the shot off in time he wrote “I’m not sure Brad Miller could even blink in that time.”
It may have been ugly and controversial, but the Nuggets won and as long as they can clean up their many mental and physical mistakes that have plagued them the past three games they are still in a great position after the first tenth of the season.
Additional Game 8 Nuggets
Advanced Game Stats
Pace Factor: 89.9 – very slow
Defensive Efficiency: 99.0 – very solid
Offensive Efficiency: 100.1 – very average
Update: Here is a pretty conclusive view of Miller’s shot (hat tip to Blog a Bull).
I realize the Denver Nuggets ran the New Jersey Nets off the floor last night 122-94. I know they are 5-0 for the first time since Love Boat was considered good television. I get that the game was the second night of a back to back. Even so, I am a hoops perfectionist. I look at every game and compare it to what needs to be done to beat the best teams in the NBA. If you are looking for someone to cheer and be happy with a win against a bad team, I will probably frustrate you. Just know that everything I say is with the intention of seeing the Nuggets win an NBA championship.
With that being said, the biggest question I have about last night’s game is how difficult is it to change your defensive scheme? Throughout the first half it was clear the only way the Nets could score was by driving to the rim. The lineup they had on the floor could not shoot to get out of a Jane Austin movie. However, the Nuggets had no response to New Jersey’s dribble drive attack. The perimeter defenders were getting beat regularly and the bigs and weak side defense was always slow to help.
The difference between the Nuggets’ defense in the second half compared to the first was like the difference between a Jane Austin movie and a Michael Bay movie. The Nuggets perimeter defenders were laying off their men daring them to shoot a jumper while the bigs and weak side defenders were all standing as close to the lane as possible ready to help. The Nets had a more difficult time scoring and when Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups both heated up in the third quarter the game was over.
My question is what took so long? Do you really need a 12 minute halftime break to change your defensive plans? How long did it take you to read the paragraph above? Thirty seconds? Go find a friend and time how long it takes you to say, “We are getting beat off the dribble and these guys cannot shoot. Sag off on the man with the ball on the perimeter and everyone else get a foot in the lane and be ready to help?” Could you effectively communicate that idea during a two minute television timeout? I hate to toot my own horn, but I coached middle school players and we made bigger adjustments than that in less time.
In fact I will go a step further and say that you should have had that arrow in your quiver as a contingency plan entering the game. The only two players I am worried about making threes on the Nets’ roster are Bobby Simmons and Courtney Lee. Knowing the Nets are a team full of slashers instead of shooters shouldn’t you be ready to implement a clog the lane style defense from the get go?
The other primary observation I have is that if Anthony Carter plays more than a handful of minutes a game after J.R. Smith returns I am going to swallow my tongue. Part of me wonders if George Karl is using Smith’s absence to get Carter as much run a possible before he becomes a fixture on the courtside padded folding chairs. It cannot be more obvious that Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson are superior players to AC. I still think there will be nights where Denver may need Carter’s defense off the bench, I still think about what an amazing job he did on Dwyane Wade last season in Miami, and I think it will be important that he can enter a game like that without tired legs. Last night he stayed in front of his man like I would stay in front of an oncoming train, only for a split second.
Additional Nuggets from Game 5
Pace Factor: 98.5 – On the high end
Defensive Efficiency: 95.4 – Very good despite the first half issues
Offensive Efficiency: 123.9 – Also very good, the free throws and hot three point shooting helps
Take this with you: Denver has enjoyed some terrible thee point shooting from their opponents the past two games. The Pacers and Nets combined to make only five of 37 three point attempts. At some point the Nuggets will face a team as hot as those two were cold.
I only have time for a few thoughts on tonight’s 111-93 win in Indiana against the Pacers.
Tomorrow the Nuggets are in New Jersey and they have the opportunity to wipe away two of last season’s worst memories. The last time the Nuggets were in Indy, Carmelo ended up being suspended a game for not coming out of the game when Karl told him to. Even worse than that memory is the 44 point drubbing the Nets laid on Denver last year at the Meadowlands. Hopefully Denver will exercise that dark night as well.
Check out the concise recap of the game over on Eight Points, Nine Seconds. And I mean concise.
There was also a Nuggets related blog post over at Basketball Reference looking at Melo’s hot start and his plus/minus. Whether you agree with the analysis or not, it makes for an interesting read.
Well, that was less than satisfying.
The Nuggets had serious defensive issues, but managed to overcome their shoddy mental effort on that end of the floor thanks to another impressive offensive display by Carmelo Anthony in a 133-123 defeat of the Allen Iverson-less Memphis Grizzlies.
Things started off poorly on the opening possession as Nene and Kenyon Martin needlessly switched on a back screen which left Kenyon guarding the much larger Marc Gasol. After Gasol received an entry pass from Rudy Gay with inside position on Martin, Nene barely moved to try to help as Gasol popped in an open layup. After a three second call on Zach Randolph, who had Martin pinned beneath the rim on the Grizzlies’ second possession, Anthony Carter gambled for a steal leaving O.J. Mayo wide open in the corner to splash a three. That shot sprung Mayo to an amazing 17-25 shooting performance.
To be fair, Memphis made things difficult on the Nuggets. They submitted a very impressive shooting performance. Four of the five starters converted more than half their shots and Mike Conley, who is far from a dead eye shooter, was 4-9 and made 2-5 from behind the arc.
Even with the Grizzlies’ hot shooting the Nuggets made enough mistakes to make tomorrow’s film session last long enough to make them late for their game in Indiana on Tuesday.
The Grizzlies do provide some difficult matchups for Denver now that they have Zach Randolph. Randolph is a little too big of a load for Kenyon Martin to handle and even a slimmed down Gasol is a tough cover for Nene. Denver also suffered from a self inflicted matchup problem as George Karl chose to start AC again.
The Nuggets starters have been outscored in all three games this season at the point Carter departs the game in the first quarter. Plus with Karl playing two point guards quite frequently opposing shooting guards are having big nights against the Nuggets. In game one Ronnie Brewer scored 16 points on nine shots. Game two saw Brandon Roy drop 30 and tonight Mayo tossed in 40. Do not be surprised if Brandon Rush goes for 50 on Tuesday. I find it difficult to believe Karl will continue to start Carter once J.R. Smith returns, but you can never be sure when it comes to AC, Karl does not always thing rationally.
Offensively the Nuggets were much more impressive. Melo continues to play with incredible confidence and every shot he takes is a good one. He knows what he wants to do and so far no one has been able to stop him. The best way I can describe how Melo looks this season is to compare it to the scene in The Matrix when Neo finally believes in who he is and becomes The One. What once was doable, but difficult has become effortless second nature.
Kenyon and Nene matched the damage Gasol and Randolph inflicted combining for 34 points on only 19 shots. Nene was a perfect 6-6 and Kenyon continued to be effective driving the lane and finishing with a little right handed running hook. Martin’s jumper has been a little better and is almost tolerable with the changes he has made to his mechanics.
Chauncey Billups compiled 12 assists, although only four came at the rim. His best pass of the night, a bullet he threw behind a defender to a cutting Arron Afflalo who blew the layup. Equally as impressive as his assists was the fact he has yet to commit more than two turnovers in a single game.
Ty Lawson had another solid outing. Other than discovering firsthand how tall a 7’3″ player actually is he did a good job of setting his teammates up. He did end up with only three assists, but did make several passes that resulted in open looks or trips to the free throw line. Lawson also had a pass that I thought matched Chauncey’s for assist of the night as he somehow saw Joey Graham running along side of him to his left. A perfect angle opened up for the pass, but I did not think there was any way Lawson knew Graham was there. At the perfect moment Lawson dropped a no look bounce pass that hit Graham in stride for an easy lay in.
Aside from Billups and Lawson the entire Nuggets team continued to take care of the ball. After three games they are averaging a minuscule (well, minuscule for them) 11 turnovers a game. Even high turnover players like Carmelo and AC are taking care of the ball.
As far as the Nuggets’ other known issues, they were outrebounded 39-31, but rebounding was not a major factor in the game. The other big problem of transition defense, or lack thereof, was an issue as the Grizzlies tallied 31 fast break points. In case you are wondering, 31 is a lot.
Then again, instead of complaining about the defense, I guess I should just be happy the Nuggets are 3-0. The last time they accomplished that feat was October of 1985. Yeah, that is more than a little sad.
Pace Factor: 103.6 – Just like the old school Nuggets
Defensive Efficiency: 118.7 – Far worse than either of the first two games
Offensive Efficiency: 128.3 – Far better than either of the first two games
Take this with you: The Nuggets appear to be in great shape. They have been the stronger team down the stretch in each of their first three games. That will be put to the test though as their next six games are three back to back sets and all of them are on the road.
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