What. Just. Happened? I don’t know. I’ve tried to explain it below, through grades and numbers and analysis, but truth be told, I still have absolutely no clue as to what transpired this game. I honestly feel like I was abducted by a badass basketball UFO for like two hours or something, then dropped back off at Earth where I’m supposed to do this Rapid Reaction and explain what happened in human form. I’ll try my best, but getting abducted by super-basketball UFO’s is not something that happens to me every day. Just know that.
The Denver Nuggets kicked off the Brian Shaw era with a win Sunday night, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 97-88 in their first game of the preseason. While the score was close for most of the game, the Nuggets were able to ride their superior depth and a strong third quarter surge to a comfortable win over the Lakers, who were playing on the second night of a back-to-back without the services of Chris Kaman and Jordan Farmar.
During his days on the Washington Wizards, JaVale McGee became tragi-comically famous among NBA fans, known much better for his gaffe-packed blooper reels on YouTube than for the actual quality of basketball player he was. With frequent assists from Shaquille O’Neal’s “Shaqtin’ a Fool” segment on TNT, and the spread of the “That’s so JaVale!” meme, McGee’s many bizarre, head scratching blunders went viral, and the “knucklehead” label stuck so hard that he’s still trying to shake it off.
But he is in fact making progress, and many around the league – including Shaq – are starting to take notice that there’s more to JaVale than just being the NBA’s court jester.
Which is not to say he’s all the way there yet. He continues to be (more…)
|Kenneth Faried, SF 32 MIN | 6-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 3 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | -6
Faried obliterated the Laker bigs on the boards. Earl Clark and Metta World Peace played a combined 54 minutes while grabbing only one defensive rebound. His defensive awareness on the perimeter and in pick and rolls needs a lot of work, but rebounding is what Kenneth does best and when he plays with this kind of energy he can’t be stopped.
|Kosta Koufos, C 14 MIN | 3-4 FG | 2-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +3
He was bothered by foul trouble and couldn’t really handle Howard’s sheer girth, but Koufos bottled him up about as well as you can in the first half. Koufos is not bruiser and is a great example of how big men can be effective on defense without having to be the most physical guy around. Koufos was constantly moving his feet and fouled when he needed to — he’s been a near-perfect role player which is exactly what the Nuggets have asked him to do.
|Ty Lawson, PG 41 MIN | 8-19 FG | 5-7 FT | 4 REB | 8 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 22 PTS | +11
Seven straight games of 20+ point performances speaks for itself. Lawson is playing at a very high level right now which will make this critique difficult for some fans to take. Lawson was tentative and didn’t get to the paint outside of transition. He was also very hesitant to take open shots and didn’t create at the same outstanding level we’ve grown accustomed to. Solid game, but Lawson is capable of much more and should play better against the likes of Nash and Blake.
|Wilson Chandler, SG 25 MIN | 10-18 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 23 PTS | +6
Chandler was extremely solid in his first start of the season, shining in a brand new role Nuggets fans haven’t seen him in much since Chandler joined the team. He was asked to space the floor and create on the perimeter a little bit, both of which he did admirably despite having played almost the whole season from a big spot off the bench. Chandler can regularly produce these kinds of numbers in a starting role, which is a fantastic luxury to have behind Gallo.
|Andre Iguodala, SG 37 MIN | 6-9 FG | 2-5 FT | 4 REB | 12 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | +6
Iguodala dominated the game, but not like you would expect. He took only 9 shots, going a perfect 5/5 in the paint and 1/4 on jumpers. He also tallied an outstanding 12 assists to just two turnovers filling in for Gallo as a secondary creator. But Iguodala’s stifling defense seemed to thwart every substantial Lakers push and made even modest leads appear insurmountable for the visiting Lakers. He is a special defensive talent.
|Anthony Randolph, PF 6 MIN | 3-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +10
Really solid minutes. Randolph ran the court hard and pretty much stayed out of the way on offense. The less he touches the ball and the more he runs the better. Randolph is very active and amazingly quick up the floor for a 7-footer. His energy played a big part, along with Brewer, in terms of getting the pace going.
|Jordan Hamilton, SF 4 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3
Another very solid performance all things considered. He took one questionable heave from three but otherwise looked good in the Nuggets up-and-down offense. Four minutes isn’t enough to tell too much but it’s safe to say Hamilton is more than capable of contributing when the Nuggets need him to fill in.
|Corey Brewer, SF 26 MIN | 6-15 FG | 3-5 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | +17
Brew doesn’t do anything halfway. When he misses, he shoots BRICKS. Two of them were extremely ugly airballs from three, yet Brewer ended up being perhaps the Nuggets’ most valuable offensive contributor on the night. I would love to give Brew a better grade, but 15 shots is kind of a lot for Brewer to take unless he makes more of them.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 4 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -6
|JaVale McGee, C 23 MIN | 3-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 4 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +8
The numbers don’t pop out at you but his defense was game-changing. He continues to produce with monster efficiency on the offensive end while steadily improving his poise and consistency on defense. McGee has earned more minutes and it’s only a matter of time till he starts seeing them. Despite not playing a lot of minutes his production has been eerily consistent this season. Can he continue to do it in bigger role? That’s the million dollar question.
|Andre Miller, PG 28 MIN | 3-4 FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +3
Andre’s attitude and demeanor on the floor are markedly improved since the All-Star break. He is a problem match up for LA and exploited it from the opening tip. The Lakers had to adjust, putting Kobe on him for a while and later Metta World Peace in the second half. The Nuggets don’t win this game without Andre and don’t take LA to seven games last year without him either. It’s in these kind of matchups Andre really proves his worth. I would just love to see some consistency.
The Nuggets did exactly what they needed to do: dictate the pace and control the boards. Even without Gallo, the Nuggets came out prepared to play to their strengths and execute an offense that would lull the Lakers into a track meet. They did a particularly good job containing penetration and fouling on every layup opportunity. The Lakers just had to work too hard for everything they got and didn’t have the defensive chops to keep up. The Nuggets also played with a swagger and an expectation to win, something that I just haven’t seen much of in big games this season.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 32 MIN | 6-20 FG | 5-6 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 20 PTS | +1
Gallo had a strange game for sure. He didn’t shoot well from the field, but he hit the big shot and combined with Iguodala and Brewer helped limit Kobe to 29 points on 26 shots, including two prayer threes at the end of the game. It was tough to grade but the Nuggets won and Gallo hit what was the biggest shot so he gets a good one.
|Kenneth Faried, SF 32 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 3 AST | 6 PTS | -8
Faried’s first half was absolutely brutal. He went to halftime with only 2 points and a rebound and looked like he didn’t belong on the court at all. His normal energy returned a bit in the second half and made things better but overall it was a pretty ugly game for the Manimal.
|Kosta Koufos, C 28 MIN | 3-8 FG | 1-1 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 7 PTS | -8
Like Gallinari, a lot of what Koufos did well doesn’t show up in the box score. He was a physical presence for the Nuggets and battled Dwight Howard whenever he was on the floor. With Faried lacking his normal energy it was important for Kosta to bring some of his own, and he did that very well.
|Ty Lawson, PG 33 MIN | 9-18 FG | 2-3 FT | 2 REB | 10 AST | 21 PTS | +1
Lawson absolutely abused Steve Nash tonight. He got to the rim at will, and while he struggled to finish a couple times good things normally happened when he went to the basket. The three he hit was a big one as well, as it put the Nuggets up 10 late in the fourth. It was a return to the Lawson that people expected, and not the one from late in games early this year.
|Andre Iguodala, SG 38 MIN | 6-14 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 7 AST | 15 PTS | +14
Iggy did a bit of everything tonight. He knocked down some threes, finished in transition, rebounded, defended and found teammates all throughout the night. His plus-14 on the night seemed right, as he was always in the middle of everything on both sides of the court when the Nuggets would make a run. In another good sign, the growth of chemistry between Iguodala and the rest of the team continued as he celebrated as much as any Nugget whenever something good happened for him or his teammates.
|Jordan Hamilton, SF 4 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -4
Ouch. A tough night for Hamilton, even in such a short amount of minutes. He missed layups, turned the ball over on a shot clock violation (where he seemed to lose track of the remaining time), and got called for a goaltend. A learning experience for a young player hopefully.
|Corey Brewer, SF 23 MIN | 6-14 FG | 1-3 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 14 PTS | +15
Brewer completely changed the game when he entered it in the first quarter. His energy was infectious as he attacked the basket and the glass, and he knocked down a couple mid-range jump shots as well. His second half was a bit rougher, but without his early contributions the Nuggets may not have been in the position they found themselves in during the second half.
|JaVale McGee, C 26 MIN | 7-9 FG | 3-7 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 17 PTS | +14
JaVale was good JaVale again tonight. His energy and athleticism were on full display, and aside from a iffy goaltending call and a pull-up jumper from the foul line, there really weren’t any bad moments for him on the night. While he could still stand to grab a couple more rebounds, which will happen if he stops trying to tap them to people and grab them himself, there isn’t really anything to be mad about tonight.
|Andre Miller, PG 24 MIN | 4-10 FG | 3-3 FT | 3 REB | 10 AST | 12 PTS | +10
Miller continued to be an enigma as he has most of the season. A second quarter sequence summed up his night pretty well. On one possession he threw a gorgeous lob to McGee for two points, but came right down the court the next possession and tried to force a lob to Faried for a turnover. A bit later in the quarter he hit his only three of the night, but the next possession he air balled a fadeaway contested two. Just a very up and down night again.
Karl did a good job for the most part but a couple of things made me scratch my head. First off why did Andre Miller get the late possession instead of Lawson, or in the best case scenario an actual set play? Lawson was beating Steve Nash off the dribble all night but instead Miller was asked to beat Jodie Meeks. It ended up working out for the Nuggets because of luck, but I hated the call. Second why did Faried get more minutes than McGee and Koufos? The other two bigs were clearly more effective in the physical game than the Manimal, and they didn’t play terrible together. I thought it was strange. But the Nuggets won so Karl gets the benefit of the doubt.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 36 MIN | 6-10 FG | 4-6 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 19 PTS | +11
Through the course of this game, keeping a mental tally of player grades, I was fully prepared to give Gallo a C after a first half in which he had two makes, two misses, two blocks against, and didn’t really impact the game much at all. But he made his mark in the second half, finishing with 19 points on sixty percent shooting (including 3 of 5 3-pointers), and making some big shots down the stretch. Tonight was Brewer’s night, but the two things the Nuggets live and die by are Lawson’s aggression and Gallinari coming up big when it counts. He made some key plays in this game, including one huge three off a great read of a defensive lapse by Metta World Peace.
|Kenneth Faried, SF 39 MIN | 9-13 FG | 3-5 FT | 15 REB | 1 AST | 21 PTS | +7
Kenneth was in full-on Manimal mode tonight, a one-man wrecking crew on the offensive glass against one of the most formidable frontcourts in the NBA. There are times when Kenneth’s size renders him unable to be as effective, but this was one of those games in which through sheer will and energy he was able to play like the biggest man on the court. He definitely still needs to work on his defense, especially getting out to defend the perimeter against assignments with range like Pau Gasol, and the little things inexperienced players tend to miss (the Lakers announcers pointed out a good example of him failing to close out the baseline with his outer leg on a Kobe drive). But the most important team stat of this game may well have been Denver winning the offensive rebound battle 20-11, and if it weren’t for Brewer’s stunning performance, Faried would get the game ball.
|Kosta Koufos, C 20 MIN | 4-6 FG | 2-3 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 10 PTS | +7
Koufos did a respectable job against Dwight Howard, considering that that’s not a very level playing field to begin with. He seems to have tapped into some newly discovered toughness over the last few weeks, as well as a determination to score more. Given that he appears locked into the starting center position for the foreseeable future, both of these are welcome developments. It’s hard not to wonder, as Dwight was heating up in the third quarter before getting tossed from the game, if the Koufos-McGee combo could have weathered that storm. But he held his own through most of this game, and if he can continue his recent trajectory of improvement it will be very good news for Denver.
|Ty Lawson, PG 34 MIN | 6-15 FG | 4-5 FT | 4 REB | 14 AST | 17 PTS | +11
Never mind the shooting, 14 assists from Ty is something we always want to see. He did an excellent job of pushing the pace and setting the tempo the entire game. And he played smarter than we’ve seen in some recent games in terms of not driving into traffic too much and generally making better decisions. Neither he nor Andre Miller could do much to stop Steve Nash’s hot shooting, but Lawson did a good job, at least, of staying with him and making him put the ball down to limit the damage he could inflict.
|Andre Iguodala, SG 38 MIN | 5-15 FG | 5-6 FT | 11 REB | 7 AST | 17 PTS | +9
Iguodala’s playmaking was superb in this game, and he was two rebounds shy of a triple double. His 3-point shooting still leaves something to be desired (though this can be said of most every player on the team), but when he’s aggressive in transition and works hard on driving and kicking, his ability to create is dangerous.
|Jordan Hamilton, SF 5 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | +3
J-Ham’s 1-6 shooting line doesn’t tell the whole story. His shot wasn’t falling, but he played with energy and tenacity. It’s great to see a guard who isn’t afraid to mix it up in the paint, but his shot will come, and as long as he plays aggressively and keeps pulling down rebounds (he had three with a block in five minutes of action), he should be forging a path to increased minutes.
|Corey Brewer, SF 24 MIN | 9-16 FG | 3-3 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 27 PTS | +11
Wow. Brewer came alive in the second half, scoring 22 of his season high 27 points and all six of his 3-pointeers after halftime. While he can’t be expected to produce offensively like this night in and night out, when he does — and especially when his 3-pointers are falling (he shot a blistering 6-7 from the arc), the Nuggets suddenly become a much more difficult team to beat. He played a great game defensively as well, making life difficult for Kobe and earning a steal and two blocks in the process. Player of the game, arguably his best game of the season, and when we review the top ten Nuggets plays of the season next April, his incredible buzzer beater to close the third quarter will surely be in the top three.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | +4
Timo made so little an impact in his four minutes of play that it’s nearly impossible to make a meaningful evaluation. He gets a B on the merit of doing no harm and being +4 on the floor.
|JaVale McGee, C 22 MIN | 3-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 7 PTS | 0
McGee needs to practice breathing exercises or some other sort of mentally calming activity. He’s at his best when he plays more restrained and less hyped up, but he’s an excitable boy, and too easily lets himself play out of control. Tonight he started off strong in the first, seemingly on his way to atoning for his fairly disastrous performance against the Clippers. But as he’s prone to do sometimes, he let his emotions get the better of him and went on to make some sloppy mistakes like pulling up on the rim after a big dunk, and too hastily inbounding an errant pass. Until JaVale learns to maintain his compusure, he won’t develop the consistency the Nuggets need from him.
|Andre Miller, PG 19 MIN | 2-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 6 PTS | -3
Miller was fairly ineffective on both ends of the court, and a veritable liability on offense. This was one of his sloppiest, least focused game of the season, as he missed a ton of what should have been easy layups, and made too many careless turnovers. His job is to steady the rudder by making heady veteran plays, and when he’s not doing that, it’s better for the Nuggets to have other players on the court (cough, cough, Jordan Hamilton).
It feels kind of crazy to give Karl an A for this game, when in the next game it’s a near-given that he’ll employ essentially the same strategy and rotations and the Nuggets will lose by 15. But if coaches are to be blamed for losses, they should be credited for wins, and this was one of the biggest, most gratifying wins of the season. Minus tick for leaving in Miller when he was eating it, but this was a game where, after an embarrassing loss on national TV, he trusted his players to pick themselves up, keep playing Nuggets basketball, and take confidence in themselves to win a big game. And this time, it worked, although some will certainly suggest he send Dwight a thank you note. Even so, in the most critical stretch of the game in the third quarter, when the Lakeers cut the Nuggets’ 13-point lead down to six, he let his team play through it, and that was the right call.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 31 MIN | 6-13 FG | 3-3 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 19 PTS | -2
Gallo finally hit some threes and it was nice to see him come out determined to assert himself against the Lakers. He was a big factor offensively but it’s tough to give any Nuggets player a shining grade after that kind of defensive effort.
|Kenneth Faried, SF 23 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 8 PTS | -20
He was abused in just about every possible way by any Laker who wanted a piece. The good news is Faried will probably never play 23 minutes while grabbing just two rebounds ever again.
|Kosta Koufos, C 9 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | +7
I’m not sure if it was injury or fatigue, but Koufos didn’t see any meaningful time after picking up two quick fouls to start the game. Howard got loose early and Karl must have seen enough to go in a different direction immediately. The decision appeared to backfire as Koufos actually looked much better on defense than all of his fellow bigs.
|Ty Lawson, PG 36 MIN | 3-11 FG | 3-5 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 9 PTS | -12
Flashbacks to game one of last years playoff series, where Lawson just wilted in a moment the Nuggets were expecting big things out of him. Games like this simply can’t be afforded out of Lawson anymore. The really offensive thing is the complete lack of emotion and leadership on the floor.
|Andre Iguodala, SG 33 MIN | 4-10 FG | 4-6 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 14 PTS | -12
An okay game, but it’s now obvious he can only do so much to mask Denver’s deep-seeded issues with perimeter defense. He has to have a great scoring night just to keep the Nuggets competitive and that’s nowhere near where Iguodala is at his best.
|Jordan Hamilton, SF 20 MIN | 6-14 FG | 1-1 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 13 PTS | -7
It’s tempting to give Hamilton a solid grade for his near double-double in just 20 minutes of action, but he takes some bad shots and still looks a step slow on the defensive end. I understand some of his struggles because I thought he was taking great shots and really improving earlier in the year, when he couldn’t get on the court. He’s trying to stand out and get minutes, which just hasn’t been easy thus far.
|Corey Brewer, SF 21 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-1 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 8 PTS | -14
Made some threes, but literally went for steals every single possession and still can’t dribble the ball whilst moving.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 21 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 6 PTS | -16
He didn’t get a chance to match up with Howard that much but Karl clearly made an effort to get Mozgov involved early and often. I wasn’t impressed with his defense around the rim but Mozgov managed to produce and showed he’s still got something to offer in a rotation role. I’m just not sure what the point is, we’ll likely go back to a non-Mozgov rotation in the very next game.
|JaVale McGee, C 17 MIN | 4-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 10 PTS | -10
He started out nicely and as usual, was all over the place the rest of the way. In a laugher like this I was disappointed the Nuggets did not give him a little more run in the second half. 17 games into the season we still don’t even have a hint of how JaVale might respond to increased minutes.
|Andre Miller, PG 26 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 10 PTS | -6
The Nuggets got it to within seven in the second quarter, one of many opportunities to get back in a competitive game against a defense that was allowing them to shoot over 50% the entire night. Miller brought the ball up, literally crossed himself over and fumbled the ball while nearly tripping over his own feet — no player was within an arms length of him. It just perfectly summed up Andre Miller’s season so far.
|Evan Fournier, SG 3 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -3
Would have been nice to see him in a little earlier. The Nuggets never really threatened but didn’t formally concede until the last few minutes.
The Nuggets have started their 3-game road trip with frustrating losses to Utah and Golden State in which they failed to close out games they had led by 15 or more points. The final leg of the trip doesn’t get any easier as they wind it up in Los Angeles to meet the Lakers for the first time since being eliminated in game seven of the first round of the playoffs last May. While much of the recent news regarding the Lakers has revolved around their struggles with injuries, chemistry and coaching, they remain a dangerous team loaded with All-Star talent.
To get a better informed insight about what to expect from the Lakers, Roundball Mining Company has exchanged questions and answers with Andy Kamenetzky (follow the Kamenetzky Brothers here on twitter) of the ESPN Los Angeles Lakers Index. If you’d like to see my replies to Andy’s questions, you can read them here. And without further ado, the following are his answers to our questions about the Lakers.
1. Nobody would have predicted, even taking Steve Nash’s injury into acount, that after acquiring Dwight Howard the Lakers would have a losing record 15 games into the season. Is this slow start something that will shake itself out after they adjust to Mike D’Antoni’s system, or do the problems run deeper than that?
Andy Kamenetzky: A little of both, I think. There’s no question the Lakers have flaws. The starting five is out of a video game, but is collectively old and in the case of Nash and Howard, dealing with the effects of recent injuries. The bench hasn’t rounded into reliable form. It wouldn’t kill them to add another shooter. But there’s also no question these struggles are also due in rather sizable part to the early season chaos (training camp injuries, the coaching carousel), a myriad of new faces, and Nash’s absence. It’s been extremely difficult for the Lakers to consistently form a cohesive unit on either side of the ball. Obviously, they’re not the first team in NBA history to deal with injuries and/or drama. There’s an onus on the Lakers to figure it out as best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt. Still, I figured it would take this process would take a couple of months under the best possible circumstances, and these have flirted with “worst possible” status.
2. Pau Gasol took a lot of heat after his performance in the Lakers’ loss to the Pacers, but D’Antoni came to his defense saying ” he’s a big part of what [the Lakers are] going to do.” How realistic is the prospect that he’ll be able to run in D’Antoni’s system and establish good chemistry with Dwight?
Andy Kamenetzky: I think it’s possible. Gasol isn’t a Utopian fit for D’Antoni — the coach has admitted as much — but we’re talking about one of the most creative offensive minds in basketball joining forces with one of the most multi-skilled players of his generation. I’d like to think the two can develop a positive, productive working relationship. I’ve often wondered if the template might be Boris Diaw’s role in Phoenix: A play-making big man who can create for others, work mismatches off the dribble, run the break off a rebound, etc. It’s not a true apples-to-apples comparison, as Diaw is a better outside shooter and was younger, but I do think there are legitimate commonalities. Plus, Howard is mobile enough to begin sequences in the high post, which will allow Gasol to at least begin some possessions in the mid or low post.
Then again, it’s not a perfect setup, which means Pau bears the responsibility to aggressively seek out a comfort zone, rather than wait for his coach to create it for him. Unfortunately, that kind of assertiveness isn’t Gasol’s strong suit. There’s also always a chance that with Kobe, Howard and eventually Nash alongside him, Pau simply won’t be given enough to do to truly flourish. But for the time being, I’m remaining positive that time, plus Nash’s presence, will eventually create a niche for Pau.
3. After landing three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard, the Lakers are surprisingly just 18th in defensive efficiency. What do they need to do to improve defensively in general, and what approach should we expect to see them taking in defending the Nuggets in this game?
Andy Kamenetzky: Mostly, cohesion. It’s been a nutty two months, which has impeded the team’s ability to get on the same page defensively. This problem is only heightened by Dwight remaining a step or two slow. By his own admission, Howard’s not fully recovered from the back surgery, which prevents him from being the ultimate last line of defense we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. In the latest loss to Indiana, George Hill floated a game-winner off the backboard over Howard, who’d arrived a hair late to either successfully alter the shot or block it. Before the back injury, I’d have bet the house on Howard in that situation. He’s slowly rounding into form, but not yet “Dwight Howard” as we’ve come to know him.
As for the strategy against Denver, I think the first key is containing Ty Lawson as much as possible, which begins with the defense on ball (Darius Morris or Chris Duhon, unless D’Antoni opts for a defensive cross-match involving Kobe or Metta World Peace over stretches) and ends with Gasol and Howard protecting the rim against inevitable penetration from the speedster. The Lakers will also need to be diligent about getting back in transition, especially as a team that now looks to increase tempo. From there, I think it’s all about keeping Denver, and in particular, Kenneth Faried off the glass to prevent garbage buckets and second chance opportunities. JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos are no slouches on the offensive glass, but Faried is just plain ridiculous (and very entertaining to watch play.) Gasol has struggled at times to keep a body on the Manimal, but needs to find a way to prevent the kid from running roughshod in the paint.
4. Steve Nash’s injury has obviously been a major disappointment and setback for the Lakers after assembling their four future Hall of Famers lineup. How big of an impact will he have in improving the team once he returns from injury?
Andy Kamenetzky: Assuming there aren’t any noticeable effects from the injury, I think Nash will have a pretty big impact. He knows D’Antoni’s system as well as the coach, and no player has ever run it more successfully. With Nash in the fold, the Lakers gain a true floor general, an outside shooting threat, and a player with an unbelievable ability to find teammates in the right spot in the right time. That can only help matters. He’s obviously not a magic bullet, and work will remain at hand after his return. Everyone, Nash included, will have to adjust for the umpeenth time this season. But I do think Nash can make a serious difference. Remember, he was imported from Phoenix well before D’Antoni was in the picture. There were holes to fix, regardless of the coach, and Nash theoretically addresses a lot of those gaps.
5. It seems that many in Lakers Nation are calling for a Gasol trade. But even if — contrary to D’Antoni’s statement — the Lakers did decide to put him on the block, could they get enough talent back in return that on the balance it would improve the team’s chances for a championship?
Andy Kamenetzky: Maybe. Even if Gasol’s trade value has plummeted to the point where he won’t fetch a player close to his caliber of talent — and unless Pau picks up his play, I suspect that will be the case — it’s debatable whether the Lakers even need another A-Lister. One could reasonably argue “Star Player X” swapped for Pau would in turn find himself similarly lacking opportunities, and therefore would be an equally uncomfortable fit. Thus, two or three role players (at least one of which can shoot) to bolster the bench and add depth might actually benefit the Lakers in a more tangible way. And that may be a realistic haul for Pau, even during a down season. The guy’s still a very good player, and we’re not far removed from the London games where he flourished as “el hombre” for Spain.
Update: Check out the 5-on-5 previewing the game on ESPN.com.
Leadership is getting players to believe in you. If you tell a teammate you’re ready to play as tough as you’re able to, you’d better go out there and do it… Leadership is diving for a loose ball, getting the crowd involved, getting other players involved. It’s being able to take it as well as dish it out. That’s the only way you’re going to get respect from the players.
So many games come down to who’s going to make plays. Who’s the guy who’s going to take that responsibility. So the leaders of this team are going to be the ones who take responsibility in winning. It’s not the responsibility of putting numbers on the board, it’s the responsibility of winning.
After the Denver Nuggets traded away Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington to land Andre Iguodala, the conventional wisdom dictated that while this move would bolster Denver’s perimeter defense, its 3-point shooting, and by extension its offense as a whole, would take a hit (an issue which Charlie deftly analyzes in his most recent post). Most of the buzz centered around whether, on the balance, this was an upgrade in basketball terms that would propel the Nuggets to the next level.
Less examined, however, is the fact that in trading Afflalo Denver lost its team captain, and in trading Harrington lost the player who by all appearances was the team’s true leader in the locker room. On the surface this might be considered an easily dismissible issue. Iguodala, after all, was not only team captain of the Philadelphia 76ers, most recently leading them to the Eastern Conference semifinals, but also boasting additional leadership credentials as an All-Star and Olympian. Leaders out, leader in, plug-and-play and they’re ready to roll. Simple enough.
Except that it’s not. (more…)
Yesterday, Drew Goodman and Scott Hastings of Drew & Scott on Sports Radio 104.3 The Fan had an extensive interview with Nuggets executive Masai Ujiri, who was in Houston, where JaVale McGee is currently training with Hakeem Olajuwon. (On Twitter, please follow Drew here: @ROOTSPORTS_DG, and Scott here: @ScottHastings). They talked about the Andre Iguodala trade and The Dream’s work with McGee and Kenneth Faried.
Before reading further, please be sure to listen to their original broadcast here, as the transcribed quotes below are only a fraction of of their discussion, and of course in writing much of the personal feel of the conveersation is lost. That said, in addition to listening to the interview, it does seem worthwhile to see some of what Ujiri said in writing, as he conveyed a lot of information rather quickly, and much of it is worth a closer look.
Excerpts from Ujiri’s answers* in the interview are after the jump: (more…)
First of all, what was Orlando thinking? The centerpiece of the long anticipated Dwight Howard trade ends up being Arron Afflalo? Yikes. Thanks to Orlando’s generosity the three other teams involved in the reported four team deal that will be finalized later today all received much more than they gave. Obviously the Lakers are thrilled with Bynum for Howard. Philly has to be ecstatic to get Bynum for Igoudala, Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless. Denver may not have made out quite as well as those two teams have, but this trade is a slam dunk for the Nuggets.
There are several different aspects of this trade to look at so let’s dive in.
|Kenneth Faried, F 20 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 1 AST | 6 PTS | -19 The Manimal was fantastic and helped allay my fears that he could not handle the Lakers size. He showed he is not afraid of anyone and will not back down from a challenge. In the fourth quarter Faried was completely overmatched by Gasol and had to be removed. Faried has a fantastic career ahead of him, but his lack of size is going to be an issue for Denver.|
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 26 MIN | 1-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 3 PTS | -12 I have been frustrated with Gallo all series long, earlier in the season he was very good at not forcing shots, since his return from his thumb injury he has been settling for jumpers off the dribble out of iso sets. He was awful from start to finish and MWP gets a lot of credit for that. I have no idea why Karl reinserted him in the game in the middle of the fourth as Gallo continued to be worthless. Hopefully this is a learning experience and a building block for Gallo to use as he matures and not a sign of what is to come in the future.|
|Timofey Mozgov, C 15 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -8 We got what we expected from Mozgov, solid D, and nothing else. He did his job, but it will be interesting to see what the Nuggets do with him this offseason. In the NFL you can stockpile defensive backs if you play in the same division as the Lions or Saints, in the NBA you cannot keep a player on your roster just because he can defend Andrew Bynum for a few minutes.|
|Arron Afflalo, SG 36 MIN | 6-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 15 PTS | -10 When the Lakers pushed their lead up to 9 in the second, it was Afflalo who led the charge back with four quick points, in the second half, he was nowhere to be found until he made a three with less than two minutes left to keep a sliver of hope alive. Afflalo played solid defense against Kobe, who was oddly passive, but Afflalo showed that despite the growth he made this season, he is still only a complimentary player on offense.|
|Ty Lawson, PG 42 MIN | 11-19 FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 6 AST | 24 PTS | -6 Ty came out firing, but the Lakers began making him the focus of the defense, the Lakers bigs were more aggressive hedging and challenging him off screens and it made it difficult for him to get to the lane. When Denver was able to loosen up the game and run in the second half, Lawson had a great few minutes. When the game tightened up, LA got tougher on Ty again and he was not able to carry Denver to a win.|
|Al Harrington, PF 29 MIN | 9-18 FG | 3-3 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 24 PTS | +6 I felt bad for Harrington who had such a solid season that he was struggling due to injuries. He deserved better and finally was able to put his mark on a game scoring 24 points. Sadly, he was not able to hit a big shot when Denver needed it most not to mention his meager two rebounds in 29 minutes.|
|Andre Miller, PG 27 MIN | 1-10 FG | 1-1 FT | 11 REB | 8 AST | 3 PTS | +0 There are nights when you feel like Steve Blake and nights when your shot is just not falling. Miller could not find the net to save his life, but instead of becoming a non factor, like a person who loses one of their five senses, he augmented what he had to work with. Miller hit the boards and did his best to set up teammates. He made the best of a bad situation. As a Karl favorite I suspect Miller will be back, but if this is his last game as a Nugget, he went down swinging.|
|Corey Brewer, SF 13 MIN | 2-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | +1 You had a feeling after his unconscious shooting display in game six, he would be hard pressed to repeat that offensive output. With Denver struggling to score and Brewer having lost his hot hand Karl could not afford to keep him on the court. The one thing Brewer brings, energy, was not an issue for Denver tonight so his role was diminished.|
|JaVale McGee, C 32 MIN | 1-7 FG | 4-6 FT | 14 REB | 1 AST | 6 PTS | +3 Mcgee had to great games out of seven. That is either hope for the future or a sign of what he will always be. Nene drove Nuggets fans crazy with his inconsistency, and McGee is no remedy to that issue. Still, McGee showed improved post defense, rebounded the ball very well and his ability to block and alter shots is undeniable. On a night Denver needed to get some easy buckets around the rim, McGee was AWOL.|
|Kenneth Faried, F 28 MIN | 6-11 FG | 3-3 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 15 PTS | +14
Faried’s personal growth and improvement throughout the series is something to see. While the Lakers size dominated game one and two, Denver has toughened up and been much more physical with Gasol and Bynum even before the catch. In my opinion, Faried’s fearless attitude against the Lakers has become contagious and he’s played a huge part in the defensive turnaround that suddenly swung the momentum of the series and forced a game seven. Hard to believe this guy is a rookie who didn’t see the court for nearly half of the regular season.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 28 MIN | 5-13 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 7 AST | 12 PTS | +27
Gallo’s complete game finally came alive after a series-long lull in which I thought he was a very one dimensional player. Gallinari’s aggressiveness can show itself in multiple ways and tonight, it was his ability to pick the Lakers apart with his passing. He had a ton of success in pick and roll situations and that’s where Denver needs him to shine, especially with the Lakers defense keeping him off the line and outside of the paint for the majority of this series. In this matchup, Gallo’s passing is a much better asset than his shooting and the Nuggets need more of it.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 24 MIN | 3-5 FG | 2-4 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 8 PTS | +16
As a number of esteemed readers have pointed out, the grading of Mozgov has been way too harsh in his first few games of this series. He was extremely physical with Bynum from the opening tip, setting the tone with a big block on the game’s first possession and never once letting him get comfortable in the post. Mozgov has battled hard every game he’s started and the Lakers bigs haven’t looked the same since. It’s time to acknowledge the crucial role Mozgov has played in that and applaud him for it.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 36 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 7 AST | 6 PTS | +26
Afflalo brought out a vintage 2009 performance in which he pretty much only shot wide open jumpers created by teammates. Arron really has had his hands full with a motivated Kobe Bryant and is doing all he can against a player who can make shots no matter how well you defend him. Just an incredibly sound performance out of Afflalo, who played within the flow of the offense and finished with a career playoff high seven assists.
|Ty Lawson, PG 30 MIN | 13-18 FG | 1-3 FT | 5 REB | 6 AST | 32 PTS | +22
Just an outstanding, superstar-type effort. After the game, Ty said he flew his shooting coach into Denver yesterday and was getting shots up past midnight. The work clearly paid off as Lawson killed the Lakers from everywhere on the floor and showed much-improved aggressiveness in the half-court, where Lawson actually did most of his damage. This may have been the best game I’ve ever seen Lawson play, and he practically sat out the entire fourth quarter.
|Al Harrington, PF 22 MIN | 1-8 FG | 2-6 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | +6
Al’s numbers speak for themselves. Despite the fact he shot 1 for 8, I actually thought he improved and played less selfishly in a game Harrington clearly tried to pick up his play. I understand Harrington has played tough on Gasol and is fighting through injuries, but at some point you have to look at five awful games in a row and admit what the evidence says is true. I admire his effort, but Al just looks hobbled out there and the Nuggets have been a much better team without him in the lineup.
|Andre Miller, PG 24 MIN | 5-10 FG | 1-1 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 12 PTS | -7
Miller’s steady veteran presence may be the biggest factor in this series’ dramatic turnaround in the past three days. Much like Faried, Miller has played fearless against the Lakers and abused his matchup against the small Laker guards. Andre did not score or create at the same level he has in previous games, but he limited his mistakes and continues to be so much better than any guard on the Lakers roster it hardly matters. You can tell how badly Miller wants to lead this team and win even when his own game is not at its best.
|Corey Brewer, SF 19 MIN | 8-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 18 PTS | -7
Even with Brewer’s offensive struggles throughout the season, he’s been an incredibly underrated contributor to Denver’s success. When he’s useful on offense, the Nuggets are an entirely different animal. His shots are usually limited to spot up threes and transition run-outs, but Brewer found some confidence early and proceeded to score from just about everywhere. When the Nuggets play unselfishly, everyone benefits and Brewer’s outstanding night is proof.
|JaVale McGee, C 20 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -1
McGee had a strange game. I felt he was a net positive and played a sound game defensively, but he provided no help on offense and couldn’t come close to the type of production he had in Denver’s first two wins of the series. There are both good and bad ways to look at this development, but let’s just say JaVale continues to be a work in progress and managed to play important, mistake-free minutes in one of the best wins in Nuggets franchise history.
I have been chided for being negative and pessimistic. To me the negative is simply providing objective analysis. As far as pessimistic, well, you’ve got me there. I have been a fan of the Nuggets for roughly two and a half decades. My personal conclusion is that Nuggets fan and optimist are mutually exclusive.
However, heading into game six I have objectively found several reasons why Nuggets fans can feel
optimistic encouraged about Denver’s chances to force a game seven.
On Tuesday night the Nuggets did something they haven’t done in three years: play great basketball in the playoffs. Although the team won several games since its historic run to the Western Conference Finals in 2009, there was always something missing in those wins. They were hollow — strictly for the sake of putting a “W” on paper and not one in the hearts of their fans. Tuesday was different. On Tuesday, the Nuggets weren’t playing for a “W”; they were playing for the city of Denver, its fans and the pride of both.