Rapid Reaction: Denver Nuggets 96 Toronto Raptors 81

Toronto Raptors 81 Final
Recap | Box Score
96 Denver Nuggets
Nene, C 34 MIN | 5-10 FG | 10-14 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 20 PTS | +25
The Raptors were extremely physical with Nene despite lacking anyone remotely capable of guarding him. Nene didn’t shoot particularly well and was fouled whenever he found himself in good position down low. He still had a solid 20 and 10 in 33 minutes behind improved free throw shooting. More importantly, he was a dominant presence on the floor and the Raptors simply had no answer.
Danilo Gallinari, SF 36 MIN | 7-18 FG | 5-7 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 21 PTS | +14
Gallo’s scoring opportunities didn’t come as easy without Ty Lawson starting alongside him. He reverted to shooting too many threes and generally looking awful when trying to create for himself. Defensively, Gallo struggled defending the post but continues to show potential as a reliable team defender. Gallo’s grade gets a bump thanks to his ability to close out the game after Toronto made a late push against the Nuggets reserves to get back in it.
Timofey Mozgov, C 17 MIN | 1-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | +16
Mozgov made a welcome return to the starting lineup and continues to develop into a more physical presence down low. He had his two finest blocks of the season and rebounded well for the minutes he received. He did struggle to work himself back into an offensive rhythm and mishandled a few too many passes. Nevertheless, Mozgov was a big part of the solid defensive effort that held Toronto to 12 first quarter points.
Andre Miller, PG 39 MIN | 6-12 FG | 0-1 FT | 6 REB | 12 AST | 13 PTS | +18
Miller had too many turnovers, but several of them were due to Mozgov and Birdman being slow, out of position or just not ready to receive a pass. His erratic wandering on defense can be frustrating and the Nuggets did struggle to maintain pace with him running point. This is the first time Miller has been in the starting lineup at the point guard position and he produced outstanding numbers as expected. The luxury with Miller is that he’s more than capable and perhaps better as a fill-in starter.
Arron Afflalo, SG 21 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 PTS | +11
I’m not gonna dock Afflalo too much for struggling to ease himself back into the rotation after nearly a week off. He’s still taking questionable shots and not making very many of them. The bottom line with Afflalo is that he has such a positive effect on the Nuggets defense you can live with whatever he does offensively as long as he’s not a total black hole.
Al Harrington, PF 26 MIN | 3-10 FG | 3-3 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 9 PTS | -3
Harrington had a bad day. He came into the game with little energy and by the fourth quarter he was exhausted to the point of parking himself at the three point line with his hands on his knees and spectating. He played entirely too many minutes and made only one of five shots in the second half while struggling to make any sort of impact on defense. Buckets also got into a childish spat with Linas Kleiza and needlessly extended the game’s conclusion.
Chris Andersen, C 8 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 PTS | +2
Birdman’s playing harder, I’ll give him that. His energy and his effort were sincere. Andersen continues to be a disaster guarding the pick and roll as he struggled staying in front of the smaller Raptors in the first half. Birdman wasn’t putting up numbers, but I did not think his performance warranted benching him in the second half. He was engaged and active, but Birdman is just not a reliable guy for George Karl right now and he seems to be losing the coach’s trust quickly.
Corey Brewer, SF 20 MIN | 1-2 FG | 4-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | -5
Brewer had another confusing game. After launching 18 shot attempts against Sacramento he barely attempted anything, which I think is a good thing. He flew around the court with his usual energy creating chaos and extra possessions. Offensively, Brewer is scary and unpredictable and he’ll need to be a bit more consistent to gain more regular playing time off the bench.
Rudy Fernandez, SG 33 MIN | 9-11 FG | 0-1 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 23 PTS | +9
Thank God for Rudy. He looked great upon his return from an Achilles strain and his hot shooting singlehandedly held off the Raptors’ furious second half surge. Rudy also did a great job chasing the feisty Raptors guards all over the court. Bayless was able to shake him loose a couple of times but his offensive game was so brilliant it hardly mattered. Not only did Rudy handle the ball some as a backup point, he was fantastic off the ball – juking out Barbosa for one of the most poetic wide open threes of the season. Magnificent game from Rudy and all the more impressive considering he hasn’t played in quite some time.
Kosta Koufos, C 5 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -12
The decision to pair Koufos with Harrington in the middle was a head-scratcher to say the least. Kosta didn’t receive any minutes in the first half and calling on him to stem the tide during Denver’s worst stretch of play might have been asking too much of the seldom used 22-year old. He had a rough go from the moment he stepped on the floor, immediately being hit with a questionable blocking foul and worsening Denver’s stagnant offensive attack. Defensively, the Nuggets completely fell apart with him on the floor and while you can’t put the blame solely on Koufos, Toronto seized total control of the game and it’s hard to defend the decision to bring him in.

Nuggets Draft Tweets

Ryan Feldman of The Hoops Report: “Source at Nuggets draft workout on Wednesday told me Iman Shumpert showed off his crazy athleticism and nice mid-range jumper.”

Also from Feldman: “Source at Nuggets draft workout on Wednesday also said Vucevic was more impressive than Jordan Williams, and Malcolm Thomas did really well.”

Vic Lombardi : “why the Nuggets have no interest in The Jimmer. None…still waiting on reason—->a certain coach doesn’t like his game”

My take: Shumpert is gaining some momentum with Nuggets fans as a popular J.R. replacement, and this showing should benefit his case. He tested out as basically the most athletic guy at the Combine and will likely rely on his supreme physical talent to up his draft stock. At a little over 6-foot-4 with a giant 6-foot-10 wingspan and incredible leaping ability, Shumpert will likely play the role of a combo guard his first few years in the league until he firmly establishes a position he feels comfortable with.

Vucevic, if you remember, was a guy I recently ranked 5th on the Nuggets Big Board but because of the similar traits to a Nugget already under contract — Timofey Mozgov — I stated that we should probably consider other prospects instead. Well, maybe I was wrong, as it appears he has continued his hot streak of performances under the watchful eye of NBA talent evaluators. It’s nice to know our front office is examining big men, as its a need we certainly should address in some form over the off season, whether it be through the Draft or free agency. The fact that Vucevic outperformed Williams is not a surprise, because keep in mind, this is the same guy who some scouts felt outperformed projected top-five pick, Enes Kanter, recently at the Combine.

The Jimmer quote just makes my head hurt to be honest. I’m not a fan of coaches interfering with the job general managers and scouts do. I think coaches often times have motives behind their evaluations where as scouts and general managers simply evaluate talent. Though I’d agree that Jimmer wouldn’t be the ideal pick at 22 (he’ll be gone before then anyways so it doesn’t really matter), I also don’t think we should bend our considerations based on what coach Karl thinks of him. Last I checked, this was the same coach Karl that vetoed a Linas Kleiza for David Lee trade a few years back. Just sayin’.

Summarizing the Mark Warkentien Era

The Denver Nuggets have been to the playoffs seven straight seasons and have posted three straight 50 win campaigns for the first time as an NBA franchise. Despite the consistency they have displayed on the court, the front office is once again in a state of flux.

The Nuggets announced today Mark Warkentien and Rex Chapman will not have their contracts renewed and thus will cease to be employed by the club at the end of August (Denver Post article, Tomasson article on FanHouse). This is no surprise as Warkentien has been granted permission to speak with other teams about their front office vacancies. Over the previous four seasons the Nuggets have had quite a few cooks around the fire. Warkentien, Chapman, Bret Bearup and George Karl have all had a say in personnel matters and do not forget Stan Kroenke ultimately determines what he is willing to spend which plays a considerable role in player personnel decisions.

Despite the crowded kitchen Warkentien was the head chef and he made a significant mark on the franchise.

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Talking Melo, Linas Kleiza and more Chris Paul

Over the past few days I have been fortunate enough to appear on Brian Doolittle’s NBA show in St. Louis called At the Buzzer on Sports Radio 1380 to talk about Carmelo Anthony’s future in Denver and I was a guest on Rapcast, the Raptors Republic podcast, to discuss Linas Kleiza and what he will bring as he takes his talents north of the border.  In a nutshell Bryan Colangelo is selling Kleiza as a gritty player that will bring stout defense to the Raptors.  Talk about setting someone up to fail.  Kleiza is a skilled player, but a defensive stalwart he is not.

Ryan Schwan at Hornets 247 sought out the best trade offers for Chris Paul from the members of the TrueHoop Network.  My four team masterpiece did not claim the top spot, but earned a gold star.  Make sure you head over and check out the best Chris Paul trade proposals from a group of savvy hoops writers.

Nuggets Miss out on O’Neal; Gain a Chance at Beasley?

There were two free agent signings today that has a direct impact on the Denver Nuggets. Jermaine O’Neal signed with the Boston Celtics and Linas Kleiza is returning to the NBA after signing an offer sheet with the Toronto Raptors. The O’Neal signing is very disappointing, but the Kleiza offer sheet could open up a tremendous opportunity for Denver.

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There is a Silver Lining

For those of you who are really down about the Denver Nuggets losing Linas Kleiza to Olympiakos (I hate having to spell words that look wrong when they are right) I have come to share with you the really hard to see silver lining.

First of all, the Nuggets front office has experience in cutting payroll by eliminating players whose contribution is not equal to their compensation. I can still remember the nonsense that was pedaled when the Nuggets traded Marcus Camby. Frantic people were screaming that he was the only player who cared about defense and the Nuggets were going to give up 120 points a game without him. These guys are experts on the players on their roster. If you and I can see the holes in these guys games, you know they understand even better who is more easily replaced.

Secondly, they should be able to gather a pretty impressive group of players for training camp. Players know Denver has to add at least two players and possibly a third depending on whether Anthony Carter signs or not. With every other contending team having filled out their roster they will have their pick of who is remaining. Players desperate for a job know the best combination of a quality team and opportunity to play is with the Nuggets.

Third, I am beginning to doubt that Denver will take on a mid to high salary player over the next couple of seasons, but with the payroll they have slashed over the past few days, they could be capable of adding some salary before the trade deadline. Plus, at this point, they still have a chunk of their mid level exception, $2.1 million to be exact, remaining to sign a veteran who is bought out later in the season.

Fourth, the Nuggets are good enough to duplicate their success from last year as is. I do not think the teams in the west have improved as much as everyone believes, but we can delve into that before the season starts.

Let’s wait and see what the final roster looks like before we throw in the towel on the season.

I have one more stat to throw out at you before we close the book on Linas Kleiza for 2009-10. According to 82games.com Kleiza was terrible in the clutch. When protracting Kleiza’s performance during the last five minutes of a game or in overtime where neither team is ahead by more than five points over a full 48 minutes the Nuggets were outscored by 40 points. Basically when games were close and Kleiza was on the floor, bad things happened.

Bret Bearup has made two references on his Twitter account (Twitter.com/TheDenverKid) that sound promising.  Earlier this morning he mentioned working on the roster and tonight he mentioned he was making some calls.  I would not be surprised if the Nuggets sign a player or two in the next few days.

Chauncey reaching out to J.R. Smith

According to Chris Tomasson Chauncey is going to spend three weeks in Las Vegas and try to talk some sense to him. Apparently Billups agrees with my assertion that Smith has some growing up to do and Chauncey does not want to grow old wondering what would have happened if he had reached out to J.R. Smith has bought a house in Vegas, a dangerous place for a young immature man with money if you ask me, and his first housewarming gift is Chauncey. Now Chauncey has a wife and kids and it is a serious commitment to leave them for three weeks knowing he is going to be away from them quite a lot in the near future. We all know people who are teetering on the edge of taking a serious fall in their lives and I am guessing Chauncey believes J.R. is close to putting himself in that position.

Finalizing the Hunter trade with Memphis

I have asked around about what the details were of the second round pick the Nuggets will receive from Memphis and no one seems to have a good answer. I decided to stop being lazy and do some research for myself and what I found was not inspiring. According to both the Real GM and HoopsWorld listing of picks owed Memphis has traded the Los Angeles Lakers their 2010 second round pick and they have pending conditional deals already awaiting their second round picks from 2011-13. All of those picks are protected from 31-55 so unless Memphis gets really good very quickly they are holding on to those picks. I do not know if they can place two conditions on one pick such as Denver receives their 2011 second round pick if it is between picks 35 and 54, but Houston will receive it if it is in picks 55-60. Since those two options are mutually exclusive I would assume that kind of condition would be acceptable by the NBA, however, it is entirely possible that the Nuggets will just be added to the list and will receive the Grizzlies 2014 second round pick as long as it is higher than 55.

Sprite Slam Dunk Contest

Sprite and the NBA are conducting a nationwide dunk contest. They have narrowed the field down to ten and four of those ten will be selected to compete in the finals during All-Star Weekend. Go to NBA.com/dunk to view dunks from the ten semifinalists and vote for your favorite dunker to compete in the finals, but do it fast.  Voting ends on August 24 so do not miss your chance to crown the people’s champion of the dunk.

Real Life

Starting tomorrow things are going to get busy at work.  I have been lucky to have a job where I can spend some time on the blog during the day if I have to, but over the next 18 months we are going to be working on a massive project and there will be many a day where I will not be able to get a post up when you guys want one.  Hang in there with me and I will do all I can to keep giving you the coverage you all deserve.

Thanks for reading and I appreciate the fact that all of you choose to take time out of your life to check out Roundball Mining Company.

Linas Kleiza Agrees to Deal With Olympiakos

The Denver Post is reporting that Linas Kleiza will sign a two year, $12 million contract with Greek team Olympiakos.  (Update: The contract is reportedly for $12.2 million and does have an opt out after one season.)

I cannot blame Kleiza because no NBA team was willing to pay him nearly that much, but as I pointed out previously, it only delays his restricted free agency to next summer, assuming he triggers his opt out clause after the first year of the contract.

Whether you love Kleiza or hate him, you have to admit that this hurts the Nuggets’ depth.  I have no problem with Renaldo Balkman backing up Carmelo at small forward as an offense/defense combo like J.R. Smith and Dahntay Jones last season at shooting guard.  Plus Balkman can fill in at power forward as Kleiza did when necessary.

Kleiza’s departure also saves the Nuggets an additional $5.4 million in luxury tax and salary and opens up another roster spot.  I am sure the Nuggets would have preferred to have Kleiza to sign the qualifying offer, but with the trade of Steven Hunter and now Kleiza heading to Greece, Denver has saved almost $10 million in salary and tax payments, which is significant.

Assuming Anthony Carter returns the Nuggets now have to add two players to their regular season roster in order to field the minimum 13 players.

Linas Kleiza – Not Improving, Not Getting Paid

I have been planning on writing about Linas Kleiza for about two months now. I never would have guessed that I would still be doing player season recaps in August.

There are a few Nuggets players who will get fans blood pressure up as soon as they hear his name and chief among them is Linas Kleiza.

Some fans will point to how he runs the floor, his ability to hit threes and his 41 point outburst as proof of his talent. Other fans site his porous defense, his inconsistency from behind the arc, his one dimensional game and the fact he seemed to take a step backwards last season as proof that he needs to go away.

Before we look at what Kleiza did last season, we need to consider what did not happen before last season. There were reports that the Nuggets were going to sign Kleiza to a four year, $25 million extension, but when it came time to make everything official nothing happened. After the lack of news made it obvious there was no extension Chris Tomasson reported that Stan Kroenke squashed the deal, but I think another factor was the imminent acquisition of Chauncey Billups.

Trading Allen Iverson for Billups saved the Nuggets a lot of money in 2008-09, but they committed to an additional $15.4 million in 2009-10 between Chauncey’s contract and the buyout of Antonio McDyess. It did not make good business sense to give Kleiza an extension when they knew they were on the verge of adding so much salary by bringing in Billups. The Nuggets did what any smart team should and chose not to negotiate against themselves and they correctly projected that Kleiza would probably not get an offer in the same neighborhood as a restricted free agent.

Kleiza was undoubtedly disappointed that the payday he had been hoping for and appeared to be within his grasp disappeared and understandably he started the season out slowly. With Carmelo Anthony suspended for the first two games of the season Kleiza had additional pressure on him to produce on offense. The result of the loss of his contract extension and the absence of Melo only averaged five points a game in the two games Melo missed and was a putrid 0-11 from three point land over the first three plus games of the season.

Starting anything 0-11 is not a good sign and Kleiza experienced a very up and down season offensively. There were some ups as including his first made three pointer in game four he went on to make 53 of his next 120 attempts, a conversion rate of 44.2%. He had an incendiary stretch from December 15 through January 7 where he hit 29 of 52 threes, 53.7%. Unfortunately, his 4-6 performance against Miami on January 7 was the high point of the regular season for Linas. From that point on he shot an atrocious 34-134, an embarrassing 25.4%. In fact, from February 6 through the end of the season Kleiza was 17-83, a heinous 20.5%, from downtown. After making two or more threes in 21 of the first 49 games of the season, he made two or more threes in only five of his final 33 appearances.

For a player who depends on the three to remain relevant it was bad news.

If you look at his 2008-09 shot chart Kleiza does his damage either at the rim or from behind the arc. Only 90 of his 646 attempts came in the nether region between the rim and the three point line.

The fact that Kleiza treats the realm between the arc and the hoop as if it was the Somme in July of 1916 bothers me (sorry, I have to start putting that history degree to some good use) and the fact that he has never developed a midrange game is disturbing. Instead of getting better, Kleiza was worse from midrange than the prior season. Out of his 90 attempts he only hit on 21 of them, 23.3%. In 2007-08 he made 41 of 113 attempts that were not layups, dunks or these which equates to 36.3%.

When Kleiza’s shot is not falling his one dimensional game becomes a no dimensional game. He is not a willing or capable passer, as pointed out above he does not have any kind of midrange game to fall back on and he was the one Nugget player who did not consistently raise his performance on defense. He did have acceptable defensive games here and there, but as a whole, he was by far the worst defender out of the Nuggets rotation players.

Looking at advanced stats it is even more difficult to make a case for Kleiza being a high quality player. Kleiza was a respectable 14th in rebound rate among small forwards and 21st in true shooting, but he was 27th in turnover rate and 57th in assist rate. Overall his well below average PER of 13.20 rates him 29th among NBA small forwards. In case you are wondering how he rates as a power forward, he would actually show up lower in every category.

The truly damning statistic for Kleiza is on display at 82games.com. The Nuggets are much better when he is on the bench than when he is on the floor. The Nuggets offensive efficiency with Kleiza seated in a folding chair is six points higher than when he is on the hardwood, 114.5 to 108.5. The Nuggets defensive efficiency does not fall off as drastically as their offensive efficiency does with Kleiza on the floor, but it is still worse, 108.9 to 106.7. Add it all up and the Nuggets are a total of 8.2 points per 100 possessions worse (they give up 2.2 more points per 100 possessions on defense and score 6.0 points fewer per 100 possessions on offense) with Kleiza on the floor than when he is off.

If you want to ignore all the statistical and visual data against Kleiza you can still try to make the argument that he still has a lot of untapped potential. I have contended all along that his potential has been miscalculated based on his surprisingly good play in his second season. Little was expected from Kleiza, a college power forward from Missouri who was drafted late in the first round. When he shot 37.6% from behind the arc his second year in the league it was only natural to expect similar boosts year after year. However, I have always believed that Kleiza hit his ceiling, or was at least very close to it, in 2006-07. If that is true, it is much easier to see why he has not built upon his second season and instead has almost been haunted by it.

The frustrating thing is it is nearly impossible to see something Kleiza added to his game for 2008-09. The only positive observations I can make about his play is that he did increase the number of times he drove with his left hand from zero to three or four and he became slightly more adept at tossing in the little running hook he likes to shoot when he cannot get all the way to the rim on one of his drives. Other than those two minor changes, it was mostly downhill.

And it was not just last year. If this was just a one year dip in his stats, I could perhaps get on the bandwagon that he still has upside to develop. However, it has been two seasons now since his breakout campaign and in both of those seasons he has regressed in at least one area of his game.

There is no doubt that the front office and George Karl like Kleiza. Denver has reportedly had the opportunity to trade him for players like Ron Artest and David Lee and have decided to keep him. He was the only Nugget player to play in all 82 contests. He played more minutes than Chris Andersen, Anthony Carter and Dahntay Jones. Even when he struggled during the second half of the season his minutes per game remained steady apart from a five game stretch in March where he was only on the floor for a combined 51 minutes.

By the end of the regular season it was difficult to build a case that the Nuggets should spend any of their limited resources on Kleiza. Then came the playoffs. I do not think there were any games that you could point to and say Denver would not have won that game without Linas, but he certainly shot the ball much better making 42.5% of his threes thus reasserting his offensive relevance. However, he did play in only 15.0 minutes a game and received the dreaded DNP-CD twice.

Fast forward to today and Kleiza is a restricted free agent. Despite the very real possibility that the Nuggets would choose not to match an offer nearing the mid level exception, not one team has made an attempt to try to pry him away. In fact only two teams have even shown interest in him. The Cavs, who have signed Jamario Moon to play small forward when LeBron is resting, and Toronto, who just signed Hedo Turkoglu to a massive deal last month. I guess I should say that there have only been two NBA teams that have expressed interest in Linas. Reportedly Greek powerhouse Olympiacos has an offer on the table to bring Kleiza to Europe.

Kleiza started playing up the European option as soon as his contract extension disappeared last October. I have no doubt that he will make the leap if the money is high enough. The problem is, as Josh Childress has discovered, going to Europe may make you more money in the short term, but it only delays your free agency issues to the next summer. Even if he goes to Greece and lights up every team he faces, he will still be a restricted free agent with the same one year, $2.7 million qualifying offer awaiting his return in 2010.

At this point the Nuggets seem content to call his bluff as there has been no indication that they have offered him a long term contract. There is a possibility that they have had sign and trade discussions with other teams, but if they have, I have not heard a peep about it.

In the end I think Kleiza gets a chance to earn his freedom and a bigger payday next summer by taking the qualifying offer. In this market $2.7 million is a nice contract, regardless of what you had hoped to get (check out item ten of this post, NBA jobs are drying up).

If Linas does come back to the Nuggets, he will get minutes and open shots. The front office likes him and George Karl likes him. Even if he ends up signing the qualifying offer and returning at the cheapest possible price, Denver has already invested heavily in him if only by holding onto him instead of trading him for a more talented player when the opportunity arose.

Even though it may be the worst case scenario for fans and player alike, look for Linas to be back in Denver launching line drive threes and attacking the rim with his right hand next season.

August Free Agency Update

There have been a great many free agents who have been named on this site as players one or more of us would like to see the Denver Nuggets pursue. Out of all the players who have been bandied about the Nuggets have not signed…not a one of them. In fact, the Nuggets have only been mentioned in discussions for two that I can remember, Grant Hill and Channing Frye.

The market is thinning and players I thought the Nuggets might have been able to go after in August on the cheap are getting snatched up. Players like Drew Gooden, who received a much nicer deal from Dallas than I expected him to get, and even Ike Diogu are getting snatched up left and right. Today Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the Cavaliers have offered Leon Powe a contract. Powe is injured and likely will not suit up until after the New Year. I was hoping he might be a guy the Nuggets could have looked at signing not long before the season, yet he is up in the free agent queue before we hit August.

The bargains come out of the woodwork after everyone else has spent their money and we have reached that point. The only teams who have not used their mid level exceptions that still appear willing to do so are the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers. The Nuggets did a pretty good job in late July last season signing Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Dahntay Jones and trading for Renaldo Balkman all after the twenty-fourth.

I think we can all agree that the area the roster is in most need of a boost is the fourth big man, no offense intended there Malik Allen. There are still a bevy of big bodies available, but not just any large man will do. We do not need or want Pavel Podkolzin. The chances of the Nuggets nabbing a player who can pull off a Chris Andersen resurrection type season are slimmer than Andrei Kirilenko, but it is still a possibility.

I have already mentioned Shelden Williams in previous posts as an option for a bargain basement big who can rebound as well as anyone having posted a rebound rate of 17.3 or better in two of his first three seasons. As a point of reference Birdman led the Nuggets in rebound rate last season with a 17.6. Williams’ biggest problem is he does not have great hands and has little offensive game. With the lineups the Nuggets can put on the floor I do not think a lack of scoring from their fourth big will be overly damaging.

A player that intrigues me who I have not mentioned as of yet is Ryan Hollins. Hollins is a very active, although slight, big man. He is not a scorer, but does have very good hands and brings great energy. Above all, he is long, athletic and only 24 years old. The bad news is he is a restricted free agent whose rights are owned by the Dallas Mavericks. The largest first year salary the Nuggets can offer anyone is $2.1 million and I suspected the Mavericks would match that in a hear beat. However, the Mavericks have painted themselves into the corner after signing Drew Gooden and Tim Thomas. They now have the maximum 15 players under contract. Greg Buckner does reportedly have a partially guaranteed contract, I do not know what date that contract becomes fully guaranteed, but I have seen in a couple of places that the guaranteed portion of his salary is $1.06 million. The Mavs may want to hang onto Buckner though as a de facto expiring deal as it is only partially guaranteed for 2010-11 too.

If Denver signs Hollins to an offer sheet Dallas would have seven days to either waive/buy out a player or pull off a two for one trade to clear up a spot in order to match the contract. Mark Cuban has certainly shown his willingness to spend is back and he may bite the bullet and pay 16 players this season. Then again, he might decide that Hollins is not worth it. Also, the Mavericks have James Singleton and Gerald Green as free agents from last season who they may be interested in retaining. Hollins may be getable.

Moving further down the list we have Johan Petro. Petro showed flashes of competence and I have yet to hear his name surface in any rumors…at all. Denver should be able to get him at a significant discount from his qualifying offer of $2.85 million.

After Petro we get down into the Mikki Moore/Brian Skinner/Sean Marks/Stromile Swift territory and that is a place I do not want to go although each of those guys have at least a little something going for them (Moore – energy, Skinner – beef, Marks – smarts, Swift – athleticism).

The only other “big man” I would be interested in for Denver is Steve Novak. Novak is 6’10”, but there is no way he can be considered a big. The only evidence we need to prove that is to look at his 6.2 rebound rate in 2008-09. As a comparison J.R. Smith posted a 7.7 rebound rate. Case closed. However, Novak does one thing that gets your attention, drain threes. He broke into the Clippers’ lineup in January and hit some very big shots over the second half of the season. He had a four game stretch in March where he made 24 of 40 attempts including two 7-11 games.

In my mind Novak could be a cheap replacement for Linas Kleiza, he does not run the floor like Kleiza does (although Kleiza frequently does not run the floor like Kleiza either), but he is a much better three point shooter and I think would be a nice end of the rotation specialist. Novak is a restricted free agent, but no one knows how much Donald Sterling will green light to keep him in L.A. My guess would be not much especially if the Clippers sign Allen Iverson or Ramon Sessions.

While it is frustrating to watch the other teams in the west adding players to their rosters, there is still hope for the Nuggets to add a meaningful piece to the roster so do not lose hope.

We need better from the Denver Post

After going eight days without a peep about the Nuggets we get this. The headline of the article is “It’s Down to Kleiza or Carter.” Chris Dempsey never says anywhere in the article that the Nuggets can or will only sign either Kleiza or Carter. They might retain both or they might let them both, but apparently the headline writer has it all figured out.

The sad thing is Dempsey is the one that is made to look bad as his article is branded by the inaccurate headline.

Mark Warkentien – In His Own Words

Editor’s note: Summer league may be over, but that does not mean we have to let it go. Bret Bearup, Mark Warkentien and George Karl were all interviewed during Denver Nuggets games. I was able to get very low quality recordings of the interviews so crank the volume on your computer and enjoy.

After listening to Bret Bearup we are moving on to Mark Warkentien, the front man for the Denver Nuggets management team. I listened to a great many interviews that were part of the summer league game broadcasts and I think Warkentien was the only guest who actually stayed after the end of the quarter and kept talking. He is definitely a gregarious guy and the announcers were clearly impressed with him.

Click here to listen.

I thought Warkentien’s comment that Coby Karl is better on a good team than a bad team was interesting. The Nuggets are clearly a good team. It was also good to hear him say that they have demonstrated that the organization is not afraid to make a big move and they will pull the trigger when the right deal comes along. I also got a kick out of how he insisted that Linas Kleiza when it seems pretty clear that they could have signed him to a modest long term contract by now. He also really talks up Afflalo, and I believe with good reason.

Another very interesting comment Warkentien made was how the Camby trade was an investment in Nene, which we all realized at the time, but also how when Denver passed on Ron Artest two seasons ago, he mentions that it was an investment in J.R.

Of course, the highlight was the dissertation on the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and Huntsville Flight.

The third and final interview featuring George Karl will post this afternoon.

Denver Nuggets Free Agency News – July 2, 2009

We are a day and a half into the free agency negotiating period and so far only two players have been locked up as Detroit has verbal agreements with Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva (didn’t Detroit win their title largely due to their stellar team defense?).

At this point the only news out of Denver is Mark Warkentien was in Los Angeles to talk contract with Chris Andersen. I do not think there is any doubt at this point that Birdman returns to Denver.

That leads up to a big question. Denver can sign Andersen for up to six seasons. Do you give Chris Andersen a five or six year deal? I say no. The primary reason is Andersen turns 31 in five days although he is certainly not your typical 31 year old big man.

Birdman set a career high for playing time this season having logged 1,460 minutes on the court. For his career he has accumulated 5,692 minutes. That may sound like a lot of minutes, but consider that over the previous two seasons LeBron James has played the fewest minutes of his career. However, LeBron has still totaled 6,081 minutes over those two seasons. LeBron has played almost 400 more minutes since November of 2007 than Andersen has played over his seven year career.

Even with Andersen’s low mileage you have to be wary of signing a player so dependent on his athleticism into his mid thirties. I think the perfect contract for Andersen would be a three year deal with a team option or non guaranteed fourth season.

As a sidebar, team options/non guaranteed seasons can be used as a de facto expiring contract and I think they give teams a great deal of flexibility. If I were a GM I would tack on an extra season to every contract that starts at $4 million a year or higher where only $250,000 is guaranteed. The player then gets an additional $250,000 and I get a potentially high value trading chip. Of course, you open yourself up to having some dead money on your cap so it would be important to make sure you only have two or three non-guaranteed seasons coming up at the same time, but that would be easily manageable. The benefit would far outweigh the cost in my mind.

Apart from meeting with Birdman the Nuggets have been very quiet. The only player I have seen them linked to consistently in published reports is Grant Hill. There is no mention of Denver being involved with Rasheed Wallace. San Antonio, Orlando and Cleveland are all hot for Sheed, but Boston has been the most aggressive suitor. It will be interesting to see what Wallace does. Boston is the only team for which he would not start, unless they decided to bench Kendrick Perkins, but they are probably the best fit as Wallace can do many of the same things Garnett does. Wallace would make Orlando much more traditional with Rashard Lewis moving back to small forward, but he would still give them the three point threat from the power forward spot. Should he go to San Antonio it would allow the Spurs to bring DeJuan Blair along more slowly and he and Duncan would be possibly the best interior defensive tandem in the league.

From a Nuggets perspective I think it would be most interesting if Wallace signed with Cleveland because it would put Anderson Varejao in play. Cleveland would probably want to bring him back, but I doubt he would want to back up Rasheed. Varejao is the kind of team defender Denver needs. He is always amongst the league leaders in charges drawn (2006-07 stats were the most recent I could find) and he is a great pick and roll defender. I am not sure if Denver would pursue Varejao, but the Nuggets have fellow Brazilian Nene on the roster and Varejao could probably be had at mid level exception money. Of course, Varejao would not be a full time starter in Denver either with Nene and Kenyon on the roster, but I think if Rasheed is in Cleveland he would want out.

I did stumble across a sentence in this article that says the Nuggets are interested in Channing Frye. Frye is not a great individual defender, but I do believe he can be effective as part of a solid team defensive scheme. The Nuggets are missing a big man who can consistently shoot from the outside and Frye would fill that role as the fourth big. He is also an underrated rebounder. Should the Nuggets swap Kleiza for Hill and Petro for Frye there will not be dancing in the streets, but I think those two players would be positive upgrades and both would come relatively cheap. Add in Ty Lawson and that is a pretty good boost in talent from last season.

Shifting to the Nuggets’ free agents, I think the silence surrounding Dahntay Jones, Linas Kleiza and, to a lesser extent, Anthony Carter is deafening. At this point I would be very surprised if Kleiza or Jones are back in Denver next season. If the Nuggets miss out on Hill I think LK is their fallback option, but I think they would probably still rather sign and trade him than keep him around.

I have read that Cleveland is interested in Kleiza and this morning I saw Indiana has made a call to his agent as well. The report that links Kleiza to Indy was same report also claimed the Pacers are looking at Jones and Carter too. If you are Anthony Carter how much more would the Pacers have to offer in order for you to move from Denver to Indianapolis?

Other big news includes David Lee losing almost all of his leverage now that Memphis has acquired Zach Randolph, which brings a possible sign and trade back into play. The Knicks probably do not want to add his contract to their summer of 2010 payroll, but they have offered him a four year, $32 million contract. Now Toronto is tossing their name in the hat although they are also looking at using their limited resources on a small forward such as Hedo Turkoglu or Trevor Ariza.

Speaking of Turkoglu, it appears Portland is going to add him to their stacked roster, but I am not sure how much of an upgrade that will be for them. Turkoglu does a lot of the same things that Brandon Roy does, especially at the end of games. I think Hedo definitely makes them better, how much I do not know. Dave at Blazer’s Edge looks at what Hedo might do or not do for Portland What would scare me is if Portland adds Turkoglu and then pulls off a sign and trade for Andre Miller.

Ariza’s agent apparently is saying that the Lakers need to reward Ariza with a contract over the mid level exception. If they do not he claims Ariza will take someone else’s mid level offer out of spite. So far the Cavs have joined the Raptors as potential destinations.

Finally, we are getting some good comments from readers. One name that keeps popping up is Hakim Warrick. I believe the Nuggets are going to continue to bring in players who can play great team defense and Warrick does not fit that mold. Plus his qualifying offer is for just over $3 million and that is too much for what he would bring to the table.

Finally I will leave you with some big time breaking news from the Denver Post. Chauncey Billups is switching his uniform number from 7 to 1. J.R. Smith was number one last season, but will wear an as of yet undetermined number. Apparently J.R. just surrendered the number 1 to Billups without so much as a dinner at Sizzler.

The Denver Nuggets, NBA Free Agency and You

With the 2009 NBA meat market known as free agency kicking off tonight at midnight eastern time we need to once again interrupt our individual player evaluations to look at what kind of options are out there for the Nuggets.

Before we get started, familiarize yourself with who is available with this team by team list of free agents.

A quick look at the Nuggets’ finances shows that they are already over the projected luxury tax limit of $70-71 million with the contracts of Kenyon Martin, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Nene, J.R. Smith, Steven Hunter, Linas Kleiza, Renaldo Balkman, Sonny Weems, Ty Lawson and the $3.0 million they owe Antonio McDyess based on the buyout they agreed to last season (all totaling roughly $73 million). That is ten players and you must carry a minimum of 13 players on your roster.

Now add to that at least $4-5 million to resign Chris Andersen and another million plus for Anthony Carter and/or Dahntay Jones. Suddenly they only have one or two spots with which to upgrade the roster and probably not too much financial wiggle room to play with.

Priority number one has to be to resign Chris Andersen. The question is how much will it cost? If Denver has to come up with $7 or $8 million a year to bring Andersen back it will be very difficult for them to afford to beef up their roster. However, in order for Andersen to get a big offer like that a team who wants him would have to be far enough below the salary cap to offer that kind of cash. So are there any teams who fit that mold?

Atlanta, Detroit, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Portland and Sacramento are the only teams capable of making a significant offer to any free agent above the midlevel exception. I think we can scratch teams like Atlanta, Memphis, Portland and Sacramento off the list because of either a lack of interest from the team in question or from Birdman in playing there.

That leaves Detroit and Oklahoma City. I think Detroit has quite a few players on their list before they get down to Andersen and most likely they will spend their money elsewhere. To me the only team to really worry about is Oklahoma City. They need a shot blocker and rebounder as evidenced by the fact they acquired Tyson Chandler from New Orleans at the trade deadline before their doctor nixed the deal. The one thing Sam Presti has to worry about is the money he is going to have to shell out for Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook in two or three seasons.

Ultimately, I believe the Thunder will not offer Andersen a big contract and that will allow Denver to only have to deal with midlevel offers from other teams. In fact as we saw with J.R. Smith last season teams usually do not bother even offering the mid level exception when the know it will be matched. J.R. did not receive any offer sheets last season and I suspect Birdman should not expect any this summer either. Why waste your time signing a player to an offer sheet when you know the team will match it as soon as the offer sheet showed up on the fax machine.

I expect Denver will be able to resign Andersen with a three year $15 million deal with a starting salary in the $4.0 million range. Maybe Andersen leaves some money on the table, but he would still receive over a 400% raise and keeps him in Denver, where he wants to be. Not all athletes feel a sense of loyalty to a franchise, but Denver not only gave Birdman his first chance to play in the NBA, they also gave him his second chance at real playing time following his suspension.

Birdman deserves a lot of attention, but Andersen is only one of six free agents the Nuggets have to worry about. Do not expect Jason Hart to return. Johan Petro has been allowed to become an unrestricted free agent which does not bode well for his return, although there is a chance Denver could bring him back. As we discussed yesterday look for Anthony Carter to return for one more season in Denver.

The two great unknowns are Linas Kleiza and Dahntay Jones.

Denver is expected to extend the one year, $2,705,724 qualifying offer to Kleiza although as of yet there has been no official word that they have. Kleiza quickly became a favorite of George Karl as he improved quickly in his second and third seasons. I was of the opinion that he was overvalued by the Nuggets, as well as other teams around the league, because his rapid improvement convinced them that his ceiling was much higher than it actually is. In his fourth NBA season he appeared to have plateaued. His three point percentage dropped, his defense is still lacking, he passes only begrudgingly and still rarely goes to his left. The one thing Kleiza does well is rebound. His rebound rate was comparable to Kenyon Martin’s (10.4 to 10.9). Kleiza can run the floor very well, but he does not do it consistently game to game and Denver’s slightly slower pace impacted his ability to provide an impact on that area of the game.

When looking at Kleiza’s roster spot one of the players that the Nuggets have been rumored to be interested in is Grant Hill. Hill played for less than $2.0 million last season and I think he would be a very good fit in Denver. Hill is just as good of a shooter as Kleiza, if not better, but offers a creative playmaking ability that Kleiza will never be able to match.

Apart from Hill there are not many options who would be as cheap and as effective as Kleiza. Trevor Ariza is an intriguing option, but I doubt the Nuggets would be able to pry him away from the Lakers. Some people have mentioned Ron Artest as a potential option for the Nuggets. It would be a bold move, but a risky one too. He displayed his combustability again in the playoffs against the Lakers and he would not come cheap. If Denver wants to bring him in, they would most likely have to offer their full midlevel exception in August or September when all of Artest’s other options have been extinguished. With the health of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming in question, Houston may cling to Artest as their best healthy player or they may let him walk in order to restructure the team after the season.

It is certainly possible that Kleiza will not get any good offers and have to sign the qualifying offer. If that is the case, I would not be overly upset. However, if the Nuggets manage to sign Hill, I imagine they will pull the qualifying offer and Kleiza might be forced to play overseas in order to make any money.

The final question mark for Denver is Dahntay Jones. Jones is the player who is likely to increase his salary the most from 2008-09. Everyone saw him give Chris Paul fits in the playoffs. With his atrocious offensive game his price will not get too high, but if he makes much more than he did last season his salary will quickly exceed his usefulness. Rumors are that Boston is interested and I do not think the Nuggets will go too deep in the pocketbook to bring Jones back.

With J.R. and possibly Sonny Weems playing much of the minutes at shooting guard I am not sure Denver needs to spend much money on a third shooting guard. Plus a player like Hill could spend some time filling in at shooting guard as well. There are some other price efficient players that I think might be good additions to the Nuggets. Flip Murray was very good for Atlanta last season and he played for only $1.5 million. Plus he helped Denver by missing a game winning shot at the Pepsi Center last season so he clearly is pro Nuggets. Fred Jones had his moments with the Clippers at a bargain basement price and I think he is worth a look. My favorite option would be Shannon Brown. He is a restricted free agent and I doubt the Lakers would let him get away, but if they sign all their big salary free agents, it may decrease their motivation to pay him what it takes to bring him back.

If the Nuggets are not able to bring in Hill and/or Brown and they bring back Jones and Kleiza for bottom dollar, it will not be the worst thing in the world. What would be the worst thing in the world is if they combine to play 40 minutes a game again.

Whether Denver boosts their talent level at the swing positions or not, the one thing they must accomplish before next season is to add a quality fourth big man.

There are a couple of nice options available to the Nuggets. First and foremost in my mind is Rasheed Wallace who is an unrestricted free agent. Sheed saw most of his numbers fall off this past season, but I think a good portion of that was due to the fact he did not buy into the Pistons and their chances to succeed. Maybe the most startling thing about Wallace’s game was 89% of his shots were jumpers. However, Denver needs a big man who can shoot and Wallace is still a good post defender. I think pairing him back up with Chauncey on what I think would be a championship caliber team could squeeze another good season or two out of him.

The good news is Sheed might not cost an arm and a leg and Denver may be in a position where they do not necessarily need to be the high bidder to earn a player’s services. When the Nuggets made it to the Western Conference Finals I wrote that it would make Denver a legitimate destination for players who want to win a championship. With teams like San Antonio and Cleveland reportedly interested in Wallace, if the Nuggets want to go after him it will prove a good test of that theory.

Wallace is not the only free agent that would fit well in Denver. Wallace’s former teammate, Antonio McDyess (unrestricted) would be a good option, if he could be convinced not to hate the Nuggets so much. It would be interesting to have a player who Denver is paying twice. They owe him $3 million as part of the buyout they agreed to with him last season and then if they sign him he would have a current contract on the books as well. What is the old science fiction rule, two instances of the same matter cannot occupy the same space? Perhaps if Denver signs McDyess the universe would collapse upon itself.

I have heard some Nuggets fans hot for Paul Millsap (restricted) and with Carlos Boozer deciding not to opt out of his contract today Utah will be in a tough spot should someone give Millsap a big offer. However, he is not coming to Denver. The only way the Nuggets could bring him on board would be via sign and trade and Utah will put a hit on Millsap before they send him to the Nuggets.

David Lee (restricted) is another player who has been linked to the Nuggets and rumor has it they had worked out a deal for him with the Knicks at the trade deadline but Karl did not want to give up Kleiza. Again, Denver would have to pull off a sign and trade, but with the Knicks looking to create as much cap space as possible for next summer they are not going to want to give Lee a big contract. Would a trade exception and a couple of first round picks get Lee to Denver?

Should the Nuggets fail to nab one of the high profile guys there are a couple of cheap options who could provide some assistance. You may laugh when you read this, but if Denver needs an emergency fill in on the cheap I believe Shelden Williams (unrestricted) would be a good option. He cannot shoot, but he is a big boy who can rebound and block shots. Channing Frye (unrestricted) is a big man who seems to play well with consistent minutes. He is a great midrange shooter and can rebound when he is asked to. One final player who may be of interest is Drew Gooden (unrestricted). He has become a very good rebounder even if he is still a bit rough around the edges.

If Denver does not bring in an exciting free agent all is not lost. They still have two big trade exceptions, $9.8 million (expires November 3, 2009) and $3.24 million (expires January 5, 2010), that they can use to basically buy a player or players from another team. If they cannot sign a free agent they want, they would certainly be able to acquire a player to help via trade.

The big question is will Denver spend what it takes to add to the roster? There has been some consternation that because they are already over the luxury tax limit and with the reduction in spending last summer that Stan Kroenke would not allow the front office to spend any additional money to augment the roster. Kroenke has paid the luxury tax before and I do not think he will say no now as long as doing so makes sense.

For anyone wondering how the world financial crisis is affecting Kroenke I think it is safe to assume he can spend as much money as he wants on the Nuggets. He seems to be taking advantage of the economic recession instead of hoarding his cash in mattresses. He spent over $60 million to increase his ownership in Arsenal of the English Premier League just three months ago. Does that sound like he is freaking out over his Walmart stock?

I think you can count on Denver boosting their talent level and spending the money necessary to do it. Sports Illustrated’s Scott Howard-Cooper seems to be convinced that the Nuggets are going to be aggressive in the free agent market. I expect the same thing. I am convinced Denver wants to make their playoff run a launching point for something better instead of a onetime high point.

Denver did a good job of targeting high energy, athletic and cheap free agents to build a team that can run and play solid team defense.  Hopefully the Nuggets will continue to build a roster of players who can play great team defense, can shoot and play to win and not just for themselves.

Other free agents who I like (are either really good or would be cheaper than they are worth), but are either not going to change teams or Denver would have no interest in:

  • Josh Childress (Restricted – Atlanta Hawks/Greece) – Multi talented
  • Andersen Varejao (Unrestricted – Cleveland Cavaliers) – Scrappy big, great team defender
  • Ersan Ilyasova (Restricted – Milwaukee Bucks/Turkey) – good rebounder and shooter
  • Chris Wilcox (Unrestricted – New York Knickerbockers) – Athletic and possibly cheap
  • Steve Novak (Unrestricted – Los Angeles Clippers) – Deadly shooter
  • C.J. Watson (Restricted – Golden State Warriors) – I like the way he plays
  • Lamar Odom (Unrestricted – Los Angeles Lakers) – No duh
  • Matt Barnes (Restricted – Phoenix Suns) – A more athletic version of LK
  • Hedo Turkoglu (Unrestricted – Orlando Magic) – Versatile, big shot maker
  • Ramon Sessions (Restricted – Milwaukee Bucks) – Can score and distribute

2009 Western Conference Finals Game 4: Denver Nuggets 120 – Los Angeles Lakers 101

Box Score | Highlights

Carmelo Anthony has had a fantastic postseason, but I may have been a little premature to declare him to be up to the challenge of hanging toe to toe with Kobe Bryant over a seven game series.  While Melo has struggled in both home games, game three with foul trouble and game four with stomach and ankle issues, the Nuggets still managed to win one game, ensuring at least one more postseason tilt will take place at the Pepsi Center.

With Carmelo not playing up to par there was no shortage of Nuggets standing in line to make up for his limited production.  Offensively Chauncey fought off another slow start to have a big second half, J.R. Smith finally had a big scoring night and Linas Kleiza had another impressive night off the bench.

Despite the impressive play of those three the real story was the Nuggets’ domination of the paint.  I covered this angle for the Daily Dime (relegated to number nine today) so I will not go into it too much here, but suffice it to say the Nuggets bigs have gone from getting absolutely smoked on the glass in game one, to dueling the Lakers’ bigs to a draw in games two and three to completely owning the boards on both ends of the floor in game four.  The fact that the Lakers have only outclassed the Nuggets on the boards in one game so far is a big deal.

It cannot be overstated how well Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen were.  They outrebounded the Lakers 42-40 all by themselves.  For only the second time all season the Nuggets collected 20 offensive rebounds, they had a season high 25 in game 68 against the Nets.

Even with the dominant play in the paint the first three quarters felt very similar to game three.  The Nuggets were not taking full advantage of their ability to get in the lane and either score, dish off for an easy shot or get to the line.  Denver continued to take, and miss, far too many threes.  After three quarters they had taken 15 three point attempts ignoring the fact they had only cashed in on two of them.  Combined with their 5-27 effort in game three Denver had only made seven of 42 long bombs in seven quarters of basketball on their home court. 

I wish I knew what drives a team who is collectively shooting that badly to keep chucking an average of six three point attempts a quarter.  Of course, you cannot turn your back completely on the three point shot, but when even Kenyon and Birdman are tossing up threes you are going too far (Kenyon’s was a buzzer beater, but he should not have been set up that far out).  I am just asking for a couple fewer attempts per quarter.  Is that so wrong?

Thanks to the Nuggets poor marksmanship Los Angeles was able to cut the Nuggets’ lead down to seven at 77-70 early in the fourth and things were feeling a little too close and the game three déjà vu sensation was only growing stronger.  Then Chauncey and J.R. took over.  The guards scored 23 fourth quarter points and were the driving forces behind the Nuggets 45 point fourth quarter that turned a tight game into a laugher. 

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the offensive surge was that the Nuggets actually made five of their nine three point attempts.  That increase in accuracy could be one of two things, a minor statistical adjustment for their dreadful seven quarter long slump or maybe J.R. and Chauncey are heating up once again.

Even Carmelo got into the act as he scored eight of his 15 points in the fourth quarter thanks partly to having Luke Walton guarding him, but primarily because the Nuggets finally allowed him to receive the ball in the middle of the floor and operate.  It is so obvious that the Lakers cannot handle penetration through the middle of the court, yet still the Nuggets insist on running sets that require the defense be attacked from the wing.  That is what the Lakers want you to do.

I was afraid to write it before the game, but I thought this game was the most likely candidate for a blowout in the series.  With Denver coming off a bad loss at home they would be out for blood and in round two the Lakers followed up a big game three win in Houston with a real stinker of a game in game four that saw them fall behind by more than 30.  Denver ended up winning by 19, but L.A. deserves a lot of credit for playing hard.  They did not quite manage to match Denver’s desire, but they certainly did not mail the game in by any stretch of the imagination.

I think that fact is the ultimate compliment to Denver.  Los Angeles clearly did not take the Rockets seriously enough to play all out every game.  They clearly understand what can happen against Denver if they do not show up to play.

For the first time in franchise history Denver has made it to game five of a conference final with more than a fighting chance to advance.  You can quote percentages about who wins game one and who wins game three all you want, game five is the big one.  The Lakers will be coming out to reestablish size advantage and they will be the ones coming off a loss, but I think everyone who has been watching this series knows Denver is very capable of going into Los Angeles and claiming a series altering victory.

Additional nuggets to come tomorrow later today.

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2009 Western Conference Finals Game 3: Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers Game Thread

How long can the Denver Nuggets continue their home court dominance?  They have won 16 straight games in the Pepsi Center and so far in the 2009 NBA Playoffs the Nuggets have won each of their six home games by at least 12 points.

Of course the Los Angeles Lakers are not the New Orleans Hornets nor are they the Dallas Mavericks.  As Kobe Brant has enjoyed pointing out after game two the Lakers had the best road record in the NBA at 29-12.  To put that in perspective there were 20 teams who failed to win as many as 29 games at home.

To expect another home blowout might be presumptuous.  Of course, after the four conference finals games that have been played the Nuggets three point win in game two has proven to be the largest margin of victory.  One of these games has to be over before the final possession, right?  If not health care facilities in Denver, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Orlando better stock up on defibrillators. 

After two games I do not know that any of us have a better grip on what to expect.  Was the resurgence of Linas Kleiza for real or was it a one night only special event?  Are Anthony Carter and Dahntay Jones both going to be restricted to spot duty?  Will George Karl trot out the big lineup again?  Will either of these teams run?  Can the Nuggets keep the battle on the boards even or will the Lakers size slowly wear them down?  Is this all we can expect out of J.R. Smith?  Is this all we can expect from Lamar Odom?  Is this all we can expect from Andrew Bynum?  Will Nene be the guy who scored 14 points in the first half of game one or will he be the guy who scored six points in the three halves since then?  How long can Kobe carry this team on both ends of the floor?  Will Phil Jackson demote Derek Fisher from potential game two hero to watching Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown from the padded folding chairs?  Who will blink first Kobe or Carmelo?

Pretty much all we do know at this point is both of these teams seem to be very evenly matched and you do not want to build up a double digit first half lead and end up scoring 103 points.  That has not worked yet.

I believe at this point in the series both teams feel just as confident as they did when the series began.  They are both laying in their beds right now thinking to themselves that they should be up 2-0.  Neither team has landed a blow that has rattled the other.  The only way I see that happening is if one team wins both of the games in Denver. 

As good as the Lakers are on the road, they do not play better there than they do at Staples Center.  On the other hand we can expect the Nuggets to play better than they did in those first two games when they were on the road.  While both teams are confident it is clear that the Nuggets have the advantage until the Lakers knock them off in Denver.  That might happen tomorrow or it may not happen at all. Plus if there was any doubt in the Nuggets’ heads before game one, they have been obliterated.

I am pumped because tomorrow I will be attending my first playoff game since the 2005 series against the Spurs.  If you want to say, “hi” or “you suck, quit blogging” or “go Nuggets” I will be planted in section 342, row 4, seat 1 and I will have my baby blue Nuggets shirt on.  I would love to get a chance to meet some of my loyal readers so if you have a minute stop on by.  I have a good bladder and no desire to pay what it costs for a hotdog and a Sprite Pepsi so I will be there all game long.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Featured Nuggets Blogs:  Pickaxe and Roll | Denver Stiffs | Nugg Doctor | Nuggets Nuggetz | Nugg Love check out the Kobe Stop Crying sign pictures and Chauncey’s inbound pass off the back of a defender from his George Washington days

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Take this with you:  Some numbers for your consideration:

  • Denver is 5-0 in the 2009 playoffs when Chauncey scores 25 or more points and they are 3-4 when he scores 24 or less. 
  • After only averaging three fouls a game over the Nuggets first seven playoff games, Nene is averaging five over his last five games. 
  • Carmelo has five straight 30 point playoff games setting a new Nuggets record.  Over the past 25 years only three players have had longer streaks and they are Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan all with streaks of six. 
  • Kobe has five technical fouls in the 2009 postseason and if he hits seven he has to sit a game.

2009 Western Conference Finals Game 2 Additional Nuggets

And now your additional nuggets from game two of the 2009 Western Conference Finals:

 

  • The one thing I kept thinking in the second quarter when the Lakers were pushing their lead up to 14 was where is Chauncey?  Even after Melo got it going to keep the Lakers from blowing the game open the Nuggets were still down 13 late in the second quarter.  Aside from Kleiza, no one else was stepping up to help Carmelo.  After scoring the Nuggets’ first bucket of the game Chauncey only tallied one more point over the next 17:52 he was on the floor. 

    Just like that, Billups exploded.  Chauncey scored seven points over the final 1:11 of the second quarter, including his brilliant self inbounds pass off Kobe’s back.  Even with Melo and Kleiza hitting shots Denver did not get all the way back in the game until Billups went off.

  • The most impressive aspect of Billups self inbounds play to me was not the pass off Kobe’s back but finishing at the rim with Gasol hovering over his shoulder. 
  • A good friend of mine, who happens to be a big Cincinnati Bearcat fan and I think has a picture of Bob Huggins hanging above his bed, mentioned how I was a little too hard on Kenon after the first game.  He did lead the team in rebounding and I thought when he was guarding either Pau or Bynum that he did a good job of holding his ground and not allowing them to get deep in the post, especially when they had the ball and were trying to back him down. 

    Game two was another matter.  Kenyon did provide the bulk of the Nuggets’ offense early on, but defensively he was just watching the game.  At 8:28 of the first quarter Carmelo missed a fast break three point attempt and Dahntay missed a tip attempt.  The Lakers grabbed the rebound and started down the floor.  Both Kenyon and Nene stayed back never crossing half court on the quasi fast break by Denver.  Fisher brought the ball up and Kenyon met him at the three point line on the right wing.  Chauncey came over to help, but never was able to get in position.  Kenyon slid off of Fisher anyway opening up a lane to the rim. Even though he left Fisher he had inside position on Gasol.  Fisher drove on to the rim where Nene challenged his shot and caused a miss.  For some reason as Fisher drove by Kenyon actually drifted away from the lane sacrificing his position on Gasol and as the shot came off the rim Pau was there to tip the ball in.

    Time and again in the early part of the game Kenyon was just watching the action.  Martin played every second of the first 14:41 and did not have a single rebound to show for it.  Kenyon would play another 2:29 after returning in the second quarter before collecting his first, and only defensive rebound of the game. 

  • One of the segments that was cut from my season preview film room post was how the Lakers usually do a great job of taking advantage of mismatches.  So far this series when Pau has Melo or someone even smaller on him Los Angeles has not done a very good job of getting him the ball.  It is not like them to not go into the post in situations like that.  Look for L.A. to try to take better advantage of the Nuggets switching in the games in Denver.
  • Dahntay Jones almost singlehandedly allowed the Lakers into the bonus committing four fouls in 1:24 early in the game.  Jones defense on Kobe has been less than inspiring and I think Karl has to at least toy with the idea of starting J.R. and bringing Jones in for spot duty on players like Farmar and Shannon Brown.  Brown scares me a little and I think Jones could make things hard on him.
  • Chris Andersen has played decently, but we have not yet seen Birdzilla in this series.  No matter how pumped up he gets at the Pepsi Center for games three and four he is going to have to play better post defense on Pau Gasol in order to earn more minutes.  He can do so by putting his entire forearm in Gasol’s back when he is in the post instead of just a hand.  When you use your hand it is almost impossible to stop a decent spin move (see the 1:41 mark of the first quarter for evidence). 

    Try it with a friend, family member or coworker right now.  Get behind them, put your hand on their back while you are both pushing on each other.  Then have them spin one way or the other.  Next do the same thing with your forearm.  Which one do you think is more effective as a defender?  If you still doubt that I know what I am talking about I can put you in contact with people who can vouch for me in this area.

  • Sandy Clough on 104.3 the Fan in Denver asserted that Anthony Carter was the Nuggets best bench player in game one.  I really respect Sandy and he is typically the most well reasoned and informed Nuggets analyst in the entire world.  If I had been drinking something when I heard him say that, it would have ended up outside the boundaries of my mouth very quickly.  On the other end of the spectrum Nate at Pickaxe and Roll in his game two preview called for Carter to play only the minutes that Chauncey needs to rest. I thought that was a little too far to the other side of the Anthony Carter argument, but George Karl sided with Nate over Sandy. 

    Carter played only six minutes.  It was the fewest minutes he was on the floor all season behind a nine minute outing against Toronto on December 2, 2008 (fondly remembered in Canada as the game that ended Sam Mitchell’s coaching career).  Kleiza definitely ate into Carter’s minutes, but if LK can keep hitting his threes, do not forget he was 7-14 from behind the arc against the Hornets in round one, Carter will not have much of a role in this series.  Plus with Denver possibly going big with Melo and Kleiza as the swingmen instead of AC and J.R. as we have seen in the small lineup that had success against Dallas it will relegate AC to strictly the few minutes of backing up Chauncey he received in game two.

  • There has been some discussion in the comments of the game two recap regarding how biased Jeff Van Gundy has been in favor of the Lakers.  My two cents is that I try to come up with insights that were not discussed during the game because anyone who watched the game, which is most of you, already knows it.  During game two I lost track of how many times I thought I need to write X only to have Mark Jackson or Jeff Van Gundy go on to mention that very X I wanted to comment on seconds later.  I think they are doing a very good job. 

    While I appreciate Scott Hastings, I think he gets a little too consumed with the officiating.  I wish we had the option of watching the game on Altitude, but as far as national commentators go Van Gundy and Jackson are doing a good job of pointing out important details during the game. 

    I did not realize that Van Gundy had picked the Lakers in five, but in his defense, when you come out and say something, and you know a lot of people are going to hear/read it, you want to be right.  If you follow fantasy football and read the work of Matthew Berry on ESPN.com you will know that he would rather be right on a prediction than be wrong and as a result have one of his fantasy teams win that week.  There is a high premium on accuracy whether it be in post game analysis or in making future projections.  Of course, everyone who prognosticates in public will be proven wrong at some point, but we do not have to like it.

  • It is not always the announcers that point out aspects of the game I intended to mention, sometimes readers do it too.  Jakester pointed out that the Lakers had three shot clock violations in the third quarter so I guess now I do not have to.
  • I have heard quite a bit of consternation about how the game was called last night.  Of course, fans on both sides felt their team was treated unfairly.  All I will say is I thought there was a lot of inconsistency.  The game would be called tightly for a few minutes, and then they would let them go at it for a while and I thought it was like that all night long.  However, I do not think the officials played a role in the outcome of the game whatsoever.
  • It is obvious that most fans are not pleased with how games are officiated so let’s make a change.  The NBA added a third referee in the 1988-89 season why not add a fourth and try to cut down on the responsibilities that each man or woman has?  Could it hurt?  It would at least show that the league is trying to address the issue.  What do they have to lose?  The extra money they spend in salaries and travel expenses would be well worth it if it could improve the quality of officiating.
  • By the way, I did a search for the term NBA switches to three referees and the second link that came up was my recap for game three against Dallas.  That was not what I intended that post to be about.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  91.3 – Not much running with 15 combined fast break points.

Defensive Efficiency:  112.8 – Getting a little high, but not too bad.

Offensive Efficiency:  116.1 – Very solid performance.

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Make sure to check out the firsthand account posted by Jezru at Pickaxe and Roll!  Good stuff.

 

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