(I know, I know, the title is cheesy and overused but why go creative and really long when you can go short and simple?) The Nuggets dreams of an undefeated season were ended in the Bayou last night as they fell 101-95 to the New Orleans Hornets. Despite a double-double performance from Carmelo Anthony (24 points and 10 boards) and solid outings from Chauncey (20 pts and 5 dimes) and the surprisingly effective Sheldon Williams (8 pts and 13 rebounds, leading the team in the latter category in back-to-back games), Denver couldn’t complete their second-half comeback. After being down by as much as 14 late in the second quarter, Denver took the lead at one point in the third and then jumped out to a six-point lead with 8 minutes to go in the ballgame. Then Chris Paul took over, dropping 10 points and 3 dimes in the last 10 minutes, and David West hit a couple tough fade-away jumpers over Al Harrington to seal the win.
The Nuggets jumped out to a great start early, going up 8-0 and looking good on D, forcing contested jumpers from the Hornets. Then Sheldon and Nene let Okafor have his way in the middle on both sides of the ball, and Emeka had some easy layups and forced contested shots in the paint. Nene knocked down a couple of 18-footers (showing some extended range that this Nuggets fan didn’t know he had) to help the bigs’ cause, but then the pick-and roll defense on Paul (and later Jerryd Bayless and Willie Green) started to fall apart. NOLA’s guards were getting into the paint WAY too easy, leading to some easy buckets (Green’s baseline slam and J-Bay’s and-1 layup on JR) and kick-outs for threes (Marcus Thornton hit back-to-back threes to stretch the Hornets’ lead to 14).
On the positive side Ty Lawson made Chris Paul look like Anthony Carter (which isn’t easy to do), burning him to the basket a few times and doing a respectable job distributing the rock. And despite his struggles on the defensive end, Al Harrington looks good off the bench, giving the 2nd unit some semblance of offense when JR struggles to find his shot.
In the second half Melo took over, hitting his patented mid-range jumpers and getting to the basket a few times as well. And as one RMC writer predicted in his season preview ( I won’t be doing too much self-promotion, I promise) Aaron Afflalo continues to break out of his shell, hitting some shots when his teammates can’t find the range; if he can prove to/remain a viable threat on offense, it will make this team much more dangerous late in games and allow George Karl to keep him in for defense while not losing anything on the offensive end. And while all you JR Swish fans may grimace when I say this, it’s a good thing for this team when Afflalo is in the game late and getting starters minutes over JR, because I’m 99% sure he will not be a Nugget next year.
Next up for the Nuggets is the Houston Rockets, who will welcome Denver to the Toyota Center for their home opener tonight at 6:30 MST. Houston is coming off back-to-back road losses to open the season in two very winnable games against the Lakers and Warriors. Denver needs to play better D against Luis Scola then they did against D-West, because as good as West’s mid-range game is, Scola is a much better back-to-the-basket player, can hit the hook shot with either hand, and is a better passer (which means watch out for the kickout to Kevin Martin or Aaron Brooks). Houston has some absolute snipers on the perimeter (the aforementioned K-Mart and Brooks), and even if one is cold the other could easily drop 30+.
They signed Erick Dampier yesterday to join Yao and Brad Miller at center, so Nene and Sheldon will have to step it up even more with Rick Adelman being able to rotate those guys at will to keep his bigs fresh. If Denver can control the penetrate and kick better than they did last night, keep their bigs out of foul trouble (so Melvin Ely isn’t matched up with Scola) and get some offensive production from their bench (I’m talking to you JR…and Al needs 15+ too) they have a great chance of coming back home 1-1 on their mini-roadtrip before they welcome Dallas to “The Can” on Wednesday night.