A few more game one thoughts as we prepare for game two:
“They did a good job. I couldn’t get it.”
Following Chauncey’s second three pointer with 6.0 seconds remaining Carmelo was all over Kobe trying to deny him the ball, but Kobe ran directly to the inbounder to make sure he received the pass. On the play Chauncey was recounting the Lakers did not defend him any more vigorously than Melo did Kobe. The difference was Chauncey ran parallel to the baseline about ten feet away instead of running to the passer to make sure he could receive the ball.
That is enough of game one. It is funny how I can write so much about something that was so frustrating.
With game two on the horizon I could not sleep last night.
Despite being completely worn out I laid in bed for almost two hours before I nodded off. Game two is not necessarily a must win, should the Nuggets lose I can definitely see them winning both games in Denver and tying the series at two. However, if they go down 2-0 and have to win four of the remaining five games I do not see any way they win this series.
That being said, I think we see the Nuggets play their best all around game tonight and I even went so far as to predict a Nuggets victory. The one disclaimer I will make is if J.R. Smith is clearly limited by his calf strain, which I have still heard referred to as a knee injury in more than one place, it will require Carmelo and Chauncey to both have big nights.
Much of the analysis of game two centers around how Melo will surely not be able to score so easily and that bodes well for Los Angeles. I agree that Melo will not shoot 14-20 and 4-5 from downtown, but I will not be surprised to see him put up another 30 point game. He may have to work harder to get to the rim and not settle for so many jumpers, but he can score on this Lakers defense and on Kobe.
What was most impressive about Kobe’s offensive performance in game one was that he was able to do it while working so hard on defense. Even so, there were times, especially when he was guarding Chauncey, that Denver chose to go away from him. In game two, whoever Kobe is being guarded by must attack him and make him expend energy. He cannot carry this team on both ends of the floor over a seven game series.
Los Angeles can only get away with moving Kobe from guy to guy as long as players like AC and Dahntay are on the court who can be covered by Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar or Shannon Brown.
When it comes to keeping the Lakers off the offensive boards it will require a conscious effort by everyone on the floor. We talk about team defense, but seem to consider rebounding an individual effort. Rebounding is also a team skill and against a team like the Lakers requires all five players to do their part. The bigs must do a better job of clearing space, but that is easier said than done. Gasol in particular is very good at prepositioning himself for offensive rebounds before the defender realizes the shot is going up.
The guards need to either crash the lane if the shot is from the lane or get to the elbows if it is a longer shot so that they are in position to chase down a long rebound.
Other than the rebounding both Nene and Kenyon did a solid job on defense. They continually forced Gasol off the block and keeping him a little further out than he likes to operate. They did a lot of switching, which was fine as the Lakers did not look to post Bynum on Kenyon when the Nuggets did so. If L.A. decides to go at Martin when he switches onto Bynum, Denver will probably have to double him.
When it comes to double teams Denver would obviously prefer not to have to double anyone. However, they seemed like they were prepared to double Kobe after he put the ball on the floor and they showed some desire to have a guard come down to dig at Gasol in an effort to force him to pass.
When the Nuggets do double team they must be prepared to rotate. Gasol is an excellent passer and when Odom is in the game the Lakers have four players all capable of hitting three pointers on the floor at the same time.
Another way to keep the Lakers from getting open looks from behind the arc is to get back better in transition. On a couple of different occasions in the second half of game one Kenyon was stuck guarding Fisher in the corner. Of course, Kenyon wants to be ready to help on a drive or rebound so he stays as close to the lane as possible. The result is Fisher is left open and he made Denver pay.
Both team also need to do better at running when the opportunity presents itself. They combined for 14 fast break points in game one. I expect both teams to top that mark in game two. Of course, if Denver cannot garner any defensive boards they are not going to be able to run. That is another reason why limiting the Lakers’ offensive rebounds is so important.
I do believe the Nuggets will win. I honestly had a bad feeling about game one. I was excited before the game, but not the kind of excited you are before opening a birthday present. It was the kind of excited you get when you have to line up to run suicides for conditioning. That is bad excited.
For game two I feel a little more as if I am going to get a present tonight and less like I am going to be sprinting for a good 20 minutes.
Take this with you: Denver was able to get Bynum in foul trouble because they were not afraid to attack him. J.R. and Melo both drew fouls by going right at him. They will need to continue to do so tonight. Nene fouled out in game one and he must do a better job of avoiding contact when he is covering the pick and roll. He uses his hips too much to slow down the ball handler and referees will call that every time.
For the first time in the postseason the Denver Nuggets trail in a series. There are two ways to look at tonight’s 105-103 loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers. Either Denver proved that they can hang with the Lakers and good things are ahead or the Nuggets proved that even when Carmelo plays what may have been the best game of his career and Denver outplays the Lakers for a vast majority of the game they still cannot win in Los Angeles.
There is some pretty good evidence to support both sides of the argument.
In the Nuggets’ favor if there was any question that Denver was going to be a match for Los Angeles, the debate is over. Denver is playing at a much higher level than they did at any time during the regular season. There were a couple of points in the game where the regular season version of the Nuggets would have fallen apart and been knocked out early.
On the other hand, this game set up perfectly for Denver. They got out to a quick lead to build their confidence. Andrew Bynum was in foul trouble for most of the night. Carmelo played an absolutely incredible game and they had a lead late in the proceedings. It is difficult to imagine Denver having as good of a chance to win in Los Angeles as they did tonight.
If Denver does rebound and win game two (or game five or game seven) in L.A. it will be because of Carmelo. Melo was nothing short of amazing in game one. Offensively he not only continued his hot shooting, but he went nova.
Carmelo drained 14 of his 20 attempts including 4-5 from behind the arc. Before the series I suggested that Melo and the Nuggets had figured out the Lakers’ defense, but I never expected him to go from completely contained as he was for the first three games this season to finding the cracks as he did in game 80 that was featured in my film room segment to being completely dominant as he was tonight.
Unfortunately, Carmelo was not much of a factor in the closing seconds. Following a charge call at the 2:07 mark, Anthony did not get another touch for the rest of the game. Kobe deserves some credit for that as he treated him like an employee at Cordillera (sorry, I could not resist), but the Nuggets consistently went away from him. Nevertheless, I think we can safely expect Carmelo to have a big series and as a result Denver is going to put up a big fight against L.A.
The sad thing is this game was the Nuggets’ to lose after Chauncey hit his first of two huge threes in the closing minutes at the 1:38 mark to put Denver up 99-97 and they lost it. A monsoon of mistakes down the stretch undid 46 minutes of tremendous effort.
The downslide started when on the ensuing Lakers’ possession the Nuggets forced a bad three by Derek Fisher, but Nene got out of position on Gasol, who of course went to the rim for the rebound, and as a result Nene chose to do the Paso Doble and gave Gasol an earnest embrace. If Nene did not realize it before, he now knows you cannot make a play on a rebound with both hands snuggly attached to a seven foot Spaniard. Nene’s grasp did not prevent Pau from grabbing the ball though, which he did, and was fouled. Pau made both free throws to tie the game.
At the other end of the floor Chris Andersen, in the game for Nene who fouled out in 32 minutes of floor time, missed a short attempt badly triggering a free for all for the basketball. A jump ball was called and Los Angeles gained control. Melo forced Kobe into a missed jumper, but Gasol prevented Chauncey from collecting the rebound giving the Lakers yet another second chance.
They capitalized on that second chance thanks to a bonehead reach by Kenyon Martin. After Melo failed to fight through a screen from Gasol as vigorously as he had on previous possessions and that forced Kenyon to switch onto Kobe. Martin did a good job, but chose to reach for the ball resulting in a predictable foul. Kobe made both free throws putting the Nuggets down two.
Next came the play that made even junior high players queasy. Anthony Carter was inserted into the game for Andersen and it was his job to throw the ball inbounds. There were three huge errors on the play that for all intents and purposes ended the game. George Karl drew up a play for Carmelo who set up on the right block and ran off a triple screen towards the ball. Gasol, he has popped up a quite a bit in these closing possessions, stepped out and covered Melo preventing him from coming open for the pass. Mistake number one occurred at this point as Carter did not turn to look at option two, Chauncey coming off a double screen, soon enough. He was still looking at Carmelo when Chauncey came open.
Mistake number two was the weak floating pass that Carter threw to Chauncey. He was being covered by the 6’ 10” Odom and for some reason Carter decided instead of making a high ball fake to get Odom’s hands in the air and following it up by throwing a crisp bounce pass the best pass for the situation would be a high floater over the head of the lanky defender. It was just an abominable pass, one that a halfway decent junior high player would never think of throwing.
As the ball hung in the air with Trevor Ariza closing quickly there is still hope for Denver. Chauncey simply has to come towards the ball to cut off Ariza’s angle. Doing so would result not only in Chauncey receiving the pass, but probably a foul as well with Ariza running at the ball in fourth gear. Enter mistake number three as Chauncey was actually fading away from the pass. Everything went wrong for Denver and Ariza took the ball up the floor.
There was still hope for Denver as there was roughly a five second difference between the game clock and shot clock. If they could get one more stop, they would have a chance to tie or win in the closing moments. Carter made one last mistake as he lunged at the ball, he did not reach, he lunged, which Kobe was dribble with his right hand. A quick between the legs crossover from Kobe’s right hand to his left allowed him plenty of room to drive past Carter leading to another foul before he could reach the rim.
Two more free throws and the Nuggets were down four. An amazing Billups’ three from the corner brought Denver to within one, but two more Kobe free throws pushed the lead back up to three.
Los Angeles fouls J.R. Smith before he can get a potentially game tying three off. J.R. makes the first free throws and misses the second, but Denver could not collect the carom. Over the final 1:38 the Nuggets made numerous mistakes. Basic principles of boxing out, playing defense with your feet and not your hands and making the correct pass went out the window and little details like that cost the Nuggets a huge game one win.
There is also the little issue of free throw shooting. Denver took 11 more free throws than the Lakers did, but they only converted three more than L.A. That is not good. The two biggest offenders were J.R. Smith who shot 2-6 and surprisingly Chauncey who missed his first three before making the next six. If Denver can just muster shooting 71.5%, 25-35, they get the two points they were missing.
Denver did a lot of things right. Their offense in the first quarter was exceptional with great ball movement even though it fell off quite a bit as the game wore on and the Lakers’ defense awoke. Despite Kobe’s large point total, they did a decent job of keeping him out of the lane for most of the game and Denver did not allow the Lakers to get many easy buckets in transition or in their early offense.
Unfortunately there were some pretty serious things that went wrong too. Even though Bynum did not play much, the Lakers still dominated in the area of offensive rebounds. The Lakers collected over 36% of their missed shots. The league average is right around 25%. Kobe proved to be too much for Dahntay Jones to handle and despite his best efforts Anthony Carter did not get the job done either. Even without trying to double much the Lakers took 25 threes and made 11 of them good for a 44% conversion rate.
The really frightening news is J.R. Smith sprained his knee on the final play where the Nuggets were fighting to gain control of his missed free throw. The official word from the Nuggets is vague as they say his status will be updated sometime on Wednesday.
Look for additional thoughts tomorrow, or actually later today.
Watch the game live online on ESPN360!
I was intending to put together some final thoughts on the series and then post some game one insights in a game thread, but sadly we are running out of time so I am going to have to combine both into one final pre-series post.
In my previous posts I have focused on matchups such as Bynum and Gasol versus Kenyon and Nene and how Carmelo can finally break out against the Lakers, but have not paid much attention to the most important key of all and that is how the Denver Nuggets defend the Lakers.
It all starts with Kobe and filters down from there. No matter who is guarding the Mamba they must make sure he gets nothing easy. On the other hand, if you pay too much attention to him and double and triple team him, you get Pau Gasol roaming the lane scoring on a barrage of dunks and layups.
What is the answer? Denver will trap Kobe off the pick and roll, but when he has the ball look for them to expect Dahntay Jones, J.R. Smith, Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony or whoever is guarding him to play him straight up, keep him out of the lane and force him to shoot jumpers.
The problem with playing him straight up like that is Kobe has an excellent post game and he can take Jones, J.R. and Chauncey down on the block and drain turnaround jumpers over them all night long. If the Nuggets do trap Kobe outside of coming off of a ball screen, look for them to do it when he has the ball in the post.
Denver will need Dahntay Jones to do a very good job on Kobe when Jones is on the floor. If he cannot at least make Kobe work hard for his points, Denver cannot afford to have him in the lineup. I expect Kobe to draw fouls on Jones quickly and do not be surprised to see Dahntay collecting four or five fouls in just ten or 12 minutes.
Even if Jones plays the best defense of his life it is unfair to expect him to put the clamps on Kobe. No one can shut Kobe down and few teams have been successful in even containing him. If Kobe is looking to score, he will get his 30 points and if he is on fire, he will get 40 or more. One thing to keep an eye on is Kobe has only made four of his past 16 threes. Denver will have to hope he remains cold from long distance, but we all know it is only a matter of time before he goes off.
If Kobe is wreaking havoc on Denver and they must adjust their defense to commit more resources to covering him the Nuggets must make sure they rotate perfectly. The Lakers’ shooters will make their open shots. I do not care that Derek Fisher or Jordan Farmar or Sasha Vujacic have been in shooting slumps lately, they will make their shots in the conference finals. If Denver is consistently giving up open looks to those guys the Nuggets will be in trouble. Equally as important as making sound perimeter rotations is ensuring their interior defense remains intact.
Players like Gasol, Bynum and Odom are all great finishers in the paint. If Denver shows cracks in the lane the Lakers are a great passing team and they will feed the ball to one of their big men at the rim. Look no further than Gasol’s 36 point outburst in game one of the Nuggets/Lakers series last season where ten of his 12 made baskets were assisted (he made 14 shots, but only 12 are on record in the play by play at least that I can see).
The other potential issue for Denver defensively is if they have to bring a double team to help Kenyon guard Pau in the post. If you double Pau, it opens up the floor for Kobe and if Kobe drives or is red hot from the perimeter your defense is going to get embarrassed.
Looking at the Lakers’ defense they really struggle to contain penetration. Their guards play hard on defense, but Fisher and Vujacic are just not quick enough to contain athletic guards. Much has been made of how Aaron Brooks shredded the Lakers’ defense in the semifinals although as everyone has pointed out the Nuggets do not have a Brooks type player. Do not let that fool you into thinking that Denver cannot get into the lane against the Lakers.
Chauncey may not have blazing straight line speed, but he is great with the basketball and when he wants to drive, he gets in the lane. You can count on J.R. Smith to find his way into the lane more than a few times and Anthony Carter is also capable of getting into the paint off of ball reversals when there is a gap in the defense.
The Nuggets are not only going to be facing the Lakers, Denver will also have to fight history. To me anything that happened two or five or especially 20 years ago is practically meaningless. The truth is tonight will be the first time these two teams with this mixture of player face each other with both teams fully healthy so who cares who won a series 24 seasons ago?
That being said, a negative history can weigh a franchise down. A team and their fans can get conditioned to expect failure. The Lakers actually have a ten game postseason winning streak against Denver, which is the fourth longest streak of its kind ever behind a 12 game winning streak the 76ers held over the Knicks from 1968-83, a 12 game winning streak the Lakers held against Seattle from 1980-89 and a 12 game streak Boston compiled against Chicago from 1981-87. In addition to the losing streak Denver is 2-14 since joining the NBA in 1976 in game ones on the road. Denver also has to deal with their history in Los Angeles where they have not done well over the previous 12 seasons.
The one thing this Nuggets team has going for them in that area is they are the team that is defying the franchises’ sorry postseason history. They are the ones who are overcoming those past embarrassments. I do not think they will be at all intimidated and I expect them to play well throughout the series.
If you listened to the NBA Today podcast from May 19, you heard me say that my official prediction is the Lakers in seven games. Do not let that disappoint you, I have undersold the Nuggets in each of the first rounds and hopefully I am doing so again. Denver has an excellent shot at winning this series and as long as they can play competent defense and players like Carmelo, Chauncey and J.R. continue to shoot the ball the way they have been there is no reason why Denver cannot represent the west in the NBA Finals.
I doubt that the Nuggets are going to get a lackadaisical effort from the Lakers like the Rockets did. Then again, there is no guarantee that L.A. truly sees the Nuggets as a legitimate competitor and they may certainly overlook Denver as they did Houston.
Enough talk. It all starts tonight. If Denver can steal game one that could be the only spark they need to get over the hump against the Lakers and it would be a great step towards winning this series.
Take this with you: The Lakers are the first team the Nuggets have faced in this postseason that provide multiple difficult matchups. It seems Denver has taken a large step forward since the regular season ended, but we will not know if that is truly the case until tonight.
One more thing. It is not fair that I wrote all of this without mentioning Chris Andersen so I just wanted to say, “Birdzilla!”
So far in the 2009 NBA Playoffs the Nuggets have only had to deal with players like Tyson Chandler, Hilton Armstrong, Erick Damiper, Ryan Hollins and Brandon Bass.
Not an overly impressive group, eh?
Next up is Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
If that did not get your attention, I do not know what will. I guarantee those two have the attention of the Nuggets’ scouts, coaches and players. The interior beef that the Los Angeles Lakers bring to the table is quite imposing, especially compared to the parade of overmatched stiffs the Nuggets have battled with in the paint over the first two rounds. Dirk Nowitzki proved to be too much for the Nuggets bigs to handle on their own, but on his own he falls short of the difficulty the Nuggets could, and probably will, have with Gasol and Bynum.
Watching bits and pieces of the Houston Rockets/L.A. Lakers conference semifinal series the one thing that I kept clinging to was Bynum appeared to be either rusty or disinterested. Bynum’s performance in game seven today was disconcerting because he was clearly not rusty or disinterested. If he plays that way against Denver, the Nuggets will be in trouble.
You can talk about Kobe Bryant all you want, the Nuggets biggest concern should be how they can handle Bynum and Gasol. With the starters on the floor Kenyon Martin is going to have to guard one of them and he has a serious length disadvantage against both. Most likely Kenyon will be guarding Gasol and for all his defensive desire and talents he is in a big hole trying to cover Gasol. Pau can shoot his 15-18 foot set shot over Kenyon at will and when he goes into the post his jump hook will be impossible for Kenyon to stop.
Nene is relatively better equipped to cover Bynum than Kenyon is for guarding Gasol, but Bynum still has a significant length and weight advantage over Nene. On the other hand, Nene has done a decent job against Gasol in the past so will Denver choose to stick Kenyon on Bynum and double the heck out of him should he get the ball in the post thus creating one major mismatch instead of two less than desirable matchups?
When Chris Andersen comes off the bench things do not get much better. Andersen is physically a better matchup on Gasol than Kenyon, but his desire to block shots plays right into one of Gasol’s greatest strengths, and that is offensive rebounding. When Andersen leaves Pau to go for a block he better get it or else Pau is converting the miss.
One more thing to worry about is the Lakers’ ability and desire to push the pace. Players like Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Kobe, Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza will all look to run every chance they get. That is not all as Gasol runs the floor very well, plus he cherry picks a lot, and Bynum does pretty well himself at least when it comes to earning good post position during the early offense. That all spells trouble and you can count on the Lakers taking advantage of the Nuggets’ sloppy transition defense much better than the Hornets or Mavericks did.
Well, that was the bad news. We got it out of our system. Things are not all bad for Denver.
The best news of all is that we will not have to watch players like Kenyon Martin and Eduardo Najera attempt to cover Kobe Bryant on the perimeter and consequently Allen Iverson will not be attempting to cover Vladimir Radmanovic on the block. The reason is the acquisition of Dahntay Jones.
In the first series against the Hornets, Dahntay was the key defender thanks to his ability to frustrate Chris Paul. As I projected Dahntay played a much smaller role in the second round against the Mavericks because Anthony Carter was much better suited for chasing Jason Terry through screens. Even though Anthony Carter has played plenty of minutes on Kobe in the past, it does not take a rocket scientist to realize Jones will once again be called on to play defensive stopper.
By the way, while we are somewhat on the subject, the fact George Karl decided to have the Nuggets’ power forwards guard Kobe last season in the playoffs showed how badly overmatched he felt the Nuggets were. If he though Denver was even close to being the Lakers’ equal on the court he would not have dreamed up such a cockamamie strategy. This season I think you can be sure he feels much better about this squad’s chances playing straight up.
OK, I was able to get that out of my system.
Kobe is going to get his points, but like we saw with Chris Paul and Dirk Nowitzki, as long as Denver can make him earn them I think the Nuggets will be happy. They need to be mentally prepared for the fact that no matter how good of defense they play against Kobe, he is going to go off in a couple of games. They cannot let discouragement set in because of it.
The Lakers do not run a lot of pick and roll, but they will run it. In game 80 of the regular season Denver, especially Nene, did a very good job of hedging on the pick and roll and keeping Kobe out of the lane. If Denver does not prove to Phil Jackson that they can slow it down, the Lakers will exploit it.
While Bynum is a little too much for the Nuggets to handle defensively, when the Nuggets have the ball, Nene is too quick for Bynum. Nene can get past Bynum with his spin move or by facing up and driving at him. If Nene can go at Bynum early and get him in foul trouble it will be a big bonus for the Nuggets. Nene has shown a propensity to shy away from taking the ball at bigger defenders like Bynum. He almost acts like someone is holding his family hostage and they have told Nene that if he ever gets a shot blocked his family will pay the price. He must go at Bynum and Gasol when he has the ball at the rim.
The Lakers’ other frontline player of consequence is Lamar Odom. Kenyon is definitely highly capable of guarding Odom, but with Odom coming off the bench, Kenyon and Odom will not be on the floor much against each other unless Bynum or Gasol get in foul trouble. It will be interesting to see if Karl tries to work the matchups so that Birdman is on the floor with Gasol as much as possible while Kenyon will play when Odom is in the game.
Another advantage for the Nuggets is Los Angeles does not have anyone who can cover J.R. Smith. Even Kobe will be hard pressed to contain Smith’s ability to penetrate. Sasha Vujacic will be a pest, and it will be important for J.R. to not get baited into giving him a cheap shot, even though we all know Vujacic deserves it. Sasha will get up in J.R.’s personal space, but Smith is too quick for him and should be able to blow by him at will. Smith was one of two Nuggets to have a nice series last season and there is no reason not to expect him to do it again.
Unlike J.R., Carmelo has not done very well against the Lakers and over the next few days you will hear a lot of talk about how the Lakers do a great job of shutting Carmleo down. They certainly have had his number in the past and they completely flustered him in the playoffs last season. This season Carmelo only averaged 14.5 points per game on only 33% shooting. I just finished watching the final matchup of the season between the Nuggets and Lakers, the previously mentioned game 80 in L.A. which the Lakers won 116-102, and Carmelo played very well on offense scoring 23 points on 8-16 shooting.
We will get more into this in the next couple of days, but Denver seemed to find a couple of cracks in the Lakers crowd and force into help scheme they have utilized on Melo the past couple of years.
The other thing in Denver’s favor is Carmelo is having his best postseason ever and he also has a history of figuring defenses out. After struggling against Trenton Hassell and the Timberwolves his rookie season, including a dreadful 1-16 in the decisive game four, a two point loss in Denver that all but ended the series, Melo went on to absolutely dominate Hassell from the next season on. In his second season it was the Spurs and Bruce Bowen who forced Melo into a poor statistical series, but when Melo was covered by Bowen after that he absolutely owned him. Bowen did not stand a chance against Melo one on one and when the two teams met in the postseason in 2007 Carmelo had his only good series until this playoff campaign.
The point is Melo is too talented to be completely bottled up by any scheme indefinitely. If the progress in game 80 was any indication of his growth against the Lakers’ defense, the numbers 14.5 and 33% will be completely meaningless over the next few days.
Looking at how these two teams have fared in the 2009 playoffs the one major difference between the Nuggets and Lakers is Denver is yet to mail a game in. They have been wonderfully consistent while L.A. has not shown a great deal of mental focus from game to game. Los Angeles let the first game at home against Houston slip away and after taking a 2-1 lead and seeing Yao Ming go down in game three L.A. lost two more games and neither one was very close. The Rockets played hard, but they had no business taking a team as talented as the Lakers to seven games with Yao in street clothes. There is always the chance the Lakers take Denver for granted enough to give away one of the first two games and the way Denver is playing that may be all they need to win this series.
Sorry, one more bit of bad news to keep in mind. Los Angeles won 65 games this season, 11 more than the Nuggets. Regular season records do not mean squat in the playoffs, other than the fact the lakers’ gaudy win total earned them home court advantage against Denver, but L.A. was clearly better than Denver for 82 games and that is not to be overlooked. The Lakers have been the favorites to win the Western Conference all season and are on a mission to avenge their loss in the 2008 NBA Finals.
Denver is playing very well right now, but they have had very little success against the Lakers. In fact, it would have been difficult to have less success as Denver has lost ten out of their previous 11 matchups against L.A. over the past two seasons. Even with Billups on board Denver has lost two games in L.A. that were not particularly close, although the one win in those previous 11 games came in Denver with Chauncey onboard.
This is going to be an uphill battle and there are plenty of reasons to be concerned, but not all uphill battles are lost.
If you are looking for a reason why the Denver Nuggets struggled to duplicate their relatively easy wins from the first two games of the series against the Dallas Mavericks I will give you three. First Dallas played with more fire and intensity because they were at home. They are a very good home team.
Secondly Dallas finally started running and scoring in transition. In game three the Mavericks were credited with 21 fast break points while the Nuggets only compiled nine. Dallas had only scored 13 fast break points in the first two games while Denver rung up 54. Transition defense has been a weakness for the Nuggets all season and neither New Orleans nor Dallas have tried to take advantage of that aspect of the game.
Thirdly, the game was officiated in a way that was beneficial to the Mavericks. That is not a complaint. I thought the referees were consistent from start to finish, or at least from start through the first 11:57 of the fourth quarter. Dallas needs the referees to penalize Denver from playing physical defense and they did. In my opinion they called the game too tightly. The third quarter seemed like it lasted an hour. Dallas shot 21 free throws in the third quarter alone (all in the final 9:20) and the Nuggets shot 12. Thirty-three free throws in a single quarter is just brutal to watch.
However, it is difficult to be upset with the referees (and not because of the way the game ended). After watching the third quarter again the way the game was being officiated, it is hard to argue with the calls. Many of them were on plays where the Nuggets were reaching. Chauncey picked up two fouls trying to make a steal. At one point Melo had switched onto Dirk, he fought for position in the post and forced Nowitzki out to the three point line to receive the pass. Then he banged with Dirk continuing to fight for every inch he could. Then after working that hard, he bails Dirk out by slapping his arms when he pivoted to shoot. The Nuggets committed fouls due to either lazy defense or getting caught out of position.
Foul trouble became an issue in the third quarter as Chauncey, Chris Andersen and Nene all were called for their fourth foul by the midpoint of the third quarter. Andersen committed two bad frustration fouls which gave him five fouls with over three minutes left in the third. He would foul out after playing less than 11 minutes.
As a result the Nuggets were forced to play with a smaller lineup and with the Mavericks forcing their way into the paint more frequently it forced the Nuggets to foul even more to prevent easy shots at the rim.
As the game progressed it was apparent to me that Dallas was playing with just a tad bit more intensity and intelligence at both ends of the floor. As I have written before it is impossible to manufacture desperation and Dallas was playing with desperation. Add in the poor shooting by the Nuggets in the first half, the lackadaisical defense resulting in the free throw parade in the third quarter, the foul trouble born out of sloppy defense and the Nuggets not being able to put together that decisive run we have become accustom to and it was a very frustrating game to watch. The Nuggets did not play their best and everything I was watching convinced me the Nuggets would not pull this game out. They lost a close game three in New Orleans and they were about to lose a close game three in Dallas.
With 34 seconds left Anthony Carter made the horrible decision, as he frequently does, to run at Dirk from behind Dirk in an attempt to steal the ball. Carter left Jason Terry all alone in the corner and in a play you could see happening before everything actually happened Dirk passed over to Terry who hit the open three to put Dallas up 105-101. Game over, or at least so I thought.
From that point on the Mavericks made four big mistakes. First of all needing to run some clock they allowed Carmelo to score on a dunk in only 2.6 seconds. I realize you do not want to foul, but at least make Melo change directions. If they manage to force just two more seconds off the clock, I think Denver has to foul on ensuing possession instead of playing to get one more stop with time on the clock.
The second mistake was made by Dirk. Not only did Dirk take some terrible shots down the stretch, but he probably lost the game for Dallas by shooting far too early on their second to last possession. There was a differential of roughly four seconds between the shot clock and game clock. Dirk shot with six seconds left on the shot clock. By the time Denver corralled the rebound and called timeout there were 6.5 seconds left. If Dirk shoots that shot with just one or two seconds on the shot clock, Denver is looking at only a second or two to tie or win the game instead of 6.5.
The final two mistakes were the inability to foul convincingly, which I have already written about, and the unimaginative inbounds play the Mavericks ran at the end of the game. I thought the final inbounds play by the Mavericks was pretty weak. The Mavs only needed two points to win and running a play for Dirk or Terry to catch running away from the basket, forcing them to turn and shoot from long range was silly. I think Dallas could have had Josh Howard cutting to the rim. They should have known Denver would be focusing on Dirk and Terry which would have allowed Howard, who set a screen for Dirk, but when Howard curled around the backside he ran towards the opposite sideline instead of at the rim plus Brandon Bass was just sitting on the offside block anyway.
If Dallas makes better decisions or better plays in any of those four situations, apart from the final play with only a second left, that is a tough situation to bounce back from, perhaps the game ends up differently.
If you are looking for one thing that turned the game in the Nuggets’ favor look no further than a defensive adjustment George Karl made midway through the fourth quarter. With Dirk scoring almost at will off of all the defensive switches the Nuggets were employing Karl changed things up during a timeout with 6:22 remaining in the fourth. From that point on Denver started defending screens straight up with the big man hedging to slow down the ball handler and then recovering back to his man. From that point on I believe Denver only switched one more screen the rest of the game. However, Dallas probably did not realize the Nuggets had changed tactics for a couple of minutes because they posted Jason Kidd up on Chauncey for four or five straight possessions.
Dallas ran their last set with Kidd posting up Billups at the 3:17 mark when Chauncey finally kept Kidd out of the lane and forced a bad turnaround jumper. From that point on Dallas ran their regular down screens and pick and pop sets against the Nuggets more stout non-switching pick defense. The result was out of Dallas’ final six shots not one of them came from in the lane. Four of those six shots were badly forced jumpers by Dirk over Kenyon (of course one of them was the final shot of the game where Dirk had no choice, but to shoot a contested jumper).
When the Nuggets switch and Dirk is covered by a guard or Melo, he will back the smaller defender down and get an easy two. If he has a big man on him, he almost always settles for the jumper. By making sure Kenyon stayed on Dirk it ensured Nowitzki will take much more difficult shots.
Denver did hold the Mavericks to 40.0% shooting so from that standpoint it is difficult to say Denver did a poor defensive job, but I will. The Nuggets hardnosed defense we saw against the Hornets has been softened because of all the switching. Denver was forced to foul because the Mavs had the ball in the lane all night long. The Nuggets defensive efficiency in games two and three against Dallas has been their two worst of the postseason.
The Nuggets now have a chance at sweeping the Mavericks tonight in Dallas. How amazing has this run been?
Additional Round 2 Game 3 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 90.7 – Exactly the same as game two.
Defensive Efficiency: 115.8 – Exactly the same as game two as the pace factor was the same and Dallas scored 105 points in both games.
Offensive Efficiency: 116.9 – Once again the offense was solid even with J.R. Smith struggling and Melo shooting a poor percentage.
I promised you these the day after the game. Well, I have not gone to bed yet so no matter what the calendar says, I delivered!
I had to rewind it to make sure I saw what I saw, but after Hollins’ dunk to bring the Mavs to within SEVENTEEN he ran down the floor pounding his chest. People get on the Nuggets for showboating, but at least they do not do it when they are getting blown out. What a tool.
The Mavs are supposed to have one of the best benches in the NBA and after the game Ernie Johnson practically had a conniption fit when Charles Barkley asserted that the Nuggets’ bench was killing them. Dallas started the fourth quarter with four or five bench players depending on how you look at it. Jason Terry was out there with James Singleton, Brandon Bass and sometimes starters J.J. Barea and Antoine Wright.
At this point I originally copied down the next few possessions step by step before realizing that not even I would read it so here are the key points.
On the first possession of the quarter Dallas tried to get Terry open flashing out to the left wing, but they could not because Anthony Carter was so close to him on the cut that their breath was combining into one aromatic sent. That ruined the set and Dallas did not get a good shot.
Carlisle saw that group was going to struggle to score so after that singular possession I am sure he put Kidd and Dirk in right? Nope. He put Kidd into the game for…Jason Terry? Wow. Now the only Mav capable of getting his own shot on the court was Barea.
With Terry out Barea is the only player capable of getting his own shot and he is checked by Carter, which is the best option for Denver against the diminutive speedster. Carter and Birdman trap Barea off a screen and forces the ball to go to Singleton who, the offensive force that he is, cannot decide what to do with a wide open lane in front of him so he starts to shoot and then realizes he should probably take advantage of the open space in front of him to drive. The result is a travel. It is probably for the best as Birdman was quickly recovering into the lane and any attempt at the rim would have been difficult at best and embarrassing at worst.
After two empty possessions Carlisle gets Dirk in the game. The ball goes to Dirk on the right wing. He drives left into the lane and jump stops at the charge circle. A pump fake gets Bird in the air (of course), but Dirk misses the short fade away off the back rim.
On the ensuing Denver possession Melo gets mugged at the rim with no call (hey, we have a right to complain about the refs after the 36-13 free throw advantage from game one that was rightfully ours was slashed to a 40-30 advantage, just horrible) Dallas outlets to Barea who flies up the court, draws AC and J.R. into the lane and kicks out to Kidd who misses a toe-barely-over-the-line two pointer. The miss triggers a break the other way for Denver that results in Nene being fouled at the rim.
Now down ten, 93-83, Carlisle reinserts Terry. Carter stays right with Terry on a four day, three night trek from one side of the court to the other that visited some beautiful locations along the baseline and spent some time at a screen set by NBA superstar Dirk Nowitzki. Birdman and Carter trap Terry again leaving Dirk open in the middle of the floor about 30 feet from the hoop. Terry passes to Dirk who drops it like the phone number of a female power lifter from the former East Germany which sets the Nuggets running again. That makes for a 9-0 run and puts the Nuggets up 12, 95-83.
After a timeout Dallas sets up with Terry in the left corner and after a misdemeanor assault two handed shove to free himself from AC’s tremendous defense Terry flashes to the high right wing. Carter was left so far behind due to the push off that Nene has to step out to cover Terry. Terry gets the ball and then passes to Nowitzki after which JET cuts to the right corner. He gets a return pass from Dirk and rises to shoot, but Nene, perhaps having jumped into the future and read my comments about big men guarding little ones on the perimeter, forces him to abort the jumper and desperately pass back out to Dirk who has the chase it down. Terry gets the ball again with Nene blanketing him. Bass, who AC should be guarding after being physically forced to stop guarding Terry at the beginning of the play, clashes to the lane and having been left for dead by Carter makes a little ten footer for Dallas’ shot that put the two in 16-2.
On Dallas’ next possession the Nuggets trap Terry off a high screen by Bass who slips down the lane. Terry delivers the ball and it appears Bass is about to score when J.R., Melo and Nene collapse on him and force a loose ball. Bass collects and passes out to Kidd who misses a semi-contested jumper as Melo recovers from helping in the lane to at least get a hand up on the shot.
As the run grows Denver’s defense gets more and more active. Barea has the ball on the left wing with Dirk setting a screen to his right and Bass doing the same to his left. Barea chooses left for some reason. With the sideline right there and Nene hedging to bottle him up J.J. leaps and throws a wild pass into the middle of the court. Birdman gets a talon on it, but it bounces to Terry. Dirk and Terry run a pick and pop. Bird and AC trap Terry who passes back to an open Dirk. Melo leaves Kidd in the corner to run at Nowitzki. Dirk passes to Kidd as Nene rotates out to the corner and Andersen rotates perfectly onto Bass on the right block who Nene left to cover Kidd. Kidd drives left into the lane and fumbles the ball as if it was a phone with his ex wife demanding this month’s alimony payment resulting in another Denver fast break.
Hang in there we are almost done. Kidd and Hollins run a pick and roll and Melo is forced to switch onto Hollins. Hollins receives the pass from Kidd and Melo fouls him to prevent a dunk. Melo was in foul trouble in game one, but he only had two at this point late in game two which allowed him to make the smart play and prevent the basket. It sure pays to have some fouls available late in games. Dallas then ran Terry off a double screen and he was able to lose AC who lost his balance on the first pick. Nene switched onto Terry and apparently forgot how good of a job he did earlier as he laid back and allowed Terry to take a three from the right wing. Fortunately Terry missed, Nene ran out, Melo caught the rebound and hit Nene in stride with a perfect pass and the Brazilian Gazelle threw down a dunk to wrap up the 16-2 burst that gave the Nuggets the win.
OK, now imagine that only twice as long. Oh, who am I kidding? No one is still reading this.
Anyway, Denver still had a couple of breakdowns and the Mavs missed two or three open jumpers, but the key was the only open shots they could get were perimeter shots. Denver was much more sound on screens and I liked how Birdman and AC have their own little trapping scheme down pat. While Denver played some lethargic defense for much of the game they did crank it up in the fourth quarter and while I prefer the 48 minutes of nasty defense they had been playing I guess I will take it.
I was going to get into the Mavericks’ zone defense, but we are well over 2,000 words so you can all go back to the days when you were in school and the teacher was about to give out an assignment only to have the bell ring and free you from the obligation. Heck, I am not going to even try to proof read this thing until tomorrow.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 90.7 – Slow for a home game.
Defensive Efficiency: 115.8 – Denver’s worst rating of the season topping 108.7 in the game three loss against New Orleans. The numbers between games one and two are all very similar except for Dallas’ nine fewer turnovers and 17 more free throws.
Offensive Efficiency: 129.0 – Second best output of the playoffs trailing only the 138.7 they posted in the game four blowout in New Orleans.
The Denver Nuggets have a chance to grab their second round series with the Dallas Mavericks by the throat. If they can win game two tonight at home it will put the Mavs in a big hole.
There is only one major adjustment I can think of that will determine the outcome of this game and that is whether or not the Mavericks are capable of matching the Nuggets intensity and, you guessed it, physicality.
Until the Mavericks prove to me I am wrong I will consider them the mentally fragile squad who blew the 2006 NBA finals, were spiritually demolished in the 2007 playoffs by the Golden State Warriors and were run off the floor by the Hornets last season.
I have written all season about how the style of defense the Nuggets play can determine their mindset for the game. A passive defensive strategy led to a passive effort. In game one the Mavericks play a reactive style on both sides of the floor and that perpetuates a collectively passive team atmosphere. That type of team mindset is not conducive to winning in the playoffs.
For Dallas to change their team mindset now would be nearly impossible and that is the greatest obstacle for them right now.
At a more tactical level I wrote yesterday that Dallas needs to utilize the high screen with Dirk more often. That is the set he rode to his 6-6 start, but they got away from it as the game wore on. When they returned to it in the fourth quarter Jason Terry chose to keep the ball rather than give it back to Dirk. I remember reading that some people thought the Mavs were better because Terry took over more often in crunch time to make up for Dirk’s well documented late game shortcomings. In game one Terry forced it and the Mavs suffered.
Another adjustment I am tempted to recommend is to play Terry for 40 plus minutes or to start Antoine Wright and leave J.J. Barea on the sidelines. That might be an example of overreacting to the limited returns from only one game. While I understand the temptation to get Terry out there more frequently or to play Wright I think it might be a mistake. Barea can still be a thorn in the Nuggets’ side if Carlisle releases him to attack in transition. There is not a Nuggets player who can stay in front of him and just as much as the Mavs need Jason Kidd to throw the ball to teammates and not the upper crust of Denver society seated at midcourt they almost equally as badly need Barea to play well.
I am also a little worried about how well Chris Andersen can do against Dirk. The Birdman was amazing when pressed into duty on the big German in game one, but I think Dirk can drive on him. If Dirk throws a little pump fake at Birdman to get him to at least raise up on his toes will free Nowitzki to drive past him and get to the rim. I still believe Kenyon is the best option to defend Dirk.
Apart from their slow start the Nuggets played a very strong game. I have very few recommendations for the Nuggets. They should keep pounding the middle with pick and rolls by Nene. J.R. Smith needs to be relentless going to the rim. Melo needs to be aggressive as well both in the post and driving from the wing.
Defensively I believe they can do a better job of fighting over the high screen from Dirk. There were instances where they just switched without forcing Nowitzki to set a strong screen. Dirk typically sets very strong screens, but do not let him off the hook by anticipating that he will do so. Force him to set a strong screen and absorb the contact.
From a rotation standpoint the only way Kleiza should be in the game is if Josh Howard is not. Of course, it will help if Melo can avoid foul trouble. I would also cut Dahntay Jones’ playing time from 18 down to the 10 or 12 minute range to get J.R. Smith and Anthony Carter more floor time.
However, everything comes back to which team is going to play tough playoff basketball. So far the Nuggets have raised their game to the perfect level of aggressive physical play while their opponents have not been willing or able to do the same.
I have never felt so confident about the Denver Nuggets in my life. They are nearly unbeatable at home where they are playing with supreme confidence and being pushed to new heights by great crowds. I do not need to hope Denver will win, I know they will and I can get used to it.
Take this with you: I am going to pass on a couple of links here. First George Karl is not a big fan of the NBA’s decision to fine Kenyon Martin. Secondly, celebrate Cinco de Mayo with LaPhonso Ellis. It has been exactly 15 years since Ellis’ 27 point 17 rebound game in the first round series against the Sonics in 1994. Oh Yea and one more. Footage from the lockerroom right after the Nuggets won game five to beat the Hornets.
Thanks to Brandon from BallerBlogger for the link.
Once again I simply do not know where to start. There were so many great storylines for the Denver Nuggets during their game one 109-95 win over the Dallas Mavericks I do not think I can do them all justice.
Carmelo was in foul trouble for much of the game, but came alive in the fourth quarter. George Karl went small in Melo’s absence and it worked marvelously. Nene was simply a beast in the paint. The play of Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Anthony Carter off the bench was nothing short of amazing and of course the team defense played by the Nuggets was exceptional by the end of the game.
I have to start off with the defense.
As was pointed out before the series started defending the Mavericks will be much more difficult than shutting down the Hornets. Early on the Nuggets’ plan to switch the high screen set by Dirk Nowitzki seemed disastrous. Dirk started the game 6-6 from the floor and despite the switching Dirk was getting very open looks and the Nuggets were clearly struggling with matching up with him.
Things changed when Kenyon Martin leveled Dirk with a forearm along the baseline. I think that play triggered a response from both the Nuggets and Dirk. For Denver, they started playing Dirk much more physically and the open space he was enjoying early on disappeared. For Dirk he was no longer as aggressive going to the rim. Over his final 17 shots he only took four at the rim. Was it a result of the hard foul or the Nuggets’ increased pressure? My guess is it was a little of both.
Aside from Kenyon’s hard foul on Dirk I had a difficult time picking out exactly why the Nuggets defense was able to improve so much between the first 12 minutes and the final 12 minutes. To me the other keys that led to the defensive awakening were the play of AC and Birdman and I think it took the Nuggets a quarter or two to adjust to the completely different scheme from what they implemented against New Orleans.
There was a lot of talk about how Kenyon and Dirk would matchup in this series, but it was Birdman who played Dirk the toughest. Andersen has the length to challenge the shot and for some reason Dirk never really challenged him with the dribble drive. There were two instances where Dirk tried to drive on Birdman. On one Andersen drew a charge (more on that later) and on the other Dirk blew past him into the lane, but simply dropped the ball as he tried to gather it to shoot. I still think Kenyon is the best option to defend Dirk, but it was very encouraging to see how well both Bird and Nene stuck with him. Plus the guards, even J.R., became very physical with him. The plan to single cover Dirk no matter who it was on him worked very well to start the series.
Regarding AC, before the series started I pointed out that I thought AC would play a bigger role than Dahntay Jones because he was a much better matchup for the Nuggets to check Jason Terry. That certainly proved to be the case in the second half as Carter hounded Terry all over the court and even forced a couple of turnovers when Terry tried to run him off of the baseline double screen.
Offensively Denver was spectacular, or at least after the first quarter they were. With Melo in foul trouble players like Nene, J.R., AC and Birdman all stepped up and produced very efficient games.
Nene ran the floor well in both directions as he was threw down two fast break dunks in the second quarter and also did a good job of retreating in transition, as did all the Nuggets, to prevent the Mavs from running on them. The Mavericks had no answer for Nene in the lane. Dampier was too slow and no other Mavs player is strong enough.
With Melo on the bench for much of the second quarter Nene piled in 14 big points to keep Denver in the game. Nene scored on an easy dunk after a pick and roll with J.R. thanks to a beautiful bounce pass from Smith and he made a layup off a drive and dish from Chanucey where he drew a foul after elevating over Dampier who hit him on the arm as Nene finished at the rim with the left hand. Nene also scored off a really nice set I did not remember seeing this season where he set a screen for Chauncey on the left wing, but instead of driving Chauncey threw a pass across the floor to AC. Nene then rolled off the screen and AC delivered the pass for an easy lay in. It was a beautiful play.
J.R. started out by launching a couple of long jumpers, but soon after that switched into attack mode and the Mavs could not keep him out of the lane. J.R. penetrated in transition, off of isolations, off of screens and he even split the double team a couple of times. The result was a handful of nice finishes at the rim and six assists. J.R. took 13 shots and only two of them were three pointers. It was only the third time all season that J.R. attempted more than ten shots while putting up two or fewer threes.
Carmelo had a very frustrating first half as he only played 12 minutes in the first half. Still when he was in the game he was aggressive offensively. Melo was credited with 10 shots, but he had another three attempts that resulted in free throws that were all at the rim. That makes 13 shots and seven of those 13 were at the rim. He also finished the game with four assists continuing his solid passing performance. Melo came alive in the fourth quarter when he no longer had to worry about fouling out. After going at the rim he began hitting his jumpers splashing two three pointers. He made the first one from the right wing as no Mav came out to cover him off an inbounds play and the second was on the left wing in transition that basically iced the game putting the Nuggets up 106-89 with 2:49 remaining.
Carmelo only attempted ten shots, which I am willing to bet is a career playoff low, but he scored 23 points on those ten shots. It was a highly efficient afternoon for Melo even with limited minutes.
The Nuggets have to feel very good about how the game went. Carmelo and Chauncey were non factors offensively up until Melo’s fourth quarter explosion. Dirk scored his points, but the Nuggets seemed to get a handle on him after his hot start. Anthony Carter did a great job on Terry who finished the game a -20. Dallas had good scoring games from Dirk and Howard and Terry shot a solid percentage, but it was not enough for Dallas to hang with them for 48 minutes.
It has been amazing to see this team become aware of how good they can be in the playoffs. They are very confident and they should be. Denver is almost unbeatable at home. As Karl was quoted saying during the broadcast Denver just wears teams down when they play in the Pepsi Center. The opposition may be able to hold them off for 36 or 38 minutes, but sooner or later an onslaught is coming and there is nothing the visitors can do to stop it. The Nuggets are up to 14 straight home wins and with their game one win are very solid favorites to win this series.
Additional Round 2 Game 1 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 94.6 – Average regular season home game pace, 95.1.
Defensive Efficiency: 100.4 – Dallas shot 48.8%, but Denver forced 20 turnovers and only sent the Mavs to the line 13 times.
Offensive Efficiency: 115.2 – Very good considering the slow start, limited minutes from Melo and Chauncey’s veritable no show in the scoring department.
A few final thoughts before we tip off what should be a great second round series between the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks.
There has been some discussion about where the Nuggets’ heads are at and if they might not have the mental fortitude to win this series. If we are questioning one team or another’s mental fortitude I have to question Dallas’. Just three seasons ago they blew a 2-0 lead in the NBA finals. Two seasons ago they were crushed physically, mentally and spiritually by the Golden State Warriors. Last season they were dismantled by the Hornets. Are we to believe that a easy win over a diminished San Antonio Spurs team has erased all of those demons? If Dallas does not win one of the first two games, and maybe if they lose the first game, they may start questioning themselves.
Dallas fans are pointing out Dirk averaged 30 points a game against the Nuggets and Kenyon Martin as proof that Kenyon cannot handle Dirk. I have news for them. Dirk went off for 44 in one contest and was great. In the other three he averaged a respectable 25.3 points, but he only shot 38.5%. I guarantee you if Dirk has two big games this series, but shoots under 40% in the other five Denver will win.
It will be interesting to see how the Nuggets match up with the Mavs backcourt. While participating in the chat with Rob from The Two Man Game I started wondering about how well Dahntay Jones might be able to handle Jason Kidd (I know I am a little slow sometimes).
According to the Mavs game notes J.J. Barea is slated to start alongside Kidd. I think in that situation I would rather have Billups on Kidd and Jones on Barea, but if Kidd is on the floor with Antoine Wright I suspect Jones will cover Kidd and Billups will check Wright. However, with Kidd being primarily a spot up scorer I worry about Jones losing track of him trying to apply pressure somewhere else.
Everyone seems to expect a very close series, but almost everybody is picking the Nuggets to win it. That has to be good right? As a Nuggets fan I am not sure how to handle being a favorite all the time, but I think I can get used to it.
Ball Don’t Lie preview featuring Pickaxe and Roll, Mavs Moneyball and the always insightful Kelly Dwyer
Great breakdown by Chris Dempsey of Kenyon vs Dirk
Benjamin Hochman on experience and how the Nuggets have made a major turnaround from postseasons past (Kenyon’s suspension and last season’s “we quit”)
The Nugg Doctor weighs in
And in case you missed it my initial thoughts on the series
Before the season started I projected that Denver and Dallas would be fighting each other late in the season. Of course, I thought it would be a battle for the eighth playoff spot, not a spot in the Western Conference Finals.
Forget the Regular Season
Just as with the New Orleans series the regular season results between these two teams are meaningless. New Orleans played the Nuggets incredibly tough and split the four regular season games and it ended up not meaning one darned thing because the Hornets were not playing well. With Dallas it is true the Nuggets swept the four game series, but anyone who expects the Nuggets to dominate this matchup based on those games will be surprised at what is about to take place.
Three of the four matchups occurred in the first half of the season when the Mavs were struggling. In the fourth meeting Dallas was without Jason Kidd and Josh Howard (plus Denver was missing Nene). Howard only played in two of the four games, but in one of those two games it was his first game back from injury and he played 14 ineffective minutes. At this point Howard is near full strength and playing very well.
After considering all of those variables here is one more thing to keep in mind. Three of the four meetings between the two squads came down to the final possession. If any number of little things go differently in those three games, we are talking about how Dallas handled Denver in the regular season 3-1.
If you still think the regular season games were meaningful I give up. Go your merry way pilgrim. Now on to the hard hitting analysis.
Don’t Jump on the Kidd Bandwagon
First of all I am going to tackle a notion that I have heard from several outlets and that is that Chauncey Billups is a great matchup for Jason Kidd. Most observers are only looking at one side of that coin. Yes, Chauncey is nowhere near as quick as Tony Parker and that is good news for Kidd. Of course Chauncey is not going to abuse Kidd like Parker did.
What those analysts seem to be ignoring is that Kidd is an even better matchup for Chauncey. While Kidd has generally held Chauncey below his averages Chauncey has done that and more against Kidd. Over the previous three seasons when facing Chauncey Kidd has averaged 9.6 points, 8.4 assists, 7.1 rebounds and he only shot 33.3% from the floor. The good news for Dallas is they do not require big numbers from Kidd in order to win. He is primarily a facilitator and spot up shooter. Against the Spurs Kidd only posted 10.0 points, 5.6 assists and 6.0 rebounds. However, he shot 10-23 from behind the arc good for 43.5%. Even though Denver probably needs Chancey to post better numbers more than Dallas needs Kidd to put up big stats I like this matchup for the Nuggets.
Can Kenyon David West-ify Dirk?
On the flip side a matchup that most people may be giving the Nuggets a little bit too much credit for is the battle between Dirk Nowitzki and Kenyon Martin. I do believe Kenyon can make things tough on Dirk, but this assignment is far more difficult than the task of crushing David West in the first round. Dirk is far more talented and capable than West is.
Still, Kenyon has the strength to keep Dirk from getting too deep on his many postups and the physical play that has been allowed so far in the postseason will work in Kenyon’s favor. This season with Kenyon playing in all four games against Dirk Denver has held Nowitzki to 43.9% shooting, a full four percent below his season average. Kenyon’s biggest issue when guarding Dirk is something he can do nothing about and that is the length advantage Dirk has. While West was not able to bump into Kenyon and create space to get his shot off, Dirk will be able to shoot over Kenyon whenever he wants and he is amazingly adept at hitting the awkward jumper. Offensively Kenyon has the quickness and athletic advantage on Dirk to make him work on defense. Look for Kenyon to drive at Nowitzki, spin and toss up that little push shot from in close.
I fully expect Dirk to play more minutes than Kenyon and when Martin is out of the game Denver will have to scramble to cover the big German. Nene has had some success against Dirk when he was younger, but I am not sure he has the lateral quickness at this point to provide the kind of resistance that Kenyon can. I am afraid Dirk can take a dribble and pull up on Nene with room to spare. However, if Nene is successful in avoiding foul trouble he is a decent option to spend a few minutes on Dirk. Chris Andersen is an interesting matchup for Dirk as he has the length to bother Nowitzki’s jumper, but I am not sure he has the strength and balance to absorb a shot to the chest and be able to challenge the shot and a one or two dribble pull up provides similar issues for Birdman as it does for Nene.
Even with each player’s short comings, Denver is as well equipped to handle Dirk as anyone. It would also be interesting to see what Renaldo Balkman could do against Dirk, but I seriously doubt we will get the chance.
The Other Guards
There are some more interesting matchups lead by the other backcourt players. Jason Terry and JJ Barea make for a dynamic backcourt while Dahntay Jones and Anthony Carter seem to be a nice defensive matchup for both. I think we see a little less of Jones this series and more AC. Terry is deceptively quick and the fact you have to respect his shot forces you to play him tighter than is comfortable. Ultimately I believe Carter is a better option to slow him down than Dahntay. Jones did a great job hounding Chris Paul and fighting around screens, but the Mavs will be running Terry around screen after screen and Carter is better suited to chase and challenge in that situation than Jones is. However, Jones is playing out of his mind right now on defense and with his length and athleticism he very well could effectively harass Terry.
Barea is the real potential nightmare due to his quickness. He has shown he can get in the lane against any defender Denver will throw at him so it is vital that they have a plan to help and recover when he is in the game. He is also a streaky shooter and when he is on he adds an entirely new dimension to the Mavs offense. Defensively if the Mavs are playing man to man, Denver can take advantage of his stature and do a variety of things from post up to pick and roll him or flat out shoot over top of him. I think Barea is a player many fans are not very familiar with who could swing the series one way or another with his play.
Meat You in the Paint (sorry, but it is almost 2:00 AM)
Moving to the paint Dallas has some serious beef in the middle with Erick Dampier who does a good job of taking up space and he is an excellent offensive rebounder. He put up nice numbers against the Spurs averaging 8.4 points and 8.4 rebounds in 30 minutes a game which is seven minutes over his season average. A motivated Dampier is not easy to deal with and Nene will have his work cut out for him. A big key will be if either one of the starting centers will be able to get the other in early foul trouble. I give Nene the nod in that category as he has the quickness to drive by Dampier and draw a whistle.
How Will Howard Perform?
I am not entirely sure how to analyze Josh Howard. He only played one real game against the Nuggets and it was almost six months ago. He put up very impressive numbers against the Spurs, but I am assuming he was guarded by Michael Finley who was in his prime a decade ago. The way Melo played defense in round one I fully expect Howard to have a more difficult time scoring. Even so he can drive, post or spot up and he will provide a more complex skill set than Peja Stojakovic did.
On the other end of the floor there is no player in the league save for Kobe or LeBron who can hope to shut Melo down one on one. Howard is going to need help against the bigger Anthony. I expect Melo to be able to post up, shoot over and drive to the rim on Howard and that means watch out for the double team. Once again I expect Melo to make quick decisions and either attack the doubling player or make the right decision with the pass. The Anthony/Howard matchup is a vital one. If Melo gets lit up or if Howard is rendered ineffective in slowing Melo it will be a big boost to one team or the other.
Do Not Forget About This Young Man
One player I have not mentioned is J.R. Smith. J.R. had two very good to great games against Dallas, one solid outing and one atrocious meeting. In the atrocious game he shot 1-14, but still managed to dish out seven assists and pull five boards and surprisingly led the Nuggets in plus/minus with a plus seven. Even though he could not hit a shot I guess he still played a nice overall game. Dallas has no one who can stay with J.R. and if he can continue his hot shooting and look to get in the paint early and often Dallas will struggle to contain the Nuggets. In addition to that his perimeter shooting can potentially force the Mavs out of a zone defense. Also, Marc Cuban has it in for Smith after J.R. threw an elbow at Antoine Wright and then allegedly taunted Wright after missing a game tying shot later in the season. We could see some fireworks there.
X’s and O’s
From a tactical standpoint the Mavericks provide a much more complex scheme and greater depth of talent than the Hornets did. Dallas will not run the pick and roll over and over simply hoping to get someone freed up. Dallas will work both sides of the court and attempt to dislodge the defense with ball movement and plenty of screening.
Denver still will have to defend many ball screens as Dallas does run a lot of high screens with Dirk and how the Nuggets choose to defend it is vital. If you try to trap the ball handler you leave Dirk open for an easy pass back for a jumper or a drive. If you switch Dirk is matched up against a player who will be at least eight inches shorter than he is which is bad news for the defense although with Dahntay, AC and Chauncey Denver has a solid group of guards who will acquit themselves rather well should they find themselves in that position. Denver did make an adjustment in the final matchup of the season as they trapped the ball handler and brought help from the baseline to take away the jumper on the pass back. It was then vital for the big who trapped to either recover back to Dirk quickly or cover the other Dallas center/forward who was left on the block.
In addition to the high screen the Mavs will be setting picks for Jason Terry or sending Kidd to spot up for a chance to shoot an open three. As I pointed out earlier, they play a much more complicated brand of offense than the Hornets did and even if Denver plays great defense they will be made to look silly from time to time.
When the Nuggets have the ball you can count on seeing a good amount of zone from Dallas, especially if Barea is in the game. In the final matchup of the season between the two teams the Nuggets held a third quarter lead until Dallas slapped the zone on them and it was only a hot shooting night from Carmelo that saved them. Despite Melo’s hot hand had Rick Carlisle not switched back to man to man later in the fourth I fully expect the Nuggets to have lost that game.
Another area to watch out for is Dallas will do a better job of exploiting the Nuggets shaky transition defense than New Orleans did. Kidd, Terry and Barea will push the ball up the floor and all three will gladly pull up and hit a 15 footer if no one steps out to stop them.
What About the Coaches?
The head coaching matchup is a tasty one too. Both George Karl and Carlisle have been accused of being coaches who can win in the regular season, but cannot quite get the job done when it really matters. I am not sure either team has an advantage here, but based on some comments in the Simmons/Stein podcast I reference in the next paragraph it sounds like Karl may be more popular than his players than Carlisle is, but that is pure third or fourth hand speculation so I probably should not have written it.
Hang In There, Almost Done (I Cannot Believe You Are Still Reading)
Heading into the playoffs I was hoping Denver could face Dallas because, well, I wildly overrated New Orleans. Dallas is not going to be an easy team to take down, but as long as Denver plays with the passion on defense and we continue to see the Carmelo who transformed himself into more than a scorer from round one I fully expect Denver to pull this series out. Surprisingly enough, so do all the analysts who picked the series on the ESPN series page. So far the only staunch Mavs proponent is Bill Simmons who in a very interesting podcast with Marc Stein is already planning on an interesting WCF matchup between Dallas and Los Angeles.
In the next couple of days leading up to the game look for some Nuggets roundtable action over at Pickaxe and Roll and you can look forward to another pre-series chat session between myself and Rob Mahoney of the ESPN/TrueHoop Network Mavericks blog, The Two Man Game, on Saturday at 4:00 PM Mountain time on Saturday.
I am not planning on posting any original video before the series, but by chance I did look at how Denver defended the Mavericks earlier in the season and you can check it out in the big video box below.
Also, do not forget Birdman’s long range heave against the Mavs earlier this season. By the way, didn’t that game end up being a Nuggets two point victory? Thanks Bird!
Bring on the Mavericks.
It may not have been as impressive as a 58 point beat down, but the Denver Nuggets still cruised to their third relatively easy win at home with a 107-86 series clinching victory.
There are plenty of excuses for the New Orleans Hornets, mostly surrounding the health of Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler, who was held out of game five with a bad ankle. Excuses aside Denver was clearly the best team and a healthy Hornets’ squad would still have had to deal with the defense the Nuggets brought for most of five games.
We have seen Denver play pressure defense from time to time during the regular season, but never for entire games and never for multiple games in a row. This team has come alive in the playoffs and they are playing defense that I feel confident saying has never been seen in Denver. Maybe someone from the ABA days can correct me, but the exceptional teams of the mid 1980’s never locked down like this team has.
That being said, the Nuggets defense was solid, but not spectacular in the first half and a good chunk of the third quarter. They were switching a lot of screens and I lost count of how many times Nene was stuck guarding Chris Paul one on one. Still Denver was playing hard and did not let the game get out of hand. As we have seen so often this season they ratcheted up the defensive pressure down the stretch in the third quarter.
Denver struggled to gain any momentum throughout the game as neither team was able to take control. The game was tied at 62 when Melo, stuck guarding Hilton Armstrong in the post, tricked Rasual Butler into attempting a lob pass. Carmelo quickly spun and tipped the pass away triggering a fast break that Dahntay Jones finished at the other end with a nice layup at the 5:15 mark. Both teams failed to score for the next few possessions until Chauncey hit one of his patented dribble up threes with 3:34 left.
The next trip down Shawn Marks set a high screen for Chris Paul and Jones stayed with Marks on the switch. However, he noticed Paul blew by Nene and darted towards the rim hoping to stop a wide open layup. Dahntay recovered in time to not only challenge the shot, but he actually blocked the attempt that morphed from an open shot to a hopeless flailing effort by Paul and it all happened in a fraction of a second.
During the dead ball Jones was replaced by J.R. Smith. Smith was able to challenge Posey on a post up and Denver took the ball back up the floor. Smith hung back in the middle of the floor as Chauncey dribbled up the right side of the court. Melo busted his butt up the left side of the floor and earned position on the right block against Peja. Seeing this Posey sagged down to double Melo in order to prevent him from getting the ball. As a result no one noticed J.R. setting up about 28 feet from the hoop. Chauncey made a crisp pass to J.R. who splashed the three putting Denver up eight.
New Orleans called a timeout to try to calm things down. One of the small stories of the series was how timeouts rarely had much of an effect in stopping the Nuggets. Late in games one and two, early in game three and throughout game four Byron Scott called timeouts in an attempt to slow the Nuggets’ momentum and those timeouts were generally ineffective in doing so. Denver came out of the timeout fired up and after Chris Andersen and Chauncey trapped Chris Paul and forced him well beyond the three point line he passed across the floor to Posey who lost control and turned the ball over.
Chauncey brought the ball up the floor and covered by Paul probed here and there to see if he could get in the lane. Paul did not leave any easy openings so Billups turned to back him down. All along J.R. was once again spotted up in the middle of the floor about eight feet or so beyond the three point line. As Chauncey turned his back to Paul Kenyon darted to the top of the circle to seal off Butler. The funny thing was as he was running to set the screen he was pointing with his thumb over his shoulder to J.R. informing Billups that he was about to ensure J.R. could get another three. Chauncey made a crisp pass and J.R. nailed it putting the Nuggets up 11.
New Orleans would never be that close again as Denver scored on their last six possessions of the third quarter (starting with Chauncey’s walk up three) and they also converted on their first four possessions of the fourth quarter.
So there you have it Nuggets fans. Denver dominated this series and won easier than even the most optimistic fan thought possible. The Nuggets averaged 24.2 more points per game that the Hornets and I believe have proven themselves a team to be taken seriously for as long as they remain active in the playoffs.
Look for additional nuggets tomorrow, but if you still thirst for more of my thoughts on game five, including a bit on Melo’s maturation, you will enjoy box seven of the Daily Dime (although I recommend checking out the other nine boxes too).
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: Game Five – 88.9 | Series – 88.5
Defensive Efficiency: Game Five – 96.7 | Series – 95.1
Offensive Efficiency: Game Five – 120.3 | Series – 122.4
Before I sign off for the night I would also like to thank Niall Doherty and Ryan Schwan from Hornets 24/7 for the insight they provided throughout the series. They run a great blog and they proved to be a class act on top of everything else as Niall sent me a very gracious email following the game.
Tonight in game four of the first round playoff series between the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Hornets the Nuggets did many things well. You have to do a lot of things well to tie the all time NBA playoff record for largest margin of victory at 58.
Denver played great defense, great offense and I thought Carmelo took another major step towards proving he has finally figured out how to play in the playoffs. Out of those three I cannot decide which to discuss first so in the spirit of the choose your own adventure books that I used to read in college elementary school I will let you choose what you want to read about first. Make your choice below:
|Read about Carmelo first||Read about the defense first||Read about the offense first|
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 87.2
Defensive Efficiency: 72.2 – Best single game of the season topping their 80.7 from game 53 in Orlando.
Offensive Efficiency: 138.7 – Second best of the season behind their 139.7 in game 68 against New Jersey.
If you have not done so yet, look at the box score. Look at how close those stats are. Go right down the line and you will notice only two numbers where there is a difference of more than one or two digits. The first is field goal attempts. The Nuggets took five more shots, but made the same number as the Hornets, 30. The other number is free throws made. Denver made four fewer free throws even though both teams shot 35.
The Nuggets did shoot 35 free throws , which would seem to signify they were being aggressive on offense, but if you look at the shot chart you can see how perimeter oriented their offense was (keep in mind, missed shots resulting in free throws do not show up as they are not counted as an attempt and the dot in front of the rim represents more than one shot).
Now look at another couple numbers. Check out the Game Info page and look at the fast break points and points in the paint. The Hornets led in both categories with a 22-6 advantage in fast break points and New Orleans outscored the Nuggets in points in the paint 44-30.
(Warning, the rest of this section may seem very self congratulatory, but trust me, I am just reporting what happened. Do not let the fact that I was right about this stuff make it sound like I am trying to tell you how great I am.)
When I was a guest on the podcast with Alejandro de los Rios and he asked me what Hornets fans could look at to help themselves feel better after their losses I mentioned the Nuggets were not getting many points in the paint and they had been playing almost exclusively on the perimeter. From Chauncey to J.R. to Melo a great deal of their offense was coming off of jumpers. When those jumpers stopped falling we all knew the Nuggets could be in trouble.
New Orleans also made some important adjustments that I may have mentioned. I thought the Nuggets would struggle to defend the pick and roll if the Hornets ran it with Nene’s man setting the screen every time. Tonight, when Nene was on the floor the Hornets were doing exactly that. That affected the Nuggets’ defense in three big ways. First of all, Nene was almost exclusively guarding Tyson Chandler or Sean Marks and those two are the best New Orleans has at rolling to the basket after setting the screen requiring the Nuggets to suck into the paint.
Secondly, it reduced their dependence on David West. As I mentioned after game two the Hornets were force feeding West instead of working to get the ball to their hot shooters. By setting fewer screens with West it allowed him to either spot up or attack the glass (he pulled down three offensive boards in game three after pulling down only one in each of the first two games) and also and allowed Paul to spread the ball around more and find players like Posey in the first half and Butler in the second who were hitting their shots. Thirdly running the pick and roll at Nene forced Nene to try to contain Paul and he has proven to be the worst Nuggets big man at keeping Paul out of the paint. Also, four of Nene’s six fouls were a result of defending the pick and roll. Two were called when he tried to dislodge the screener and two were instances where Paul drove into his body.
Another adjustment I thought the Hornets needed to make was to allow Paul to attack the Nuggets’ porous transition defense. Paul was very aggressive in game three and there were many occasions where he was able to get in the paint easily in transition.
The other change Paul needed to make was to be himself. That means splitting double teams and to not give up his dribble so easily. Saturday afternoon we saw the MVP caliber Paul that I was so afraid of heading into the series. If he can squeeze off two or three more 32 and 12 performances another one of my comments will turn out to come true as well and that is these two teams will play all seven games of this series.
Additional Round 1 Game 3 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 87.4
Defensive Efficiency: 108.7 – Much higher than what they did in the first two games, but not bad. If they can hold New Orleans in that area for game four it should be good enough to win.
Offensive Efficiency: 106.4 – This was the area that really killed them. The jumpers stopped falling and so did their efficiency.
Even though Chauncey Billups has been absolutely incredible and Carmelo Anthony played a tremendous team oriented game on both ends of the floor Dahntay Jones has proven to be almost equally as valuable.
I have said that Kenyon Martin seems to have been created to defend David West. Well, Jones was pretty well designed for guarding Chris Paul. I am not saying Jones can take Paul one on one and take him out of the game. No one individual can. Dahntay needs, and receives a lot of help from his teammates, but he has enough quickness to hound Paul while possessing the size and strength to absorb the contact Paul likes to create and still recover to either challenge the shot or handle the change of direction.
Jones has been labeled a good defender since his arrival in Denver, but he was never known for his defense in his previous NBA stops. I have seen plenty of games where his defense was far from being considered “lock down.” In fact I only remember being really blown away with his defense when he covered Jose Calderon and Chris Paul. Since Toronto is not in the Western Conference I guess it is a good thing Denver is playing New Orleans.
George Karl has taken notice too. In March and April when J.R. Smith rediscovered his offensive explosiveness Jones’ minutes dropped down to 14.4 minutes a game, basically the first six minutes of each half and garbage time. In the first two games against the Hornets Jones has logged 21 and 20 minutes. It is the first time he has played at least 20 minutes in back to back games since February 6.
You can see that Jones is loving every second of it too. And clearly Chris Paul is not. Paul is a competitor and a tough player, but the physical defense that Jones is playing is getting to him.
The Nuggets also switched a lot more on defense in game two and that left Dahntay matched up against West and even Chandler in the post on multiple occasions and he did a great job holding his ground and not giving anything easy. Chauncey also did a great job in those situations too.
And oh by the way, the Nuggets hottest shooter is not Chauncey, it is Jones who has hit eight of his nine shots in the first two games.
Chandler and West Respond on the Boards
After getting pushed around in game one the Hornets big men, Tyson Chandler and David West both had good games on the glass collecting 21 rebounds between them. Chandler also did a very good job on Nene as he made the adjustment to simply hold his ground in the post and not go for Nene’s up fake. Chandler is clearly hobbled and you can see every time he turns to run.
Hornets Still Hounding Melo
Carmelo rebounded nicely from his poor shooting in the first game, but the Hornets still managed to keep him out of the lane. Of his 20 shots, 16 came from outside 15 feet and only one was at the rim. Part of the reason for that is due to his willingness to pass and not force anything, which is a good thing. He does a very good job of turning into the help when he is doubled to beat the double team. He has been doing it for most of the season though and I am surprised the Hornets have not picked up on it. Every time he pivots toward the defender it catches them off guard.
BeefySwats asked if there is something wrong with Nene. Even though he had good numbers in game one and received a lot of praise for his play I thought his performance was a little shaky, but chose to believe the stats over my insecurity. Well, last night in game two he definitely struggled. He did make a couple of jumpers, but was largely ineffective in the post. On more than one occasion he passed up a chance to dunk and the result was missed layups.
As I mentioned earlier Chandler did a good job of defending him on the block, but it is more than that. At the beginning of the season Nene admitted he was still feeling the effects of his chemotherapy. He started out strong though so I think any physical impact from his cancer treatments was forgotten. Even if he was full strength to start the season he is four games away from passing his career mark for most games played in a season. In 2003-04 Nene appeared in 77 regular season games and five playoff games. This season he matched the 77 regular season games and he will certainly surpass the 82 total games from 2003-04 as the Nuggets have at least four games left (should the Hornets sweep the next four). Playing this many games in one season is really a new experience for Nene and when you consider what he went through physically with his cancer treatment you have to expect him to hit a wall at some point.
Nene’s 14 rebound effort in game one was only his sixth double digit rebound game since the all-star break. The Nuggets need to close this series out quickly for no other reason than to give Nene a few days off.
Finally the Shoe is on the Other Cheek
Hornets fans are doing a lot of complaining about the officiating in game two. Nuggets fans never expected to be on the other side of that fence in the playoffs. The biggest complaint I have read are about how the Nuggets have drawn offensive fouls with their feet moving. The Hornets have had a very difficult time clearing space to get their shots off. As a result they have been pushing with their off arm quite a bit and that is a foul. We have seen Melo called for doing it all season long.
One adjustment the Hornets made between contests was to try to knock Kenyon off of West with a ball screen. They only ran it a few times with limited effectiveness, but if West is hitting his shot, it will be an effective tactic.
Game Four Info
With the Jazz defeating the Lakers in Utah tonight Game four of this series on Monday, April 27 in New Orleans will be played at 6:30 Mountain time and broadcast on NBATV instead of TNT as the Lakers get that spot. It will also air locally on Altitude.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 86.9 – Tied for the third slowest paced game for a game in Denver this season with game 28 against Portland. The two slowest paced home games this season were game 38 versus Detroit, 86.3 and game 68 when New Jersey came to town with a pace factor of 86.6. By the way, the Nuggets won three of those four games.
Defensive Efficiency: 107.0 – Garbage time pulled this number down a little, but still a solid rating.
Offensive Efficiency: 124.3 – Actually better than game one, 122.6.
The Denver Nuggets have answered. With their backs against the wall they chose to fight and Denver came out swinging tonight against the New Orleans Hornets. The Nuggets utilized a consistently solid defensive effort to a 101-88 victory in New Orleans. It is the Nuggets first road win against a team with a winning record since February 18 and the first time they have defeated one of the other top nine teams in the west since beating the Mavs on December 15.
With Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler out George Karl chose to implement an aggressive trapping defense designed to keep Chris Paul out of the lane on the pick and roll. Things started out a little rough as the Hornets scored two layups in their first three possessions due to the attention the Nuggets were giving Paul. I was concerned that they would struggle attempting to execute a defense they had not utilized very infrequently and never for long stretches.
The Nuggets did a good job of adjusting on the fly and the Hornets easy looks slowly became few and far between. As we have pointed out in the past an aggressive scheme provides the impetus to play with energy while a lazier scheme, such as switching screens, saps the intensity from a team and leads to sloppy disinterested defense. By trapping and forcing him towards the midcourt Denver was able to disrupt the Hornets offense on the way to claiming a 28-21 lead at the end of the first quarter. line the Nuggets were able to force Chris Paul into committing six turnovers and thanks to the harassing defense applied by Dahntay Jones, Chauncey Billups and to a lesser extent Anthony Carter Paul struggled to get anything going on offense.
Paul did take advantage of ten trips to the free throw line, a couple of which were quite dubious, to record 19 points and he was credited with 13 assists, but he finished a game worst -19.
Offensively Carmelo had a couple of dominant stretches. He started the game off making six of his first eight shots and scored 13 points in the first nine minutes of the game. It was good to see Melo step up and hit some shots. He helped set the tone for Denver on offense and let them know that even without Nene they can put points on the board.
Strangely enough the Hornets clawed back in the game in the second quarter with Chris Paul on the bench. It was the second time in three games where Denver has allowed Antonio Daniels to make a run while Paul was sitting on the sidelines. Both teams went small to start the second quarter with Balkman playing power forward for Denver and James Posey played the four for New Orleans. It was the only stretch of the game where New Orleans made any shots. When Daniels made a three just over four minutes into the quarter the Nuggets’ lead had vanished and the game was tied at 33.
The third quarter played out the same as the first with Carmelo scoring eight straight points and twelve in the quarter as the Nuggets once again took control. Denver entered the fourth quarter up nine points, but with the sting of the loss in Phoenix still fresh in my mind and the memory of how the Hornets erased a first quarter lead quickly in the second I was far from confident.
Fortunately Denver did not suffer from the same problem. They came out of the break on fire hitting their first six shots and doubling their nine point advantage. At that point it became clear New Orleans simply did not have the firepower to keep up. Paul was at least somewhat contained, David West was playing terribly and no one else was stepping up to fill the void. When Chris Paul was walking the ball up the court with just over six minutes left in the game and Denver up 18 I knew the Hornets did not have any fight left in them.
While tonight’s victory was far from a perfect win, it was the best effort the Nuggets had put forth from start to finish in a long time. Fans always seem to call for their teams to play with desperation, but such a request is highly disingenuous. Think about the times you have been desperate, and I am not talking about in seventh grade when you wanted to touch the hot girl’s booby. I am talking about when you are out of money and payday is nor for another four days or when you are in a store and suddenly realize you are not 100% sure where your kid is. Now imagine your boss asks you to put some desperation into the project you are working on. Is the adrenaline rush and fear in your gut anywhere near the same level? True desperation cannot be conjured from thin air. Monday night Phoenix was desperate (and fortunately they were still desperate tonight as they beat the Jazz) and tonight the Nuggets were the desperate team.
Now we move from fight or flight to a prove it game. They showed us some fight, now they have to prove to us that it was not a fluke as they must once again play without Nene on the road against a team chasing them in the standings.
Additional Game 72 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 87.4
Defensive Efficiency: 100.7 – Solid.
Offensive Efficiency: 115.6 – Pretty efficient considering they were without their highest percentage shooter.