The Denver Nuggets 111-109 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies was a perfect example of the difference between playing hard and playing with focus. From the opening tip the Nuggets played hard. They understood the importance of this game and they wanted to win. But their hard work returned poor results because their lack of focus created easy scoring opportunities for the Grizzlies.
Denver snuck to within two points early in the third quarter at 59-57, but then the Grizzlies exploded on a 20-5 run. The Nuggets were not physically sloughing off, they simply made silly mental errors that allowed the Grizzlies to bag some easy points.
It all started after a nice defensive sequence by Carmelo Anthony who ran Rudy Gay off the three point line shut down a drive attempt and then when Gay went to the basket a second time Melo directed him baseline right into Nene resulting in the ball going out of bounds. On the inbounds play O.J. Mayo passed the ball into Marc Gasol and then cut past Gasol to the baseline and took a handoff. Dahntay Jones had been playing Mayo to come to the middle of the floor and was way out of position. Nene stepped out on Mayo after the handoff and Mayo threw him a shot fake. Nene left his feet and for some reason Jones, who was trying to get back into the play took a running leap from ten feet away, which even had Mayo shot would have been a completely ineffective challenge. With Nene and Jones in the air Mayo drive right to the rim and laid in an easy finger roll.
There was a play where Melo had to tie his shoe and he was late coming down the floor. As a result of Melo getting into the play late Chauncey only had one option to trigger the offense and that was Kenyon on the left wing. (Of course, Chauncey could have waited a couple more seconds to let Melo get back into the play or he could have penetrated or even shot, but he did not.) Darrell Arthur realized Chauncey wanted to pass the ball to Kenyon and he overplayed him. Despite telegraphing the pas and seeing Arthur all over Kenyon Chauncey passed the ball anyway. Of course Arthur stole the pass and took it the other way for a pretty sweet slam.
After Melo missed a layup the Grizzlies went the other way on a quasi fat break. Despite having four players back no one noticed Arthur running right down the middle of the floor. Nene stayed at the three point line to help guard Mike Conley even though J.R. was right there too. Chauncey was in the lane, but had his back to the ball looking at Mayo who was on the right wing outside the three point line. Kenyon was under the basket watching Rudy Gay, but he also had his back to the play. Arthur netted another dunk and the Grizzlies were up twelve 73-61.
During another Memphis possession Mayo took a shot from the top of the circle and J.R. ran out. Gasol collected the long rebound and Mayo cut from where he shot to the left wing. As J.R. came back in the play he just ran to the middle of the lane instead of running to Mayo and once Mayo received the pass from Gasol no one rotated over to him.
The run was capped off by a Gay three point play where he received the ball on the left baseline with Melo on him. Kenyon came over and doubled him. With the double team Melo had the responsibility to close off the baseline and Kenyon was to cut off a move to the middle. Even with his defensive responsibilities but in half (not having to worry about Gay driving right to the middle of the floor, Carmelo barely moved as Gay blew right past him along the baseline. Nene was in position to help, but reached instead of stepping in and Gay made a spectacular layup on the far side of the hoop and cashed in the free throw.
The Nuggets were playing hard, but they were playing with no focus or attention to detail. Because of that they saw a two point deficit balloon up to 17 in barely more than five minutes.
Even down 17 in the third the Nuggets managed to come back, but doing so not only required an increase in physical effort, but mental effort as well. In the fourth quarter the Nuggets played as hard as they have all season.
Denver was behind 100-88 with eight minutes left. Their comeback was triggered by an aggressive play trap a pick and roll by Renaldo Balkman who tipped the ball away from Conley and forced it out of bounds off of him.
To me the key play was all about hustle though. Melo tried passing the ball up the floor and his pass was tipped by Gay. J.R. ran the ball down just before it went out of bounds along the right sideline and passed it to Balkman on the block who immediately kicked it out to Melo for a three. The lead was down to eight at 100-92 and the Nuggets energy and focus was increasing on defense with every possession.
J.R. was hounding Mayo everywhere he went and on an ensuing possession after J.R. chased Mayo from one side of the floor to the other Mayo came off a screen and Chauncey pinched over from the top of the circle and forced a turnover.
Next J.R. picked Conley up full court trying to pressure him into a mistake. Conley ran off a Gasol screen where Nene hedged and forced him towards the sideline. J.R. was a little slow recovering, but after chasing Conley into the lane he followed the pass to Arthur and blocked his shot from behind.
After a couple of baskets by the Grizzlies Nene and Balkman doubled Gasol as he spun on the block and got too deep under the rim resulting in a turnover and what followed was the “May the force be with you” moment of the game. with the Nuggets down three, 104-101, Balkman received a nice pass from Nene, had his shot blocked, and then missed the wide open follow up layup. He managed to get the rebound again and Kicked the ball out to Chauncey in the left corner. Billups faked a pass up the sideline to J.R. and that fake drew Mayo out away from the middle of the floor which opened up the weak side wing for Melo. Chauncey skipped the ball across to Melo who drained a wide open game tying three.
The final huge stop of the game came with the Nuggets up one and 33.2 seconds left in the game. Memphis isolated Mayo in the middle of the floor near half court. Gasol came out to set a screen to Mayo’s right. Mayo never went anywhere near the screen allowing Nene and Anthony Carter to play a soft double. Gasol then reset the screen and Mayo tried going right off of it. Carter did a great job of crowding Mayo without fouling to avoid the pick. Mayo was never able to break free and never looked to pass even though he was in a pack of Nuggets. Kenyon, who was inserted back into the lineup for that final stand blocked his shot. Melo made two free throws for the final margin.
Not only did the Nuggets play aggressive physical defense in the fourth quarter, but they also hit their shots. From the time they were down 17 Denver hit seven threes in 13 attempts. It is amazing what making shots can do for a team, just ask Sacramento.
I thought Memphis played well and they forced the Nuggets to earn the victory. While being happy with the result it is once again a little frustrating that Denver could not put together a complete game. Even with their amped up defense if they miss a couple of threes they lose that game. Many of you seem to think that the Nuggets will blow through Phoenix and Dallas on the upcoming road trip, but if the Nuggets play like they did tonight they probably lose both of those games.
Additional Game 69 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 94.2 – Pretty brisk for a road game.
Defensive Efficiency: 115.7 – Memphis shot 47.7% and only turned the ball over 10 times.
Offensive Efficiency: 117.8 – Very good considering Denver turned it over 19 times.
Featured Blog: 3 Shades of Blue
I finally saw some of what I have been looking for from the Denver Nuggets during their 121-96 victory over the New Jersey Nets. It did not last for long, primarily only in the first quarter, which kind of made it not quite as cool, but it did happen.
The Nuggets played incredible pick and roll defense.
I have been hoping for more than easy victories over these five games leading up to their three game road trip. The wins are nice, but in games such as these I am looking for signs of improvement, not just a team who is out talent-ing their opponents. For a few minutes in the first quarter the Nuggets played very good team defense and showed great collective awareness on the pick and roll and that made me happy.
Of course, it did not last. There were spurts of good defense here and there, but nothing like they played in the first quarter. However, instead of getting upset about the relatively porous defense the Nuggets played for most of the night, I am going to focus on the good. After all, there has to be some good to come out of a 25 point win.
From time to time the Nuggets also applied very good ball pressure in the third quarter. The best example came with 9:27 left in the third. Brook Lopez caught an inbounds pass in the left corner. Nene was all over him. Lopez dribbled out to the three point line and picked up his dribble while Nene continued to hound him. While Nene was pressing Lopez, Dahntay Jones was all over Vince Carter who was trying to cut to the ball. Nene and Jones worked to knock the ball loose and the result was a break away dunk for Jones.
All was not well for the Nuggets defense though as they once again failed to close off the three point line. The Nets were 9-21 towards the end of the third quarter before finishing the game 1-5.
With all the talk of defense you never would have guessed that the Nuggets posted a season high offensive efficiency of 139.7. They only shot 45.5%, which is not bad, but they pulled down a whopping 25 offensive rebounds. The Nets only had 31 total rebounds. The offensive rebounding has been a trend over the three game winning streak as the Nuggets have posted three of their top eight offensive rebounding rates over the last three games. Against the Nets they earned a nearly unheard of offensive rebound rate of 50.0%. Chris Andersen lead the way with eight offensive rebounds in only 19 minutes making up for the fact he only nabbed one defensive rebound. Renaldo Balkman snared six of his own offensive boards.
The Nuggets also continued their running ways racking up 24 more fast break points.
The other big stories surrounding this game were the return of Kenyon Martin and the departure of Renaldo Balkman. Kenyon returned to the starting lineup, but only played in the first half to avoid restraining his back after the half time break.
Balkman, who had another amazing performance, gave Nuggets fans all over a scare when he strained his left groin muscle in the third quarter, but claims he will be ready to play tonight against Memphis.
I will say that I was disappointed that the Nets were hanging so close late into the third quarter playing without Devin Harris and on the second night of back to back games. After the Nuggets jumped on them in the first quarter New Jersey fought back, thanks to some impressive shooting by Vince Carter, and were only down six at the half. However, I set the bar at not allowing the Nets to get within ten points in the fourth quarter and the Nuggets succeeded in accomplishing that.
Next comes a road game against a feisty Grizzly squad. The Nuggets definitely look better now that they have had some days off. Conversely the Jazz, who beat the Wizards by 15 at home tonight, had to deal with a tough east coast roadie that handed them a three game losing streak. Denver is back in first place in the Northwest Division and fourth in the west, but both races are incredibly tight as the Nuggets are one of four teams with 25 losses, Utah has 26 and Dallas 27.
Additional Game 68 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 86.6 – Second slowest home game of the season thanks to all the offensive rebounds.
Defensive Efficiency: 110.8 – Not very impressive as a whole, but apart from their poor three point field goal defense it was a solid effort.
Offensive Efficiency: 139.7 – As previously mentioned, that is a season high thanks to all the second chance points.
Featured Blog: Nets Daily
I cannot believe I did not notice this sooner, but it just donned on me that I did not remember seeing Dahntay Jones play at all against the Thunder last night. A quick glance at the box score shows that Jones had the DNP Coach’s Decision.
Could it be that George Karl has decided to give Jones’ minutes to Renaldo Balkman?
With Kenyon Martin out and Anthony Carter returning to the rotation we probably cannot use last night’s game as a template for how minutes will be handed out for the remainder of the season. Also, Jones started the game before against the Rockets because he was a better matchup against the Rockets’ pair of swingmen Ron Artest and Shane Battier.
A quick glance at the Player Efficiency Ratings shows that the Nuggets bench is full of a bunch of below average players. Professor Hollinger sets the average PER rating to 15 and Anthony Carter (10.94), Linas Kleiza (13.10) and J.R. Smith (14.64) are all below average players. Dahntay Jones’ 9.07 PER is the worst out of the Nuggets’ rotation players. (To be fair, PER does not rate defensive ability outside of blocks and steals and as a result it probably sells players like Jones a little short.)
Renaldo Balkman’s PER is 17.55.
The question I have been asking myself lately is how much better would the Nuggets be if Balkman was getting more of Kleiza’s minutes. The question I should have been asking is how much better would the Nuggets be if Balkman was getting Jones’ minutes. I am not saying play Balkman 17 minutes a night at shooting guard, but if we allow Chauncey Billups, J.R. Smith and Anthony Carter to play the 96 minutes available between the two guard spots, have Kleiza back up Melo for 12 to 15 minutes a night, have Chris Andersen back up Nene for 18 to 22 minutes a game and then give Balkman another 18 to 22 minutes behind Kenyon that is a pretty stout rotation. On some nights Balkman can also help fill in at shooting guard depending on matchups.
As loyal reader Nuggets4 pointed out in the comments from the game recap Karl is still making references that the reason Balkman does not play more is because of his “spotty defense” and lack of a jump shot. The only time I saw Renaldo get out of position last night was when his man made a relatively slow cut to the rim and it appeared that Renaldo decided to pass him off to the weak side low defender while he stayed at the strong side elbow so that he could run out at a potential three point shooter. The result was Balkman’s man was open under the hoop and scored an easy layup, but at least there seemed to be some semblance of a team defense thought process behind his decision even if it was a bad one.
Balkman does not have a good jumper, but he knows it and rarely takes it. Kenyon Martin does not have a good jumper, but he chucks it up constantly. I love the way Balkman plays offense. He is always around the rim and has a knack for finding cracks in the opposition’s interior defense. I understand why Karl wishes Balkman could shoot a midrange jumper. Good outside shooting can open up the middle. Do not discount what Balkman does do though. His ability to find open areas and score in the paint breaks the defense down from its core, which is much more devastating. Balkman’s true shooting percentage (adjusting shooting percentage to include threes and free throws) is third on the Nuggets at 59.2% behind Nene’s 63.9% (and falling) and Birdman’s 60.6%.
I will give Dahntay Jones credit. He has never been thought of as a defensive stopper at any point in his career, but he realized that was the role he would need to play to earn minutes with the Nuggets and he has worked hard to develop that aspect of his game. While he has had some great games as a one on one defender, he is not a night in and night out defensive stalwart plus he is not a high quality team defender. However, if Balkman can get 20 plus minutes a night and Jones gets more DNP Coach’s Decisions I think the Nuggets would reap some pretty good benefits.
Getting in touch with our inner stat geek
Kevin Pelton over at Basketball Prospectus has been cranking out some great stuff as of late. He came up with a formula to determine what teams are the most inconsistent as far as beating the teams they should be beating by as many points as they should beat them by. Using adjusted expected scoring differentials Denver is considered the third least consistent team in the NBA. Confused? Just read it. I promise it will help having a smart person explain it instead of having me try to do it.
Kevin has also taken a look at how a team’s average age impacts their defensive abilities using the Portland Trailblazers as the inspiration.
5280 article on George Karl
I am pretty sure I am the last Nuggets related blog to post a link to this piece on Karl, but if you have not read it yet, I highly encourage you to check it out. Also head on over to Denver Stiffs as Andrew has an interview with the author Robert Sanchez.
NBA players like Chauncey
A little humor to close the day
I never saw that Tokyo Drift movie, but I probably would have if there were scenes like that in it.
I cannot decide if I should feel good about this win or not. Honestly I do not want to feel good about it because of the way Denver played the first and fourth quarters. The Nuggets certainly showed more activity on defense than they did against Boston, but there were still plenty of holes in their defense. Add in the facts that Atlanta was missing two starters and was down eight with only 1:38 left in the game and the Nuggets still needed Flip Murray’s last second runner to bounce off the front of the rim in order to win and I really was left with a sick feeling in my stomach. They were just inches away from a five game losing streak.
Denver appeared to have the game well in hand. After trailing by as many as nine in the second quarter the Nuggets closed the first half on an 18-4 run. They extended their lead to as much as 17 in the third and Melo threw in a deep three pointer at the third quarter buzzer to send the Nuggets into the fourth quarter up 14.
I was thrilled to see the Nuggets had only turned the ball over seven times through the first three quarters. They entered the game averaging 19.5 turnovers per game after the All-Star break lowlighted by their 24 turnovers in Milwaukee. Sadly it took barely more than five minutes in the fourth quarter for the Nuggets to match their total of seven turnovers from the first three quarters. They ended up coughing the ball up ten times in the fourth quarter alone.
Denver’s offense ground to a halt in the fourth quarter and due to a combination of the aforementioned turnovers and stagnant uninspired play they only made four field goals in the quarter. All four were jumpers. The Nuggets did not score a point in the paint over the final 13 minutes. Now that is somewhat misleading as Chauncey did get to the line for six free throws on plays where he drove into, or at least in the vicinity of, the lane and was fouled and J.R. earned a pair of free throws, but apart from those four instances the Nuggets were seemingly always scrambling to fire off a jumper with the shot clock winding down. The key to the Hawks fourth quarter comeback was their 14 points in the paint. Fortunately for Denver the Hawks needed 16 in order to pull off the win.
I am getting off topic though. The story of this game was not the offense, which despite all its problems scored plenty of points with a very good efficiency rating to boot, but the defense. I wanted to see the Nuggets get back to playing tenacious defense as they had done as recently as last Wednesday in Philadelphia. They did not quite get the job done.
I have documented the Nuggets issues with defending the pick and role here and here and I wanted to see a better scheme, increased effort and better execution in that key area of team defense. The Nuggets did indeed come out with a better scheme and they certainly spent a little more energy defending screen and rolls than they did against the Celtics. However, without the execution the scheme and effort are pointless. Well, the execution left much to be desired.
The Hawks got off to a very good start on offense in the first quarter thanks to their ability to get easy baskets through their pick and roll game. The Nuggets switched their scheme from the switching defense that proved so ineffective against the Celtics to a version of the Celtics hedge and recover we looked at yesterday. The Nuggets took it a step further though aggressively trapping he ball handler, bringing weak side help to cover the roll man and then requiring the defender trapping the ball handler to recover back to his man who originally set the screen. If any part of the plan is implemented incorrectly the entire scheme will fail. Pretty much every time the Hawks ran pick and roll action the Nuggets missed at least one of the three elements of the plan. The first pick and roll action the Hawks ran the trap was strong, the weak side help showed, but Kenyon Martin lazily jogged back to his man, Al Horford, and left Johan Petro to cover both Zaza Pachulia and Horford. The result was an easy dunk.
The second time the Hawks ran pick and roll there was no weak side help and Pachulia scored an uncontested dunk.
The third pick and roll set once again Kenyon slowly jogged back to recover and the result was Pachulia left all alone under the hoop. By the time he caught the pass and gathered himself Kenyon showed up, but all the Nuggets could do was foul to prevent another easy bucket.
The fourth time the Hawks ran it, Dahntay Jones forgot that they were not switching anymore and started to leave thus negating the necessity of pressuring the ball handler with the trap. Fortunately the rest of the Nuggets were in good position to prevent anything at the rim, but the Hawks did earn a wide open three that fortunately for Denver clanged off the rim.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. The Nuggets were incredibly lucky that the Hawks basically abandoned the pick and roll game in the second half. Needless to say, I am not filled with encouragement regarding the Nuggets ability to defend this simple set in the future. This trapping scheme is something every player should be comfortable executing, but the Nuggets played like they just installed it yesterday during their off day.
In the fourth quarter, the Hawks ran more isolation sets and had some success early with Marvin Williams. The key to the fourth quarter though was the Hawks desire to have Joe Johnson take the game over contrasted with the Nuggets fear of Johnson taking over. Denver doubled Johnson almost immediately when he caught the ball. The result was they were left scrambling trying to cover either an open shooter or to collapse on the drive. Atlanta did a pretty good job of moving the ball and getting good shots. They had several attempts just rim out and the Nuggets should feel pretty fortunate for that. There were a couple of possessions where the Nuggets chose not to double Johnson and he made them pay with five easy points.
The other thing I wanted to see was some leadership and determination from Chauncey. He certainly played the role of Mr. Big Shot more than Mr. Pass First Point Guard as he lead the Nuggets in shots with 18, but he was aggressive and was able to the line 19 times. I could have done without a couple of the threes he forced up, but ultimately I got the impression he took a great deal of responsibility for getting a win and he came through. I was pleased to see a shot of him talking to J.R. in the fourth quarter and filling the role of coach/mentor on the floor. Chauncey gets a passing grade, but had the Nuggets played a tougher foe I am not sure they walk out of there with the win.
Speaking of tougher foes, I have already stated that I have written off the Laker game on Friday. Even if Nene does play, which apparently is a possibility, the way the Nuggets are defending they will get rolled off the floor. Fortunately the Trail Blazers lost to a Spurs team playing without Manu Ginobili or Tim Duncan so the Nuggets gained a game back on them. That is an important game because Portland will earn it back Friday when they beat the Timberwolves and the Nuggets lose to LA.
Additional Game 58 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 89.6 – Slow for a home game.
Defensive Efficiency: 121.7 – Yikes.
Offensive Efficiency: 122.8 – Thanks to Melo’s marksmanship.
Featured Blog: Hoopinion
The big story heading into tonight’s game is how the Denver Nuggets have not won in Orlando since I was a senior in high school.
By the way, I am old.
March 10, 1992 was the last time the Nuggets left the floor in Orlando victorious. It took what was probably a career night from Mark Macon to pull off an 89-82 victory. Since then the Nuggets have gone 0-15 in Orlando. Here is the ugly history.
|Season||Score||Den High Scorer||Orl High Scorer|
|92-93||111-99||Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf 25||Shaquille O’Neal 24|
|93-94||95-88||Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf 22||Shaquille O’Neal 29|
|94-95||120-96||Reggie Slater 16||Shaquille O’Neal 24|
|95-96||121-93||Dale Ellis 18||Shaquille O’Neal 30|
|96-97||99-86||LaPhonso Ellis 24||Penny Hardaway 22|
|97-98||103-85||Johnny Newman 23||Horace Grant 21|
|99-00||110-107||Antonio McDyess 35||John Amaechi 31|
|00-01||103-93||Antonio McDyess 28||Tracy McGrady 36|
|01-02||124-102||Juwan Howard 20||Tracy McGrady 30|
|02-03||111-98||Juwan Howard 19||Tracy McGrady 43*|
|03-04||102-98||Carmelo Anthony 35||Juwan Howard 24|
|04-05||117-95||DerMarr Johnson 18||Cuttino Mobley 19|
|05-06||94-83||Carmelo Anthony 23||DeShawn Stevenson 18|
|06-07||108-99||Carmelo Anthony 34||Keyon Dooling 24|
|07-08||109-98||Carmelo Anthony 32||Rashard Lewis 25|
*McGrady outscored the Nuggets 37-32 in the first half by himself.
That all equates to an average score of 108.5 to 94.7. Not only have the Nuggets not won in Orlando during this stretch, they have only been within six points (two possessions) twice. Interestinlgy this will be the fifth season in a row where the Nuggets must play in Orland the night after playing in Miami. Some may think that is unfair to the Nuggets, but it is equally as unfair to the Heat. Over the previous three seasons Denver has won in Miami only to go to Orlando the next night and lose. Should Denver lose tonight it will extend that streak to four seasons. Don’t you think Miami would like to see the Nuggets play in Orlando and then have to travel to Miami to play the second half of the back to back?
The bad news for the Nuggets is this is arguably the best team in Magic franchise history. They are certainly on pace to have the best record in franchise history this season. There is some hope amongst Nugget fans that because Jameer Nelson is injured Orlando is ripe for the picking. Nelson was a well deserving All-Star this season and his loss is a painful one for the Magic, but this team is deep enough to keep cruising without Nelson running the show.
Without Jameer they have gone 2-1 (although they lost the game he was injured in at home to Dallas so you could make an argument they are 2-2 without him) with home blowout wins over the Clippers and Nets and a road loss at Indiana.
What makes the Magic a deadly team is their three point shooting. Thanks to Dwight Howard they get a lot of open looks due to the fact that defenses must collapse on him in the post. However, Nelson did generate a lot of open looks himself due to his ability to penetrate and kick. In the first meeting this season Nelson was in the lane all night long. Neither Chauncey nor Anthony Carter could keep up with him. Obviously his absence is a big key to this game, but Denver cannot just expect to show up and win because he is out.
Denver is most likely going to be without a vital player as well in Chris “Birdman” Andersen although he is listed as questionable. Nene has struggled with foul trouble pretty frequently this season. He is third in the NBA in total fouls at 191 (one behind Andris Biedrins and three behind Jason Thompson) and is fifth in fouls per game. (This has nothing to do with anything, but Roy Hibbert leads the NBA in fouls per 48 minutes at 10.1 per game. Sorry, one more because it has to do with the Nuggets. There are only two players who are not centers or power forwards in the top 30 for fouls per 48 minutes. Dahntay Jones has the highest rate of fouls per 48 minutes of any player who is not a post player at 6.3.)
Getting back on task here Nene fouled out in only 17 minutes against Howard the first time they played this season. Denver cannot afford a repeat of that performance. With Birdzilla questionable (and I think most likely out) the Nuggets are going to have to rely on either Kenyon Martin or Johan Petro to guard Howard and I do not look forward to the results under either of those circumstances. It might make some sense to play zone in that situation, but because Orlando is such a great perimeter team there is no way you can. I think Denver will have to double Howard with J.R. or Dahntay in order to get the tallest player possible hounding him. If Billups or AC double it is easier for Howard to pass out. The extra three or four inches of reach between the Nuggets’ shooting guards compared to their point guards may not sound like much, but it can make a difference when it comes to harassing a post player.
I would like to see Denver go as big as possible, especially when Nene is out by utilizing Balkman off the bench instead of Carter. There is no player on the Magic such as a Dwyane Wade who Anthony Carter is needed to cover. Why not put Balkman in to help on the boards and to provide energy that may be lacking after a hard fought game in Miami.
This is the last game of a five game roadie (I refuse to call this an eight game road trip when they have six days off in the middle of it) and the Nuggets have a chance to put a big notch in the win column tonight by beating an elite team and putting a stake in the heart of this losing streak. A 4-1 trip heading into the break would be a very good accomplishment for the Nuggets and it could serve as a springboard into the last couple of months of the season.
Update: As suspected Chris Andersen is out tonight.
Previous Matchup: Game 41 – Den 88 Orl 106
Featured Blog: Third Quarter Collapse
Between the Nuggets expected third quarter swoon and the performance of Dwyane Wade Superstar this game provided some shaky moments, but thanks to the way Denver started and closed this game it ended up being a safe victory. It was Denver’s eighth straight win against the Heat.
I think we all knew that Denver would come out of the gate strong after the loss that was purged from memory in New Jersey and they certainly did not disappoint. Denver played hounding defense and their movement without the ball and passing was arguably the best we had seen all season. They connected on a couple of back door dunks in the first quarter for Kenyon, one came off of an inbounds play.
Another key to their offensive success was they were able to penetrate at will the entire first half. Chauncey, Melo and Kenyon were driving to the rim and either finishing or finding an open teammate for an easy basket. Miami closed off the lane pretty well in the third quarter which as we have seen time after time Denver started settling for jumpers.
In my mind the key player for the Nuggets in the fourth quarter was Anthony Carter. Dahntay Jones played poor defense on Wade. On the very first possession of the game he lost track of him and did it again later in the first quarter. He fell for Wade’s shot fakes, overreacted to his jab steps as on more than one occasion he jumped way out of the play and opened up a huge driving lane on a minimal jab step by Wade and he gambled for steals. Against a player like Wade it is all about position. The defender must staying in front of him, stay on the floor for his shot fakes and take advantage of the help from teammates to push him back into you off of screens. Carter did all those things and the result was a five point fourth quarter by Dwyane.
If there was an area of the Nuggets defense that you could point to, other than Carter’s spirited D on Wade, that lead to their impressive fourth quarter performance it was the bigs willingness to step out and help defend the screen and roll. In the third quarter they were content to hang back and the result was a rash of open shots that lead to Miami’s comeback. In the fourth they hedged very well on the screen, sealed off the lane and recovered very well.
After the Heat cut the lead to four with ten minutes left Chauncey drilled a three and Michael Beasley hit short push shot to draw the Heat within five at the 9:17 mark. After that bucket by Beasley, Miami only scored eight points the rest of the game. Three points came on a Wade three pointer with Carter right in his face, Wade made a layup off of a lucky bounce on a loose ball and Beasley made a three in garbage time with 1:20 left in the game.
It was not all good news though as Chris “Birdman” Andersen was taken out by Shawn Marion on a fast break dunk attempt with 1:42 left in the third quarter. He landed hard on his left side and has bruised his hip and wrist. Birdman stayed in the game to make the free throw, but left 20 seconds later, went o the locker room and did not return. I seriously doubt he will be available against the Magic, which is a bummer knowing Dwight Howard is probably going to get Nene into foul trouble as he did in the first meeting, but hopefully he will be ready to play following the All-Star break.
All in all they responded very well to the humiliation they suffered in New Jersey. They got out fast, weathered the storm and won going away. Melo, Chauncey and Kenyon all logged long hard minutes and they will have their work cut out for them tomorrow in Orlando. All I know is a 4-1 road trip heading into the break would be awfully nice, no matter how ugly the one loss was.
Additional Game 52 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 86.1
Defensive Efficiency: 95.2
Offensive Efficiency: 115.0
Featured Blog: Peninsula is Mightier
I am not sure if I should look forward to playing Oklahoma City or not. On one hand, the nip and tuck nature of these two games has been completely draining. On the other the sweet thrill of victory puts a hop in my step and a song in my heart (Livin’ on a Prayer by Bon Jovi is somewhat appropriately currently streaming through my arteries).
Before we get to the causes for the big turnaround we need to look at how the Nuggets found themselves down by 16 in the second quarter. The Nuggets were up five points, 38 to 22, with 10:19 left I the quarter. Just over seven minutes, and some of the worst basketball the Nuggets have played all year, later Denver was behind 58 to 42. That is right, they were outscored 25 to four and that includes a 15 to zero run.
The Nuggets had two primary issues during that stretch. First of all, they were getting decent shots, but they were just missing them. There were a plethora of layup attempts and short open jumpers that just did not go down. As a result of all those missed shots the Thunder players led by Earl Watson and Russell Westbrook scored layup after layup in transition. That was the real problem and the reason why Oklahoma City dumped 39 on the Nuggets in the second quarter.
The Nuggets guards, Anthony Carter, J.R. Smith and Dahntay Jones did a terrible job of slowing the Thunder guards down. Anthony Carter was especially bad. He would set himself up at the three point line and then just watch as the offensive player, who obviously has the benefit of momentum, blow past him. In a situation like that you need to set yourself up beyond where you want to start to slow the dribbler and begin to give way as he approaches. If you are not going at full speed by the time he reaches you the only way to be anything other than a shinny blue billboard on his way to the basket is to become a speed bump and just throw yourself at his feet and take him out.
The Nuggets were able to get the gap back down to 11 at the half and heading into the third quarter I had one reason for hope and that was I knew the Nuggets were going to stop switching screens in the second half and that we could expect a better scheme to slow the Thunder down. In the first half on the few occasions the Thunder had to set up their half court offense Denver was burned time and again by switching screens. The Nuggets repeated their performance from the previous night against the Spurs as there were times when only one defender switched the screen. I have no idea how at this point in the season these guys have such a difficult time getting on the same page defensively. Either you are switching or you are not.
Denver also suffered from rotation breakdowns that we have seen in the past. They would have one or two players rotate, but then when it came time for the next rotation no one arrived resulting in open jumpers for the Thunder Threesome.
The Nuggets played much smarter and more together on defense in the second half. There were two big keys to that in my mind. One was as I mentioned, they stopped switching screens and secondly the big men started jumping the ball handler on the pick and roll. Nene and Chris Andersen did a good job trapping along the sideline and that additional ball pressure, believe it or not, made a big difference. Go figure. Add in the fact the Nuggets continued to score and thus did not give the Thunder a chance to run and the result was a paltry 43 second half points for Oklahoma City.
The last topic that jumped out at me was the battle of wits between George Karl and Scott Brooks as both coaches had the chance to draw up two plays in the closing seconds.
The first play was drawn up by Karl. The game was tied at 111 with 29 seconds left. J.R. Smith threw the ball in from the riht sideline to Melo who came off a down screen by AC. J.R. ran off a baseline screen by Nene and received a pass from Melo on the left wing. He made a ball fake right and then drove left on Weaver drawing a foul. He once again showed that he is unclutch form the line as he only made one of two free throws. The decision to get J.R. the ball was a good one as he was on fire for most of the night. Having him pass the ball in from and then run along the baseline screen to get open was sound. As a secondary option J.R. had the opportunity to dump the ball to Nene who was covered by Westbrook after Nick Collison left Nene to cut off J.R.’s penetration.
Brooks now had the chance to devise a play of his own down 112-111 with 22 seconds on the clock. His play may have been simpler, but it was more effective. Westbrook entered the ball from the left sideline to Durant who was freed by a down screen by Collison. Durante then dribbled to the middle of the floor and just blew by Dahntay wit his right hand and flew to the rim for a layup. Secondary options included a kick out to Jeff Green had Melo helped off to stave off the driving lane and Collison was crashing from the weak side.
The ball was once again in Karl’s court down 113-112 and with 17 seconds on the clock. He chose to get the ball to Melo and allow him to create. Ac inbounded the ball on the left sideline and Melo was freed up by a down screen by Nene. Westbrook was guarding the inbounds pass and he started to flare out towards Melo as he neared half court. Carter was forced to toss a little lob to Melo and he had a difficult time catching it. Had Westbrook gone after it, he might have corralled a game saving steal. Melo was able to latch onto the ball in the backcourt and settled in the middle of the court with Jeff Green crouched in his defensive stance in front of him. Melo made his move with about nien seconds on the clock. Russell Westbrook was cheating over off of Carter to help if Melo drove right. The key to the play was having J.R., who did not miss a three all game long, set up on the left wing. Weaver could not risk leaving J.R. to help out on the drive. Knowing this Melo beat Green off the dribble with his left hand and did not encounter any resistance until Collison came over to help inside the charge circle. Melo somehow managed to flip the ball in with his right hand while being squeezed by Green on his right and Collison on his left. I have no idea how it managed to float into the net. It was a truly awkward shot. Melo’s secondary option would have been to kick the ball out to J.R. had Weaver helped.
Once again down one point and this time with 5.3 seconds on the clock Brooks had to answer. Being down only one with that much time left on the clock I expected something similar to the previous play where Durant simply drove right to the rim. Instead Brooks had Westbrook inbound the ball to Collison. Westbrook cut to Collison and received the ball on a handoff. AC was well behind Westbrook and Nene switched off. This all happened in 1.2 seconds and Westbrook now has the ball in the middle of the floor well above the three point line. Durant, who had started on the weak side of the floor on the baseline, runs off a double screen up the left side with Green and Collison attempting to brush off Dahntay. AC who had switched onto Collison jumped out at Durant and forced him to receive the pass from Westbrook running away from the rim about 30 feet from the basket. There is only 1.9 seconds left on the clock when Durant receives the pass. He manages to turn and fire a 35 foot turnaround fade away that catches a lot of rim, but bounces helplessly away. There really was no time for a second option as the play took so long to develop and KD received the pass running away from the basket. Had there been an extra second or two on the clock and Durant had been able to dribble a few times it would have been fine. I also wonder if Collison was supposed to set his screen deeper. As it was, he was at the three point line and that forced Durant to curl further away from the rim than Brooks had hoped. I certainly expected the Thunder to get a better shot off than they did in that situation.
I will also add that was the correct situation to be switching screens. When time is short and you cannot afford to let a player like Durant get an open look switching on the perimeter is the right decision. I think it was important that Melo did not switch the first screen that Green set for Durant as Green could have easily slipped into the lane for a layup with no one in position to help on the weak side. It was a well executed scheme by the Nuggets.
Denver now has a day to rest and then faces the team with the worst record in the entire league, the Washington Wizards on Friday night. I would expect Chauncey and Kenyon to play.
Additional Game 49 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 96.0 – Both teams like to play fast.
Defensive Efficiency: 117.7 – I wish I could have calculated the defensive efficiency by half. I bet the first half was about 135 and the second half about 100.
Offensive Efficiency: 118.7 – Considering they were missing Chauncey that is pretty good.
The trade deadline is less than three weeks away and the rumors surrounding the Denver Nuggets have seemed to die down a little since the revelation that Denver scuttled a Linas Kleiza for David Lee deal with the Knickerbockers. While it may be a waste of time to make up trades and debate nonexistent deals it sure is fun.
There are two questions the front office will have to determine the answer to over the next seventeen days. What areas of the roster need to be upgraded? Is it worth paying the price for that upgrade?
Let’s start off looking at the roster. The Nuggets have two point guards (Chauncey Billups and Anthony Carter), three shooting guards (J.R. Smith, Dahntay Jones and Sonny Weems), three small forwards (Carmelo Anthony, Linas Kleiza and Renaldo Balkman), one true power forward (Kenyon Martin) and four centers (Nene, Chris Andersen, Johan Petro and Steven Hunter). Obviously there are players that can play multiple positions, but that is the general breakdown.
Before we start looking at what holes need to be plugged it is important to figure out what the Nuggets have to work with. The answer is, not much. As far as expiring contracts they possess a few small ones, but nothing of any size that could bring back a high quality player. Carter, Birdman and Jones all have expiring contracts while Kleiza and Petro will be restricted free agents, which could be used as expiring contracts should the team they are traded to decline to make a qualifying offer.
I think we can be pretty confident that the Nuggets will not trade Carter, Jones or Birdman as they are all key players and beloved by George Karl. Steven Hunter does not have an expiring contract, but it does expire after next season and it could be attractive to teams looking to unload a longer term contract.
From a draft pick standpoint Denver already traded their 2009 pick to Oklahoma City in the Petro deal, but they do have the future pick from Charlotte. The Bobcats are one of seven teams who are in the mix for the final playoff spot in the east. If they somehow make it (John Hollinger’s playoff odd rater has them at roughly a one in four chance to make it) that pick will go to Denver this season. Such an event would be disappointing as the Nuggets definitely made that trade expecting to get a top ten or higher pick out of the deal. Even so, that is a nice chip to be able to throw into a trade. In fact, Chris Sheridan ranked that pick the ninth best trade asset in the NBA this trading deadline. Would the Nuggets throw that pick into a deal? Maybe so, but I believe they would rather hold onto it.
Another thing to remember is the Nuggets have a couple of nice trade exceptions to play with as well. They have a big one with the nearly $10 million left from the Camby trade that was “refreshed” in the Billups deal and the $3 million plus exception from the Atkins trade. They could land a nice player with either of those and the Bobcats pick, but I doubt that would happen because it would push them back over the luxury tax limit they worked so hard to get under.
In my mind if the Nuggets do any shopping it will be for Hunter’s almost expiring contract and maybe with Sonny Weems tiny contract or Petro’s larger one thrown in for good measure. Those three amount to roughly $6.25 million and if Denver is willing to part with all three players they might be able to bring back something of use. However, for the purpose of this article we are going with the presumption that Denver will only be willing to trade Hunter and maybe Weems. That severely limits what is available to them.
So now that we know what we are shopping with where are the weaknesses on this team and what solutions may be out there?
Denver is set at the starting point guard spot with Chauncey. The backup point spot has been a source of consternation for many Denver fans. Anthony Carter is a solid backup point guard he is a willing and determined defender, but he is a terrible shooter and his turnover ratio has jumped by roughly a third from last year to this year going from a 12.1 to a 16.1. He can be effective running the break, but if Denver could acquire a decent defender with a better shot it would help. Maybe a player like Golden State Warriors rookie C.J. Miles would be a good fit. Miles is a solid shooter and a good ball handler, but is not the defender Denver would be looking for. He is also a little on the small side, but he is pretty much the opposite of Anthony Carter and that has appeal for Nugget fans who begin daydreaming about electrocution or their parachute not opening at 10,000 feet when Carter enters the game.
At shooting guard they have an explosive scorer and budding playmaker, J.R. Smith, the “defensive stopper” and offensive liability in Dahntay Jones and the young prospect in Sonny Weems. A player who combines the defensive abilities of Dahntay Jones and the offensive abilities of someone not quite as talented as J.R. Smith would be Deshawn Stevenson of the Washington Wizards. Stevenson has horrible shooting percentages this season, but from 2004-05 through 2007-08 Stevenson shot 38.2%. I am not scared off by his 27.1% this season because he is only 27 and is playing for a terrible team. I think the added motivation of playing for a solid team would be exactly what he needs. Stevenson is no slouch on the defensive end as he actually did a good enough job, at least in his own mind, of defending LeBron James that he decided to call LeBron overrated. Of course, that ended up backfiring, but he is a capable defender.
Moving on to small forward the Nuggets are pretty well set. Carmelo Anthony accounts for 35 minutes a night at the small forward spot and is backed up by Linas Kleiza who can be a scoring machine (stress the can). Denver also has the defensive oriented Renaldo Balkman. As with shooting guard they have the issue where none of the players are truly two way players. Ideally Melo becomes a defensive beast and the Nuggets could merge the talents of Kleiza and Balkman and play Renalas Balza, but that is probably not going to happen and even if they could somehow pull it off, I bet it is against the Collective Bargaining Agreement. It is difficult to find a player who would come cheap enough for the Nuggets to acquire that I would prefer to play ahead of either Kleiza or Balkman.
As I pointed out above, the Nuggets really only have one true power forward on the roster, Kenyon, but there are a handful of players who can fill time there. Many people consider Nene a power forward, including Nene himself, but in today’s NBA he is a center who can play power forward. The bottom line is the Nuggets certainly could use another power forward. We already mentioned the David Lee for Linas Kleiza deal, but we can put that one to bed as George Karl has shot down any deal involving Kleiza such as the Ron Artest deal from last season. Surely the Knicks will need more than Hunter to do the deal and it is questionable if Denver would throw in the Charlotte pick to close the deal (personally I would). The only players I can think of that would come cheap would be Joe Smith from the Oklahoma City Thunder, Hakim Warrick from Memphis or Minnesota Timberwolf Craig Smith. Even someone like Joe Smith, who has an expiring contract, may be out of the Nuggets price range though.
The Nuggets are pretty well set at center with Nene and Birdman soaking up most of the minutes and Kenyon able to play in the pivot against small centers (he even played some center against Yao Ming to predictable results). Denver already brought in their insurance policy with Johan Petro and Hunter himself sounds like he may be able to play in March. I do not see the need or motivation to make a move to bring in another center.
Going through position by position it certainly seems like the Nuggets have a pretty solid roster. In my mind apart from worrying about strengthening a specific position one thing which would make the Nuggets a better team would be to add another scorer they could bring off the bench. That may sound silly with LK and J.R. on the team, but the reason J.R. Smith does not start is because George Karl does not want to have the entire bench scoring load fall on Kleiza. If LK is having an off night, Denver will have to rely completely on the starters for offense. If Denver could add another scorer to come off the bench Karl could comfortably move Smith into the starting lineup.
Who could fill that role? Honestly, there was no one that I think was cheap, available and capable that I did not already mention so I will throw it to you all. Who do you think Denver could acquire for very little, is available, makes less (probably much less) than $6.25 million and could provide some punch off the bench? I did come up with Lenardo Barbosa, but his defense is just too poor for my taste.
In conclusion, I believe that this is a pretty solid roster and the proof is in the fact that many pundits think the Nuggets have a great shot at earning the second seed in the west. On the other hand this team is clearly not on the level of the Lakers and I would not like my chances against the Hornets or Spurs in a playoff series either. They do need an upgrade at some point to be a true contender.
Building a championship team is a process. Even in Boston, where Danny Ainge seemed to concoct a championship team out of thin air, it took a few years to coddle together the assets that he used to acquire Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen all while keeping a competent enough cast around them to win.
That is what makes the 2009 trading deadline so difficult for the Nuggets’ front office. Denver is closer to being a title contender than they have been in over 20 years, but if you pull the trigger on the wrong deal in an attempt to push them over the top you might have disrupted the building process that may have resulted in putting together a championship roster in another season or two.
All salary information was from Storyteller’s NBA Contracts
Wow, am I embarrassed to be a Nuggets fan after that big turd they dumped on the city of New Orleans in the fourth quarter. I cannot communicate how frustrated I am at that performance without using words that I do my best not to utilize. I guess the best way to express my anger is simply to share that for the first time all season I shut the game off before the end of the game.
In my mind this was a must win game. I honestly believe there is no way Denver can hope to split the season series now with New Orleans unless the Hornets happen to play the last game of the series without Chris Paul. Maybe Denver could pull off a win if David West, Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic are all out, but I bet it would be close.
The thing that really scares me about tonight’s game is that the Nuggets proved that they were not mentally strong enough to win. You can talk all you want about back to backs and how well they ended up doing without Carmelo, but in a game of this magnitude you cannot pack away your brain and lay down like that. For all the excuses Nugget fans can produce I think the fact that New Orleans was playing without their second and third best players trumps them.
With two minutes left in the third quarter Anthony Carter was called for a back court violation. George Karl went absolutely crazy for the first time this season resulting in a technical. Carter’s response was not as demonstrative as he rolled the ball down the floor away from the refs, but the result was the same as he was called for a delay of game, the Nuggets’ second and thus a technical. At that point I figured that Denver was either cracking or they would play inspired basketball. Well, it turns out the call was a correct one and it proved to be the first cracks in the Nuggets’ mental dam break that would occur just a few minutes later. The frustrating thing is didn’t Carter know he bounced the ball off of his own foot? He cannot allow himself to pick up the delay of game technical there.
For most of the night the Nuggets’ offense was inept. If either J.R. Smith or Kenyon Martin were not going to the basket you could pretty much expect a bad shot to be hoisted up. I continue to look for Chauncey Billups to take control of the offense and demand a good shot when things start going down the drain and Denver begins standing around on offense. Instead again he was one of the leading culprits in long range artillery barrage the Nuggets assaulted the basket with. I wanted to throw my television through the wall when with the Hornets on a 10-0 run Chauncey chose to slowly dribble the ball up the floor and, with Peja on him mind you, launch a three. The fact that he was clearly not shooting the ball very well, he was 1 for 4 from long range at the time and finished 1 for 6, only exacerbated things. Instead of deciding to run the offense in an attempt to get a good shoot he switches into Mr. Big Shot mode and becomes a part of the problem.
Name for me another top notch point guard who will take that shot? Chris Paul never would. Deron Williams wouldn’t. Maybe Steve Nash would take that shot, but not as frequently as Chauncey seems to.
The offense was stagnant and lazy and Denver lost this game on that end of the floor.
Denver’s defense was pretty good for most of the night until they closed up shop early in the fourth quarter. They forced Paul into a tough shooting night and only three of his ten assists were at the rim. Most of them came on long jumpers. The Nuggets did a pretty good job containing Paul coming off of screens. They switched a little too much for my liking early on, but in the second quarter they stated to play the ball screens more stoutly as Nene was hedging and Anthony Carter did a good job of fighting over and recovering. They avoided switching as much as possible after the first quarter, but they never ran the aggressive trapping defense that worked so well against Deron Williams and Utah.
We have talked about it before. When a key player or players are out the team as a whole must step up and fill that void. The Hornets played intense defense, they fought for every loose ball going to the floor far more frequently than Denver did, they ran their offense and when open shots presented themselves, they made them.
Sure this was only game 46 of an 82 game season, but we play the regular season to learn things about the teams. Tonight I did not care for what I learned about the Nuggets.
Additional Game 46 Nuggets
In Depth Make Your Head Spin Game Stats
Pace Factor: 89.1 – Slow.
Defensive Efficiency: 105.5 – Not bad, they should have done better with the Hornets missing West, but they lost this game on the offensive end of the floor.
Offensive Efficiency: 90.9 – The lowest single game efficiency rating of the season surpassing the 92.6 they posted against the Magic five games ago.
Hey look everyone my ESPN colleague John Hollinger agreed to put together the game preview for today. OK, Hollinger has no idea who I am, but you should check out his Per Diem article for today to get all the key elements of tonight’s matchup between the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Hornets.
Hollinger is very high on both of these teams and his projections call for Denver and New Orleans to finish second and third in the west with very comparable records. If the seeding holds they would face off in the semifinals and the tiebreaker could determine who has home court and potentially who makes it to the Western Conference Finals. Thus the final two games of the season series, both in New Orleans, are huge games for both teams. The winner of tonight’s game will be assured that they cannot lose the season series as they will be up 2-1 with one game left.
I do disagree with Hollinger’s belief that Chauncey needs to play Chris Paul to a draw in order for the Nuggets to win. Of course Chauncey has to play well, but I think the key to the game is how badly the rest of the Nuggets roster can out produce the other Hornets. Denver has a big advantage at every position other than the point and small forward (although if Dahntay Jones can play solid defense on Peja Stojakovic that matchup will even up a bit as Peja does little if he is not scoring), including the bench.
The two players that worry me not named Chris Paul are Hilton Armstrong, who has had two good performances against the Nuggets in limited minutes, and Rasual Butler who always seems to put up big numbers against Denver. Also, I would also be remiss if I did not mention former Nugget James Posey. In both of the first two games he hit big threes in the last couple of minutes. Hopefully he will not have the opportunity to do so tonight. Even so Denver should be able to control the paint and hopefully as a result, the game.
The Memphis Grizzlies are in the midst of a league worst nine game losing streak. Even the Washington Wizards only have a three game losing streak. They will have their third head coach in their last four games as Johnny Davis filled in for two games while newly hired head coach Lionel Hollins could psyche himself up enough to jump onboard a sinking ship.
The only thing that worries me is that the Grizzlies will put forth a strong effort to welcome their new leader. Denver has done a great job of not taking the bottom dwellers of the league too lightly and the only loss to a sub .500 team this season remains their defeat at Golden State in the fourth game of the season which was after they acquired Chauncey BIllups, but before they could get him in uniform.
Should the Nuggets start Dahntay Jones and J.R. Smith together the two of them will be responsible for guarding O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay. I would probably assign Rudy to Dahntay and let J.R. try his luck with O.J. Mayo does not shoot very many free throws and plays more of a perimeter game. He has not shot more than six free throws in his last 19 games and he has nearly as many games where he played 30 or more minutes without shooting a free throw (two) as he has games with more than four free throws (three) during that span. I trust J.R. can hang with Mayo without getting into foul trouble. Likewise Gay does not get to the line much. In his 11 January games he has six games where he has shot either zero or one free throws and he has attempted more than five only once.
As long as the Nuggets play with the defensive focus and intensity they brought against the Jazz on Sunday night they will be just fine tonight.
Offensively Denver has advantages all over the floor. Chauncey is too much for Conley. J.R. can score on anyone. Nene should be able to blow by Marc Gasol at will and Kenyon should be able to overpower and out-quick Darrell Arthur.
The Nuggets did have a monkey wrench inserted into their travel plans though as their plane experienced mechanical problems delaying their departure from 2:00 PM yesterday until 9:00 PM. As a result they cancelled their shoot around this morning. They still got into Memphis before they would have if it were a back to back night so I do not think the flight delay will cause much of a problem.
Previous Matchup: Game 6 – Den 100 Mem 90
Additional Game 44 Nuggets
Once again the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz face off with both teams missing an all-star. Carmelo Anthony will miss his eighth straight game for the Nuggets and Carlos Boozer will miss his 32nd straight game for the Jazz.
Paul Millsap has put up huge numbers in Boozer’s absence putting up over 18 points and 11 rebounds. They are not hollow numbers either. A quick perusal of 82games.com shows us how effective Millsap has been. The Jazz (Jazz’s?, Jazzs’?, Jazz’?) offensive efficiency with Millsap on the court is 4.9 points better than when he is off the court and their defensive efficiency is 6.3 points better with Millsap on the floor than without him. Boozer’s on court/off court efficiencies pace in comparison to Millsap’s. The combination of Millsap’s net efficiency is +11.1 while Boozer is a -4.6. Millsap’s production has Jazz fans, and probably their front office, wondering if they should ship Boozer out of town by the trade deadline.
The Nuggets have not been quite so lucky in replacing Melo. Both J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza have been very inconsistent in his absence. Both had great offensive games against the Sad-ramento Kings. Hopefully they can both build on those performances.
From a matchup standpoint I think I would like to see Nene guard Millsap as I think he might be a little too strong for Kenyon. I think Kenyon is also better suited than Nene to cover Okur when he is on the perimeter. Okur does have an underrated post game though and Kenyon would have to make sure he keeps Okur from getting good position when he goes down to the block.
Deron Williams has typically had big games against the Nuggets. The scuttlebutt is that Dahntay Jones will return tonight from his slightly separated shoulder he suffered during warm-ups against the Kings (and the same article says Melo is shooting without pain and should hit his goal of playing Friday against the Charlotte Bobcats). If Jones returns to the starting lineup look for him to guard Williams. He has done a good job of playing physical defense with Jose Calderon and Chis Paul and hopefully he can do the same against Williams.
The Jazz played a tough game last night against the Cleveland Cavaliers and they continue to struggle on the road. Even George Karl has give his blessing on calling tonight’s January matchup a big game (although he did not actually call it a big game himself). If the Nuggets lose tonight they basically have no chance at winning the tie breaker or even just splitting the season series.
Oops, I forgot the links that no one ever clicks on…
Featured Blog: SLC Dunk
Previous Matchup: Game 1 – Den 94 Utah 98
Tell me you weren’t freaked out when the Kings were up 34-24 early in the second quarter. Denver was coming off of a very frustrating loss the day before and they looked flat and disinterested. I kept thinking to myself that they could not let Houston beat them twice. I wish I could say all of a sudden they cranked up the defensive intensity and just blew the Sacramento Kings out of the building, but I cannot. While they did blow the Kings away finishing the second quarter on a 33-13 run, but it was not because of their defense.
The Nuggets chose to switch almost every perimeter screen all night long and the result was mismatches and a fast start for the Kings. I realize there may be some readers who are new to my blogging after the introduction of the ESPN/TrueHoop Network so I will make sure everyone understands from the get go that I hate switching screens for the sake of switching screens. Why a team would ever intentionally create two defensive mismatches for themselves makes no sense to me. It makes even less sense than my wife buying a bunch of clothes for my daughter and then getting upset that we do not have any money. It also fosters a lazy attitude and I think it was a big reason why the Nuggets came out lacking energy.
Getting back to our 34-24 conundrum the key to the Nuggets rally was that the Kings flat out went ice cold from the floor. After earning their ten point lead the Kings missed eight of their next nine shots. Almost all of those nine shots were open jumpers. I cannot credit the defense with that change in events, but the flurry of misses by the Kings was all it took to get the running game going. As the offense began to put the pressure on Sacramento the defense slowly came to life. Denver began playing with more enthusiasm on defense and by the end of the quarter they began clicking on both ends of the floor.
The key to Denver’s ability to switch screens and overcome the self imposed mismatches was the guards did a great job of fronting the Kings big men and the Nuggets’ weak side big was always ready to help on the lob pass. On the rare occasions when Sacramento did get the ball inside the Birdman was ready to swoop in and challenge the shot. A dominant shot blocker will always alter many more shots than he actually blocks and that was true tonight for Andersen. He was credited with three blocks, but continually forced the Kings into taking shots at awkward angles and having to release the ball when they were not comfortable (either too quickly or too late when they were on the way back down to the floor).
As nice as it was to finally see a game where the Nuggets pretty much clinched a win well before the end of the third quarter I am afraid that all they did was what they were supposed to do. However, Denver once again took care of business against a non-playoff team and hopefully built some confidence up for their showdown with the Hated Utah Jazz on Sunday.
Holy crap, what am I going to blog about until Sunday?
Additional Game 43 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 99.8 – Pretty fast even for a Denver home game.
Defensive Efficiency: Wait for it…here is comes…99.2! – That is right it is the first time the Nuggets have posted a single game defensive efficiency of below 100 since 1846. Just kidding, it only seems like it has been that long. They actually did it last at Dallas on December 15th. Keep in mind it would have been even better if not for the buzzer beating four point play to end the first quarter and Sacramento scored 11 points in the last minute and a half of the game.
Offensive Efficiency: 118.2 – Very good, even considering the competition.
Featured Blog: Sactown Royalty
Things in my home that nearly met their demise over the last couple of minutes of the game between the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets:
I am very upset at the refs for the way that game was called, especially the fourth quarter, and George Karl wanted to hang the loss on their heads, but Denver just did not make the plays down the stretch.
Consider these factors:
The Nuggets lost the game on defense in the first half and offense in the second. Really I thought the defense started to improve a little in the second quarter, but realistically the biggest reason for the Nuggets defensive improvement was the Rockets stopped hitting threes. The Nuggets second half offense once again pretty much folded in the face of increased defensive intensity by the opposition. Had J.R. Smith not exploded in the fourth quarter Denver might have lost this game by 15. Even with J.R. catching fire the Nuggets second half offensive efficiency was a lowly 94.6.
Keep this in mind. During a game where Yao was in foul trouble and Nene was having a field day in the post Nene did not shoot the ball from the 5:01 mark of the third quarter until there was only 1:55 left in the game. I know Nene did not stop posting up.
Chauncey has to make sure that Nene keeps getting the ball. Instead Billups was busy making poor decisions. In the second half Chauncey was 1-7 from the floor, with four assists and four turnovers. The four assists sounds fine until you put it into the context of the game. He notched his eleventh assist with 4:37 left in the third quarter. He was on pace to finish the game with 16 or 17 assists, but he only tacked on one more in the last 16:37.
Two things I will throw out in Chauncey’s defense are that there were three times I can remember that Chauncey went up for a jumper and was fouled where there was no call. Twice the defender had a hand on his arm after he swung through and took the shoot (the first two times this season I have not seen that call made) and on another he elevated for a jumper and the defender ran into his legs from behind forcing him off balance in the air. The contact was minimal, but it was clearly a foul because like a touch on the elbow, no matter how slight, it affects the shot a great deal. The other thing I will say in his defense was he made a great pass to Kenyon on the last possession of the game that resulted in Martin’s chance at a game tying layup. I am not sure if the play was designed for Chauncey to take the shot or if he was a decoy in an attempt to get Kenyon open, but it was a great design and was run nearly to perfection although we are left with the realization that no matter how crafty or pretty a play may be if the ball does not go in all is for naught.
The Nuggets let this one get away and I hope that they focus on the plays that they failed to make instead of the plays they believe the refs took away from them.
Additional Game 42 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 96.9
Defensive Efficiency: 118.6 – Not good, but the 105.1 in the second half was not atrocious. It is clear as long as Denver continues to go through the motions on defense for at least one half every game they are going to struggle.
Offensive Efficiency: 116.6 – That would be great if it were not for the previously mentioned pathetically inept 94.6 rating in the second half.
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