The Denver Nuggets have never swept the season series from the Dallas Mavericks. We are talking 29 seasons. Of course there are other more important things the Nuggets have never done, like win a championship. Denver cannot win a title tonight, but with a win they can sweep the Mavs.
After a 22-17 start to the season the Mavericks have posted a 21-9 mark since and Denver’s three wins against the Mavs all came early in the season when Dallas was not playing well. Oh, by the way, Dallas is 14-1 at home during that 21-9 stretch and they are on a 20-2 run at home since Denver won there on December 15 with their only two losses being at the hands of the Hornets and Celtics.
A fourth defeat of Dallas would be a nice win, not only to sweep the season series, but to validate their win Wednesday night in New Orleans. Up until the Nuggets’ win in New Orleans the last time Denver won a road game against one of the west’s top nine teams was the previously mentioned December 15 contest in Dallas.
Nene will set out once more serving the second game of his suspension. While New Orleans was a good matchup for Denver sans Nene, the Mavs are a different story. Erick Dampier is too big for players like Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen to handle. Johan Petro has shown he can bang in the paint, but George Karl has also shown he dislikes having Petro on the floor for significant minutes. Dampier has always been one of the most inconsistent players in the league so there is always the chance he produces one of his no show performances. He has produced at least nine rebounds in four of his last five games and in the fifth he had seven rebounds in only nine minutes.
Dirk Nowitzki has enjoyed success against the Nuggets defense averaging 31.3 points and 11.3 rebounds in the first three meeting this season. Jason Kidd had a memorable first game against Denver hitting six threes and coming up just one assist shy of a triple double. In the two games after that he has not been quite as good with averages of three points, six assists and 6.5 rebounds. Jason Terry has been solid, but unspectacular this season against Denver with averages of 18.3 points and 3.7 assists. Josh Howard is out, but he has not been a factor in any of the previous three games either.
The Nuggets have shown some life recently, but they have yet to show they can string together well played games against good teams. That makes tonight a prove it game and one that they need to win.
Take this with you: A win tonight will give the Nuggets their 2-1 record on the brief road trip which will meet the goal set forth by George Karl, but of course, he did not know they would be playing without Nene for two of those three games so they may have already met the revised, and unpublished, goal of getting one win.
Tonight the Denver Nuggets have a shot at proclaiming to the world that the Northwest Division is theirs and they will not tolerate any discussion implying otherwise. A win in Utah would put a stop to the Jazz’s nine game winning streak and reestablish a two game lead over Portland and a two and a half game lead over the Jazz.
I will leave how likely that scenario is up to you. The Nuggets are just 1-6 against the Jazz since 2005-06 and the average margin in those seven games is Jazz plus 12.4. Three of the Nuggets six losses over that seven game stretch were by 21 points or more. Last season they lost both games in Utah by 27 points. If you think that is bad the Nuggets are 3-22 against Utah since the 1996-97 season. Ouch. Utah has the best home winning percentage in the NBA over the previous two seasons accumulating a 64-10 record.
The Nuggets have not been terrible on back to backs as they are 7-9 for a winning percentage of .438. In games played with at least one day of rest the Nuggets are 33-13 good for a winning percentage of .717. That is the second largest difference between those two situations in the NBA ahead of only the Utah Jazz who are a shockingly bad 3-11 on the second night of back to backs. Unfortunately for the Nuggets Utah was off yesterday. Carmelo also has the largest disparity among active players in scoring average between games with at least one day of rest (24.8) and on the second night of back to backs (22.3).
On opening night the short handed Nuggets (sans Melo) battled the short handed Jazz (sans Deron Williams) pretty well, but still fell by four. Both teams are completely different at this point in the season and I do not think there is anything to extrapolate out of the events of that evening.
The Jazz have a very versatile offense. They love to grind out possessions with cross screens and back picks designed to get easy shots around the rim, but once you start packing the defense in the lane players like Williams, Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver will start killing you from behind the arc.
Kenyon Martin is questionable for the game and I think you can count on him sitting this one out. That makes for some rough matchups for the Nuggets bigs. I would guess that Nene being more mobile than Johan Petro, will cover Okur. Andersen is not a great matchup for either Okur’s outside game or Boozer’s power game.
The Nuggets are also going to have to figure out a way to slow down Ronnie Brewer who is posting 17.8 points per game over his last 17 contests. He has not shot under 40% for a single game since January 20th when he went 1-4. J.R. Smith has played some very good on the ball defense lately, but chasing Brewer around screens and keeping track of him when he slashes in from the weak side is a completely different experience than just staying in front of Kobe or Brando Roy. Tonight we will get a good glimpse of how far J.R. has come in his defensive improvement.
Of course Denver also has to worry about the scoring and passing of Williams. He is one of the toughest covers in the league and after a subpar game last time out against Denver he will be looking to slice and dice them up.
Previous Matchups: Game 1 – Den 94 Uta 98 | Game 44 – Den 117 Uta 97
Featured Blog: SLC Dunk
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
There were three simple differences between the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets tonight.
One team was the Celtics and they won by 38. The other team was the Nuggets and they lost by 38.
Playing hard for 48 minutes is a cliché. Every team has slumps of a few minutes here and there where the effort wanes and they get lazy. I promise you the Celtics played their bums off for all 48 minutes. The collective competitive spirit puts the Nuggets to shame. Kendrick Perkins was bickering with the refs with about a minute left after he was called for traveling. These guys do not care what the score is. The score is almost immaterial. They are giving it their all from start to finish.
For the Nuggets the built in excuse is that they have been on a three week long road trip and it was unfair to ask them to play the Celtics a day after they played in Milwaukee. I am not buying it. As has been pointed out by many people, including myself, the road trip they just finished was only a three game trip. Sure they played five road games in a row before that, but they had six whole days off during the All-Star break. The Celtics were the team that had to check into hotels last night after playing in Phoenix.
Honestly it did not matter who suited up, how many days in a row the Nuggets had played or what strategy the coaches asked the players to implement. Boston played with confidence and determination while the Nuggets looked like a scrawny book worm getting ready to ask out the prom queen.
Denver has now lost by 40 points, give or take a couple of points, twice in their last seven games. Does that scream contender? The game in New Jersey could be written off as a fluke, but for it to happen again just seven games later is shocking. I guarantee you the Trail Blazers and Jazz are licking their chops right now.
Denver now has a day off to prepare for an Atlanta Hawks team that was blown out by the Jazz and two days later the Lakers roll into town. They better get their act together by Wednesday or else they will be going back out on the road with a five game losing streak.
Additional Game 57 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 89.5
Defensive Efficiency: 127.4 – Fourth worst single game rating this season.
Offensive Efficiency: 84.9 – Second lowest single game rating this season ahead of only the 44 point drubbing in New Jersey.
The Nuggets have won games this season without Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen. They have yet to win a game this season without Nene. In fact the Nuggets Pythagorean projected record without Nene is roughly 6-72. Before you get overly panicked keep in mind that they have only played once sans Nene this season, a 109-91 loss at Atlanta, so things may not as hopeless as the numbers would lead you to believe.
Kenyon Martin is expecting to play tonight, but I doubt a two or three hour plane ride is good for a balky back. Carmelo Anthony is still smarting from a bruised knee as well. As the bumps and bruises mount the Trail Blazers are surging and Utah is fully healthy for the first time this season and is playing with added motivation after the emotional loss of their popular owner Larry Miller.
Boston will be playing without all everything Kevin Garnett. The Celtics have done alright with KG in business casual having racked up a 4-0 record without the Big Ticket after dropping the Suns in Phoenix.
Without Nene the Nuggets will have to work to get points in the paint. Look for Melo, Martin and Chauncey to post up a little more in an attempt to either get shots in the lane or draw a double to initiate a cut to the rim or ball reversal. My fear is they will just settle for jumpers though. That is why for the Nuggets to win I think aside from Melo and Chauncey, J.R. Smith will have to provide an efficient offensive game.
Out of the nine games in January J.R. has scored in single digits six times. He has gotten away from the role of set up man that was working so well and during the last two losses is back to chucking a little too much for comfort.
On the defensive end the Nuggets will miss Nene on the boards. Even though he is far from a vacuum cleaner on the boards he is the only Nugget with the size to keep Kendrick Perkins off the offensive glass. Chris Andersen, Kenyon Martin and Johan Petro are all going to make sure they find Perkins every time the Celtics take a shot.
The Nuggets do have a two game winning streak against Boston and they notched their signature win of the season in a defensive clash in Boston earlier this season. Denver will have to get that grittiness back in their game if they want to push their streak against Boston up to three games. The big men will have to show strongly on screens and not allow Rondo to either drive around them or cut inside of them into the paint on screens and they must be prepared to rotate and be in motion before the ball is in the air to close out on Boston’s shooters Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Eddie House and Brian Scalabrine can all drain threes).
It is common for teams coming home after a road trip to play a little flat their first game back at home and even though the Nuggets last road trip was only three games, they have not played at the Pepsi Center since February 3rd. Hopefully they fact that the defending World Champions are in town and the need to raise their intensity and focus in the absence of Nene will prevent that from happening. With both teams having played yesterday and short handed we could be in for an ugly game.
Previous Matchup: Game 9 – Den 94 Bos 85
Editor’s Note: I am at Denver International Airport trying to finish this up before my plane departs. I may have to cut it a little short. We do have a few days to catch up on any details I might have to leave out.
Anytime you end a 15 game losing streak it is cause for celebration. When you do it by holding the fourth best offense in the league to 73 points I think we should all take the day off tomorrow. It was the fewest points the Nuggets allowed in a single game since April 6, 2007 when they defeated the Dallas Mavericks 75 to 71 at the Pepsi Center.
Watching the game was an excruciating experience. It felt like I was watching a postseason baseball pitchers’ duel. Every time Orlando got a guy on base (made a three) it felt like everything could crumble down. I did not feel comfortable at all until Nene made both of his free throws with 29 seconds left to put the Nuggets back up by eight 81-73.
You have to be impressed with the effort and intensity the Nuggets played with all game long, especially considering they played a tough game in Miami last night, they had already won three games on the trip and could have felt a sense of contentment and it was the last game before the All-Star break. Denver decided early on that they wanted to avenge the smackdown they received at the hands of the Magic last month.
I was impressed with almost everything Denver did on defense tonight. I am sure this will surprise a lot of you, but I am on board with their strategy of switching most of the perimeter screens. The Magic are a team that you can get away with switching. In fact, they are such a good perimetedoing so. Anyone who can guard Hedo Turkoglu can check Rashard Lewis. If you try to fight through
Orlando bombarded the Clippers with 16 threes in 26 attempts in the first game Jameeer Nelson missed. However, since then in three games the Magic have shot a combined 26 for 83 which converts to 31.3%. Orlando seems to have lost the drive and kick game without Nelson and that makes it much easier for teams to rotate and challenge shots, even after doubling or collapsing on Dwight Howard.
I thought Denver did a good job of mixing up their defense on Howard. Sometimes they played him straight up, sometimes the doubled and other times they swarmed him. NO matter what their strategy was they all seemed to be on the same page. I think it was the most organized the Nuggets have been on defense all season. Of course, despite the Nuggets solid defense Orlando deserves some of the credit (blame) for only scoring 73 points. When they did have open shots they ended up missing them anyway.
The Nuggets can really feel good about themselves heading into the second half of the season. They have set a team record for best record after 53 games and they have a few days off to get everyone healthy.
Additional Game 53 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 90.4
Defensive Efficiency: 80.7 – That destroys their previous season best of 83.7 from game 45 versus Memphis.
Offensive Efficiency: 90.7 – That would be a season low if it were not for the 78.3 they dropped in New Jersey.
Featured Blog: Third Quarter Collapse
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
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
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
There were a lot of people who were discounting Orlando earlier in the season because they believed the Magic’s incredible record was based solely on an easy early schedule. There is no way you can make that case anymore. Having watched most of their victory in Los Angeles Friday and their relatively easy dismissal of the Nugget last night I believe these guys are contenders.
They receive a great deal of credit for their three point shooting and offensive explosiveness, but it is their defense that really amazed me. It is easy to say that Denver played a lazy offensive game and did not try hard enough to get into the lane. From what I saw the Nuggets were trying to get to the rim, but Orlando just would not let them. Whether it was J.R. or Chauncey they always ran into a wall of defenders as soon as they hit the free throw line.
The Nuggets inside presence was completely negated thanks to Dwight Howard, foul trouble and poor shooting. When Nene was in the game he had a very difficult time scoring over Howard. You could tell he was not comfortable shooting over someone with such incredible physical gifts. Nene also suffered from foul trouble, but I think all of the fouls that were called on him were fouls. I did like seeing Nene get in Howard’s face a couple of times, but his game did not back up his bravado.
I remember wondering to myself how the Nuggets were managing to score at all even as early in the game as three minutes into the second quarter when they were ahead 31-29. When Orlando built up a nine point lead with a buzzer beating heave at the end of the third quarter by Hedo Turkoglu it seemed that it was an insurmountable lead.
I can handle the Nuggets’ lack of offense by the Nuggets because Orlando simply played stellar defense. What was frustrating was the way they completely dissolved in the second half defensively. The collapse was highlighted by Denver’s complete lack of understanding and/or desire to defend the pick and roll. The guards seemed disinterested in fighting through the screen and the bigs were more worried about not giving up a dunk to Howard than they were about stopping the ball. Nene was especially guilty as on most instances he never even went near the ball handler.
The other issue was simply Jameer Nelson’s ability to blow past whoever was guarding him at will. I have never thought of Nelson as a fast player and expected Billups or Anthony Carter to be able to keep him out of the lane, but he blew by them even without the benefit of a screen.
There was some discussion in the game thread as to whether or not the Nuggets were on the Magic’s level. Some thought with Melo we were better, but I have to disagree. I think you have to put Orlando in the same class as the Cavs, Celtics and Lakers. They are a very formidable squad.
Even with the loss last night you have to consider this to have been a successful homestand. To finish 5-2 against mostly playoff caliber teams was impressive, especially considering that they lost Melo for the final five games. As I wrote earlier the Phoenix win was what made the homestand for me. That was a good win against a very hot team. And the fact that Denver was able to hang with Orlando for the first 35 minutes last night was even somewhat impressive.
Tomorrow Denver faces another tough game, this time on the road against the Rockets. Houston is even more banged up than Denver as I do not believe Tracy McGrady or Ron Artest are going to play. Make note of the special Martin Luther King, Jr. Day start time of noon Mountain time.
Other Game 41 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor – 95.0
Defensive Efficiency – 111.6 – Not atrocious, but not good.
Offensive Efficiency – 92.6 – Yep, the lowest single game rating of the season surpassing the 93.2 they vomited up in the game against Cleveland in Denver.
Featured Blog: Third Quarter Collapse
The Nuggets have traded Chucky Atkins to Oklahoma City along with their (protected) 2009 first round pick in exchange for Johan Petro and Oklahoma City’s second rounder.
I honestly think this is a very good deal. Petro is far from a stud, but he is a big body and definitely provides the insurance in the front court that the Nuggets have been seeking. Petro, like Chucky in Denver, had fallen out of the rotation in Oklahoma City so do not look for him to see much playing time in Denver unless there is an injury.
Petro has never developed as an offensive player. If he is not within a couple of feet of the rim, he is not going to score. I remember watching him in summer league action a couple of summers ago and being baffled at how poor his offense was. It was obvious that he was there strictly to work on his scoring so he was a complete black hole when he received the ball. It was not pretty.
The draft picks involved are the most interesting part of this deal. In recent drafts early second round picks have become more valuable than late first rounders due to the salary scale imposed on first round selections. Teams can not afford to draft foreign players after the first few picks because the slotted salary is not high enough to pay their exorbitant buyouts. Because of that the first pick in the second round is coveted because it is the first pick without any salary stipulations attacked and this the first shot at the best foreign talent. Last season the only pick that was locked in after the first two was the first selection in the second round where Minnesota drafted Serbian big man Nikola Pekovic.
Financially this deal is a big winner for Denver. They cut another $1.3 million off the books and now know that they will be under the luxury tax level even if J.R. Smith earns some or all of his bonus money. With any trades from here on out the Nuggets will be playing on an even financial field where they will not be looking to take back much less than they send out.
All in all this may seem like a big trade to Nuggets fans because Chucky was brought in to be a starter, but in reality it is a swap of non rotation players and some draft picks that will come about long after the names of college and international players that the casual fan knows of will be picked. Still, I think it was a good deal for Denver.
One last note, looking at the salaries this deal must have been completed using trade exceptions. The salaries do not match and you cannot combine a trade exception with a player. Denver has the big trade exception from the Marcus Camby trade that was “refreshed” in the Chauncey Billups deal and Oklahoma City has a trade exception from their trade sending Wally Szczerbiak to the Cavs last season. Now Camby’s $10 million trade exception is down to about $7.5 million give or take $100,000.