2008-09 Game 65: Denver Nuggets 95 – Houston Rockets 97

Box Score | Highlights

I am not here to make excuses for the Denver Nuggets.  However, knowing the Nuggets were playing their fourth game in five nights against a hot team made victory in this game a long shot.  I think many of the mistakes the Nuggets made tonight were a result of fatigue.

When the body and mind are tired they get lazy and look for shortcuts.  On defense that means laying off your man and not helping your teammates.  Offensively it means standing and watching resulting in the one or two passes and shoot style that is the bane of our existence. 

It is difficult to pick what side of the court the Nuggets lost this game on.  Nene did as good a job as any Nugget ever has on Yao by using his strength to keep him from getting position in the paint.  They gave up a few too many open looks from behind the arc and Houston scored almost at will in the second and third quarters.  However, Denver’s overall defensive numbers for the game were very strong.  Overall it was a good performance however, the subpar effort in the middle quarters cost them the game.

Offensively Denver took the second and third quarters off too.  After building up a ten point lead the Nuggets slowly stopped moving and passing.  The offense became much too stagnant.  Even though the defense could have been better had they made more than 38.1% of their shots, if they even equal the Rockets’ 42.5% they win the game. 

In the end basketball comes down to making shots.  Whether you are facing tough defense or nonexistent defense you need to knock down shots.  The Nuggets missed more layups than I care to track.  They also missed numerous open jumpers.  On one second quarter possession J.R. drove the lane and missed a right handed layup, Birdman missed the tip, but Nene was able to corral the rebound and passed it to Jason Hart.  Hart passed it to Melo on the right wing who drove in and kicked a pass out to J.R. who had no one near him in the right corner.  J.R. missed the open three, but Nene tipped the rebound to Melo who was all alone at the middle of the free throw line and he missed the wide open jumper.  You cannot fail to capitalize on chances like that.

As in the Kings game the Nuggets tried to crank up the intensity and make a late run and just like in the Kings game it was too little too late.  I have no idea why they continue to play a turn it on when it matters style after it has failed game after game since the All-Star break.  If they do not learn their lesson soon it will be too late.

The Nuggets are now a game behind Utah and Portland for the division lead.  They have a day off before Oklahoma City comes to the Pepsi Center.  The Nuggets had better get enough rest so that they can focus for an entire 48 minutes.  They cannot afford to forfeit prolonged stretches of the game to their opponent.  They cannot afford to give away another game to a sub .500 team and hold out any hope that this season will provide a different ending than any of the previous five. 

Additional Game 65 Nuggets

 

  • Driving home from work I heard a replay of an Interview on 104.3 The Fan with Chris Dempsey from the Denver Post.  He claimed in the interview that Kenyon Martin was a good week away from playing again.  I have taken the position that Martin needs to sit out as long as necessary to ensure he is healthy for the playoffs.  I was afraid the current losing streak would provide motivation for Martin to return to early.  Lo and behold look who was in the starting lineup tonight.  Kenyon played somewhat effectively and accumulated 24:05 on the floor.  I am afraid he did come back too soon.  During the very first possession of the third quarter he was on the right side of the hoop and Luis Scola pushed him under the basket after a shot by Yao.  Kenyon jumped up and reached back over his head to try to get the rebound.  I have seen Kenyon struggle with his back enough to see his upright stance after landing was a sign his back was barking at him again.  Kenyon remained in the game another seven minutes, but one he checked out with 4:18 left in the third, he never checked back in.
  • I was hoping Balkman’s performance had earned him some additional playing time, but with the return of Kenyon he saw absolutely no burn.  George Karl did manage to find over 21 minutes of floor time for Linas Kleiza though. 
  • Yao’s length really bothered Nene.  He missed numerous layups around the basket and a dunk because of Yao’s size.
  • This was the sixth time the Nuggets have played six games in nine days and it was the worst performance they have produced in those six situations posting a 1-5 record.  They went 4-2 from November 13-21, 2-4 from November 26-December 4, 2-4 from December 15-23, 5-1 from December 26 -January 3 and 5-1 from February 3-11.  The Nuggets do not have any more six games in nine night sets for the remainder of the season.  They also do not have any more four game in five night stretches either.
  • With 3:58 left in the third quarter J.R. Smith missed a layup attempt over Yao as he chased the rebound down near the Rockets bench he swing his fist in frustration and yelled something at the ref.  He must have said the magic word because three Rockets simultaneously leapt up off the bench and practically chased the ref down the sideline yelling at him to call the technical.  It really was pretty funny to watch their reaction.
  • Entering tonight’s game Shane Battier had missed 18 consecutive three point shots.  I predicted he would make at least three.  I was wrong, he only made two, but his second one was the decisive shot of the night when he put the Rockets up seven with a minute left.  Denver did pull to within two, but they had to start fouling to stop the clock.  If Battier misses that three the game is completely different and maybe Denver even pulls off the unlikely comeback.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  94.7

Defensive Efficiency:  102.4

Offensive Efficiency:  100.3

Featured Blogs:  Rockets Buzz | The Dream Shake

2008-09 Game 62: Denver Nuggets 106 – Portland Trail Blazers 90

Box Score | Highlights

Sure the Denver Nuggets beat the Portland Trail Blazers, but the real story was the homecoming of local boy and Denver hero Michael Ruffin.  What, you guys care more about beating the Blazers than the return of Ruffin?  Well, OK then.

Hopefully we will look at tonight’s game as the return of Carmelo Anthony as a dominant offensive player.  He clearly felt like he had something to prove coming back off of his one game suspension and his play was spectacular.  He was a little jumper happy early on, but he started going to the rim and utilizing his quickness for short pull up jumpers instead of long range ones and Portland had absolutely no answer for him. 

Melo’s displayed his entire arsenal tonight.  He scored off of transition jumpers, pull up jumpers, catch and shoot jumpers, he drove and finished with his right hand, drove and finished with his left.  He ran the floor and was successful on either scoring or getting to the line from the post. 

Almost as encouraging as the play of Melo was the play of J.R. Smith.  I loved the way J.R. was aggressive on both ends of the floor.  On offense he was looking for seams in the defense and succeed in setting up other players as well as getting his own shot off.  Plus he was clearly fired up as the taunting technical for his primal scream that followed his follow up dunk over Joel Przybilla.  J.R. was also all over the glass in the first half. 

Above all else I really enjoyed the defense he played on Brandon Roy.  J.R. has all the physical skills to be a very good one on one defender.  He has just been missing the desire and the mental comprehension of positioning and technique.  Of course, those are two pretty important aspects of playing defense, but one can be created and the other taught.  J.R. appears to be making progress in both areas.

I had hoped to see an over the top defensive effort from Denver.  They fell short of that although I am pretty happy with the way they played.  Brandon Roy was able to get his points although he was never able to take over the game.  Denver showed some cracks though and they allowed the Blazers to stay in the game. 

There were several occasions where they missed a rotation resulting in a wide open look from behind the arc for Steve Blake, Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw and they shot a combined 6-12 on threes.   However, those were not the breakdowns that hurt the Nuggets.  There were really only two stretches where the Blazers controlled the action.  A two and a half minute stretch where they outscored the Nuggets 10-2 and a three minute stretch in the third quarter where they outscored Denver 10-4.  Those two runs the Blazers had came when they were able to consistently score at the rim.  For those who are interested I have put a breakdown of those stretches in the additional nuggets.

The win was an important one and it sets up what may be the biggest game of the season tomorrow night in Utah.  Should the Nuggets pull off a victory in Salt Lake City and build up a two and a half game lead on the Jazz again I will feel very good about Denver’s chances to win the division.  Utah is on fire, but the Nuggets have a far easier schedule from here on out than Utah does. 

Additional Game 62 Nuggets

  • With apologies to Kevin Arnovitz of Clipper Blog I am about to steal his format.

[4:30, 2nd quarter] In the second quarter the Blazers started their run with an impressive fast break alley oop from Roy to Aldridge. 

[4:01,  2nd quarter] After a traveling violation by Kleiza they ran Rudy Fernandez back and forth off the same screen until he finally freed himself up for a three.  

[3:23, 2nd quarter] Melo scored on a runner and then on the other end he attempted to steal a pass into the post by Steve Blake to Aldridge.  He missed getting the steal and to make things worse he fell down.  Aldridge kicked the ball out to Blake and Birdman ran at Blake leaving Aldridge uncovered.  Blake passed the ball back to Aldridge who made a hook shot at the rim.  Had the guards rotated over they could have delayed the play long enough to get Melo back involved. 

[2:32, 2nd quarter] After a couple of missed jumpers Portland goes back and runs Blake and Fernandez off a series of screens.  Nene helps out on one screen leaving Pryzbilla temporarily open and Roy zips a pass to him.  Andersen comes over to help leaving Aldridge open.  Joel dumps the ball over to Aldridge and Nene, attempting to get back in the play fouls LaMarcus for the “and one.”   

That is seven paint points in four possessions.  Now fast forward to the third quarter for the other run the Blazers sprung on Denver.

[9:56, 3rd quarter] After a screen and roll between Roy and Aldridge Portland swings the ball to Blake in the weak side corner for a long two.

[9:15, 3rd quarter] Chauncey misses a contested corner three, coming back at the Nuggets Roy runs off a high screen from Przybilla.  J.R. does a good job fighting through a half hearted screen, but he overruns the play and Nene fails to cut off Roy at the free throw line and Roy gets to the rim for a layup.

[8:51, 3rd quarter] Chauncey throws the ball away attempting a behind the back pass to Nene in the lane triggering a fast break dunk by Nicolas Batum.  Portland is now within two for the first time since the 6:17 mark in the first quarter.

[8:45, 3rd quarter] Time out Nuggets.  Following the break Nene receives a pass at the left elbow and drives right at Przybilla for a layup.  Denver then forces a turnover as Portland tries to post Aldridge and he losses the ball out of bounds.

[7:54, 3rd quarter] Nene hits a 14 footer over Przybilla and Portland responds by running Roy along the baseline off a strong side screen and he receives the pass and drives in the lane.  J.R. is right with him, but he hits a short 13 foot fade away. 

[7:10, 3rd quarter] Nene throws a bad cross court pass that is intercepted by Batum.  The Blazers run out on the break and Batum scores a layup.

Eight points in the paint in six possessions.  Between the two runs Portland put together spanning roughly five minutes they scored 15 of their 38 points in the paint.  The Nuggets helped with turnovers and jumpers that lent themselves to scrambling defense and early offense.

  • Did anyone miss Anthony Carter tonight?
  • I stand by my assessment from before the game that the big difference between these two teams is the Nuggets ability to defend.  Portland is not capable of defending the Nuggets.  I would love to see the Blazers in the playoffs.  Some of you may laugh at the following statement, but they really miss Martell Webster on defense.  For some reason Webster had the ability to frustrate Melo, especially in the post. 
  • There was no single Nugget player who had a negative plus/minus.  No Blazer player had a positive one.
  • Chauncey’s nine assists represented his highest total in a single game since January 17th and it was his third highest total of 2009.  Part of the reason the Nuggets have been struggling shooting the ball is Chauncey has not been getting his teammates easy shots, but tonight seven of his nine assists were on layups or dunks.
  • The movie Ultraviolet may be one of the worst movies I have ever seen, but Mila Jovivich has managed to keep my attention.
  • Portland threw some small lineups out on the Nuggets and they set up a couple of weird matchups for Denver.  There were short sequences where Melo was guarding Steve Blake, Chris Andersen and Nene were taking turns guarding Travis Outlaw and at one point Linas Kleiza was covering Jerryd Bayless.
  • Kleiza’s shot seems to be falling again and that makes him somewhat useful on the basketball court until his next cold stretch.  The bad news is I am afraid he is going to chuck up six or seven threes tomorrow against Utah.  He did take a couple of uncharacteristic pull up midrange jumpers.  Needless to say they clanged off the rim, but it was interesting to watch nonetheless.
  • The TNT crew, especially Charles Barkley, were all over the Nuggets for not putting the Blazers away earlier so they could rest their starters.  Denver was close to bowing the game open a couple of times, but it is not like Portland is a YMCA team.  The Nuggets handed them their third worst loss of the season as it was.  You cannot just blow out a quality team because you fell like it.  Sure it would be nice, but that is not how the NBA works.
  • I like J.R. Smith in the starting lineup.  He played point when Chauncey took his typical early second quarter rest.  He started with a beautiful bounce pass to a streaking Kleiza for a layup.  He made a complex set of moves to drive past Bayless and get to the rim, but he missed the lay in.  He hit a pull up jumper after Melo initiated the offense.  He delivered a how did he see that cross court pass to Kleiza who drove the baseline, but missed the layup.  He initiated the zone offense and hit a three of a skip pass.  As a backup point guard he might be as good as it gets in the NBA.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  88.6 – Closer to Portland’s ideal pace than the Denver’s ideal pace.

Defensive Efficiency:  101.6 – Very good considering Portland is the second best team in the NBA in offensive efficiency.

Offensive Efficiency:  119.6

Featured Blogs:  Blazer’s Edge | Center Court | Rip City Project 

2008-09 Game 61: Denver Nuggets 95 – Detroit Pistons 100

Box Score | Highlights

The Denver Nuggets just cannot beat the Detroit Pistons.  They dropped another winnable game on the road and it is officially time to really start to be concerned about this team. 

The Pistons started the game off on fire making six of their first eight shots, and they were able to collect the offensive rebound on both of the misses and eventually convert.  Fortunately for the Nuggets Chauncey was making everything he threw up too.  Billups clearly felt comfortable returning to Detroit and he lit up his former team scoring 21 first half points on 7-11 shooting.  The first half was not just all about Chauncey though as Denver was able to find a lot of holes in the Piston defense on their way to 54 first half points.

The Nuggets started the second half out strong as well using the pick and roll to continue to create holes in the defense.  Chauncey made a three, his fourth of the game, with 8:26 left that put the Nuggets up 65-54 and gave him 26 points on the night. 

At that point Richard Hamilton had seen enough.  After the ensuing Pistons possession Hamilton stood under the basket, made a gesture to Rodney Stuckey who had been covering Billups that communicated, “This is not working, you guard Dahntay Jones because he cannot score” and he began hounding Chauncey all over the court.  Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess then began trapping Chauncey off of screens and that really slowed down the Nuggets attack.  For the rest of the night the Nuggets struggled to score.  In fact, from the time Hamilton started covering Billups the Nuggets only scored 12 points over the next 12 minutes and only scored 30 points over the final 20 minutes.  The only reason they managed to score that many points was because J.R. Smith put up ten points in the final five minutes of the game.

Even with the limited offense if J.R. converts on a dunk attempt, on which he may or may not have been fouled by McDyess (Altitude never showed a replay of what may have been the most important play in the game, but after watching it a few times it did not look like McDyess touched the ball at all), The Nuggets might have pulled this game out.

In a game without Carmelo the Nuggets’ supporting cast was just not strong enough.  Linas Kleiza started, but was virtually useless scoring only two points in 26 minutes proving his one point performance in the first meeting was not a fluke.  Kenyon Martin shot 3-13 and scored a measly six points.  Chris Andersen missed jumpers and tip ins alike to finish 1-8.  Even with his strong finish J.R. was a sorry 6-16.  A major key to the game was in the second half Chauncey, Nene and J.R. scored all but five points for Denver.  A team with only a couple of weapons can be easily defended.

In the third quarter Detroit only had to worry about Chauncey and Nene.  After Nene made a jumper less than a minute into the fourth quarter he only attempted two more shots and one of those was a meaningless three at the final horn.   After Nene’s final bucket early in the fourth Chauncey and J.R. scored all of the Nuggets points, but one, a free throw by Anthony Carter.  You want your best players to shine down the stretch, but the lack of diversity in the Nuggets offense played into the Piston’s hands. 

Defensively the Nuggets played hard for most of the game, but they did not play together.  Almost all of the Pistons’ shots were uncontested as defenders either blew assignments and rotations or were simply out of position.

I was worried about how the Nuggets would respond to the suspension of Carmelo and I thought they played hard.  I think that the fact it was Chauncey’s homecoming game helped keep the effort up.  Unfortunately the focus and determination just was not there, especially on defense.

Up next the Nuggets return home for a Thursday battle with the second place Trail Blazers and then follow that up the next night with a battle against the surging Jazz in Utah.

Additional Game 61 Nuggets

 

  • It was great to see Chauncey receive such a warm greeting from Piston fans.  I do not think anyone expected anything less.  Even though the Nuggets lost I was glad to see Chauncey have a nice night posting a new season high. 
  • Sticking with Chauncey I thought he provided Carmelo a great example of how to trust your teammates.  Instead of forcing his offense down the stretch Chauncey deferred to J.R. and Smith carried the Nuggets offense and almost pulled the game out on his own pouring in 14 fourth quarter points. 
  • Kleiza played 26 minutes, which was far too many, but even though George Karl gave him that many minutes it was still encouraging to see Karl use Renaldo Balkman as much as he did in an attempt to slow down Tayshaun Prince.  Kleiza played hard, but had no answer for Prince’s offensive arsenal.  Prince scored nine points in the first nine minutes of the game being guarded by Kleiza, but only three more the rest of the half being covered by Balkman.  In the second half Prince scored four points on Kleiza in nine minutes, and seven on Balkman over the final 15 minutes.  However, Prince scored a layup after Balkman had to switch off of him and he made a three when Balkman had to help on penetration, but amazingly Renaldo still managed to get from under the hoop to the corner to challenge the shot.  The final tally was 13 points off of Kleiza over 18 minutes and ten off of Balkman in 24 minutes, but as I pointed out, five of those points on Balkman came as a result of him leaving Prince through the design of the defense.  Again, we can only hope that we see more of Balkman in the next few weeks.
  • Something is wrong with Kenyon Martin.  With 4:16 left in the second quarter Martin received a beautiful behind the back pass from Chauncey under the rim.  He tried to dribble over to the left side of the rim, elevate and dunk, but he barely got the ball up to the rim.  He is also not getting his typical elevation on his push shots around the rim and they are al coming up short.  Since he sat out the Milwaukee game to rest his back he has shot 15-45 and not all of those 30 misses have been jumpers.  According to his Hotspot chart  from NBA.com over those five games he is shooting only 14 of 29 from in close. 
  • Kenyon Martin shooting last five games
  • As in the Pacer game the Nuggets inability to collect rebounds late in the game hurt them.  With 1:37 left down 94-90 they forced Rasheed Wallace to take a long three.  Rodney Stuckey jumped over Billups and taped the ball back towards half court.  Rip Hamilton chased it down and passed it to Sheed before falling out of bounds.  Not one Nugget chased after the ball.  On their next possession Prince missed a jumper with 41 seconds left, but the ball bounced past Billups and Smith to Stuckey.  Game over.
  • The Nuggets free throw shooting was another problem, especially during the third quarter.  At one point the Nuggets missed five of six free throws.  It also did not help that they only made it to the line 22 times.  

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  79.4 – Very slow partly due to the lack of turnovers, only 17 combined, and offensive rebounds, 28 total. 

Defensive Efficiency:  126.0 – Very poor. 

Offensive Efficiency:  119.7 – This number belies how bad they were in the second half thanks to Billups hot first half and J.R.’s hot final five minutes.

Featured Blogs:  Piston Powered | Detroit Bad Boys

2008-09 Game 61: Denver Nuggets at Detroit Pistons Game Thread

The Denver Nuggets have had a difficult time winning games in a couple of places around the NBA.  In recent seasons they broke a long jinx in Sacramento.  Last month the Nuggets stopped a long losing streak in Orlando.  With that victory against the Magic the Palace in Auburn Hills now fills the role as the Elm Street for the Nuggets nightmare.  Denver has not won a game at the Palace since a 99-88 win on March 10, 1995, when Grant Hill was a rookie and Joe Dumars was still four seasons away from retiring.  By the way, the Pistons had the sixth worst record that season.

As everyone knows by now Carmelo will not take part in the game tonight and even though he is suspended I found it odd that he returned to Denver instead of taking part in practice Monday and sitting on the bench to support his teammates.  We could speculate all day about the significance of his departure, but for now let’s just focus on the game tonight.

The Nuggets are struggling having lost four of their last six games including three straight on the road while after losing eight straight the Pistons have beaten the Magic and the Celtics on the road.  Coinciding with that two game winning streak is the absence of Allen Iverson officially due to a back strain, but unofficially due to the decision to move him to the bench. 

While you can make a very strong argument that the Pistons are better off without AI, it is more difficult to do so with the Nuggets missing Carmelo.  If someone else was experiencing a hot streak there might be some hope that he will step up and fill Melo’s offensive shoes, but the entire Nuggets team is in the midst of a prolonged shooting slump.  As those of you who read this blog regularly know I track various Nuggets stats from game to game and post them on the right sidebar.  For what seems like weeks the Nuggets field goal percentage has held steady at 47.2%.  Today it stands at 46.8%.  That may not seem like a significant drop off, but consider this.  The Nuggets as a team are shooting only 43.8% since the All-Star break.  When everyone is struggling like that it makes it doubly difficult to replace your best offensive player.

Carmelo missed the first meeting between the two teams due to his fractured hand and the Nuggets struggled to score so we may be able to soak up some insight from that game. 

According to the game notes Karl has selected Linas Kleiza to start in Melo’s small forward spot.  Kleiza has proven to be a streaky scorer and the Nuggets will need him to switch over from his current cold streak to a hot streak mighty quickly.  The chances of Kleiza suddenly breaking out are greatly reduced by the fact that he is going to be checked by Tayshaun Prince.  Kleiza shot 0-6, missing a couple of open layups to boot, and scored one point in over 34 minutes in the first meeting.

The Nuggets will also need a big night from J.R. Smith as well although unlike Kleiza Smith will need to do more than score.  He will need to be aggressive and attack the paint in order to create easy scoring opportunities for both himself as well as his teammates.  J.R. shot 3-13 in the first meeting.

Of course aside from Melo’s suspension is Chauncey’s first game back in Detroit since he was traded to the Nuggets.  Undoubtedly Chauncey will experience a wide range of strong emotions.  Chauncey had a nice game attacking the rim, but as the game wore on he forced some three point attempts.  Billups will have to duplicate his 11-19 effort from the first game for the Nuggets to have a shot.

It would be nice to have Nene provide some post offense although he struggled to do so against the Pistons physical front line in the first matchup.  Nene only shot 3-7, but he did get to the line 12 times.  The Nuggets will need him to step up tonight.

Kenyon is always capable of having a nice offensive game when he is getting in the lane instead of hoisting jumpers, but in the first meeting he shot a sorry 6-15.

More so than raising individual games the Nuggets must raise their collective team game.  They will need to play with the focus and desire on defense that they displayed against the Lakers and on offense they can earn good shots for each other by playing unselfishly and patient offense.  Unfortunately with Melo out the offense has a tendency to become stagnant with one pass and a jump shot as everyone is trying to make up for Melo’s absence on their own. 

The way Denver is playing right now I really do not like their chances tonight.  I am almost as down on their chances tonight as I was before the Laker game, but I will hold off on any prediction of doom so soon after being proven wrong just a few days ago.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Previous Matchup:   Game 38 – Den 90 Det 93

Featured Blogs:  Piston Powered | Detroit Bad Boys 

Why Was Carmelo Anthony Suspended?

I was hoping to post some video of Carmelo refusing to come out of the game, but there was no such event shown on the television broadcast.  If reports that the “incident” occurred in the third quarter the likely point in time everything went down was with 1:13 left in the quarter.  Kleiza had walked to the scorer’s table waiting to check in.  Chauncey Billups made a three to push the Nuggets lead up to seven and Jim O’Brien called a timeout.  

At the time I though it was odd that George Karl had Kleiza replace Kenyon Martin as the Pacers had both Murphy and Foster in the game.  In fact heading into the timeout the Pacers actually had Rasho Nesterovic and Foster in the game making it even less likely that Karl’s plan was to have Kleiza replace Kenyon.

I checked the game logs and it is not rare for either Carmelo or Kenyon to play the entire third quarter although the substitution took place right about the average time that Melo is removed from the game.  (Yes, I did the math and in the 42 games where Melo played in the third quarter, but was not removed due to foul trouble Melo’s average departure time in the third quarter is with 82.6 seconds left.  Fifteen times he has played the entire third quarter.)

The point of all that is that the only oddity that was noticeable was that Kleiza came in for Martin to play power forward against a big opposing front line.  There was no consternation or signs of disagreement with anyone, but to me there are some questions that need to be answered.  Why did Melo not want to leave the game?  Why could he and Karl work it out?  How did they come to the decision that Martin would be the one to come out of the game?

As far as Melo’s reasoning for not wanting to come out of the game I think it was primarily because he finally starting making some shots.  In the first quarter Melo started off ice cold missing his first three shots.  With 2:18 left in the first quarter he drove the baseline and was fouled.  He made both free throws to score his first two points and then the next trip down the floor he received the ball on the right block, got a pick from Kenyon dribbled twice to his left, rose up and hit a 14 foot jumper.  It looked like he might have been hitting a groove and then Karl took him out of the game.  

Fast forward to the third quarter and Kleiza got off the bench to enter the game at the 2:20 mark when the game was tied at 62.  Melo had just missed a contested 13 foot jumper (another one in a long line of contested jumpers he attempted that night).  However, between the time Karl called Kleiza’s name and there was a dead ball Melo hit a (contested) 17 foot jumper in transition and he made a (contested) 22 footer.  It was the first time Melo made two consecutive jumpers since the Atlanta game (and that is being generous as those two jumpers were separated by a little break called halftime).  Melo had basically played eight straight quarters without making consecutive jumpers.  I doubt that he realized that fact, but you better believe he knew he had not been shooting well and may have felt like he was finally heating up.  

Now take into account that he plays the entire third quarter about one third of the time (fact), he had done so for three straight games (fact), he had finally hit consecutive jumpers (fact) and that he may have felt like he was removed from the game in the first quarter when he was starting to heat up (speculation) and I can see why Melo would have wanted to stay in the game.  

That leads me to my next question.  If Melo is starting to feel like he is getting in a rhythm during the timeout couldn’t he and Karl have had a brief discussion and decided that either yes, Melo could stay in the game or no, he may have finally made a couple of jumpers, but they were not quality shots?  Pitchers in baseball get to lobby for why they should stay in the game all the time.  It is not that difficult of a conversation.

Finally when Melo chose on his own to stay in the game, how did it come to pass that Kenyon took a seat?  Was it voluntarily, thus putting the team before himself and showing leadership?  Did Karl tell him to sit out?  Did Melo ask him to sit out so he could keep playing?  Did they do rock-paper-scissors?  Of all the games not to have a sideline reporter.

Nevertheless, Melo did respond by hitting a (contested) three on the first possession after the timeout, but he bricked a bad (contested) drifting 20 foot jumper along the left baseline to end his streak of three straight made jumpers.  It is interesting to note that Melo remained in the game to start the fourth quarter, but Karl replaced him with Nene less than two minutes in.  There was no footage of his demeanor upon leaving the game as the play preceding the stoppage in play was a controversial charging call on J.R. Smith and Altitude was showing the replay and a closeup of the back of J.R.’s head.  

When Melo arrived on the bench, he did not sulk or go to the end of the bench in anger of being pulled from the action.  He was the closest player to Karl with only Tim Grgurich between the two of them.  There were no harsh words or apparent ill will between anyone.  The entire episode appeared to be as low key as any transgression I have ever seen a player suspended over although obviously at this point we have no idea what was said in the huddle or after the game.

Of course it is possible that the timeout at the 1:13 mark was not the point where Melo refused to exit the game, but no other point in the third quarter makes any sense. 

As I said in my initial reaction, if Melo did indeed disobey Karl, then that is an infraction that cannot be tolerated no matter how cordial the disagreement was.  We will see how the team reacts playing in an arena that they have had very little success in over the years.

2008-09 Game 60: Denver Nuggets 94 – Indiana Pacers 100

Box Score | Highlights

You always wonder what a vagrant does with the quarter or dollar you give him.  Will he use it for food or for some green tea or will he use it for booze and mind altering substances?  Imagine a starving panhandler getting $50 bucks, but instead of buying food he spends $25 on a hooker and the other $25 on some yam-yam only to find out that the hooker was a transvestite and the opium was actually sawdust. 

That is exactly what the Nuggets pulled on us.  The win against the Lakers was like getting the $50.  Tonight’s loss to the Pacers was, well as the late Paul Harvey would say, “The rest of the story.”

The Nuggets have now lost four straight games against teams who are currently under .500.  For some reason all the talk that every game is important seems to be just talk.  I think we all knew that there was going to be some let down after the way Denver played against the Lakers, but this type of drop off is just unacceptable.  I understand that there are nights where there is a lid on the basket, but effort and defense needs to be a constant.  I am not saying the Nuggets did not play hard or want to win, but they did not match the effort of the Pacers.

The Nuggets posted a decent defensive efficiency rating for the game and the Pacers only made 38.5% of their shots, but it was not a great defensive game by Denver.  They almost always had a breakdown that led to an open look for the Pacers.  One unpleasant surprise was the return of switching screens.  Indy ran some three man weave and Denver responded by switching.  The bigs also switched on down screens.  The Pacers had a set where they had Roy Hibbert set a down screen for Troy Murphy.  The Nuggets had Nene stay out to prevent Murphy from getting an open look from three, but that left the seriously outmatched Kenyon Martin on Hibbert who was just too big.

I understand why on paper it may make sense to switch in those situations, but I continue to believe it makes for a passive mindset.

The Nuggets now face three very difficult games and do not look now, but there is a decent chance their once apparently safe divisional lead could be all but whipped out by this time Friday night.  If the Nuggets have forgotten the importance of every game, they will soon be reminded of that fact.

Additional Game 60 Nuggets

  • I realize that no one was really playing well tonight, but why on earth was Linas Kleiza of all people on the floor for 12 of the final 13 minutes of the game?  Does his presence give them the best chance to win?
  • Apart from a minute and a half stretch towards the end of the third quarter where Chauncey Billups, J.R. Smith and Melo all hit jumpers and the Nuggets scored 13 points the offense was just pathetic.  The Nuggets offense has been faltering lately.
  • I think the last time Kenyon made a jumper I was shopping for Christmas presents, but God bless him, he won’t let that get in the way of him hoisting more of them up.
  • Nene was called for a five second violation and I think it might have been the first time I have ever seen that call made.  The players who necessitated such a rule have long since retired.  Anyway, the call was not Nene’s fault.  He had the ball in the post and the Pacers sent a soft double his way.  The other four Nuggets combined to move about a foot and a half as they all watched Nene wondering what he might do.
  • I do not want to think about this game anymore.  Then again, I do not want to look forward to the Detroit game either because bad things happen to the Nuggets in Detroit.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  95.6

Defensive Efficiency:  104.6

Offensive Efficiency:  98.4

Featured Blog:  Indy Cornrows 

2008-09 Game 59: Denver Nuggets 90 – Los Angeles Lakers 79

Box Score | Highlights

Will you all forgive me?  As I am sure most of you know I said repeatedly that the Denver Nuggets had no chance to win this game.  Turns out they had a slight chance.  The only person I did see who said that the Nuggets would win this game was Nate over at my old stomping grounds Pickaxe and Roll. 

I was right about one thing though.  I said if Denver did somehow pull this one out it would be all about their defense.  Well, Denver played some of their best defense of the season holding the Lakers to 29.8% shooting and a season low 79 points.  Both teams combined to shoot 5-42 from behind the arc and the second half was flat out ugly as the two teams combined to shoot 27-84, which equates to 32.1%.

So after three such terrible defensive games how on earth did they manage to turn things around?  As I think I wrote somewhere the issue was as much mental as physical.  Great defensive teams know how who is supposed to be where at all times.  They are a step ahead of the offense.  Tonight he Nuggets played that style of defense.

They hounded Kobe all over the floor, but they did not ignore the other members of the team.  Los Angeles had very few open shots and I do not recall any uncontested shots under the basket.  It may have been the most consistently strong defense from start to finish of any single game this season.  Even when they had nights as they did against Orlando, the Magic missed a lot of open shots.  That is not to say the Lakers did not miss a few here and there to, but most of their 66 misses came as a result of being challenged. 

Kobe traditionally torches the Nuggets, but not tonight.  Dahntay Jones, J.R. Smith and Carmelo deserve a lot of credit for pressuring Kobe into mostly jumpers.  Kobe only got into the lane on five or six occasions.  Almost all of his shots came from 16 feet out or further and he ended up shooting 10-31.  He did score 29 points, but it was a very quiet 29, but more importantly a very inefficient 29. 

Dahntay Jones held Kobe to 2-11 shooting plus 5-6 from the line.  He was very physical drawing a double technical on the two of them early in the game. 

I thought J.R. Smith played perhaps the best defense of his career tonight.  Kobe shot 4-13 against him and did not get to the line on J.R.

Kobe experienced one hot streak and it was when Carmelo was covering him.  Kobe made four of his five shots against Melo and I thought the comment by Scott Hastings that Kobe’s competitive fire was stoked by Melo trying to get up in his business. 

Kobe went 1-1 from the field against Chauncey, but 0-2 from the line and he shot 0-1 against Kenyon. 

In the past the primary defender on Kobe whenever he was in the game was Anthony Carter.  Carter only found himself on Kobe a few possessions and Kobe did not attempt a shot against him, but he did get to the line twice making three of four free throw attempts. 

(I missed a free throw in there that he made instead of missed, but I am not going to go through the game again to figure out which one it was.)

Another key to the game was that the Lakers did not run very much pick and roll action and when they did the screener rarely rolled.  D.J. Mbenga was the only screener who would roll after every ball screen and needless to say they were not exactly looking for him.  The handful of times they did run the pick and roll the Nugget bigs did a good job of hedging and recovering. 

Instead of going through individual defensive possessions, you can all look for a film room segment to document the Nuggets effort on D.

Looking at the flow of the game itself Denver came out hoisting jumpers in the third quarter and they saw their six point halftime lead disappear quickly.  The final straw seemed to be when Dahntay Jones attempted an 18 footer with about 16 seconds left on the shot clock.  After that Chauncey started going to the basket and J.R. Smith came in soon after.  Billups got to the line and made a couple of baskets in the lane.  He also drained a three and that shot seemed to give the Nuggets the boost of confidence they needed.  He scored the first nine points of the third quarter and kept the Nuggets in the game. 

Denver was successful on offense when they were patient and worked the ball inside.  J.R. Smith did a great job of penetrating and either finishing or getting a teammate a good scoring opportunity.  He shot very poorly, and too often, from behind the arc, but the Lakers had no answer for him when he drove.  He finished the game having attempted a season high ten free throws and even though he only had two assists he made passes that got his teammates to the line at least three times. 

Even with the play of Chauncey and J.R. the player of the game was without a doubt Birdzilla.  Chris Andersen was incredibly active and had a good matchup in Pau Gasol.  He played very good man to man defense and was a big reason why the Lakers shot such a low percentage erasing seven shots on his own.  Birdman also did a good job of finishing around the rim and he has perfected the little dippity doo finish on the opposite side of the rim.  Perhaps the most impressive part of Birdman’s night is not only did he play the entire fourth quarter, he entered the game with 6:11 left in the third quarter and did not come out once after that.  Karl knew who was buttering his toast tonight.

This win helps erase some of the sting from the losses to the Bulls and Bucks and hopefully it gives the Nuggets some momentum heading into their quick roadie to Indianapolis and Detroit.  Plus I am sure they had my posts up on the whiteboard in the locker room before the game and took great pleasure in proving me wrong.  Congratulations to them, they deserve it.

Additional Game 59 Nuggets

 

  • I have wondered and wondered how the Lakers could send guys like Vladimir Radmanovic and Luke Walton out to guard Carmelo and have such good success shutting him down.  Tonight I finally noticed why and it is so simple I am embarrassed that I did not notice it sooner.  Whoever is guarding Melo crowds him.  They basically body him up even when he faces up to the basket.  That takes away his midrange jumper unless he takes it immediately off the catch.  He also overplays to the baseline to keep Melo out of the lane and to funnel him to their help spots.  Hopefully other teams are not paying attention.
  • I think we may have received a preview of George Karl’s playoff rotation tonight.  Anthony Carter and Linas Kleiza played sparingly.  Kleiza played a season low tying 11 minutes and Carter played his fourth straight game of 18 minutes or less.  Birdman, continuing to earn more burn, played a season high 28 minutes. 
  • Before the game George Karl said he wanted to keep Nene’s minutes down to 20 to 25 and he did it.  I wondered why he did not play Nene in the third, but it turned out it was because he was saving him for the fourth.  Karl handled that situation well.
  • The Lakers bench was terrible tonight.  They accounted for seven points on 3-19 shooting. 
  • It was nice to see the return of the running game.  Denver had accumulated seven straight quarters without scoring a single fast break point starting with the second quarter of the Celtics debacle.  Tonight they ended up with 18 and did a good job of transitioning turnovers and long rebounds into scoring opportunities. 
  • Melo deserves credit for the way he has been hitting the glass lately.  He snagged 12 boards tonight and over his previous eight games has had fewer than eight rebounds only once.  Of course there were a lot of rebounds to go around tonight though.
  • The Lakers completely dominated the Nuggets on the offensive boards as they corralled 22 for the game.  Of course, when you miss that many shots you are going to get some of the misses, but that is no excuse.  The Lakers actually earned 22 more shots than the Nuggets took due to their ability to get the offensive boards.  Los Angeles is a good rebounding team as it is, but I think the Nuggets rotations may have caused them to get out of position to box out.  Of course there were also several instances where they were shot watching instead of locating their man to keep him off the boards.
  • In my pregame conglomeration of data I wrote that I did not think the fact that the Lakers played last night would have an effect on the game.  They noted on the telecast that Los Angeles did not get in until 4:00 AM.  Even though they did not have a strenuous game against Phoenix I think it is safe to say getting in that late may have caused a negative impact on their performance.
  • The crowd seemed to be a little too heavy with Lakers fans and also a little too apprehensive to get involved until it became clear the Nuggets would pull the game out.  How come the slow economy helps the visiting team get more fans in the building?  It is not like most Laker fans are doctors or attorneys.  I guess they only have to save up for two tickets a season.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  92.0 – Just a tad slower than the typical Nuggets home game.

Defensive Efficiency:  85.9 – Tied for the third best single game mark of the season, but this one was against the number one team in terms of offensive efficiency in the NBA.

Offensive Efficiency:  97.8 – Bad, but not atrocious.  Well, OK, it was kind of atrocious.

Featured Blogs:  Forum Blue & Gold | Lakers Blog | Lakers Nation

2008-09 Game 56: Denver Nuggets 117 – Milwaukee Bucks 120

Box Score | Highlights

I do not understand how this team’s collective mind works.  Coming off a loss to an inferior team and playing another inferior team they play brain dead basketball and drop a very winnable game.  How can a team play three straight games of great defense and then come out and play two games where they look like they have no clue how to cover for each other and rotate?  I just do not get it.

How many times did you see the Bucks rotating the ball and Denver appear to be taken completely off guard when the pass went into the corner for an open three?  That is a staple of every offense in the NBA yet time after time there was a Nugget standing in the lane completely oblivious to the fact that they needed to be running at the shooter in the corner until after he caught the ball.  They also did a great job of sending two guys at a shooter thus ending any hope of their rotation going smoothly. 

The offense was not above reproach either.  They did score 117 points and posted a very good offensive efficiency rating, but they turned the ball over 24 times.  If they manage to only turn the ball over 20 times, which still would have been offensive, they win that game.  Most of the turnovers were unforced mindless decisions.  The best example was J.R. Smith throwing a pass directly at Anthony Carter when Carter is way out in front of everyone and bouncing it off his head out of bounds.  All he had to was loft the ball in the air and let Carter get it. 

I can imagine some folks are saying that it was the last game in a long eight game road trip, but that is bunk.  This was a three game road trip with no back to back games against three mediocre eastern conference teams and the Nuggets went 1-2.  The Nuggets’ three and a half game lead over Portland over the All-Star break is now done to one and a half.

The other story, and potentially more important plotline, is the knee injury to Nene.  I heard the play on the radio and had no idea how he sustained it thus making me nearly catatonic, which is not a good state to be in when behind the wheel.  Needless to say as soon as I got home I raced to watch how it happened and was relieved to see that it was a knee to knee hit.  Not to say that what happened to him was not incredibly painful, but knee to knee hits do not tear ligaments or destroy cartilage.  Nene will almost assuredly miss tonight’s game against the Celtics, but I would not expect him to be out for long.

Denver now comes home for three tough home games against the Celtics, Hawks and Lakers.  It is entirely possible that they stumble through a 1-4 or even 0-5 stretch.  If there is a lesson here for Denver to latch onto it is that they cannot count on flipping the switch in the fourth quarter. 

Additional Game 56 Nuggets

 

  • Renaldo Balkman started in place of Kenyon Martin and played the beginning of both halves.  When he left the game in the first quarter Charlie Villanueva had four points.  When Balkman was in the game in the third quarter Villanueva scored three points, one of which was a technical free throw.  Villanueva was on the floor for 17 minutes while Balkman was on the floor and he scored seven points.  The other 20 minutes Vilanueva was on the floor with Balkman on the bench he scored 29 points.  And George Karl said he wished he had the courage to play Balkman more in the second half (last sentence of this article).  What kind of courage does it take to play a guy who can shut down the opposing player that is slaying you?  It is not like Balkman was killing them on offense.  He scored ten points in his 17 minutes and eight of those ten were on layups and dunks.  The other two points were from the free throw line after he was fouled on a layup attempt.
  • The Bucks were running a lot of three man weave triggered off a screen from the right wing at the top of the three point circle.  The Nuggets response was to switch off.  The result was a lot of Nene getting stuck at the top of the circle switching onto perimeter player after perimeter player.  In fact, that was the reason he was on Richard Jefferson on the play where he hurt his knee.  
  • With the Nuggets down three and 30 seconds left in the game they ran a play that brought J.R. off of a double screen to try to tie the game.  He was hounded pretty well by Luc Mbah Bahmoute or whatever his name is and ended up forcing up an air ball.  I think George Karl has done a pretty good job of drawing up plays all season whether they be out of timeouts or at the end of games, but in that situation, you take the quick two and foul.  If you miss the three the game is over.  Do not resort to shots like that until they are absolutely necessary.  With the Nuggets down four and 17.8 seconds left he drew up a play where Melo curled of a screen, received the inbounds pass on the left wing and drove right to the rim.  The result was Melo scored in only 2.5 seconds.  As Jason Kosmicki astutely pointed out on the radio, if they run that play instead of the double screen for J.R. they are only down one with 25 or so seconds left with the Bucks shooting free throws instead of down three with the Bucks at the line.  If they miss a free throw (which both Ridnour and Sessions did in the closing seconds) you are only down two and in great position to send it to OT. 
  • Another of the 24 turnovers that made me nuts was a fast break where Anthony Carter had the ball and Melo is way out in front, the defender, Charlie Bell is at the free throw line and as Carter enters the front court he commits to Carter.  At this point AC is well outside the three point line.  With Bell having changed directions all Carter has to do is lob the ball over his head to Melo.  Instead Carter continues to dribble and runs all the way into Bell before trying to pass to the wide open Melo.  The result was a lazy over head pass that was easily deflected and stolen by Bell and a clear path foul called on Kleiza.  The Nuggets stopped the Bucks on the following possession, but it was a four point swing as Bell made both free throws.  Just a horrible play.
  • The Bucks went small to start the fourth quarter and Andersen was in the game.  It would have been a perfect time to bring Balkman back in, but Karl stayed with Andersen who gave up a jumper to Villanueva and then a drive and dunk to Joe Alexander and then another jumper to Villanueva.  Alexander and Villanueva were the “bigs” in the game for the Bucks.  I am not faulting Andersen, he was playing hard.  He even worked to deny the ball to Alexander way out past the three point line.  The Bucks were able to take Birdman out of the paint and out of his game.  At the other end on one occasion Birdman was being guarded by Luke Ridnour at the rim, but Melo was so determined to post up Charlie Bell he did not even look Andersen’s way.  Andersen did make a couple of nice plays such as an offensive put back and a huge block on Alexander at the rim, but I really think Karl missed a chance to matchup better with Balkman.
  • Karl’s other option would have been to insert Nene and go medieval on their heinies.  When Karl did sub Nene in with 7:07 left in the game Skiles responded by removing Ridnour for Cisco Elson.  The Nuggets were only outscored by one during the small ball segment of the fourth, but had they used Balkman I believe they would have been much better off.
  • For some reason now that Kleiza has made a couple of threes he is going to the rim more.  Do not ask me why he was not attacking the hoop in the middle of his 0-16 three point shooting slump.  Anyway he had a beautiful take with 7:33 left in the fourth where he received the pass on the right side a little bit above the baseline.  He exploded past Alexander with a great first step, took one dribble, took his two steps and laid the ball in the net.  That is a drill that every player should work on, getting to the rim off of one dribble from your respective three point line (whatever the distance may be at your level) and for Kleiza to do it in a game and leave an athlete like Alexander in the dust was beautiful.  (This however does not give him a pass for his atrocious defense all game long.)
  • Chauncey picks up his dribble way too much.
  • Mr. Big Shot reared his ugly head again as with the Nuggets down 114-113 with about 1:30 left in the game Chauncey brought the ball up the floor and took a three with 14 seconds left on the shot clock.  I think most if not all of us can agree that J.R. tends to take too many shots like that so what kind of example is Chauncey setting for J.R. when he takes those shots?  How can the coaching staff get on J.R. without getting on Chauncey? 
  • While we are on Chauncey he displayed some absolutely atrocious court sense he displayed by stepping well over the three point line on his desperation with Denver down three and only six seconds left in the game.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  98.9

Defensive Efficiency:  121.3 – Ugh.

Offensive Efficiency:  118.3 – Again with 24 turnovers.

Featured Blog:  Brew Hoop

2008-09 Game 55: Denver Nuggets 99 – Chicago Bulls 116

Box Score | Highlights

 If you play with fire eventually you will have to get out of the kitchen.  Friday night the Chicago Bulls proved to have too many cooks and the Nuggets ended up finding out that if you may be able to fool some of the worms early enough, but in the end it’s the thought that counts.

Don’t worry, it makes sense to me.

The Nuggets have had a tendency of thinking that they can just turn it on at the end of games (playing with fire) and pull out win after win.  Well it did not work Friday night in Chicago (they had to get out of the kitchen).  Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah all had good games (too many cooks).  The Nuggets have had the best record in the league against sub .500 teams (they fooled some of the worms some of the time) and even though they got out to a great start against Chicago (they fooled that worm early on), but the Bulls played a trough smart game while the Nuggets began settling for jumpers and seemed to completely forget how they completely outplayed the Bulls early in the game (proving that it’s the thought that counts).

See, and you guys were worried I was losing my mind.

After taking  an early lead the Nuggets really let up expecting an easy win and by the time they realized they had to flip the switch in the fourth quarter their shots were not falling (not that they should have as they were mostly all really bad shots) and the Bulls were all playing at a high level.

As long as the Nuggets can take care of business today in Milwaukee I do not think anyone will be too disappointed in finishing with a 6-2 record over the last eight road games.

Additional Game 54 Nuggets

  • Scott Hastings made a good point about how the Bulls benefited from playing with only eight players.  With Brad Miller and John Salmons not ready to play Chicago had to shorten their rotation.  They basically played with seven players (Lindsey Hunter was the eighth Bull to see action when he entered the game in the final minute).  Of course, the short rotation is only a benefit if those players are actually playing well.  The Nuggets had to play the second half without Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen ended up battling foul trouble.  Linas Kleiza put up some decent offensive numbers for the first time in a while, but he played a big role in the Nuggets collapse in the fourth quarter.  With the game tied at 87 Kleiza was screened off of Tyrus Thomas and gave up an open jumper then he forced a one on two fast break (plus the next two players down the court were Bulls making any chance for an offensive rebound zero).  After a defensive stop Kleiza took a three with 18 seconds left on the shot clock and the Bulls run was on. 
  • It was not just Kleiza playing poor defense though.  The Bulls ended up with open jumper after open jumper after ball screens because no one would step out to help when their man set the screen. 
  • Carmelo continues to fail to step in the lane and help when one of the bigs has to leave their man to help stop a drive or to step out on a screen.  I do not know how many times this season the Nuggets have given up a layup because Melo did not rotate into the lane to stop the dump off pass.  Melo will then trot down the court and announce to everyone that it was his fault.  One thing I tell my kids is if you are really sorry you will change your ways.  I guess so far Melo is not really sorry.
  • With 4:43 left in the second quarter the Nuggets were ahead 47-36.  The Bulls outscored the Nuggets 80-52 over the last 28:43 simply because they played with more passion and determination. 

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  94.0

Defensive Efficiency:  123.4 – And thus ends their three game defensive revival.

Offensive Efficiency:  105.3

Featured Blogs:  By the Horns | Blog a Bull

Offday Offerings – Was Standing Pat a Mistake?

I have yet to really put anything together about the trade deadline and that sucks because, well, it has passed.  The consensus amongst fans, commentators and the Nuggets front office was that Denver is playing well and should stand pat.  That is exactly what they did. 

I only have two questions.  First, is this team a true contender right now?  Secondly, will they be a true contender next season?

There have been an increasing number of stories out there trumpeting the Nuggets’ virtues.  Fans are starting to expect great things and are throwing around the term contender.  In my mind a contender is a team who has a reasonable chance at defeating every other team in the league in a seven game playoff series.  How far the Nuggets go in the playoffs depends completely on matchups.  I do not like their chances against the Spurs or the Hornets (especially now that Tyson Chandler is back in the Big Easy) and I would not be very confident should the Nuggets face off against the Jazz.  Even if you think Denver could defeat all three of those teams, we still have not mentioned the Lakers.  I would love to be forced to eat my words in May and June, but I just do not think it is reasonable to expect a team that has not advanced past the first round in 15 years to suddenly surge into the finals.

As I have pointed out in the past, building a championship team is a process.  Denver has taken a big step forward in that process this season.  Ideally if the Nuggets do not win it all this season, it will be a campaign where they grow closer to that goal and hopefully find themselves as a legitimate finals contender next season.  Well, if you look at their salary structure I do not think we can count on them being in a position to capitalize on their progress next season. 

With the economy floundering we have seen many teams seeking to unload contracts and no one really interested in taking on any additional salary obligations.  David Stern claimed during the all-star break that teams should expect the salary cap and luxury tax level to drop next season for the first time since its inception.  The luxury tax limit was $71.15 million this season and might drop down to around $68 or $69 million next season.  Denver has cut a lot of salary over the previous ten months or so, but looking ahead at next season, they are going to have to slash more payroll in order to avoid the tax. 

Right now the Nuggets are over $68 million with only Kenyon Martin, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Nene, J.R. Smith, Steven Hunter, Renaldo Balkman and the money they owe Antonio McDyess.  That is only seven players.  Chris Andersen has been a Godsend playing as well as he has for the minimum.  He is going to get a significant raise next season and I doubt the Nuggets will be able to afford to bring him back.  It is also highly unlikely that they can bring in a player who will play anywhere near Birdman’s level for such a pittance.  They will need to add a backup point guard and even they bring Anthony Carter back it will cost them roughly another million against the cap.  The qualifying offers for Linas Kleiza and Johan Petro add up to over $5.5 million combined.  Needless to say the Nuggets are likely to be in some financial straits again next season.  They have done a masterful job of dropping payroll while improving the quality of the team.  Pulling that off over two consecutive seasons would be a pipe dream.

You are free to disagree and make your case in the comments, but I think the evidence points to the Nuggets not being a legitimate contender this season and they will most likely not be one next season either.  I believe the Nuggets needed to put a strong emphasis on winning right now and that they should have pulled the trigger on a trade to try to push them over the top. 

What should that trade have been?  They should have acquired whatever they could have in exchange for Linas Kleiza and Charlotte’s future first round draft pick.  Steven Hunter and Dahntay Jones’ contracts should have been fair game as well. 

The one problem with trying to improve the team by trading Kleiza is that most teams around the league may have a better grasp of Kleiza’s value than the Nuggets do.  The Nuggets have placed far too much value on Kleiza and I think it is due to his rapid development between his second and third seasons.  Kleiza has already reached his ceiling as a player, but the Nuggets front office are expecting even better things because of how quickly he has improved.  The truth is he is a poor defending gunner with no passing ability.  If his shot is not falling he is a complete liability. 

The Nuggets have had the opportunity to trade him last season, but perhaps they hung onto him for too long.  With each passing game he is exposed further and further to be a one dimensional player.  He will most certainly not be back next season so why would they not look to unload to make a push right now when the Nuggets have what is arguably their best team since they joined the NBA?

If I am wrong and Stan Kronke is willing to do next year what he was not willing to do this season, and by that I mean foot the bill for an $80 million payroll, then I am fine with the Nuggets sticking with the current roster and hoping to further augment the roster next season.  I seriously doubt that will be the case though.

Chris Tomasson is thinking along the same lines as I am, although he was smart enough to publish his post before the trade deadline passed.

What was Oklahoma City Thinking?

I am baffled by the Thunder’s decision to stamp return to sender on Tyson Chandler’s forehead.  I thought that trade was going to push them into playoff contention next season.  To decide that his old turf toe injury was too much of an issue going forward blew my mind.  There were first hand reports of actual fan excitement about the Thunder.  It made them a hot topic around town, but now they may have to deal with a fan backlash, especially if Chandler’s tow does not explode like the Hindenburg on the court at some point over the next few months.  

The kicker is that the team physician that flunked Chandler’s physical was the same doctor that performed the surgery on his toe in the first place when New Orleans was playing in Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina.  The doctor basically said, “I did a bad enough job on repairing his toe that I think it will crumble like a two day old bran muffin.”  Nice work Dr. Mengele. 

I never understood why New Orleans wanted to trade Chandler during the season anyway.  The deal was not going to save them any money this season and they could pull the trigger on a Camby like salary dump over the summer without sabotaging the current campaign.  I thought that deal was bungled on both ends.

Oklahoma City did manage to add a nice piece in Thabo Sefolosha.  He is a defensive oriented swingman with great size and solid potential.  If they only had hung onto Chandler they might have had the foundation in place for a 50 win team in Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Green and Chandler.

Thank you Portland

I was worried that the Trail Blazers might pull off a deal for Richard Jefferson or some other small forward who just might propel them past the Nuggets in the Northwest Division.  Thankfully they chose to stick with their current roster and I think lost a chance to vastly improve their team.  They will have some cap space to play with this offseason and it will be interesting to see what they turn that into. 

Memphis no longer has a glut of point guards

Remember when Memphis had Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry and Javaris Crittenton?  Well, now they just have Conley.  Crittenton was shipped off to Washington and Lowry is now a Houston Rocket.  I found the three way deal that also sent Rafer Alston to Orlando interesting because I think Lowry is a better player than Alston.  Skip to My Lou is a much better shooter, but Orlando is a secretly good defensive team and Lowry is much superior to Alston on that end.  Neither player is a perfect fit, although Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith both agreed that this deal pushed the Magic ahead of the Cavs somehow.  Personally I think Lowry would be better for the Magic as he can defend and play the drive and kick game they love so much.

John Paxson gets active two years too late

John Paxson finally pulled his balls out of wherever he had them stored and finally pulled the trigger on a big trade and a couple of smaller ones.  The sad thing is it is too late to transform the once promising Bulls into a contender.  The acquisition of John Salmons has apparently paved the way for the departure of Ben Gordon this summer.  If Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah can build on their play over the past month or so Chicago has a decent core of Derrick Rose, Salmons, Luol Deng and the aforementioned bigs.

New York actually making trades for basketball reasons

I did not understand the reasoning behind the Knicks acquisitions of Larry Hughes and Chris Wilcox.  There was no monetary benefit from what I could tell.  Then it donned on me.  It was actually about trying to improve on the court.  With so many deals being discussed for purely financial reasons I was caught off guard by the attempt to actually use trades to improve a team.  There is no impetus to tank in New York as they do not have the rights to their 2010 draft pick so they might as well try to win while ensuring they do not take on any obligations beyond the summer of 2010. 

The NBA on TNT

A big thanks to Detroit and Boston for blowing games against the Spurs and Jazz tonight.  Way to go bozos.  I will forgive the Celtics as long as they lose to the Nuggets next Monday.

2008-09 Game 54: Denver Nuggets 101 – Philadelphia 76ers 89

Box Score | Highlights

In their first game coming out of the All-Star break the Denver Nuggets failed to show up for the first seven minutes of the game, then once they decided to start playing they still appeared to sleep walk through the rest of the first half.  Lucky for them the way they played in the second half made it pretty easy to forgive them for their sorry play in the first half.

The Nuggets also owe the Sixers some thanks as well because there is no way Philly should have only been up by ten at the half.  As bad as the Nuggets were the Sixers were not much better exhibiting some truly hideous offense over the first 24 minutes.  Philly dominated the paint, but missed numerous shots from close in.  By my count in the play by play they missed eight layups in the first half alone and I think Philly had several more tip attempts that rimmed out as well.

Do not get me wrong, Denver was terrible offensively in the first half.  They did not score their sixth point until Melo made a layup with only 3:35 left in the first quarter.  The Nuggets’ putrid play was due to their perimeter mindset, not an inability to make layups. 

I think we all hoped to see the Nuggets crank up their effort and they clearly were not out of the game down only ten, but to see the ferocity they took the floor with was shocking to everyone.  It was especially shocking to the 76ers and their stunned fans.  The Nuggets began attacking the rim starting off the half with three consecutive layups off of the high pick and roll by Chauncey and Nene.  In fact the Nuggets went on to make nine layups in the third quarter and were awarded free throws on a couple of occasions when they were fouled to prevent an easy lay in.  For some reason those shots that rattle out when you are playing one pass and shoot perimeter ball seem to find the net when they are a result of a more free flowing unselfish offense.  Thanks to their renewed sense of purpose on offense Denver was able to take the lead just two and a half minutes into the third quarter and produced a 24-4 run to start the second half. 

Chauncey was clearly the catalyst and it was one of the first times this season where he triggered a second half spurt from largely getting to the rim instead of catching fire from the perimeter.  After Chauncey scored 13 of the Nuggets’ 24 points to start the half Philly began to focus on him almost exclusively on defense.  They assigned Willie Green to shadow Chauncey wherever he went.  Green denied Billups the inbounds pass and when Chauncey would get the ball and drive off a screen the 76ers were trapping him relentlessly. 

Carmelo and J.R. Smith were able to handle the ball and the Sixers’ strategy did not derail the Nuggets right away, but they did hold Denver to only two points over the final two minutes of the third quarter to get back to within three.

Despite the Nuggets’ offensive explosion in the second half you could make a strong argument that they won this game on defense.  Even early in the game they were playing solidly and it was only after the first few minutes of offensive futility that their defense took a corresponding turn for the worse.  In the second half the Sixers were hurt by the injury suffered by Andre Miller, but Denver really closed off the driving lanes, packed the lane, fought for rebounds and dared the Sixers to be them from the perimeter.  Philly knew that they could not win the game by shooting jumpers and so they tried to stick the ball inside, which played directly into the strength of the Nuggets defense.  The result was a lot of contested shots being taken from tough angles and with little space to operate. 

The Nuggets now have two very winnable games in Chicago and Milwaukee to close out the eight road games they have had in February.  At this point they are in second place in the Western Conference a full game ahead of the Spurs, which is actually two games due to the fact the Nuggets own the tie breaker against San Antonio, and with off days between both remaining games a 7-1 elongated road trip is a necessity.

Additional Game 54 Nuggets

 

  • One thing I did not mention yet was the Nuggets decision to switch screens again tonight.  Again, as in Orlando it worked, but for different reasons.  Philly likes to set a lot of back screens and they have a lot of interchangeable parts on offense.  Andre Miller, Willie Green, Andre Igoudala and Thaddeus Young are all players that can be guarded by most any swingman.  If Dahntay Jones gets switched onto Thaddeus Young he is not going to be able to go punish Jones in the post.  Igoudala is the one player who can take a smaller defender into the post and make him pay (Miller can play in the post, but the Nuggets do not have any really undersized guards in the rotation).  The Nuggets did a good job of doubling Igoudala in the post when he was able to get Carter down on the block.  This is not an endorsement of switching, you all know I do not like it, but the 76ers are a team that you can really frustrate by eliminating their back screens by switching.
  • I fail to see how a player as talentless as Reggie Evans can get away with flat out shoving players in the back they way he does on almost every missed shot.  Nene was called for his fifth foul in the third quarter on a play where Evans shoved him out of the way from behind to get the rebound.  If the ref calls the shove on Evans Nene gets the board and is not called for his fifth.  Even though it felt like the Nuggets had the game under control they were only up five at the time.
  • I have written in the past about how J.R. Smith averaged roughly one shot for every two minutes of floor time last season.  This season he has definitely had nights where he could not wait to launch shot after shot, but last night he played 24 minutes and only took five shots.  He continually tried to get into the lane and distribute to his teammates.  He did not do a particularly good job of it as Philly really collapsed on him and closed off the passing lanes, but I think it is another sign of maturity that J.R. is almost eschewing his own offense for the sake of trying to get his teammates easy baskets. 
  • Linas Kleiza on the other hand is all about chucking.  Kleiza has not made a three pointer in over two weeks now a string of 16 straight misses.  He still managed to fire off three ore three point attempts in 11 minutes of floor time.  Obviously you do not get out of a slump without shooting, but he has to be smarter about how many threes he takes and in what situation he takes them.  He missed on three pointer where there was no one within 15 feet of him and a lane all the way to the rim. 
  • Speaking of players that need to stop shooting threes, Kenyon is now one for his last seven three point attempts and hopefully he puts that misfiring weapon back in his holster.
  • For some reason the Nuggets had a difficult time figuring out that with the Sixers playing that man to man defense with zone principles that we have talked about in the past they were leaving the weak side block wide open.  Anthony Carter made a couple of attempts to get the ball there, but it was open all night long, especially when Melo had the ball on the wing.
  • Carter has been playing very well as of late.  He had two major problems that were causing me to develop a strong dislike of him.  One problem was his propensity to turn the ball over.  After handing the ball to the Spurs seven times he has only turned it over an average of 1.8 times per game on the current road trip(s).  It also appeared to me that his defense had taken a turn for the worse which was highlighted by the first Orlando game where Jameer Nelson absolutely abused him on the drive.  Well, Carter’s defense has come back to him, at least temporarily.  He did a great job on Dwyane Wade in Miami and last night he did well in keeping Louis Williams out of the lane and fighting against bigger players like Andre Igoudala in the post off of switches. 
  • Chris Andersen had fumble fingers all night long.  He dropped three or four passes that would have resulted in an easy dunk or layup.  At least he played hard on the defensive end and erased a couple of easy buckets.
  • The Nuggets were nicked up a little bit too with Melo hurting his thigh and Kenyon straining his back.  Neither issue appeared to be serious.  Kenyon laid out on the floor for a while and Melo rode a stationary bike during the game.  Both were able to finish the game. 

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  96.8

Defensive Efficiency:  92.0 – The third straight sub 100 game for the Nuggets.  They also held Philly to 32.6% shooting.  They are starting to resemble the team that was winning with defense earlier in the season.  The Nuggets now once again have a better defensive efficiency with Billups than during the four games they played without him.  It has been a month and a half or so since we could say that.

Offensive Efficiency:  104.4 – Considering they only had five points more than eight minutes into the game that is pretty good.

Featured Blogs:  Sixers 4 Guidos | Depressed Fan | Liberty Ballers

2008-09 Game 53: Denver Nuggets 82 – Orlando Magic 73

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.

Box Score | Highlights

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

  • The Nuggets offense in the fourth quarter was very inconsistent.  They found a play that worked pretty well with Melo getting the ball on the left elbow and driving right off of a screen by Martin.  After a few open short jumpers Orlando started trapping Melo and after that the offense completely bogged down into purely one on one isolation sets.  Orlando’s defense is far too good for that to be effective and that lull halfway through the fourth quarter prevented the Nuggets from putting Orlando away.
  • Linas Kleiza is in one of his terrible funks.  The few times he drove he ended up traveling and once again he missed every jumper he launched.  I have no idea why he played as much as he did and I found it curious that with the Nuggets in need of a boost on offense that J.R. played as little as he did.
  • The solid play of Johan Petro was a huge key and even if this is the only good game he plays all season I think it was worth sacrificing Atkins.  Petro did not back down from Howard on defense and even got the better of him on a couple of possessions.  Offensively Petro proved that he is incapable of catching the ball in traffic.  The one time he did he finished off of a nice dump off pass from J.R.
  • Chauncey did not have great numbers, but as in the previous game against the Heat he hit a couple of big shots and played good defense. 
  • Part of the reason why Orlando shot so poorly from three point range is because Mickael Pietrus, Anthony Johnson and Tyron Lue took 17 of their 31 attempts.  They made combined to make four of those 17 attempts.  Of course, Lewis and Turkoglu did not do much better.

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

2008-09 Game 53: Denver Nuggets at Orlando Magic Game Thread

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
98-99 Lockout    
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.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Previous Matchup:  Game 41 – Den 88 Orl 106

Featured Blog:  Third Quarter Collapse 

2008-09 Game 52: Denver Nuggets 99 – Miami Heat 82

Box Score | Highlights

Between the Nuggets expected third quarter swoon and the performance of Dwyane Wade Superstar this game provided some shaky moments, but thanks to the way Denver started and closed this game it ended up being a safe victory.  It was Denver’s eighth straight win against the Heat. 

I think we all knew that Denver would come out of the gate strong after the loss that was purged from memory in New Jersey and they certainly did not disappoint.  Denver played hounding defense and their movement without the ball and passing was arguably the best we had seen all season.  They connected on a couple of back door dunks in the first quarter for Kenyon, one came off of an inbounds play. 

Another key to their offensive success was they were able to penetrate at will the entire first half.  Chauncey, Melo and Kenyon were driving to the rim and either finishing or finding an open teammate for an easy basket.  Miami closed off the lane pretty well in the third quarter which as we have seen time after time Denver started settling for jumpers. 

In my mind the key player for the Nuggets in the fourth quarter was Anthony Carter.  Dahntay Jones played poor defense on Wade.  On the very first possession of the game he lost track of him and did it again later in the first quarter.  He fell for Wade’s shot fakes, overreacted to his jab steps as on more than one occasion he jumped way out of the play and opened up a huge driving lane on a minimal jab step by Wade and he gambled for steals.  Against a player like Wade it is all about position.  The defender must staying in front of him, stay on the floor for his shot fakes and take advantage of the help from teammates to push him back into you off of screens.  Carter did all those things and the result was a five point fourth quarter by Dwyane. 

If there was an area of the Nuggets defense that you could point to, other than Carter’s spirited D on Wade, that lead to their impressive fourth quarter performance it was the bigs willingness to step out and help defend the screen and roll.  In the third quarter they were content to hang back and the result was a rash of open shots that lead to Miami’s comeback.  In the fourth they hedged very well on the screen, sealed off the lane and recovered very well. 

After the Heat cut the lead to four with ten minutes left Chauncey drilled a three and Michael Beasley hit short push shot to draw the Heat within five at the 9:17 mark.  After that bucket by Beasley, Miami only scored eight points the rest of the game.  Three points came on a Wade three pointer with Carter right in his face, Wade made a layup off of a lucky bounce on a loose ball and Beasley made a three in garbage time with 1:20 left in the game.

It was not all good news though as Chris “Birdman” Andersen was taken out by Shawn Marion on a fast break dunk attempt with 1:42 left in the third quarter.  He landed hard on his left side and has bruised his hip and wrist.  Birdman stayed in the game to make the free throw, but left 20 seconds later, went o the locker room and did not return.  I seriously doubt he will be available against the Magic, which is a bummer knowing Dwight Howard is probably going to get Nene into foul trouble as he did in the first meeting, but hopefully he will be ready to play following the All-Star break.

All in all they responded very well to the humiliation they suffered in New Jersey.  They got out fast, weathered the storm and won going away.  Melo, Chauncey and Kenyon all logged long hard minutes and they will have their work cut out for them tomorrow in Orlando.  All I know is a 4-1 road trip heading into the break would be awfully nice, no matter how ugly the one loss was.

Additional Game 52 Nuggets

 

  • You know who played inspired defense in the first quarter?  Carmelo Anthony.  He was all over Marion and cut off every drive attempt Marion launched at him.  It was really impressive. 
  • On the other end of the floor it was obvious Marion has lost a step.  The player who once was asked to guard Tony Parker proved to be little but a nice smooth red carpet for Melo that led to the lane.  Marion’s reputation is such that you would expect him to frustrate Melo, but the only area where he was able to prevent Anthony from doing whatever he wanted was when Melo tried to post him up. 
  • What does Linas Kleiza have to do to get benched?  I thought he played decent help defense trapping Wade and Chalmers off of screens and forcing them away from the rim, but his decision making on offense was just a joke.  Once you miss three or four threes it is time to start driving to the rim.  It was incredibly frustrating to watch him play so poorly on offense knowing that there was a better defensive player on the bench in Renaldo Balkman who is deserving of playing time.
  • I wrote that in order for Miami to win they would need three of their supporting five scorers of Marion, Haslem, Beasley, Chalmers and Cook to post a scoring total above their average.  Marion did score 14, but the five players combined to score only 41 points.
  • The 82 points allowed by Denver was a season low, but based on their defensive efficiency it was only the ninth best performance this year. 
  • J.R. Smith may not have put up great numbers, but he hit a couple of big threes in the fourth quarter and assisted on one of Chauncey’s long bombs on a long kick out pass on the move after driving the baseline.  I thought he was spectacular in the first quarter as he attacked the lane relentlessly and looked to set up his teammates, which is when he is at his best.  He also did an adequate job on defense, even when he was briefly asked to cover Wade.
  • Denver missed their first 15 three point attempts.  I guess at that point you hope the law of averages kicks in before the final buzzer sounds.  Tonight it did as Chauncey and J.R. combined to hit five of their six attempts from distance over the final 9:38 of the game.
  • In the past you were always afraid that Wade would have a 20 for 20 night from the free throw line.  While the refs are doing their part he is not.  As I pointed out in my preview he is shooting a career low 73.9% from the line.  He missed four of his 12 attempts against the Nuggets tonight.  His shot looks very flat to me and the ones that did go in seemed to always ram off the back of the rim.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  86.1

Defensive Efficiency:  95.2

Offensive Efficiency:  115.0

Featured Blog:  Peninsula is Mightier

2008-09 Game 49: Denver Nuggets 114 – Oklahoma City Thunder 113

Box Score | Highlights

I am not sure if I should look forward to playing Oklahoma City or not.  On one hand, the nip and tuck nature of these two games has been completely draining.  On the other the sweet thrill of victory puts a hop in my step and a song in my heart (Livin’ on a Prayer by Bon Jovi is somewhat appropriately currently streaming through my arteries). 

Before we get to the causes for the big turnaround we need to look at how the Nuggets found themselves down by 16 in the second quarter.  The Nuggets were up five points, 38 to 22, with 10:19 left I the quarter.  Just over seven minutes, and some of the worst basketball the Nuggets have played all year, later Denver was behind 58 to 42.  That is right, they were outscored 25 to four and that includes a 15 to zero run.   

The Nuggets had two primary issues during that stretch.  First of all, they were getting decent shots, but they were just missing them.  There were a plethora of layup attempts and short open jumpers that just did not go down.  As a result of all those missed shots the Thunder players led by Earl Watson and Russell Westbrook scored layup after layup in transition.  That was the real problem and the reason why Oklahoma City dumped 39 on the Nuggets in the second quarter. 

The Nuggets guards, Anthony Carter, J.R. Smith and Dahntay Jones did a terrible job of slowing the Thunder guards down.  Anthony Carter was especially bad.  He would set himself up at the three point line and then just watch as the offensive player, who obviously has the benefit of momentum, blow past him.  In a situation like that you need to set yourself up beyond where you want to start to slow the dribbler and begin to give way as he approaches.  If you are not going at full speed by the time he reaches you the only way to be anything other than a shinny blue billboard on his way to the basket is to become a speed bump and just throw yourself at his feet and take him out.

The Nuggets were able to get the gap back down to 11 at the half and heading into the third quarter I had one reason for hope and that was I knew the Nuggets were going to stop switching screens in the second half and that we could expect a better scheme to slow the Thunder down.  In the first half on the few occasions the Thunder had to set up their half court offense Denver was burned time and again by switching screens.  The Nuggets repeated their performance from the previous night against the Spurs as there were times when only one defender switched the screen.  I have no idea how at this point in the season these guys have such a difficult time getting on the same page defensively.  Either you are switching or you are not. 

Denver also suffered from rotation breakdowns that we have seen in the past.  They would have one or two players rotate, but then when it came time for the next rotation no one arrived resulting in open jumpers for the Thunder Threesome. 

The Nuggets played much smarter and more together on defense in the second half.  There were two big keys to that in my mind.  One was as I mentioned, they stopped switching screens and secondly the big men started jumping the ball handler on the pick and roll.  Nene and Chris Andersen did a good job trapping along the sideline and that additional ball pressure, believe it or not, made a big difference.  Go figure.  Add in the fact the Nuggets continued to score and thus did not give the Thunder a chance to run and the result was a paltry 43 second half points for Oklahoma City.

The last topic that jumped out at me was the battle of wits between George Karl and Scott Brooks as both coaches had the chance to draw up two plays in the closing seconds. 

The first play was drawn up by Karl.  The game was tied at 111 with 29 seconds left.  J.R. Smith threw the ball in from the riht sideline to Melo who came off a down screen by AC.  J.R.  ran off a baseline screen by Nene and received a pass from Melo on the left wing.  He made a ball fake right and then drove left on Weaver drawing a foul.  He once again showed that he is unclutch form the line as he only made one of two free throws.  The decision to get J.R. the ball was a good one as he was on fire for most of the night.  Having him pass the ball in from and then run along the baseline screen to get open was sound.  As a secondary option J.R. had the opportunity to dump the ball to Nene who was covered by Westbrook after Nick Collison left Nene to cut off J.R.’s penetration.

Brooks now had the chance to devise a play of his own down 112-111 with 22 seconds on the clock.  His play may have been simpler, but it was more effective.  Westbrook entered the ball from the left sideline to Durant who was freed by a down screen by Collison.  Durante then dribbled to the middle of the floor and just blew by Dahntay wit his right hand and flew to the rim for a layup.  Secondary options included a kick out to Jeff Green had Melo helped off to stave off the driving lane and Collison was crashing from the weak side.   

The ball was once again in Karl’s court down 113-112 and with 17 seconds on the clock.  He chose to get the ball to Melo and allow him to create.  Ac inbounded the ball on the left sideline and Melo was freed up by a down screen by Nene.  Westbrook was guarding the inbounds pass and he started to flare out towards Melo as he neared half court.  Carter was forced to toss a little lob to Melo and he had a difficult time catching it.  Had Westbrook gone after it, he might have corralled a game saving steal.  Melo was able to latch onto the ball in the backcourt and settled in the middle of the court with Jeff Green crouched in his defensive stance in front of him.  Melo made his move with about nien seconds on the clock.  Russell Westbrook was cheating over off of Carter to help if Melo drove right. The key to the play was having J.R., who did not miss a three all game long, set up on the left wing.  Weaver could not risk leaving J.R. to help out on the drive.  Knowing this Melo beat Green off the dribble with his left hand and did not encounter any resistance until Collison came over to help inside the charge circle.  Melo somehow managed to flip the ball in with his right hand while being squeezed by Green on his right and Collison on his left.  I have no idea how it managed to float into the net.  It was a truly awkward shot.  Melo’s secondary option would have been to kick the ball out to J.R. had Weaver helped. 

Once again down one point and this time with 5.3 seconds on the clock Brooks had to answer.  Being down only one with that much time left on the clock I expected something similar to the previous play where Durant simply drove right to the rim.  Instead Brooks had Westbrook inbound the ball to Collison.  Westbrook cut to Collison and received the ball on a handoff.  AC was well behind Westbrook and Nene switched off.  This all happened in 1.2 seconds and Westbrook now has the ball in the middle of the floor well above the three point line.  Durant, who had started on the weak side of the floor on the baseline, runs off a double screen up the left side with Green and Collison  attempting to brush off Dahntay.  AC who had switched onto Collison jumped out at Durant and forced him to receive the pass from Westbrook running away from the rim about 30 feet from the basket.  There is only 1.9 seconds left on the clock when Durant receives the pass.  He manages to turn and fire a 35 foot turnaround fade away that catches a lot of rim, but bounces helplessly away.   There really was no time for a second option as the play took so long to develop and KD received the pass running away from the basket.  Had there been an extra second or two on the clock and Durant had been able to dribble a few times it would have been fine.  I also wonder if Collison was supposed to set his screen deeper.  As it was, he was at the three point line and that forced Durant to curl further away from the rim than Brooks had hoped.  I certainly expected the Thunder to get a better shot off than they did in that situation.

I will also add that was the correct situation to be switching screens.  When time is short and you cannot afford to let a player like Durant get an open look switching on the perimeter is the right decision.  I think it was important that Melo did not switch the first screen that Green set for Durant as Green could have easily slipped into the lane for a layup with no one in position to help on the weak side.  It was a well executed scheme by the Nuggets. 

Denver now has a day to rest and then faces the team with the worst record in the entire league, the Washington Wizards on Friday night.  I would expect Chauncey and Kenyon to play.

Additional Game 49 Nuggets

 

  • Carmelo Anthony was fantastic again as he set a career high with 11 assists.  What was so incredible about his assists was nine of the 11 resulted in a layup or dunk.  There is a lot of talk about making your teammates better.  Well, nothing makes teammates better than consistently delivering the ball to them in position to score at the rim. 
  • I told you Durant, Westbrook and Green were playing well.  The Trail Blazers get all the attention in the team of the future discussion, but look out for these guys in two or three years.  After all, Durant is only 20!
  • Linas Kleiza made a smart play with under seven minutes left in the game and the Nuggets down four.  The Thudner ran a pick and roll with Watson and Joe Smith.  Carter and Birdman doubled Watson who skipped a pass across the court to Kyle Weaver.  Kleiza started to rotate up to Weaver, but before he did he correctly recognized that if he rotated to Weaver he would leave Jeff Green, a much better three point shooter, open in the corner.  He retreated back to Green and Weaver took the shot.  At the time Weaver was 0-5 including 0-2 on threes.  He missed the open jumper, Denver collected the rebound and the result at the other end was a Kleiza dunk to get Denver back to within two. 
  • Unfortunately, the Nuggets defense did not benefit from such high level mental computation during every play.  As in the first meeting Melo fouled Durant about 28 feet from the rim which handed the Thunder two free points and allowed them to tie the game at 111.  Watching the play is completely frustrating.  Melo is putting forth effort to deny Durant the ball.  After KD flashes to receive the pass and turns toward the passer, Melo decides to stay on his back instead of between Durant and the hoop.  By the time Durant catches the ball Melo is between KD and Denver’s hoop leaving Durant wide open to attack the lane.  To compound his mistake of being out of position, Melo then reaches in thus drawing the foul.  That sequence is just more proof that Melo still does not have the mental comprehension of what constitutes good defense as opposed to simply acting aggressively.
  • The Nuggets’ come from behind win was made even more thrilling by the fact that Portland, New Orleans, Houston and Phoenix all lost.  Pulling out this win earned the Nuggets an extra game on all of those teams in the standings.
  • Oklahoma City shot 12 more free throws than Denver did. That is the second worst total of the season after the Lakers shot 13 more in game three.
  • The Nuggets gave up a lot of offensive rebounds, but I believe many of them were a result of Andersen and Nene helping on the pick and roll and not being in position to block out.  
  • Jeff Green had a rep as a player who tended to disappear from big games when he was at Georgetown.  Well, he definitely disappeared tonight.  The last positive entry in the play by play for Green was when he grabbed a defensive rebound with 7:26 left in the fourth quarter.  He as mentioned only one more time and that was at the 5:31 mark when he threw the ball away.  He did not get a rebound, make an assist or even take a shot over the last 7:26 of the game. 

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  96.0 – Both teams like to play fast.

Defensive Efficiency:  117.7 – I wish I could have calculated the defensive efficiency by half.  I bet the first half was about 135 and the second half about 100.

Offensive Efficiency:  118.7 – Considering they were missing Chauncey that is pretty good. 

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