Nuggets depleted against Rockets

As is being reported by Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post, the Nuggets will be extremely depleted on Monday against the Houston Rockets. Three starters including Nene, Afflalo and Mozgov will all be out in addition to Corey Brewer due to the devastating loss of his father. While Mozgov and Brewer will almost certainly miss multiple games, there’s no definitive word out on how long Nene or Afflalo will be sidelined. Starting in place of Mozgov will be Kosta Koufos, who’s coming off a career game against the Blazers in which he netted career highs in minutes played and rebound in route to a 16-point, 12-board double-double. In place of Afflalo will be Julyan Stone and in place of Nene, none other than the “Manimal” himself, Kenneth Faried.

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Rapid Reaction: Portland Trailblazers 117, Denver Nuggets 97

Denver Nuggets 97 FinalRecap | Box Score 117 Portland Trail Blazers
Nene, C 27 MIN | 1-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 4 PTS | -18
It’s no secret Nene tends to struggle against taller, more talented big men. We saw it against the Lakers and again Saturday night against LaMarcus Aldridge and the Blazers. Early on Nene attempted to go after Aldridge down low in the post but got turned back on nearly every occasion. From that point on he disappeared and never really attempted to get back in the game.
Danilo Gallinari, SF 36 MIN | 7-14 FG | 5-5 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 20 PTS | -20
Gallinari drove aggressively to the hole and for that I commend him. This was a solid bounce-back performance after a few disappointing outings in which he took far too many outside jump shots. Gallo gave it his all for most of the game and looked completely pale on the sidelines at the end of the fourth quarter.
Kosta Koufos, C 34 MIN | 7-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 12 REB | 1 AST | 16 PTS | -5
This was by far Koufos’ best game as a Nuggets and quite possibly the best game of his career. He logged at least 30 minutes for the first time in a Nuggets uniform and put up season highs in both points and rebounds as a result. More than anything, against the Blazers Koufos proved that if he receives enough playing time, he’ll produce. His 12 boards were a career high and the most of any Nuggets since Nene had 13 against the New York Knicks. His 34 minutes were also a career high.
Arron Afflalo, SG 20 MIN | 0-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -1
Something has to be up with Afflalo. Nuggets’ radio announcer Jason Kosmicki tweeted after the game that he might have a groin injury, which leads one to question why he’d be playing in the first place. Even if he was truly injured it still doesn’t change the fact that Afflalo has struggled mightily up to this point in the season and is without question the biggest disappointment of the year so far. This was his second game in the last six where he received at least 20 minutes of playing time and has gone scoreless in the process. Maybe Afflalo should just take a few games off, get refocused and come back when he’s ready.
Ty Lawson, PG 32 MIN | 7-14 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 16 PTS | -19
Lawson was a standout in terms of effort. He was flying around the court all night, looking as if he was the only one who hadn’t succumbed to chronic fatigue like most of his teammates. He penetrated with precision and either ignited or got out on the break every time he was presented with the opportunity. This was clearly one of Lawson’s most effective games in the last week.
Al Harrington, PF 22 MIN | 3-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 9 PTS | -15
Harrington didn’t take a lot of shots but found a way to contribute in other areas, especially on defense where he played solidly against the much taller LaMarcus Aldridge. Once again Harrington’s passion for the game overflowed on to the court as he could be seen giving 110 percent even in the waning minutes of the game when the Nuggets didn’t have a shot at winning.
Andre Miller, PG 14 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 2 PTS | -8
Miller looked absolutely lost. Granted, his 14 minutes didn’t allow him to make the type of impact he’s capable of, but there was probably good reasoning behind his lack of playing time in the first place. Batum’s career night began when Miller “attempted” to guard him, and in his first handful of buckets that went in from beyond the arc Miller didn’t even put a hand up to contest the shot. We’ve known Miller struggles on defense at times, but not even attempting to contest a shot is absolutely inexcusable. Because of this, Miller gets the first “F” I’ve handed out all season.
Corey Brewer, SF 20 MIN | 4-10 FG | 6-7 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 14 PTS | -7
Although a good chunk of his minutes came in garbage time, it’s hard to ignore just how energetic Brewer was in his time on the floor. Fourteen points in 20 minutes to go along with five boards, two assists, two steals and a block is nothing more than pure hustle numbers. His defense continue to impress, although he needs to work on not turning the ball over quite as often as he does.

Rudy Fernandez, SG
23 MIN | 3-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 9 PTS | -19
Fernandez seemed somewhat hidden. Even in 23 minutes of action it was hard to tell what exactly he was doing on the floor. I did notice him playing stingy defense on a few occasions yet I also couldn’t help but look at the box score and “smh” at his five three-point attempts. Rudy simply isn’t hitting 3-pointers at a high clip, so why he continues to take so many is baffling. It would be nice to see him drive to the basket more than just once in a blue moon.
Julyan Stone, G 3 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 PTS | +5
Stone, like all the rookies, didn’t play very much even though he should have. Still, his defense was great and his willingness to find nearly all of his teammates on offense continues to be a good sign from a young point guard. It’s hard to see Stone play with so much enthusiasm on the defensive side of the ball and not want to see more of him.
Kenneth Faried, F 5 MIN | 1-2 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 4 PTS | +2
Faried definitely still has a ways to go before he’s a sound NBA player and more than likely this is going to take a while. He’ll go through some growing pains in the process, although I cannot stress enough how his energy, defense and rebounding will cover up most of these flaws. Right now he should be focusing on making the right basketball play rather than the most electric ally oop; nevertheless, just like Stone it’s almost frustrating watching Faried play because you’re always going to want more.
Jordan Hamilton, G 3 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 3 PTS | +5
You can tell, Hamilton has some offensive fire power up his sleeve. He hit yet another 3-pointer in the final seconds of the game to show off his range and displayed a fairly decent handle to go along with it. After seeing him get a little more comfortable each time out, you’re left to wonder just how effective he might be alongside the second, or first, unit in the heat of a real game.

Nuggets News: Preparing for Wilson Chandler

On Saturday the Denver Nuggets chose to waive DeMarre Carroll, according to Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post. With next Tuesday’s deadline that demands all NBA contracts become guaranteed and Wilson Chandler still not re-signed, waiving Carroll was the simplest way to ensure a roster spot remains open for Chandler upon his return to the NBA sometime in the near future.

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Rapid Reaction: Los Angeles Lakers 93, Denver Nuggets 89

Los Angeles Lakers 93 FinalRecap | Box Score 89 Denver Nuggets
Nene, C 31 MIN | 5-12 FG | 2-4 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 12 PTS | -6
Nene had trouble defending and scoring on the Lakers’ bigs down low. Los Angeles has always been a bad match-up for the Brazilian big man, and Friday proved no different.
Danilo Gallinari, SF 29 MIN | 1-9 FG | 3-4 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 6 PTS | -1
Gallinari started off the game scoring a few buckets but went ice cold from there on out. This is another among a handful of bad performances Gallinari has had recently and the second game in the last three where he’s been relegated to the bench late in the fourth quarter of a tight game. Even considering his struggles, it’s hard to understand why he wasn’t at least on the floor for the final play of the game.
Timofey Mozgov, C 7 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 4 PTS | +3
Mozgov was playing great yet again until he went down with an ankle injury. He was defending well and made several nice shots in the post. As weird as it sounds, the Nuggets missed him greatly once he exited the game.
Arron Afflalo, SG 24 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 7 PTS | -7
Afflalo played good defense for most of the game and came up with a few steals in the process. His struggles continue and naturally so does his erratic insertion into the lineup.

Ty Lawson, PG
36 MIN | 6-12 FG | 2-3 FT | 3 REB | 7 AST | 14 PTS | -4
Ty Lawson was one of the strong points to a Nuggets team that had difficulty doing anything well against the Lakers. While Gasol and Bynum offer up an intimidating combo for the diminutive guard to score against, he still found ways to affect the game in other areas.
Al Harrington, PF 37 MIN | 8-16 FG | 5-6 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 24 PTS | -8
Big Al came up “big” in the fourth quarter where he scored 10 straight points to keep the Nuggets alive. His passion and desire to win are proving to be some of the most valuable intangibles this Nuggets team has to offer. Unfortunately, the rest of his teammates couldn’t quite bring it the way Al did against the Lakers.
Andre Miller, PG 30 MIN | 5-6 FG | 6-6 FT | 3 REB | 7 AST | 16 PTS | +1
Miller had a solid night numerically but once again had trouble guarding his opponents. Even though he may be one of the better players on the Nuggets roster its perplexing as to why he always closes out games even when he’s pitted against much larger shooting guards where Afflalo might have more success.
Corey Brewer, SF 9 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -4
Brewer didn’t see much time but in the minutes he did receive he brought the standard infectious energy level that Nuggets fans have become accustomed to seeing.
Rudy Fernandez, SG 21 MIN | 1-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | +4
This was by far one of Rudy’s worst games of the season. His three-point shot was not falling, yet he continued to hoist up countless jumpers which almost never made it through the rim. Again, it’s imperative that Rudy makes an impact in other areas of the game besides just shooting 3-pointers.
Kosta Koufos, C 16 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | +2
Koufos wasn’t exactly having his way against the Lakers bigs and finished the night off on the bench for most of the second half as a result. Similar to Nene, this was a tough match-up for the young center even though he gave his best effort in the minutes he was given.

Nuggets vs Lakers Q & A

In preparation for today’s slug fest between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets I had the chance to do a Q & A with Andy Kamenetzky from ESPN’s Land O’ Lakers blog and ESPN Los Angeles.  You can read my responses to Andy’s intriguing questions over on Land O’ Lakers.  You can also look for a 5-on-5 coming later today on ESPN.com where I weigh in on tonight’s doubleheader with the Celtics and Knicks playing before the Nuggets and Lakers.

1. The Lakers have vastly different home and road records. Experienced veteran teams are not typically so deficient away from home so why are the Lakers having such a difficult time winning on the road?

Well, it’s worth noting the Lakers’ early season road schedule has been very difficult. They’ve had games in Sacramento (always a tough venue), Utah (where they won), Denver (the second end of a back-to-back against the Nuggets), Portland, the Clippers, Miami and Orlando back-to-back, Milwaukee, and Minnesota (a win). The Bucks were an inexcusable loss with Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson out, but the rest of those games aren’t automatic gimmes. Factor in how the Lakers played a boatload of games in the first 3-4 weeks and the lack of practice time to learn a new system, and it’s not perhaps shocking they haven’t been good on the road.

Of course, the obvious response is that elite teams with championship aspirations will find ways to overcome these issues. Of course, the Lakers aren’t playing anywhere close to an elite level at the moment, and it’s debatable whether they’ll ever be capable of that on a regular basis. And therein lies the rub.

2. Pau Gasol, while still playing well overall, has slipped a bit from the stellar level we have come to expect from him. Is it a matter of the difficult schedule or is it possible the trade rumors are bothering him more than he has let on?

I don’t think rumors are a factor. Pau certainly wasn’t thrilled with being part of the scuttled CP3 deal, but he showed up to practice the next day, and rode out an awkward situation. I’ll give his ability to block out lingering whispers the benefit of the doubt. The schedule, however, has probably been an issue. Gasol hasn’t just played a lot of games, but a lot of minutes as well. Mike Brown’s defensive schemes demand bigs show hard and recover on pick-and-rolls, and nobody’s been pushed harder than Pau. Doing this for 37-ish minutes a night will take a toll.

There’s also a matter of Pau’s role, which hasn’t been fleshed out to his liking. There was a long stretch where he was basically parked at the elbow and used primarily as a facilitator and jump shooter, and he expressed displeasure about it. Since then, there’s an effort to get him more low post touches or just call his number, but the results have remained erratic. At times, the blame falls on teammates not looking enough for him. Others, the blame falls on Gasol’s indecisiveness and lack of unwillingness to occasionally force the issue himself.

This hasn’t been an easy season for Pau, who entered the year determined to rebound from an awful playoffs. If anything, fans are only more down on him.

3. Derek Fisher continues to wallow in his own mire on the court.  Even with his horrific percentages, it still seems like he has hit a few big shots for them this season.  Is he more important to the team than his numbers would indicate or does L.A. need to ditch him ASAP?

A little of both. Fisher’s importance as a leader can’t be overstated. He has everybody’s ear, including Kobe’s. Bryant’s said, without any hint of facetiousness, Fish is the only teammate he’ll always listen to. He also trusts Fisher unconditionally. Beyond success draining critical shots, Derek’s completely unafraid to step into those situations where someone other than Kobe needs to be clutch.

Of course, the Lakers might encounter fewer tight fourth quarters if their starting point guard produced more during the first three. Fisher’s dwindling percentages plays a role in the scoring issues this season. (To be fair, he’s also averaging about 4 assists a night, and has done a nice job initiating the early offense.) This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to put Fisher out to pasture, but limited minutes would be helpful. And that had been the approach before Steve Blake went out with a rib injury. Until Blake returns, the PT will naturally increase, and the Lakers will have to make the best of it.

Either way, Fisher doesn’t kill the team quite as much as advertised, but less is typically more.

4. Ty Lawson has done quite well against L.A. in his career. Is he the player the Lakers must focus on, or is there someone else who poses a bigger threat?

The short answer is, “anybody who can operate in transition” is who the Lakers need to key on. And since that includes virtually every significant player on Denver’s roster, nobody can go unaccounted for. Plus, at the end of the day, the Nugs are a very deep, balanced team with plenty of legit threats. Lawson, as you mentioned, is certainly a potential issue for the Lakers, given how quick guards can provide fits. But Andre Miller can be just as tough backing down opponents in the post. Danillo Gallinari can be deadly from outside or on run-outs. Al Harrington was a dizzying cover for Gasol in space during the first meeting. Nene’s spin moves around the basket are ridiculous. Arron Afflalo, if playing like himself, is among the best “3 and D” players in the game, which means he can hurt the Lakers on both ends.

Bottom line, Lawson makes me nervous, but he’s hardly alone.

5. I will spare you the Dwight Howard question, but stick with a hypothetical trade scenario for my final question.  If Mitch Kupchak could have a mulligan on the Lamar Odom trade, would he take it?  At the time it seemed sending Odom to Dallas was part of a larger plan, but as of yet no such plan has come to fruition.

I’d certainly like to think so. On the court and in the locker room, LO’s absence has left gaping holes still unfilled. Even recognizing his struggles in Dallas (caused in part by an admitted lack of offseason conditioning) and emotional nature (exacerbated by legitimate offseason tragedies), the guy would help the Lakers a lot. Were a time machine — hot tub or otherwise — made available to Mitch Kupchak, I’d be stunned if he didn’t set it to “Dec 11, 2011,” then told Lamar to take a few extra days to cool off because he’s staying put.

Thanks to Andy for the time and I hope everyone enjoys tonight’s game!

Rapid Reaction: Denver Nuggets 112 Los Angeles Clippers 91

Denver Nuggets 112 Final
Recap | Box Score
91 Los Angeles Clippers
Nene, C 22 MIN | 4-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 8 PTS | +19
Nene fought through early foul trouble and thankfully he got a comfortable amount of rest with another back-to-back coming up. Although you’d like to see a better shooting percentage and fewer turnovers, Nene getting the ball opens up the rest of the offense and he got plenty of touches tonight.
Danilo Gallinari, SF 27 MIN | 7-10 FG | 2-2 FT | 6 REB | 4 AST | 21 PTS | +24
Gallo was on fire. I had no problem with his benching in Memphis and was confident he’d respond with a solid game just as he did after his first bad performance in Philadelphia. Without Gallo providing a spark the game was headed towards becoming a blowout in the wrong direction.
Timofey Mozgov, C 22 MIN | 5-5 FG | 1-3 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 11 PTS | +12
He’s improving. Made Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan work much harder than they wanted to on defense. The key stat is only one turnover. His weak side defense could be much better but he continues to do a solid job contesting perimeter shots and putting pressure on the opposing guards.
Arron Afflalo, SG 36 MIN | 3-6 FG | 8-8 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 15 PTS | +12
How bad did Afflalo need a game like this? I missed some of the first quarter where he apparently got off to a rough start, but Arron found a way to fight through it. 8 free throws are outstanding and most impressive was the ball-pressure he applied on Chris Paul, often picking him up at full court and crowding his space all night.
Ty Lawson, PG 32 MIN | 6-11 FG | 5-6 FT | 4 REB | 6 AST | 18 PTS | +23
Much better game. Not spectacular, but a normal Lawson performance Nuggets fans love to see night in and night out. Turnovers have been a problem and although many of them haven’t been Lawson’s fault, he had much better control tonight. Made some spectacular hustle plays to stretch the lead at critical moments.
Al Harrington, PF 21 MIN | 3-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 8 PTS | +8
Al started slow but eventually found his stroke in time to put the game away. His minutes finally returned to a reasonable amount and he wasn’t stuck trying to do to much. Harrington could be better guarding the rim but he was somewhat effective against Blake Griffin managing to pull the chair out a number of times.
Andre Miller, PG 29 MIN | 3-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 8 AST | 8 PTS | +17
Five shot attempts is a much healthier game out of Andre Miller. Didn’t take a three or force shots and bad passes. Not being switched onto Rudy Gay definitely helped him stay fresh and effective throughout the night.
DeMarre Carroll, F 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 PTS | -2
Carroll is still on the team. He’s also back and finally healthy after a hamstring kept him out much of the season. Don’t read too much into the grade, C means incomplete in this case
Rudy Fernandez, SG 19 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 10 PTS | +5
Rudy can be a very effective weapon off the bench. The Nuggets need to play him and get him shots more consistently. I’ve been hoping for him to look for his shot more aggressively and resist trying to make the spectacular play. Fernandez did both tonight.
Kosta Koufos, C 12 MIN | 1-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | -3
Koufos could do a little more with his minutes, but I’m glad he came in ahead of Birdman. I liked his energy on defense in Memphis and he was okay tonight. Perhaps with more of a role Koufos’ game will come around and we can get a better idea of what he brings to the table.
Kenneth Faried, F 7 MIN | 2-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | -5
Raw is the only way to describe him. The team needs to teach him the fundamentals of playing on offense rather than just throwing up long range lobs when he enters the game. Needs to set better screens and post up some, but I’m probably expecting too much of the Manimal. He was still a beast in the paint and finished everything around the rim. I also think Faried has potential to draw a lot of fouls should he end up seeing more minutes.
Jordan Hamilton, G 7 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 3 PTS | -5
Hamilton showed off his quick release and smooth jumper. He also showed flashes of passing ability off drives to the rim. I am excited to see what this guy can do in the future.

Rapid Reaction: Denver Nuggets 97 Memphis Grizzlies 100 (OT)

Denver Nuggets 97 Final
Recap | Box Score
100 Memphis Grizzlies
Nene, C 33 MIN | 6-9 FG | 2-3 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 14 PTS | -16
It’s tough to put a lot of blame on Nene for what transpired tonight, especially because he’s carried the Nuggets throughout the last two games. While Nene’s production trailed off it’s hard to ignore just how badly he was outplayed by Marc Gasol. Although Nene had a decent individual performance, he took a grand total of three second half shots and disappeared late when the Nuggets sorely needed him to step up
Danilo Gallinari, SF 25 MIN | 1-10 FG | 6-6 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 8 PTS | +2
Did not show up to play. It’s a simple as that. Hardly worth mentioning anything he did because it was just a bunch of terrible jumpers. Gallo found himself benched for most of the fourth quarter and entire overtime (for the second time this season).
Timofey Mozgov, C 10 MIN | 0-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 PTS | -8
Five fouls in 10 minutes is too much. He started off on Speights instead of Gasol so it’s actually hard to even credit his defense on the Memphis bigs. While he was more physical in terms of defending the rim and blocking shots, he just looked lost and couldn’t stay on the court long enough to help. The turnovers need to stop at some point too.
Arron Afflalo, SG 36 MIN | 3-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 3 AST | 8 PTS | -9
He’s regressed big time. Afflalo was one of the best role players in the game last season and he’s currently lost with no idea what his role should be. The shots he is taking are indefensible. Fadeaways with 20 on the clock and contested turnaround jumpers over Rudy Gay? Welcome to this year’s Arron Afflalo. He’s hardly looking for his three point shot anymore which makes spacing a big issue too. More importantly, he just isn’t having the sort of positive impact on defense we’ve all been accustomed to.
Ty Lawson, PG 34 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 12 PTS | -11
There was a stretch in the third quarter Lawson came alive and looked poised to take over the game. Unfortunately it didn’t last very long as Lawson spent most of his time struggling to find a rhythm after missing nearly three games with an ankle injury. The turnovers keep piling up and although his threes started falling, Lawson looked tentative going to the rim. He lacked his usual bursts of speed off the dribble and let’s hope he continues to work himself back into form for the upcoming stretch of three games in a row.
Al Harrington, PF 38 MIN | 8-16 FG | 4-4 FT | 10 REB | 4 AST | 23 PTS | +3
The Nuggets can’t waste a game like this from Al Harrington. He was outmuscled and outmatched on defense and still managed a double-double with 24 points off the bench. Harrington’s primary role is to score and he delivered. Buckets nearly made what could have been the play of the game by almost taking a charge on Memphis final possession of regulation that ended up tying it. Harrington badly wanted to win this game and it has to be disappointing seeing his teammates lacking the same resolve.
Andre Miller, PG 39 MIN | 8-13 FG | 3-6 FT | 6 REB | 6 AST | 20 PTS | +5
It’s a tough grade to give Miller, because he really played pretty well. Except of course for the most crucial moments where he made a ton of uncharacteristic mistakes as the Nuggets melted. Missed free throws, untimely turnovers and just flat out bad decision making. It might be a little unfair to say this, but if he just makes one less bad play the Nuggets win – and he certainly had every single opportunity down the stretch.
Chris Andersen, C 7 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | +6
Birdman gets an incomplete. At some point this has to stop — either give him a role or take him out of the rotation. Although I was disappointed in Birdman’s defense, it’s not fair to expect him to play well under these conditions. George Karl needs to show some faith in him or just put him behind Koufos in the rotation. This can’t continue.
Corey Brewer, SF 13 MIN | 3-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 8 PTS | +1
A little too high? I really don’t think so — Brewer was a part of the big runs that gave the Nuggets every opportunity to close out this game. He outplayed both Afflalo and Fernandez. Although he was in for defensive purposes late, it was disappointing to see him have such a good game and be off the court for the most important stretches of play. Brewer’s body of work is starting to suggest he should be seeing close to 20 minutes every night.
Rudy Fernandez, SG 19 MIN | 0-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | +6
Rudy was the only Nugget to go scoreless and clearly didn’t have it tonight. Although he’s coming off two solid scoring performances his defense has been incredibly erratic and unreliable. Combine this with turnovers and he just had a pretty disastrous overall game.
Kosta Koufos, C 12 MIN | 0-0 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 PTS | +6
Koufos played only a few minutes in the second half due to Mozgov getting in foul trouble. Although he played nine minutes, one rebound is the only evidence he isn’t actually the invisible man. Although the stats are lacking, Koufos played respectable defense and I was impressed with his hustle in the limited minutes he received. I wouldn’t mind seeing Koufos get regular minutes as the first big off the bench as he’s had his moments and a little confidence might go a long way into making Koufos a more reliable option.

Rapid Reaction: Los Angeles Clippers 109, Denver Nuggets 105

Los Angeles Clippers 109 FinalRecap | Box Score 105 Denver Nuggets
Nene, C 38 MIN | 9-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 9 REB | 2 AST | 18 PTS | -8
You really can’t give Nene anything less than an “A” when he posts the numbers he did and comes up with such big baskets down the stretch. He also showed a willingness to attack the post which is always beneficial to the Nuggets as a whole.
Danilo Gallinari, SF 34 MIN | 5-14 FG | 5-6 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 17 PTS | -11
Gallinari came on hot during the second half but faded down the stretch when the Nuggets needed him most. For some reason George Karl had him playing point guard to close out the game, and although he played excellent defense on Chris Paul (for the most part), he still couldn’t stop what ended up being the game-winning shot. If it weren’t for Blake Griffin’s shifty defense to close out the game, Gallinari likely would be looking at another 20-plus point performance to go along with yet another impressive win. One thing we must not overlook was his brilliant rebound followed up by a full-court run that eventually led to a monster dunk in the early part of the third quarter. Gallo essentially started up, conducted and finished the fast break offense all by himself.
Timofey Mozgov, C 24 MIN | 4-7 FG | 1-4 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 9 PTS | -3
Mozgov has steadily progressed and is finally developing into somewhat of a threat at times. He is now looking to score in post and is following up shots with purpose. His three blocks were huge and his defense on the inside was certainly helpful before he begged out of the game because he was gassed.
Andre Miller, PG 36 MIN | 6-16 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 10 AST | 16 PTS | 0
Miller certainly missed his fair share of shots, had trouble guarding the Clippers guards and once again refused to let anybody take the last shot of the quarter, but his penetration and overall court awareness was a key element that helped keep the Nuggets in the game. His heads-up foul on DeAndre Jordan in the closing moments of the game gave the Nuggets a chance to win. This is now his fourth double-double in a row after filling in for Ty Lawson.
Arron Afflalo, SG 20 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 5 PTS | -8
So how long exactly is it going to be before the Arron Afflalo who has improved every year since he’s been in the NBA shows up this season? He still has yet to hit the 20 point mark and after following up a scoreless performance against the Raptors (in 20 minutes of action nonetheless) he managed a measly five points against the Clippers (in the same amount of time). Maybe his injury is still nagging him, but if that’s the case he shouldn’t even be playing.

Al Harrington, PF
25 MIN | 6-16 FG | 4-4 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 16 PTS | +8
Big Al struggled to find his shot throughout the game but made up for it with his hustle. Still, there were countless shots he missed downy he stretch, and though we can’t expect him to hit them all, we also can’t expect him to miss them all either.
Corey Brewer, SF 21 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 6 PTS | +4
Brewer’s defense, energy and hustle allowed the Nuggets to come back and ultimately string together countless leads in the process. Though he tends to get a little out of control, his effort simply cannot be underestimated.
Rudy Fernandez, SG 31 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 12 PTS | +2
Fernandez had a solid performance all around. His tip-in to end the third quarter was the epitome of “never giving up” and was truly one of the better plays I’ve seen in the NBA this year. Rudy appears to finally be finding his stroke after struggling early on and has really helped the Nuggets second unit put points on the board of late.
Julyan Stone, G 12 MIN | 2-2 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | -4
I thought Stone was phenomenal in his brief 12-minute stint, evident in the first 60 seconds alone where he stepped on the floor and immediately blocked a shot. His overall defense was hands-down (even though he had them up!) the best on the team and suffocated whichever opponent he was guarding. When playing alongside Corey Brewer, the Nuggets offer up a backcourt tandem capable of defending anybody in the league. Though Stone likely won’t see many minutes going forward, it would be wise of Karl to insert him in the lineup when defense is lacking as Stone possess the type of defensive drive that can change the outcome of a game.

Rapid Reaction: Denver Nuggets 96 Toronto Raptors 81

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

Can Young Men Teach Old Dogs New Tricks?

The Denver Nuggets management team of Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke has figured out a new way to use cap space.  Some teams throw all their money at a big name free agent and ultimately end up overpaying.  Denver fans know that approach first hand thanks to Kenyon Martin.  Some teams will preserve it and play let let’s make a deal collecting players and draft picks by facilitating trades for less fiscally responsible teams.  This approach is made popular by Oklahoma City.  Some will hemorrhage out all their money towards a few mediocre players for no apparent reason (see the New Jersey Nets from the summer of 2010).  Other teams just sit on their cap space because their owners are too cheap to spend money and/or no players are desperate enough to take their money.  The pre Blake Griffin Clippers and the current Sacramento Kings are examples of this style of cap management.

The Nuggets have shown us a new way.  (more…)

Rapid Reaction: Denver Nuggets 122, Sacramento Kings 93

Denver Nuggets 122 FinalRecap | Box Score 93 Sacramento Kings
Nene, C 26 MIN | 6-9 FG | 4-4 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 16 PTS | +30Nene was aggressive on Wednesday. He was looking to score and often times achieved this goal when he received the ball in the post. His defense against the Kings’ big men was also admirable.
Danilo Gallinari, SF 35 MIN | 8-12 FG | 6-6 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 23 PTS | +30The first half of basketball by Gallinari was not only the best half of ball I’ve ever seen him play while in Denver (yes, including the Knicks game) but it might very well have been the best half of basketball any Nuggets player has displayed this year. It was nearly flawless. He never once forced a bad shot and time after time made the correct “basketball play” that was needed by the team in order to score — even if that meant passing (evident by his five assists). Had this game been closer Gallinari would be looking at back-to-back 30-point outings for the first time in his career. If you can score 30 points back-to-back in an NBA game, you’ve arrived.
Kosta Koufos, C 23 MIN | 3-7 FG | 4-4 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 10 PTS | +11I’m a Koufos guy and his performance against the Kings proves why. Early in the third quarter he had already passed Mozgov’s full-game averages and continued to play sound basketball (for the most part) until the final whistle. His passion for the game was on clear display as he wrestled for rebounds with the feisty DeMarcus Cousins late in the fourth quarter when the game was already out of hand. Though Koufos does take the occasional bad shot, this is to be expected from your third-string center; however, should Koufos see more time (which he deserves) he might very well develop into a nice, strong backup center option by next year.
Andre Miller, PG 32 MIN | 7-9 FG | 1-1 FT | 4 REB | 10 AST | 15 PTS | +27It’s probably safe to say Miller is over his “mini slump.” He was as solid as solid gets in terms of taking over the game once Ty left. His passes were pinpoint, his court vision, outstanding, but his leadership was what stood out most. Miller never stopped moving his jaw the entire night and his teammates seemed to benefit.
Ty Lawson, PG 15 MIN | 4-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 11 PTS | +7I give Ty a “B” because he was firmly on pace to score over 20 points tonight, even though it wouldn’t have been needed. Bottom line: His aggressiveness early on set the tone for the blowout that shortly followed.
Al Harrington, PF 24 MIN | 5-12 FG | 0-1 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 10 PTS | +16Though his field goal percentage dipped as the game rolled on, it’s important to note that going into the half Harrington was one of the leading catalysts that blew the lid off this game. He was shooting an extremely efficient clip yet again and at one time had more points than he did minutes. Downgrading him for a blowout he helped create seems wrong.
Chris Andersen, C 17 MIN | 4-4 FG | 1-1 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 9 PTS | +2Andersen played well. His sprightly enthusiasm for blocking shots didn’t necessarily pay off numerically, but he did send a message to the Kings that as long as he was patrolling the paint, no easy buckets would be had. I’ll take a performance like this from “Birdman” any day of the week.
Corey Brewer, SF 32 MIN | 7-19 FG | 1-3 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 15 PTS | +16Kind of a mixed bag from Brewer. Taking 19 shots is “Melo-esque” and not in a good way. He couldn’t hit an open three if his life depended on it and made a few knucklehead plays that, fittingly, one could label “J.R.-esque.” His botched dunk on a breakaway in the first quarter was one of the worst I’ve seen in a while and his reckless dribbling got a bit out of hand. However, Brewer’s defense was again fantastic and often led to fast break opportunities which the Nuggets thrive off. If he can limit his mistakes next time around, all will be forgiven.
Julyan Stone, G 20 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 6 PTS | +9For his first real outing, Stone played extremely well. His defense was pure genius, especially the block he had on Jimmer Fredette in the fourth quarter that looked like it shot out of a cannon. His hustle on 50-50 balls was like nothing the Nuggets have seen this season and his ability to come in and absorb the “pass-first” concept of the Nuggets offense was beyond refreshing. Stone will never be a scorer, but if he can play the type of defense he did against the Kings while distributing at a high level, there will certainly be a place for him in the NBA.
Kenneth Faried, F 11 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-3 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 5 PTS | 0The “Manimal” made his long-awaited third appearance of the regular season and did not disappoint. In the first three minutes he collected four rebounds (three of them being offensive boards) and was infectious with his energy level. Faried looked much, much better in terms of knowing his place on the floor than he did in his previous games and had the type of defensive fire the Nuggets are deprived of at times. If he can continue to improve, he should find his way in a few more games as the season progresses.
Jordan Hamilton, G 5 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -3I actually thought “J-Ham” played excellent in his NBA debut. Though it was only five minutes and though he did miss three of the four shots he put up, Hamilton still played solid defense, collected three boards and didn’t make any glaring mistakes. He looked like a totally different player than what I saw in his brief D-League stint and displayed an ability to score the rock that the Nuggets will undoubtedly need in the future. Hopefully we see more J-Ham soon.

Breaking [UPDATED]: Danilo Gallinari, Kosta Koufos agree on extensions with Nuggets

According to Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post, the Denver Nuggets have agreed on a four-year, $42 million dollar extension with Danilo Gallinari as well as a three-year $9 million dollar extension with Kosta Koufos. It had been made public that the Nuggets wanted to re-sign Gallinari before Wednesday’s deadline to extend restricted free agents passed and it appears they have achieved this goal. This now ensures the Nuggets will have Arron Afflalo, Nene and Gallinari locked down for the foreseeable future. Next in line would seemingly be Ty Lawson although because he doesn’t become a restricted free agent until after the 2012-13 NBA season concludes, the Nuggets have time to work with him.

As for Koufos, this move is quite the surprise. It’s not often that third-string players get multi-year extensions, however after this signing it’s clear the Nuggets front office has the utmost amount of confidence in Koufos and his role on the team moving forward. Now if only George Karl shared this same amount of confidence in the young center and actually gave him minutes, this deal would seem more apt.

Candid thoughts: The Gallinari signing was an excellent move and only further corroborates the notion that Masai Ujiri is a “players” general manager. On his watch, not only have the Nuggets pulled off a phenomenal trade for its superstar who could have easily walked for nothing, but they’ve also managed to re-sign the best player that came to Denver in that deal, in addition to Nene and Afflalo.

So what’s the next big move for what is now one of the best front offices in the entire NBA? As mentioned above, Lawson needs to be re-signed in order to fully secure this young, improving roster for the future. Nene, Afflalo, Gallinari and Lawson are undoubtedly the franchise pillars with guys like Harrington, Brewer, Koufos, Mozgov, Faried and Hamilton acting as the other young role players (excluding Big Al; he’s the veteran leader) to compliment Denver’s solid starting rotation.

But even before Lawson is addressed, current restricted free agent, Wilson Chandler, needs to be first. As I’ve mentioned in the comments section, if the Nuggets desire is to re-sign Lawson (which it rightfully should be), that doesn’t leave much room for Chandler. In fact, it doesn’t leave any room for Chandler unless Masai Ujiri can somehow convince him to take a backup role and accept less money along the way — which certainly isn’t likely. As of right now the Nuggets have roughly $57 million committed to 12 players on the roster for next year, which obviously leaves three more spots that will need to be filled before the start of the 2012-13 campaign. The Nuggets do have three draft picks in the 2012 NBA draft, which in all likelihood they’ll need to hit on, as rookies are by far the best bargain in the league when it comes to salaries.

So, where does this leave Chandler?

My guess is the Nuggets will try and shop him. Current rules set forth by the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement disallow teams to match a restricted free agent’s contract offer from another team, only to then turn around and trade that player; therefore, the Nuggets will have to work with Chandler and teams who are interested in his services to come up with a beneficial sign-and-trade that will see him moved in return for assets most likely in the form of future draft picks given the Nuggets nearly-full roster and lack of financial flexibility. One thing is certain however: The Nuggets, under no circumstances will allow Chandler to walk for nothing. Ujiri proved this sentiment correct with the Carmelo Anthony trade last year. If for some reason a deal cannot be struck Ujiri will have no problem signing Chandler then reissuing one of the Nuggets two second-round draft picks to another team for a return pick down the line. If the Nuggets are forced to pay a small amount of luxury tax for one year, I’m pretty sure Kroenke would understand, especially if the Nuggets keep on the up their current pace.

More Than Just a Victory?

Thank God Carmelo Anthony finally made a few shots.

Regardless of how you felt about Carmelo’s forced departure from the Mile High City the first contest between the Denver Nuggets and their former franchise player it would not have been as enjoyable had Melo ended the game without having made it a challenge.

I am on record as saying I wish Carmelo well in New York.  There was no benefit for Denver to have him stay any longer.  We can argue all day if the Denver Nuggets need another player like him to reach their ultimate goal.  What there is no doubt about is this team is easy to cheer for and they play in a way that is endearing.

Many times fans get the feeling that the players they cheer for do not care about what happens on the court as much as they do.  Last night there was little doubt that the Nuggets players and coaches cared as much as the fans, and probably even more.

(more…)

Rapid Reaction: Denver Nuggets 119 New York Knicks 114 (2OT)

Denver Nuggets 119 Final
Recap | Box Score
114 New York Knicks
Nene, C 45 MIN | 5-13 FG | 2-6 FT | 13 REB | 5 AST | 12 PTS | +3
Made the two biggest free throws of the year after going 0-4 from the line to start the game. Nene routinely found himself on smaller players and was not as aggressive as he was against Philadelphia. You can’t deny his improved rebounding and despite some trouble guarding the rim, he played very respectable late in the game when it mattered most.
Danilo Gallinari, SF 52 MIN | 9-19 FG | 18-20 FT | 11 REB | 2 AST | 37 PTS | +5
Incredible. 37 points on 19 shots. Did not even play his best game and clearly didn’t have his legs under him as he settled for too many long two pointers. Outplayed everyone else on the floor and is making me rethink my assessment of Gallo having true star potential. His game was so good I don’t have any room left to gush about his phenomenal defensive performance against Melo.
Timofey Mozgov, C 30 MIN | 6-11 FG | 4-4 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 16 PTS | +5
Deserves minutes, and thankfully he’s finally getting them. Tyson Chandler turned in dominant rebounding performances his past two games and was a non-factor against the shorthanded Nuggets. Mozgov scored 16 points, but his true impact came on the defensive end where he stayed on his feet and routinely rescued his teammates from getting beat and giving up layups.
Andre Miller, PG 49 MIN | 6-14 FG | 1-1 FT | 4 REB | 12 AST | 14 PTS | +6
I know, everyone deserves a great grade for this one, right? I really didn’t like much about Andre’s play through more than half of the contest. Then, he goes all Philadelphia 76ers and throws in the most amazing basket of the season to seal the win. He inbounded the ball perfectly three separate times on crucial possessions late. Miller honestly didn’t play great but had an easy double double. Miller’s poise is what makes him shine.
Ty Lawson, PG 49 MIN | 3-12 FG | 4-7 FT | 8 REB | 7 AST | 10 PTS | +8
He was a spectator in the win. I hate being so hard on a Nuggets player in such a great win, but I have never been more disappointed in Ty. He made only three shots, all of them assisted by others who fed him wide open looks. Ty needs to be better. He did not hit free throws down the stretch, failed to stay in front of the Knicks guards and allowed rookie Iman Shumpert to get the best of him. Ty’s numbers were fine but the boxscore belies the fact he had no impact on the win. I don’t grade the boxscores.
Al Harrington, PF 41 MIN | 10-24 FG | 0-1 FT | 11 REB | 1 AST | 24 PTS | +2
Al Buckets did it again. After a dreadful start he might have been benched by a lot of other coaches in this league. Harrington delivered in the clutch yet again hitting most every big basket down the stretch. He scored 15 points in the fourth quarter and exuded nothing but confidence when it looked like Denver was going to lose.
Corey Brewer, SF 25 MIN | 2-5 FG | 2-4 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 6 PTS | -4
You can’t ask for much more from Brewer in the limited minutes he received. He came in for defensive purposes late and forced Melo into a difficult shot he had no business attempting. Melo made it and Brewer learned the valuable lesson that sometimes it does not matter how well you play defense. Brewer ultimately didn’t have more of an impact because he was extremely clumsy on the offensive end, where he still needs to prove his worth.

Nuggets without Nene against Wizards

The Denver Post is reporting the Nuggets will be without Nene tonight against the Wizards. After coming off an injury of his own, Timofey Mozgov will likely start alongside Kosta Koufos in the front court. Additionally, Rudy Fernandez will attempt to play after missing the last several games due to an achilles problem. It should be noted that over the last four games Nene is averaging 17.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while playing some of the most aggressive basketball of his career with the Denver Nuggets. Nene will no doubt be sorely missed against one of the taller front lines in the NBA. Let’s just hope this is a legitimate injury and not simply a “rest day,” as even though the Wizards don’t have greatest of records, they’re still an NBA team that has a lot of talent, and one that just beat the team most consider to be the best in the league: the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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