Rapid Reaction: Nuggets vs. Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers 90 Final
Recap | Box Score
99 Denver Nuggets
Nene, C
4-7 FG | 5-6 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 13 PTS | -1
It was a little funny seeing him stare down his teammates and almost scream out for help whenever Bynum or Pau made a move on him. Nene was solid but not much of a factor in the win to be honest. The Lakers bigs easily pushed him around down low while he continues to put up poor rebounding performances. As I said before, the move to power forward is not paying off for Nene and I am confused why he had to throw such a fit about playing center – where he is better.
Danilo Gallinari, F
7-16 FG | 5-7 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 20 PTS | +11
The Rooster still can’t find his touch from distance, but he did shoot 6-9 on non 3-point attempts. Gallo also recorded five steals and was a key factor in the fourth quarter run that sealed the victory. It wasn’t a perfect game from Gallinari, but he played his best when it mattered.
Timofey Mozgov, C
0-0 FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 3 PTS | -14
Mozgov racked up five fouls in 13 minutes and clearly let the officiating get into his head. He spent most of the night trying to get a call and once again struggled denying Bynum position. Timo showed a few flashes defensively but he needs to learn to fight for position and contribute on the glass like a starting center should.
Arron Afflalo, SG
2-7 FG | 2-3 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 6 PTS | -10
He’s contributing defensively like you’d expect, but it’s been a rough road getting Afflalo involved on the offensive end. He looks tentative, dribbles too much and jumps away from contact rather than finishing through it. The Nuggets need to get him some shots and work him into the offense more.
Ty Lawson, PG
5-11 FG | 7-8 FT | 3 REB | 10 AST | 17 PTS | +18
Everything was there for Lawson tonight. The Nuggets came alive with him on the floor and were consistently able to speed up the game and run on the tired Lakers. He scored, he got 10 assists despite poor shooting from teammates and his defense was the key to the fourth quarter run that sealed the win. His presence makes Andre Miller extraneous late in games and the Nuggets need the ball in their best player’s hands every big possession.
Al Harrington, PF
3-7 FG | 6-6 FT | 11 REB | 2 AST | 12 PTS | +15
Once again, Harrington was all the Nuggets had going the first half of this game. As I tweeted earlier things could be looking grim if Al were to cool off before the offense got itself sorted. Luckily, Ty Lawson stepped up in the second half and Al Buckets wasn’t asked to carry the Nuggets again. Harrington continues to contribute in all areas of the game and grabbed a team-high 11 boards. I would have liked to see more Afflalo in the fourth quarter but you can’t deny Harrington is playing well right now.
Chris Andersen, C
5-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 12 PTS | +17
After playing a combined 12 minutes in the past two contests, Birdman bounced back with his best game of the season. His conditioning and leaping ability still aren’t there, but he continues to give a better effort on the floor and finally saw some results. His defense remains wildly inconsistent, but Bird was solid tonight. He scored with efficiency, rebounded well and recorded his first blocked shot of the season.

Five Things We Saw

  1. Rebounding matters. For the first time in two games the Nuggets hold up their end on the boards and match their opponent’s total. They continue to struggle on the offensive glass, grabbing only five despite missing 38 shots.
  2. Pace is the key to victory. The Nuggets were only able to pull away thanks to Ty Lawson pushing the tempo. The half-court offense remains a mess and unless they want to play Lawson 40-plus minutes a night, the Nuggets must get better in the half-court game.
  3. Getting to the line equals wins. It’s as simple as that. The shooting struggles continue yet Denver stayed alive by attacking the Lakers big men and forcing the issue at the rim. Thirty seven free throw attempts is a season high and the Nuggets made a respectable 31 of them.
  4. The bench is missing something. As much as I hate the constant dwelling on the departure of JR Smith, the Nuggets are missing his explosiveness and energy off the bench. The offense is bogged down and slow with Andre Miller. Rudy Fernandez is little more than a passer and spot up shooter. The Nuggets couldn’t take advantage of Kobe resting and part of what kept them in the game is the fact the Lakers lack bench scoring as well.
  5. The defense is promising. Kobe had an off night shooting the ball, but the Lakers as a team shot less than 40 percent. This was a rare feat for past Nuggets teams and they have shown an ability to compete in low scoring affairs. The Nuggets continue to communicate and improve their team defense despite foul trouble. Strangely, their offense is letting them down in their 2 losses.

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Rapid Reaction: Nuggets at Lakers

Denver Nuggets 89 Final

Box Score | Recap

92 Los Angles Lakers
Ty Lawson 3-8 FG | 2-4 FT | 3 REB | 8 AST | 9 PTS | -13
After a torrid start to the season, Lawson cooled off and struggled to find his rhythm offensively. He made a concerted effort to get others involved finishing with a season high 8 assists. Unfortunately Lawson had four turnovers, missed 2 big free-throws and failed to get anything going in the half-court. It behooves him to be a little more selfish and stay aggressive as that often creates better openings for his teammates than simply passing to them.
Arron Afflalo 26 MIN | 4-10 FG | 2-5 3PT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 13 PTS | -9
Afflalo has not been a key factor in any of Denver’s games and continues to struggle finding a role. Despite that, this is the best he has played all season and we finally saw his familiar defensive presence show up in a meaningful way. The Nuggets defended much better than they have in their first 3 games and Afflalo’s solid effort on Kobe helped set the tone. Offensively, Arron still looks hesitant and isn’t shooting the ball with confidence.
Danilo Gallinari 3-12 FG | 1-2 FT | 7 REB | 3 AST | 7 PTS | -5
Is this guy having a bad week or what? Considered by many to be Denver’s best offensive talent primed for a breakout season, Gallinari has flopped. He continues to shoot horrible jumpers and refuses to get to the free throw line. The Nuggets need Gallinari to play better to have any hope of contending, and there is no choice but to let him keep shooting. The shooting slump is not what bothers me though – it’s his timid attitude and awful decision making down the stretch. Gallo only avoids a grade of ‘F’ for some solid pick and roll defense on Kobe Bryant. There simply was no excuse to miss that layup.
Nene Hilario 5-10 FG | 3-5 FT | 8 REB | 0 BLK | 13 PTS | -11
Is playing at Power Forward finally unleashing the full power of Nene’s game? In a word – no. From what I’ve seen in four games, the Nuggets are worse with Nene at Power Forward. Mainly because he hasn’t had success scoring outside of a small lineup where he plays Center. Nene finished with his career averages, about 13 and 8. He also missed a dunk that would have extended the Nuggets lead late and wasn’t a factor down the stretch.
Timofey Mozgov 26 MIN | 4-7 FG | 10 REB | 4 BLK | 8 PTS | +3
Mozgov is agile for a big man, moves his feet well has decent enough hands to handle precision passes under the rim. Him and Al Harrington were the most reliable Nuggets bigs in terms of hedging on pick and rolls and keeping L.A. out of the middle. Mozgov also grabbed a team high 10 boards and was the only starter to finish with a positive plus/minus. Although he couldn’t keep Bynum from getting good position down low, Timo is developing just fine in the starting lineup.
Al Harrington 8-17 FG | 3-8 3PT | 3 REB | 21 PTS | +5
Can we just admit it now – Al Harrington is the second best player on the Nuggets roster through 4 games. He made big shots when Denver needed it and is consistently giving all-out effort on defense. Harrington has a lot of shortcomings as a defender and rebounder, and grabbing only 3 boards while playing at Power Forward all game is a little disappointing. That’s not really what Harrington does though, and there’s no denying his offense carried the Nuggets in a game they were in a fantastic position to win

Five Things We Saw

  1. This is by far the most complete defensive performance of the young season. The Nuggets have had trouble rotating to shooters off double teams and fortunately no team except the Blazers made them pay. The Nuggets locked down on perimeter defense today and in the second half, played better Pick and Roll defense than we’ve seen in years. The bigs did a great job hedging, making Kobe pick up his dribble and denying him the middle of the floor. The Lakers were forced to go through Bynum and Pau for offense and unfortunately for Denver, both of them were on and they delivered.
  2. Andrew Bynum is a force down low. His return changes the whole complexion of the L.A. Lakers from a purely perimeter team to an inside-out contender. Bynum did a solid job running the floor and getting deep post position where the Lakers guards consistently got him the ball.
  3. On offense, the Nuggets didn’t attack Bynum on the pick and roll outside of a single possession where Lawson fed Nene for a thunderous dunk ending with an and-one (Nene predictably missed the free throw, then fouled Bynum on the other end). I am not sure why they didn’t do this more or attack the Laker’s point guards one-on-one in order to draw Bynum out of the paint. Bynum was free to roam the middle on defense and he finished with only 2 fouls and 2 emphatic blocks.
  4. To expand on the last bullet, the Nuggets’ half court execution is deplorable. They simply don’t create good looks a half court offense, and I’m not sure it would have mattered because nobody wanted to shoot. Watching a top flight playoff outfit like the Lakers run set plays, there’s no comparison to the Nuggets fumbling and bumbling their way into long jumpers. They aren’t built to win games in a slow, deliberate style and as I pointed out earlier it is a huge red flag. Making their shots would help, but it doesn’t change the fact Denver has extremely limited options for constructing shot opportunities late in games.
  5. Birdman played 5 minutes and committed three personal fouls. Personally, I thought Bird looked a little better than he has in the past and seemed to making an effort to stay on his feet and hold his ground down low. I said in the Blazers recap I did not think Bird was paying attention and fully engaged on defense. He seemed to be giving better effort but it didn’t result in the coaches showing anymore confidence in his game. Birdman can’t really jump anymore and isn’t a reliable source of blocks and weak side help. I do believe the coaching staff is evaluating bringing him in as the first big off the bench and my guess is rotation changes are definitely in play.

What the Denver Nuggets Must Do to Build a Championship Roster

How do you build a championship roster?

That is a question that General Managers and Presidents of Player Personnel must ask themselves every day.  What complicates things is while every team starts every season at 0-0 not every team is created equal.  What works in one market is not feasible in another.  Add in the fact that no two teams are at the same point in their process of building a team and the possibilities for every team are endless.  Every decision creates a ripple in the pool of NBA chaos.

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Potential Playoff Matchups

After Oklahoma City’s impressive victory over the Lakers on Sunday night, the crowded playoff picture in the West just got even more interesting. The Nuggets have a two game lead for the fifth seed and assuming they hold on against Portland’s tiebreaker it is now conceivable they could face the Lakers in addition to Dallas and Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs.

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2010-11 Game 76: Denver Nuggets 95, L.A. Lakers 90 (Double Take)

Box Score | Highlights

After Kenyon Martin put back a missed free-throw by Nene to clinch the Nuggets 95-90 victory of the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, emotion spilled out of the gritty power forward in the form of expletives aimed at the silicone-infused celebrities strung along the court-side seats at Staples Center. For Nuggets fans, this was a moment when we vicariously said what we’ve wanted to for a really long time, and thanks to Kenyon Martin, we got that opportunity without having to deal with the repercussions.

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The Quadruple 50-Win?

With the current Denver Nuggets squad far surpassing any expectations fans had following the historic Carmelo Anthony trade, it’s now time to start seriously looking at whether or not another 50-win season is approaching. With nine games left to play and our current record sitting at 44-29, you’d think 50 wins would be easily attainable considering how hot the Nuggets have been as of late, but like all teams not named the Miami Heat, the final stretch of games in the NBA season is almost guaranteed to be tough. (more…)

2010-11 Game 66: Denver Nuggets 131 – Detroit Pistons 101

For two consecutive games the Denver Nuggets have outscored its opponent by at least 19 points. It’s too bad neither of those teams happened to be the Lakers or Heat, but taking care of business is taking care of business last I checked, no matter who the opponent is.  (more…)

2010-2011 Game 42 Recap: Denver Nuggets 97 Los Angeles Lakers 107

Box score | Highlights

Quick recap tonight, because this was a game in which the Nuggets just didn’t measure up – literally and figuratively. There are a lot of reasons this years Nuggets are a full tier below the Lakers and other top teams in the West, and pretty much all of them were exposed tonight. The defending champs dismantle the Nuggets with aggressive defense, a sound gameplan that plays to their strengths and simply enough patience to wait Denver out and let them implode on their own. It worked to perfection.

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2010-2011 Game 42 Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

I don’t buy that the Los Angeles Lakers are struggling. They may be vulnerable yes, but that certainly isn’t anything new. No disrespect to San Antonio, but these are still the defending two time champions with the most proven all-star duo in the league. And for my money still the most difficult team to face in a seven game series.

If the Lakers have slipped at all, it’s probably due to miniscule cracks in their foundation of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Kobe’s averaging his fewest points and shot attempts in seven years, but continues with his trademark intensity and leadership as the game’s best winner. Pau Gasol is again contributing all around production at a high level, but occasionally gets passive and flustered in clutch situations. Andrew Bynum’s return has been strong, but stuttered by injury and yet another adjustment for the Laker bench after losing Matt Barnes.

The Laker defense is what makes them dangerous. They try to defend without fouling and run teams off the threes. When the pace gets out of control, they can be prone to giving up too many steals and offensive rebounds. In a frenzied offensive showdown they can be knocked off their normally steady half-court composure.

If Denver can muster enough pride to defend, they have the weapons. Ty Lawson should get whatever he wants against Derek Fisher and Steve Blake. Against San Antonio Melo let Richard Jefferson force him into awful shot selection all night. If that doesn’t change against Artest this won’t be close. Because Denver looks like and acts like a good team at home, they have a great chance against a team they’ve had a vendetta against the past few years.

Update: In preparation for tonight’s game check out this Q & A between Jeremy and Brian Kamenetzky of ESPN Los Angeles.

Nuggets 118, Lakers 112…Denver hands LA first loss

Fresh off the butt-whooping of the decade at Indiana (sorry guys, I’m still not over that one) and, in true Nuggets fashion, Denver returns home just in time for a huge bounce back victory over the formerly undefeated Lakers 118-112 at “The Can”.

This was Carmelo Anthony’s night, his 32 point, (on 14-of-25 shooting) 13 rebound performance lifting Denver down the stretch run and playing much more efficiently than his superstar counterpoint. Kobe scored a season-high (and team-high) 34 for LA, but he essentially shot his Lakers out of the game late in the fourth by not getting the ball in Pau’s hands. Gasol had a very solid 17 and 20 for the Lakers but he (6-for-17) like Kobe (11-for-32) struggled from the field.

Nene had a decent game (18 points on 7-of-13 from the field) in his matchup with the Spaniard, but it was still a frustrating game to watch for the Brazilian. As I said in my season preview, the Nuggets needed big things from Nene this season; they need him to make that jump into the next echelon of centers. But his foul-prone defense got him trouble again and forced him out of the game at points when he was getting on a role offensively. Granted, the Nuggets were playing 5-on-8 for most of the game as Kobe and Pau (especially Gasol) got sent to the line anytime they were touched. Nene’s fourth foul late in the third came on a play when he “pulled the chair” on Pau when he backing Nene down, and yet the Nuggets center was still called for the foul.

But despite getting bailed out by the refs multiple times, Pau looked lost and at times soft, especially in the second half. While he’s been lauded in the national media for “toughening up” after getting dominated by KG in the 2008 Finals, Pau still shows moments of weakness that opposing centers should be able to take advantage of. But despite this minor criticism, the Lakers (aka you Kobe) should have tried to exploit the Nuggets small-ball lineup, which at times had Big Al or even Melo at the five.

Ty Lawson had a great game and got some crunch time minutes late in the fourth (which he deserved, thanks you George!), dropping 17 points and 5 dimes off the bench. Any time he’s paired up against an older, slower point guard (Fisher and Blake both qualify) he’s gonna have his way with them on offense and be able to penetrate and kick/or finish. J.R. had a decent outing himself, but still hasn’t gotten over the 13 point hump this year. His best moment of the night was his long three over Kobe (who was playing off J.R. and begging him to shoot that three before closing out…you give him that room he’s gonna launch!) that gave the Nuggets the lead with 4:11 to go and Denver added six more to go up nine with 2:13 remaining.

I also wanted to say I like George going small, spacing the floor and increasing that threat of the Nuggets running in transition even more than they already do. Gary Forbes continues to perform admirably in his spare minutes on the floor, knocking down his open looks and playing with hustle and aggression. And with Melo continuing to pick up his rebounding along with Big Al’s play on the defensive end (he’s played solid D against the likes of Pau, Dirk and D-West) why would George stray away from a small-ball lineup? They’re fun to watch, play scrappy D, force turnovers and rebound just as well (which says a lot about our bigs’ play up to this point) as the natural fours and fives.

Shannon Brown had another huge game off the bench for the Lakers, still making me sad he took less money to stay and back up Kobe in LA instead of starting for a fun, young team somewhere else. I think Denver may have trouble with young, athletic players who can shoot the three (especially off the bench when J.R. is guarding them) if Aaron’s not guarding them, which means all these young teams in the West (Sacramento, OKC, Portland) are definitely gonna give Denver some fits.

The good news is Denver was able to bounce back from a debilitating loss to beat a superior opponent (and one as hated as the Lakers) and get back on a winning track. The bad news is Denver appears to be playing to the level of their competition, and that kind of inconsistency isn’t going to get it done late in the season, or come playoff time. If the Nuggets have any chance of holding onto Melo after this season, they can’t afford to give up 140+ points or lose by 20+ points on the road to mediocre teams. But if the bench continues to play strong and the Nuggets can coax more out of Nene and/or Afflalo (who’s cooled down after a hot start) Denver can definitely make the climb up the Western Conference standings…at least in the regular season.

P.S.- Denver won their 44th straight game at home when they scored 110 or more points…not too shabby fellas!

Does Luck Run the NBA?

ESPN.com recently ran a feature where Chad Ford and John Hollinger ranked the potential for future success of all 30 NBA teams (Insider required). Every team was ranked based on five important characteristics, players (weighted 40%), management (weighted 20%), money (weighted 20%), market (weighted 10%), and draft (weighted 10%).

As a Nuggets fan and observer I believe they forgot one very crucial category, luck.

Whether you call it luck or intangibles, mojo or fortune it comes down to the fact some teams seem to have things go their way a little more often than others. Look at the teams that have dominated the NBA over the previous two decades. Chicago, San Antonio, Los Angeles and Boston had at least one tremendously lucky break that has paved the way for their success.

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2009-10 Game 79: Denver Nuggets 98 – Los Angeles Lakers 96

Box Score | Highlights | Daily Dime Live Chat

For the second night in a row the Denver Nuggets delivered a feel bad win. For the second night in a row the Nuggets lost a sizeable third quarter lead. For the second night in a row the Nuggets were behind in the fourth quarter and looked like a cooked goose. For the second night in a row the Nuggets made the plays down the stretch and pulled out a victory.

This time it was against the Los Angeles Lakers who were playing without Kobe Bryant and the victory dropped the Nuggets’ magic number for the Northwest Division title down to two. Denver can clinch the division title and seal home court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs with any combination of Nuggets’ wins or Jazz losses that add up to two.

There was some gamesmanship prior to tipoff as word leaked that Phil Jackson just might sit some of the Lakers key players and low and behold Kobe Bryant did not play a second. Early speculation as to why Kobe was held out surrounded the fact that it would provide a built in excuse for L.A. if they lost the game, and thus the season series, Denver would know it was because Kobe did not play. My initial reaction was that the Lakers wanted to do what they could to avoid playing the Nuggets in the first round. You can draw your own conclusion, but while the Lakers should be able to clinch the top seed in the west, they are now tied with the Orlando Magic and may have sacrificed home court in the finals should those two match up again in the NBA Finals.

There was nothing new to Nuggets fans in this game. Denver plays a so-so first half, builds a lead, gives it up after the offense becomes stagnant and perimeter oriented leading to easy baskets at the other end of the floor, and then somehow Denver manages to barely hang on for the win. While I am not thrilled with how the game went, at this point in the season a loss would have been devastating so I will gladly take the W, tainted though it was.

Once again the Nuggets tightened their defense and honed their focus over the final few minutes. Still they found themselves down five, 92-87, with just over three minutes remaining. Melo was a little slow meeting Lamar Odom as he cut into the lane, but recovered well enough to deflect the pass and it went out off of Odom. On the other end of the floor Melo showed some real savvy. He received the ball just left of center above the three point line. He had Anthony Carter on the wing and J.R. smith in the corner. Melo directed Carter to go to the other side of the floor and thus he and J.R. were now alone. Melo then drove left on Odom. Had Melo not repositioned Carter Jordan Farmar would have been in position to help and could have done so without worrying about Carter making him pay by hitting a three. However, with J.R. in the corner Sasha Vujicic was not about to leave Smith to help Odom. With no help available Melo blew past Odom for a layup. Odom was miffed with Vujacic, but he was not about to leave Smith, who had made five threes, alone. Plus any help from the weak side would be shielded off by Odom. Gasol did make an effort to help and block the shot, but he was too late. It was a very intelligent decision by Melo and he then executed it perfectly.

On the next Laker possession Nene, Billups and Carter all collapsed on Derrick Fisher resulting in a deflection and then a rushed shot. Denver rebounded the miss and pushed it up the floor. Carter passed to Melo who drilled a game tying three.

On the next defensive possession Nene hedged beautifully and forced Vujacic into the corner and when Carter recovered he was able to force a jump ball. Los Angeles controlled the tip and Billups was called for a foul when he tried getting a little too close to Fisher on a jumper. Fisher made both free throws, but J.R. drove baseline on Vujacic and hit a little floater to tie things up at 94.

The Lakers once again had the ball, but could not get a shot off thanks to Nene playing strong denial defense as Pau flashed out to the free throw line. Nene tipped the pass into the backcourt and by the time Vujacic recovered it, he ran out of time to shoot.

Denver then ran pick and roll with Chauncey and Nene that was so effective down the stretch in Oklahoma City. Nene only made one, but made up for it by stealing the ball from Gasol. Melo drew a foul on Odom and made both freebies to put Denver up 97-94.

Fisher was able to draw a foul on J.R. and made both free throws to get the Lakers within one. Denver then ran pick and roll, but Chauncey lost picked up his dribble and had to pass to J.R. who had his shot deflected. Denver caught a big break when Shannon Brown flipped a pass up the sideline allowing Chauncey to get in and deflect the pass. After a lengthy video review it was decided the ball was off of Fisher.

At this point I thought Adrian Dantley made a mistake. He had Melo, his second best free throw shooter inbound the ball and when Fisher did his best impression of a coffin on Chauncey, gripping him like grim death, Melo had to pass in to J.R. who has not been the most effective late game free throw shooter. Perhaps Dantley wanted to avoid a replay of what happened in the conference finals from last season when Denver turned the ball over twice on late game side inbounds plays. Still, Melo should have been a one of the potential receivers instead of the passer.

True to form J.R. missed the first free throw and failed to push the lead back up to three.

Down two with 12.7 seconds left Phil Jackson chose not to call a timeout. Melo and Chauncey switched a screen between Odom and Fisher. Fisher chose to try to get a jumper off over Melo. Fisher never threw any kind of a move at Melo to freeze him and as a result when he tried to launch a jumper Melo was able to lunge and block it.

While I would have preferred a 30 point victory, I was impressed with how Denver made the little plays to pull out a win. In the final three minutes alone, they scored at the rim twice, Melo hit a big three, the deflected two passes, stole the ball twice, defended the pick and roll successfully three times and blocked a desperation shot.

Denver now must continue to win on Saturday hen San Antonio comes to town. A victory over the Spurs and Memphis the following outing will clinch the division.

Featured Sites: Forum Blue & Gold | Land O’Lakers | Dave McMenamin

Fight or Flight

We are close enough to the end of the season to start projecting what might happen with some level of certainty. Honestly, I have no idea what order Dallas, Utah and Phoenix will finish in or how the bottom three spots will be sorted among Oklahoma City, Portland and San Antonio. I do believe two spots are locked in place. Obviously the Lakers will be the top seed and I think the Nuggets are all but guaranteed to finish as the fifth seed.

While that is a very frustrating sentence to type, Denver can be a dangerous fifth seed or they can be a pushover as the fifth seed. It all depends on how the finish the regular season and the Nuggets’ closing schedule is an interesting one. Almost every contest features a team playing at the end of a difficult stretch of games.

Portland comes to town Thursday playing their fifth game in eight days. Wednesday they bombed the Knicks, but still have to travel for the fifth straight game. Denver has been sitting at home since Monday night dwelling on how badly they have sucked for the past week. If we do not get a big effort from the Nuggets against Portland, it will be very bad news. I think the result is a win for Denver.

Next the Clippers, without Baron Davis who is out with back spasms, arrive in Denver on Saturday in the only battle between two rested teams remaining on the docket. The Nuggets will be on one day of rest while the Clippers will have had two days off after getting blown out in Toronto on Wednesday. That game should absolutely be another win for the Nuggets.

Denver then has three days off before their final five games in seven nights stretch to close out the regular season. The first outing is in Oklahoma City. The way Denver has been playing this would seem like a sure loss. However, this game will be the fourth game in five nights for the Thunder, who play in Utah the night before, and will have traveled before each of the four games. That smells like a win and a three game winning streak.

The next night the Nuggets return home to play the Lakers who are having some serious struggles on the road right now and really have nothing to play for. Even so LA/Denver has become a heated mini-rivalry and with the Lakers enjoying three days off I expect them to play well. Denver will be motivated to do well also with the division crown still within their grasp, but without Kenyon Martin and Coach Karl I suspect they drop this one.

After a day of rest Denver gets a visit from the San Antonio Spurs who will be playing their fourth game in five days. It will be interesting to see if the Spurs will knock themselves out in an attempt to avoid the eight seed and a first round matchup with LA. I suspect the Spurs will sit Tim Duncan and/or Manu Ginobili against Denver and I think this is another Nugget victory.

Two days later in the penultimate matchup of the regular season the Grizzlies come calling. It will be Memphis’ fifth game in seven days as they provide another victim for the now rolling Nuggets.

That brings us to game 82, a visit to Phoenix. The Nuggets will arrive in Phoenix with a solid stretch of five wins in six games and sporting a 53-28 record a half a game behind the Jazz who will be 53-27 and playing a game at Golden State on the same night. Denver will be playing their fifth game in seven nights, although unlike their recent horrific five in seven trip out east, they only have two travel days of which this is the second. The Suns enter the battle after a day off. Phoenix is a very difficult matchup for Denver when the Nuggets are full strength and the chances of earning a W in Phoenix are slim. Chalk that one up as a loss with Denver finishing the season 53-29, fifth overall in the conference.

These final seven games will be a test of Denver’s mental attitude and determination as there are “official” reports backing up my intuitive suggestions that they very well could be without Kenyon and Karl even after the playoffs begin.

Thursday night is the Nuggets’ fight or flight moment. Do they fold the tent and enter the playoffs a slumping has been or embrace the fact they can still capture the Northwest Division and remain relevant? Momentum changes come at unexpected times and as bad as they have looked recently all it will take for the Nuggets to recapture some of their lost mojo is a well played victory against the Blazers.

Blazer Blogs: Portland Roundball Society | Blazers Edge | Center Court (Official Blog) | Rip City Project

2009-10 Game 59: Denver Nuggets 89 – Los Angles Lakers 93

Box Score | Highlights

There is no guarantee the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers are going to face off again in the playoffs this spring, but today we got a taste of what a late May matchup between these two teams will be like. If that is indeed the case, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant may not have very much fun during that series.

The two superstars combined to make a mere 10 of their 36 shots. Ron Artest was all over Carmelo on one end while Arron Afflalo was harassing Kobe on the other. The difference in the game was Kobe adjusted his plan to fit what was going on around him while Carmelo did not. The proof is in their passing stats. Carmelo tallied only one assist, an over the head heave to J.R. Smith who was all alone after a steal, while Kobe ended the game with 12 assists. Compounding the problem even further Melo turned the ball over eight times good for a stunningly bad .13 assist to turnover ratio.

The Lakers have had a lot of success defending Carmelo in the past by crowding him with players like Vladimir Radmanovic or Luke Walton to take away his jumper while pre-rotating a defender over, either the power forward or center, to help if Melo chooses to drive. The only somewhat open shot available is a pull up jumper from eight to ten feet which is not a shot most players practice. Today, LA showed how effective that defense can be when the role of Radmanovic or Walton is filled by a motivated Ron Artest.

Artest was able to muscle Melo all over the court, pushing him out to the three point line on several occasions when Anthony was trying to post up. In fact on one play you can see Melo smiling as if to say “You do not bother me” as Artest pushed him towards the sideline only to see Ron jump in front of the entry pass and continue down the floor unmolested for a dunk. It happened again in the second half as Artest pushed Carmelo beyond the three point line and jumped the pass leading to another LA fast break.

When Carmelo drove, Artest guided him left repeatedly and funneled him expertly to his waiting help. Even when Melo drove past Artest, Ron was able to tip the ball away from behind on several occasions. Artest played a great defensive game and executed the Lakers’ scheme perfectly. It was the best defensive game I have seen from him in a long time. Plus his three point shooting helped keep the Lakers in striking distance in the first half.

While Artest deserves credit, Carmelo is not completely blameless. In fact, in some ways he allowed Artest to handle him. Carmelo tried to be a little too cool for school. He did not hold his position well at all and seemed to have a nonchalant attitude about where he received the ball. It almost appeared that he was willing to let Artest have his way in an attempt to prove that he could score no matter where he received the ball, which as we saw was not the case. Early in the game he made an attempt to find the holes in the Lakers defense with his passing, but after a couple were tipped away, he gave up and tried to do too much on his own.

All of the blame for Carmelo’s performance does not fall on the player. The coaching staff failed to put him in the best position. As we have seen in the past, when the Lakers play Melo with the crowd and help style they employed today, the best thing to do is to give him the ball in the middle of the court. That way, help must be ready on both sides of the lane and it gives Carmelo more of an opportunity to pass off. Carmelo repeatedly receive the ball on the left wing. With Artest forcing him left, he was driving with his offhand towards the baseline. On the right side of the court if Artest wanted to funnel Melo to the baseline, he would at least be driving with his strong hand, plus if the Lakers still tried to force him left, he has proven his effectiveness driving into the lane with his left hand from the right wing.

Even with the poor performance from Carmelo I think had Ty Lawson not been knocked out of the game with a bruised shoulder, Denver would have had a great chance to win that game. Anthony Carter played seven nondescript minutes in the second half and Denver clearly lacked the threat for penetration that Lawson provides.

There are some encouraging things to take out of this game. For the second time in three games Denver has done a solid job defending Kobe. Playing Denver is not longer a guaranteed 30 point night for Mr. Bryant. However, the Nuggets still need to find a way to deal with him in the post as he was able to back down and pass off for easy baskets in the fourth quarter.

Nene did a very solid job on Andrew Bynum and the team as a whole did a good job of keeping Pau Gasol from dominating the lane with his excellent post game. In fact Denver’s first half defense was some of their best of the season and they did not drop off much in the second half.

Additional Game 59 Nuggets

  • It was very disappointing to see Nene have such a great first half and then be practically shut out in the second half. Look no further than the Nuggets lack of passing. Denver became caught up far too much in the one on one matchups and stopped passing the ball, especially in the interior of the Laker defense.
  • J.R. Smith played a poor offensive game, however he did make an impact defensively (no seriously). Smith came up with four steals and did a solid job on the glass with five rebounds. Unfortunately, he attempted seven threes, making only one with his worst shot coming at the end of the first half. After forcing a turnover with seven seconds left in the half and a chance to push the lead back up into double digits, Smith dribbled up slowly and pulled up for a 35 footer well before the buzzer. It showed his contentment with the nine point lead and was an example of how Smith likes to do fun little things for himself when he is on the floor.

Featured Blogs: Forum Blue and Gold | Land O’Lakers | Dave McMenamin

By the way, make sure you check out the two podcasts on Land O’Lakers. First off, the interview former NBA assistant Dave Miller on how to stop the Nuggets high powered offense and secondly they talk to Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post about the game and how George Karl is holding up.

The Denver Nuggets Continue to Impress

The Denver Nuggets split a back to back in Los Angeles and Utah over the weekend and despite the loss in Utah, I continue to be impressed with this team and the way they are playing.

Denver started the weekend off in style defeating the Lakers 126-113 (Box Score, Forum Blue & Gold) . Obviously the Nuggets played great on offense lead by Chauncey Billups’ career high 39, 37 of which came in the first three quarters thanks to nine fancy threes. Chauncey was slowed in the fourth quarter after rolling his ankle, but J.R. Smith picked up where BIllups left off dropping in 16 fourth quarter points to close out the Lakers.

It is one thing to be hot on offense. Any team can catch fire for a night and bury their opponent. To me the real story was the way Denver defended the Lakers in the second half. The two Lakers who have had their way with Denver in the past are Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Those two combined to score 33 of the Lakers’ 64 first half points. However, in the second half Denver held L.A. to 49 points and Kobe and Pau only netted 17 between the two of them.

Kobe was red hot in the first quarter producing an impressive 20 points. Kobe is an incredibly competitive individual, which is news to no one. After the credit Arron Afflalo received for his performance against Kobe in the first meeting this season, you knew the Black Mamba would be out to prove Afflalo could not handle him. Despite the big scoring quarter, I thought Afflalo did about as good a job as he did previously. Kobe was just hitting difficult shots. Even with Afflalo playing solid D, the Nuggets chose to double Kobe for much of the second half to prevent him from having one of those nights.

With the double teaming of Kobe, it would stand to reason that Pau would get loose inside and dominate with his touch and passing ability. Not so. The Nuggets also had a new wrinkle for Pau. When Pau caught the ball with his back to the rim, the Nuggets waited for him to put the ball on the floor and then sent a double team at him as well. Gasol tends to take his time in the post and once he starts dribbling, you can expect him to dribble more than once or twice. Knowing that, Denver was able to wait for him to dribble before they doubled him. This prevented him for working to get exactly the shot he wanted and either rush the shot or pass out of the double.

It was a significant change for Denver who generally dislikes doubling anyone, but it was an effective strategy and a big reason why they were able to win the game. With Kobe and Gasol held in check, none of the Lakers supporting cast failed to rise to the occasion. Ron Artest was 3-9 and scored 12 points. Andrew Bynum shot 5-7, but only scored two second half points. Derek Fisher had four points on seven shots. Sasha Vujacic missed all five of his threes and only totaled four points on six shots.

The Los Angeles bench did manage to score 37 points, which is a good total. The kicker is it took them 36 shots to get there. Conversely the Denver bench (J.R. Smith, Ty Lawson and Chris Andersen) racked up 47 points, but did so on a mere 27 shots. Birdman actually outrebounded the entire Laker bench by himself 15-13.

If there is bad news, it has to be that despite Birdman’s aforementioned 15 boards and stout 12 rebound effort from Kenyon Martin L.A. pulled down 18 offensive boards and outrebounded Denver by 7.

The other aspect of the game that I found interesting was Nene was aggressive offensively against Bynum, which has not always been the case. In the past Nene has shied away from attacking bigger defenders such as Bynum, but he went right at him on a few occasions and had success. Now he just needs to pull down a few more rebounds to help reduce the Lakers’ offensive rebounding advantage.

The very next night Denver found themselves in Utah once again playing without Carmelo Anthony, but this time sans Chauncey Billups as well. Denver had already defeated Utah three times this season, the Jazz had been red hot and were sure to be highly motivated to dump the shorthanded Nuggets.

I do not have time to go into detail on that game, (Box Score, Highlights, Salt City Hoops, SLC Dunk) but I will say that I was thrilled with the effort and heart the Nuggets displayed. Playing without Melo and Chauncey and on the second night of a back to back (one of the late game in the Pacific time zone flying east that Greg Popovich thinks are unfair) and with Utah sitting at home for two days waiting for Denver to roll into town, the odds were not in the Nuggets’ favor.

Instead of folding after getting down 18 in the third quarter the Nuggets fought back and were within six points of the streaking Jazz with less than three minutes left.

Denver certainly lacked effort in some games earlier in the season, but they seem to have focused in on how important every game truly is. That bodes very well for the future even as Denver heads into possibly the toughest stretch of their regular season schedule.

In closing, I will say that most people, especially most guys young or old, fancy themselves as being tough. One thing I learned as a father is to never assume you could handle the pain someone else is experiencing. That point was struck home to me when my son was about 12 years old and foolishly decided sun tan lotion was unnecessary for someone who was in the sun as much as he was and returned from a trip to the lake with friends with skin that could easily be classified as well done. When it was time for bed, he was crying because his skin hurt so badly. My first reaction was to tell him to quit being such a baby until I stopped to put myself in his place. Maybe it was his own fault and maybe I would not be crying as he was had I scalded my exposed skin as badly as he did, but would I be able to lay down and fall asleep without uttering a single complaint? I had to figure as tough as I believed myself to be, a sunburn like that was certainly painful and while it was my job to make sure my son was not a sissy, it was not my job to dismiss his pain and label him a pansy.

I am sure you are wondering why I am telling you such a boring story. My point is I am really shocked that Carmelo Anthony has not played since spraining his ankle two weeks before the Utah game. Carmelo himself said the ankle was not as badly sprained as those he has suffered in the past. After seeing video of him working out before the game against the Lakers and knowing he has been practicing I started questioning both his toughness and how badly he wants to play. I do not take making accusations like that lightly, which is why I shared the sunburn story. Perhaps Carmleo’s ankle is much worse than any of us know, or have been led to believe. Perhaps working out is causing more pain than you or I could endure. We simply do not know. While an absence of this length is suspicious, it is not enough to lead me to proclaim Melo is a sissy or is more interested in making sure he can drop 30 points a night when he returns.

I have not seen evidence of Melo skipping out on playing when he was banged up in the past. In fact, if you recall he finished the game against the Indiana Pacers in which he broke his hand last season.

Do I want Carmelo to play? Absolutely. Is the fact he is missing games causing more harm than good? I think that question is up for debate. Maybe the Nuggets go 6-2 or 7-1 instead of 5-3 over the eight games he has missed. However, players like Kenyon Martin and Arron Afflalo have been forced to raise their game and now the team knows that those two are capable of answering the bell should the need arise. That is a good thing and had Melo only missed a game or two Kenyon might not have been such a force against San Antonio and Afflalo probably does not get the opportunity to hit the game winning shot against Sacramento.

The wins in Houston, San Antonio and Los Angeles without Carmelo were big wins for this team and I believe have helped build tremendous momentum for this team and helped them truly believe in what they can accomplish together.

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