The Denver Nuggets recently clinched a berth in the 2013 NBA playoffs, meaning that they will soon be making their tenth consecutive postseason appearance. And while this is a very impressive streak, what they’ve managed to do less often is finish the regular season with a good enough record to secure home court advantage in the first round. (more…)
|Nene, C 30 MIN | 3-8 FG | 3-6 FT | 11 REB | 4 AST | 9 PTS | -16
The one knock on Nene has always been his soft demeanor and his uncanny ability to disappear in big moments. That’s been the one caveat to his well-rounded game and tonight we saw all that all his athletic ability and efficiency comes at a price. Nene was a defensive sieve and after looking decent against Kaman and Okafor last Friday, he was dominated inside and couldn’t be bothered to put up much a fight.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 38 MIN | 6-12 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 15 PTS | -18
Gallinari didn’t play the fourth quarter till the game was well out of hand. Unfortunately that wasn’t the only factor that made his stat-sheet contributions an empty effort. Defensively Gallinari was awful against his fellow countryman Marco Bellinelli and any other Hornet lucky enough to find themselves guarded by him.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 11 MIN | 1-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 4 PTS | +2
Not enough minutes to be a factor either way, but the Nuggets had some success guarding the rim and played better defense with him in the game. Nene and Mozgov continue to look like an odd pairing in the starting lineup. Karl’s quest to go small no matter how poor the matchup ultimately erased whatever small chance Mozgov had at making a difference against the Hornets dominant front line.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 34 MIN | 2-8 FG | 8-10 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 13 PTS | 0
Not a good game. He was one of only two Nuggets putting up some kind of resistance on defense and it salvages his passing grade. Afflalo continues to set a poor example with questionable shot selection. Don’t be fooled by the 10 free throw attempts – Afflalo is a poor ballhandler and not a great finisher. The Nuggets need him playing his game and instead he forced offense all night – with poor results.
|Ty Lawson, PG 35 MIN | 6-11 FG | 1-1 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 15 PTS | -9
Lawson was awful on Jarrett Jack. He made poor decisions with the ball and just couldn’t sustain what little momentum the Nuggets were able to get. There’s a caveat to Lawson’s grade – he injured his ankle towards the end of the first half and looked hobbled the rest of the way. I would’ve liked to see him rest and he probably should have, but Lawson was a warrior and battled through.
|Al Harrington, PF 18 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 2 PTS | -11
Is Al Harrington as good as his torrid start to the season suggests? Absolutely not, and it would have been totally unreasonable to believe so. Harrington won’t be able to defend consistently and that limits the impact of his offensive talents. When he can’t hit shots, it’s just pure disaster as we saw tonight. Really awful defense and if Al Harrington’s 13-year career is any indication, there’s more to come.
|Andre Miller, PG 22 MIN | 0-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 PTS | -13
To get an ‘F’ it goes beyond having a bad game. That happens to everyone. You have to be actively hurting the team every minute to be this bad. Miller did just that, making selfish decisions with the ball and doing the same thing he’s been doing all year – shooting too much. Miller’s contributions to this team have been overstated and I don’t like the way he’s played all year. He is an odd fit on this team to be honest.
|Chris Andersen, C 5 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -1
Incomplete. For whatever reason, he received a few charity minutes from George Karl and didn’t do enough to affect anything. Considering how poorly he’s played as of late, I’m not sure why Koufos didn’t get the call earlier.
|Corey Brewer, SF 8 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 5 PTS | 0
Incomplete. Despite earning minutes, Brewer was another charity case given a few scraps for no apparent reason. Unlike Birdman he probably deserved his shot but just didn’t do enough to make any fair judgement concerning his play.
|DeMarre Carroll, F 1 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | +6
He saw a minute in garbage time, perhaps confirming suspicions that Faried won’t see a single meaningful minute of court time no matter what. Incomplete.
|Rudy Fernandez, SG 27 MIN | 6-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 14 PTS | -9
Fernandez made shots, but they were awful ones. I really would have liked to see Brewer eat into his minutes. Rudy plays with energy and reckless abandon, but he is not an explosive scorer and I fear that this coaching staff somehow believes he is. Energy and effort were there, but he just took terrible shots and he doesn’t take enough pride on the defensive end. Another empty statline.
|Kosta Koufos, C 10 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | +4
Incomplete. He was called in during the second half, but unfortunately the Nuggets were already getting blown out and had no shot. Like Mozgov, the coaching staff has zero trust in him and refused to give him a chance in a game dominated by size.
After three straight solid home wins, the Nuggets are carrying nice momentum into their second road trip of the season. It’s a quick back-to-back in New Orleans and San Antonio against two teams which provide unique challenges for this new Nuggets team. While the Hornets and Spurs appear to be reeling from injuries, let’s not forget these are still road games against well-rested opponents.
When I sat down tonight to watch the Denver Nuggets take on the Charlotte Bobcats, I certainly did not expect to see the Nuggets pull off the fifth biggest margin of victory in franchise history. But… THAT JUST HAPPENED! (more…)
(I know, I know, the title is cheesy and overused but why go creative and really long when you can go short and simple?) The Nuggets dreams of an undefeated season were ended in the Bayou last night as they fell 101-95 to the New Orleans Hornets. Despite a double-double performance from Carmelo Anthony (24 points and 10 boards) and solid outings from Chauncey (20 pts and 5 dimes) and the surprisingly effective Sheldon Williams (8 pts and 13 rebounds, leading the team in the latter category in back-to-back games), Denver couldn’t complete their second-half comeback. After being down by as much as 14 late in the second quarter, Denver took the lead at one point in the third and then jumped out to a six-point lead with 8 minutes to go in the ballgame. Then Chris Paul took over, dropping 10 points and 3 dimes in the last 10 minutes, and David West hit a couple tough fade-away jumpers over Al Harrington to seal the win.
The Nuggets jumped out to a great start early, going up 8-0 and looking good on D, forcing contested jumpers from the Hornets. Then Sheldon and Nene let Okafor have his way in the middle on both sides of the ball, and Emeka had some easy layups and forced contested shots in the paint. Nene knocked down a couple of 18-footers (showing some extended range that this Nuggets fan didn’t know he had) to help the bigs’ cause, but then the pick-and roll defense on Paul (and later Jerryd Bayless and Willie Green) started to fall apart. NOLA’s guards were getting into the paint WAY too easy, leading to some easy buckets (Green’s baseline slam and J-Bay’s and-1 layup on JR) and kick-outs for threes (Marcus Thornton hit back-to-back threes to stretch the Hornets’ lead to 14).
On the positive side Ty Lawson made Chris Paul look like Anthony Carter (which isn’t easy to do), burning him to the basket a few times and doing a respectable job distributing the rock. And despite his struggles on the defensive end, Al Harrington looks good off the bench, giving the 2nd unit some semblance of offense when JR struggles to find his shot.
In the second half Melo took over, hitting his patented mid-range jumpers and getting to the basket a few times as well. And as one RMC writer predicted in his season preview ( I won’t be doing too much self-promotion, I promise) Aaron Afflalo continues to break out of his shell, hitting some shots when his teammates can’t find the range; if he can prove to/remain a viable threat on offense, it will make this team much more dangerous late in games and allow George Karl to keep him in for defense while not losing anything on the offensive end. And while all you JR Swish fans may grimace when I say this, it’s a good thing for this team when Afflalo is in the game late and getting starters minutes over JR, because I’m 99% sure he will not be a Nugget next year.
Next up for the Nuggets is the Houston Rockets, who will welcome Denver to the Toyota Center for their home opener tonight at 6:30 MST. Houston is coming off back-to-back road losses to open the season in two very winnable games against the Lakers and Warriors. Denver needs to play better D against Luis Scola then they did against D-West, because as good as West’s mid-range game is, Scola is a much better back-to-the-basket player, can hit the hook shot with either hand, and is a better passer (which means watch out for the kickout to Kevin Martin or Aaron Brooks). Houston has some absolute snipers on the perimeter (the aforementioned K-Mart and Brooks), and even if one is cold the other could easily drop 30+.
They signed Erick Dampier yesterday to join Yao and Brad Miller at center, so Nene and Sheldon will have to step it up even more with Rick Adelman being able to rotate those guys at will to keep his bigs fresh. If Denver can control the penetrate and kick better than they did last night, keep their bigs out of foul trouble (so Melvin Ely isn’t matched up with Scola) and get some offensive production from their bench (I’m talking to you JR…and Al needs 15+ too) they have a great chance of coming back home 1-1 on their mini-roadtrip before they welcome Dallas to “The Can” on Wednesday night.
The Denver Nuggets walloped the tired and lethargic New Orleans Hornets. Beat them to a pulp. No contest. Then the second half started. The Nuggets saw their scoring output slashed in half from the first half to the second scoring 62 in an impressive first half followed by 31 in an ugly forgettable second. The second half was nothing new to Nuggets fans. After playing a near perfect offensive first half scoring in the paint at will, the second half was the polar opposite with plenty of long jumpers that should have never been attempted.
After seeming full of life in the first 24 minutes Denver looked like the solitary day of rest was not enough to recover from their four games in five nights stretch that ended with a win over the Washington Wizards.
The big news from the game was George Karl was forced to miss his first home game due to the effects of his battle with cancer. If you have not already, read this article by Ricky Reilly that chronicles exactly what Karl is going through.
The other piece of big news is Kenyon Martin said that his knee is feeling better and is scheduled to start riding a stationary bike on Monday in his recovery from a patella tendon injury. Riding a bike is a long way from returning to the court, but it is progress.
In happier news, Carmelo was spectacular although it was not his scoring that left me all atwitter, but his rebounding. Carmelo tallied a career high 18 rebounds including another career high 14 defensive rebounds.
For more insight on the game check out the Daily Dime where I participated in the chat and whipped up a little piece on the Nuggets much maligned mental toughness (item number two).
Advanced Game Stats
Pace Factor: 90.5
Offensive Efficiency: 102.8 – lowest rating since the back to back losses in Los Angeles and Phoenix two and a half weeks ago.
Defensive Efficiency: 91.0 – fourth lowest rating of the season and only the second time they have posted back to back sub 100 defensive efficiency ratings this season.
Outdated Bonus Links: NBA Playbook breaks down the Nuggets’ collapse in Houston
The Denver Nuggets have won six games in a row and are now back above .500 on the road after back to back wins in New Orleans and Memphis. The common denominator in both games was Denver’s ability to make plays in the fourth quarter however both games had different stories to tell.
Through three and a half quarters the Hornets game felt much like the previous loss the Nuggets suffered at the hands of the Hornets in New Orleans earlier this season. A close game where Denver was obviously the better team, but they simply could not get their act together long enough to pull ahead. Then with the score tied at 86 and just under six minutes Denver finally took control of a game that was waiting for one team or the other to claim ownership of the contest.
The Nuggets received a gift when rookie Marcus Thornton drove directly into Darius Songalia, who had just set a screen for him, causing a turnover that triggered a two on one break for J.R. and Melo. The result was a lay in for Anthony. On the other end New Orleans settles for a second jumper by Songalia in about 70 seconds that missed. Chauncey received the outlet, sets up on the left wing, drove left and fed Nene at the rim. Nene is fouled and makes both free throws. The teams trade baskets and then Nene tips two passes on one possession both of which were intended for Emeka Okafor and prevented him from getting an open layup. The ball eventually finds its way to Okafor who misses what is now a contested jump hook instead of a dunk. Nene grabs the rebound and throws a beautiful outlet pass to J.R. who does his best to screw up another two on one break with Carmelo, but Melo is there for the rebound and finishes after adroitly making contact with Okafor to avoid getting his shot blocked. Before New Orleans can catch their breath Chauncey steals the inbounds pass and is fouled. Billups dropped in both free throws the Nuggets then parlay a very good defensive possession into a 30 foot desperation three pointer by Thornton which misses. Chauncey then closed out the game deciding 12-2 run with a drive and dish to Nene for an emphatic dunk that announced to all those watching that it was not going to be the Hornets’ night.
The Hornets were able to stay in the game thanks to a big first half by Thornton and a big third quarter from West. However, once those two options failed to produce in the fourth quarter the Nuggets were able to overwhelm the undermanned Hornets with little plays such as forcing turnovers, deflecting passes, and getting into the lane on offense.
The biggest surprise of the game was the way the Hornets chose to defend Carmelo. New Orleans has typically doubled Carmelo as soon as he would catch the ball and their aggressive scheme has been largely successful. In two games against the Hornets this season Melo had shot only 14-44 and the two teams split two close games, both teams winning at home. For some reason the Hornets decided to go away from that attacking defense and played Carmelo largely one on one choosing to play more of a prerotating scheme that the Lakers have been successful with. The difference is the Hornets do not have the same quality of personnel as the Lakers do. Melo was able to find space for his midrange jumper and scored 32 points on 13-27. The funny thing is as poorly as Denver shot from behind the arc, 3-22 to be exact, had New Orleans been aggressive with Carmelo and not allowed him to play so much one on one they might have cruised to an easy win.
Two other comments that need to be mentioned are, why on God’s green earth do the Nuggets insist on shooting threes on nights when it is obvious none of them can make any? The Nuggets had the advantage all night when they drove into the lane and as I am sure you noticed in the breakdown of their fourth quarter surge above Chauncey was able to get Nene two great looks the two times he drove at the rim. Secondly, J.R. Smith deserves credit for his fourth quarter defense on Thornton. Smith was all over Thornton as New Orleans ran him through and around screens. On one occasion Thronton caught the pass and jumped to shoot only to see J.R. flying at him so close that he had to dump the ball off towards David West and the play nearly resulted in a turnover.
The next night in Memphis instead of a defensive battle, the Nuggets found themselves in a wild shootout.
The Grizzlies jumped out on the Nuggets early on with a combination of layups and dunks to start the game off and then a hoard of threes to close out the first quarter. The Nuggets were obviously out of sync on defense as they allowed the Grizzlies’ bigs to roll into the lane and get great position at will. The Nuggets had just enough offense to stay close while their defense struggled.
Then late in the third quarter the Nuggets found their stride on both ends of the floor. The Nuggets were down 83-77 with two minutes remaining in the third quarter and went on a 20-2 run to smother the any hope that Memphis had for a victory.
The three keys to the Nuggets run were their bigs ability to finally seal off the middle and effectively eliminate the easy shots Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol had been getting all night long. Secondly, Denver got out and ran with Anthony Carter pushing the pace. Thirdly, J.R. Smith turned white hot and splashed three straight threes during the run.
It did not end there though as the Nuggets continued to explode offensively and pushed that 12 point lead up to 24 before taking their foot off the gas. J.R. would convert on five of seven threes over the final 14 minutes including five in a row. Denver wound up outscoring Memphis 48-25 over the closing 14 minutes.
I was growing concerned about Anthony Carter as he has been forced to log minutes in seven consecutive games. I have believed the key to his effectiveness has been fresh legs and with every passing game that advantage dissipates. Against New Orleans I though he was starting to look a little sluggish. Defensively he began reaching which is a sign of fatigue due to the fact it gets more difficult to move your feet. However in Memphis he was very good, especially down the stretch when his desire to push the pace helped earn Denver some easy scores. Now if we can just get him to stop shooting threes…
Johan Petro has continued to play respectably. He did struggled a little defending players like David West and Zach Randolph, but most players do. Petro continues to rebound pulling down ten boards twice in the past four games. Plus he has scored 23 points on 14 shots during those same four games. He has struggled to catch the ball while moving in the past, but has shown some improvement in that area as of late.
One quirky thing to note from the win in Memphis is it was the first game all season where Carmelo attempted fewer than three free throws. In fact, he did not get to the line once. The last time that happened in the regular season was December 12, 2008 in Cleveland although he did have two games in the 2009 playoffs where he did not attempt a free throw, game two against New Orleans and game five against Dallas and somewhat surprisingly both games were wins.
The good news in my mind, apart from winning on the road without two of their top eight players, was that there were no signs of moping or any indication of a lack of purpose as we saw early on in Minnesota. Denver played hard from start to finish in both games. They seem to be comfortable with Adrian Dantley and while Dantley did not have any strokes of genius that swung either game as he did in Minnesota when he went small, he certainly has not done anything to slow the team down.
Denver at New Orleans Stats and Links:
Pace Factor: 96.3
Defensive Efficiency: 97.7
Offensive Efficiency: 105.9
Denver at Memphis Stats and Links:
Pace Factor: 87.2
Defensive Efficiency: 122.2 – not good, but…
Offensive Efficiency: 143.4 – best efficiency rating of the season topping their 139.1 versus Dallas
Once again the Denver Nuggets paid the price for not getting the job done. The penalty was not another loss in a game they should have won, the Nuggets were able to defeat the shorthanded New Orleans Hornets, playing without former all-star David West, 116-110 in overtime last night, but it was an ankle injury suffered by leading scorer Carmelo Anthony. With Denver forced to play an extra five minutes in a game that never should have extended past regulation time Carmelo rolled his left ankle coming down from an attempted jumper and is now out for Monday’s game against Charlotte.
To me the Nuggets’ victory was a very frustrating one as I was constantly aghast at the decision making at both ends of the floor. On defense Denver continually slid behind screens and sagged off of shooters on the perimeter continually giving up open shots. On one occasion in the fourth quarter Carmelo had switched onto Chris Paul and was so worried about trying to challenge the pass into the post he kept jumping back and forth getting ready to spring into the air to steal the ball. He continued to drop deeper and deeper off of Chris Paul, a player who shoots almost 41% from behind the arc, and finally Paul, basically left alone as Melo kept crouching and shifting around, took the unchallenged shot. Fortunately for Denver it rimmed out, but it was just one example of some of the curious decisions that were made at that end of the floor.
Honestly, even with the handful of brain farts Denver displayed I thought they played very well defensively. New Orleans had 50 points with 6:39 left in the second quarter, but apart from a flat opening five or six minutes, the Nuggets were hustling, rotating and playing solid defense. The Hornets were just hitting difficult shots. Sometimes that happens, but streaks like the Hornets were on rarely last and after James Posey hit a jumper for their fiftieth point the difficult shots they were taking stopped falling and they only managed to score four more points over the final 6:39 of the half and one of those points was on a technical free throw. In fact, over the final 41:39, which is 21 seconds short of three full quarters of basketball, the Hornets only scored 60 points.
Offensively, the Nuggets were far to content to hoist jumpers of their own when they possessed a quickness advantage with nearly every matchup on the court. The Hornets played their scheme very well as they doubled Melo, stayed close to the lane and tried to trick Denver into playing a perimeter game. For much of the game Denver complied as evidenced by their 27 three point attempts.
Still, I was encouraged by the Nuggets effort on defense and they absolutely destroyed the Hornets on the boards 61-37. I thought Chris Andersen played his best game of the season as he was all over the glass, played the pick and roll reasonably well and was able to catch a pass in the lane from Ty Lawson that he usually fumbles away.
All in all it was a win, a frustrating one, but a win none the less.
Additional Game 43 Nuggets
Before we begin the season previews and start looking forward to next season, I am going to look back at last season. I made a multitude of predictions over the previous 12 plus months and I started wondering how accurate I was. Did I successfully predict how well Chris Andersen played? What about the Nuggets acquisition of Chauncey Billups or how many games the Milwaukee Bucks would win?
The only way to know if I knew what I was talking about is to go back through thousands and thousands of words and pluck out all the things I said would happen no matter how hair brained or how mundane and assign a verdict.
Here is the first of four posts full of things I thought would happen. We will start by looking at my general preseason projections and game by game forecasts. Tomorrow we will look at my projected season records for all 30 teams. We will then move on to my projected personnel moves and then finish with my projections for player performances.
Prediction: I believe the Denver Nuggets must alter their style of play if they are ever to become a true championship contender. I love the Denver Mile High Mystique as much as anyone, but I strongly believe the Nuggets must evaluate the overall philosophy of their franchise.
Verdict: I am going to say correct. The Nuggets still ran, which is fine, but they dropped from their perennial spot of first or second in pace down to fifth, it may not sound like much, but they were closer to the eleventh fastest paced team, Milwaukee, than they were to the second fastest paced team, New York. The greater focus on defense and working for better shots on offense was a great recipe.
Prediction: I might be completely wrong, but if we are ever going to see the best of the Nuggets and the best of George Karl, it has to be this season.
Verdict: Correct, the embarrassing sweep at the hand of the Lakers in 2008 shook the players and forced them to deal with how far away they were from contending. That led them to push themselves to great things last season.
Prediction: The [Western Conference] number eight seed will make the playoffs with 44 to 46 wins next season.
Verdict: Incorrect, Utah was the eighth seed with 48 wins.
Prediction: The lower class [of the Western Conference] will be better. Oklahoma City, Minnesota and Sacramento will fall into the categories of improved to much improved. The Clippers may have lost Elton Brand, but they played most of last season without him anyway and the additions of Baron Davis and Marcus Camby (although I have a difficult time buying them as a playoff contender) will clearly make them more competitive.
Verdict: Incorrect, all three combined to win only one more game than the Lakers, 66 to 65. However, the Wolves were 10-4 in January only to have Al Jefferson suffered a season ending injury in early February and the Thunder were a very improved team going 18-27 from January 10 through the end of the season. The Clippers were simply abysmal, but at least I did not pick them to make the playoffs like many others did.
Prediction: Out of the teams that finished outside the playoffs looking in last season the only team that I believe needs to be taken seriously is Portland.
Verdict: Correct, Portland was the only non playoff team from 2007-08 to win more than 30 games in the west.
Prediction: Some believe Golden State can compete for a playoff spot, but I do not see it.
Verdict: Correct, Golden State finished 19 games out of the playoffs. I need to keep making predictions against nebulous conglomerates such as “some.”
Prediction: I believe the Nuggets and Blazers will make the postseason.
Verdict: Correct, both did.
Prediction: This season is the year that they [Denver] will be better off having a representative in Secaucus, NJ instead of having their representatives massacred at the hands of the Lakers or Hornets in the first round.
Verdict: Wildly incorrect, but had they not made the Billups trade, I think that prediction would have been the truth. I was wrong about the Hornets too.
Prediction: If you are looking for a team to fall apart this season how about the Clippers? They have a point guard who is famous for his horrid shot selection paired with a control freak head coach. They lost their best player in what might have been a far more incompetent negotiating process by the front office than anything the Nuggets have been guilty of and God’s Gift to Defense Marcus Camby is not going to play a single game in the preseason due to a heel injury. Oh yea, and do not forget that Chris Kaman is coming off of a season where he played only 56 games plus he put some extra wear and tear on his body by playing for Germany in the Olympics.
Verdict: Correct, they were without a doubt the biggest disappointment in the West other than perhaps the Suns. By the way, that was in response to ESPN.com’s NBA writers naming the Nuggets the most likely team to self combust.
Prediction: [After game 23] they [the Nuggets] face three straight back to back sets against some very good teams which will tell us a lot about how good this team can really be.
Verdict: Incorrect, Denver was only 2-4 in those six games (at Dallas, at Houston, Cleveland, at Phoenix, Portland and at Portland), but the season turned out OK. Of course, I could go the other way and say they only went 2-4 and that showed us they were not going to be NBA champs.
Prediction: The Nuggets have already clinched a tie with the Mavs for the season series, but I believe they will certainly win at least one of the two games left to clinch the tiebreaker in case it should come into play.
Verdict: Correct, the Nuggets swept the Mavs in the regular season.
Prediction: I do not like their chances against the Spurs or the Hornets (especially now that Tyson Chandler is back in the Big Easy) and I would not be very confident should the Nuggets face off against the Jazz [02/20/09].
Verdict: Incorrect, in defense of my lack of faith, this was following a blowout loss against the Bulls and Tyson Chandler was healthy and looking strong and Manu Ginobili had not yet been injured.
Prediction: A big thanks to Detroit and Boston for blowing games against the Spurs and Jazz tonight. Way to go bozos. I will forgive the Celtics as long as they lose to the Nuggets next Monday.
Verdict: Incorrect, Boston beat the Nuggets, but I actually found it in my heart to forgive them, but I am not going to count it one against myself.
Prediction: With the talent on this team and with the schedule providing them with a plethora of winnable games I feel very good guaranteeing that the Nuggets will make the playoffs [03/10/09].
Prediction: With the stink bomb the Nuggets dropped on us the past couple of weeks they have almost completely destroyed any chance of earning home court advantage in the playoffs. I have a difficult time envisioning a scenario where they catch the Spurs, Jazz or Hornets. Plus with the loss last night they have lost the season series to the Rockets making it even more difficult to surpass them in the standings. In order to earn home court advantage the Nuggets would have to overtake two of those four teams. At this point almost any best case scenario we can construct leaves the Nuggets playing either the Spurs, Jazz or Hornets in the first round. Because of that I am afraid there is little hope of Denver reaching the second round [also 03/10/09].
Verdict: Absolutely 100% incorrect. Out of all the incorrect predictions I made, this is the one that bugs me the most. I wrote it following the Nuggets two point home loss to the Rockets that was their fifth loss in six games. Of course they went on to win 13 of 14 to push themselves into second in the conference. I hate that I wrote it, but thank God I did because it clearly turned the Nuggets season around. Honestly, I try my best to not get caught up in the emotion of a season, but I also have to write what I believe. If I end up with egg on my face, well, when life gives you eggs, break them and drink them like Rocky (Balboa, not the mountain lion or the squirrel).
Prediction: The Nuggets will beat the Hornets in seven games because Chris Paul will not lose game 6 at home.
Verdict: Incorrect, although I still do not think Paul would have let the series end in New Orleans.
Prediction: Should the Nuggets win [Game 4 versus New Orleans], I think they win game five to close out the series.
Prediction: Logic tells me tonight [Game 5 versus New Orleans] will be nothing short of a formality.
Verdict: Correct, Denver rolled over the Hornets by 19.
Prediction: David West will not make another All-Star team.
Verdict: It may be presumptuous of me, but I am going to call this one correct.
Prediction: The Denver Nuggets will beat the Dallas Mavericks in six games.
Verdict: Incorrect, the Nuggets won in five, but they did win.
Prediction: I expect the Nuggets to close this series out [versus Dallas] just as they did against New Orleans and six hours from now we will be celebrating the Nuggets’ first appearance in the conference finals since 1985.
Verdict: Correct, the Nuggets did indeed close out the Mavs in five games, although it was a little closer than game 5 against the Hornets.
Prediction: My official prediction is the Lakers in seven games.
Verdict: Incorrect, partly due to the Nuggets late game ineptness the Lakers won in six.
Prediction: I do believe the Nuggets will win [game 2 versus the Lakers].
Verdict: Correct, despite literally throwing game one away, Denver won game two.
Prediction: As you would expect I think the Nuggets will win [game 6 versus the Lakers] tonight.
Verdict: Um…really incorrect. The Lakers rolled the Nuggets in game 6 at the Pepsi Center.
The final tally for the first section of projections is 12 out of 23 were correct, good for a rate of 52.2%. Not bad, but not great either. Part two coming tomorrow.
At this point I do not have a lot to add about last night’s game. Mentally I have switched over to the next series, which is nice to be able to say.
There, now that that’s done we can start focusing on Dallas.
Bring on the Mavericks.
It may not have been as impressive as a 58 point beat down, but the Denver Nuggets still cruised to their third relatively easy win at home with a 107-86 series clinching victory.
There are plenty of excuses for the New Orleans Hornets, mostly surrounding the health of Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler, who was held out of game five with a bad ankle. Excuses aside Denver was clearly the best team and a healthy Hornets’ squad would still have had to deal with the defense the Nuggets brought for most of five games.
We have seen Denver play pressure defense from time to time during the regular season, but never for entire games and never for multiple games in a row. This team has come alive in the playoffs and they are playing defense that I feel confident saying has never been seen in Denver. Maybe someone from the ABA days can correct me, but the exceptional teams of the mid 1980’s never locked down like this team has.
That being said, the Nuggets defense was solid, but not spectacular in the first half and a good chunk of the third quarter. They were switching a lot of screens and I lost count of how many times Nene was stuck guarding Chris Paul one on one. Still Denver was playing hard and did not let the game get out of hand. As we have seen so often this season they ratcheted up the defensive pressure down the stretch in the third quarter.
Denver struggled to gain any momentum throughout the game as neither team was able to take control. The game was tied at 62 when Melo, stuck guarding Hilton Armstrong in the post, tricked Rasual Butler into attempting a lob pass. Carmelo quickly spun and tipped the pass away triggering a fast break that Dahntay Jones finished at the other end with a nice layup at the 5:15 mark. Both teams failed to score for the next few possessions until Chauncey hit one of his patented dribble up threes with 3:34 left.
The next trip down Shawn Marks set a high screen for Chris Paul and Jones stayed with Marks on the switch. However, he noticed Paul blew by Nene and darted towards the rim hoping to stop a wide open layup. Dahntay recovered in time to not only challenge the shot, but he actually blocked the attempt that morphed from an open shot to a hopeless flailing effort by Paul and it all happened in a fraction of a second.
During the dead ball Jones was replaced by J.R. Smith. Smith was able to challenge Posey on a post up and Denver took the ball back up the floor. Smith hung back in the middle of the floor as Chauncey dribbled up the right side of the court. Melo busted his butt up the left side of the floor and earned position on the right block against Peja. Seeing this Posey sagged down to double Melo in order to prevent him from getting the ball. As a result no one noticed J.R. setting up about 28 feet from the hoop. Chauncey made a crisp pass to J.R. who splashed the three putting Denver up eight.
New Orleans called a timeout to try to calm things down. One of the small stories of the series was how timeouts rarely had much of an effect in stopping the Nuggets. Late in games one and two, early in game three and throughout game four Byron Scott called timeouts in an attempt to slow the Nuggets’ momentum and those timeouts were generally ineffective in doing so. Denver came out of the timeout fired up and after Chris Andersen and Chauncey trapped Chris Paul and forced him well beyond the three point line he passed across the floor to Posey who lost control and turned the ball over.
Chauncey brought the ball up the floor and covered by Paul probed here and there to see if he could get in the lane. Paul did not leave any easy openings so Billups turned to back him down. All along J.R. was once again spotted up in the middle of the floor about eight feet or so beyond the three point line. As Chauncey turned his back to Paul Kenyon darted to the top of the circle to seal off Butler. The funny thing was as he was running to set the screen he was pointing with his thumb over his shoulder to J.R. informing Billups that he was about to ensure J.R. could get another three. Chauncey made a crisp pass and J.R. nailed it putting the Nuggets up 11.
New Orleans would never be that close again as Denver scored on their last six possessions of the third quarter (starting with Chauncey’s walk up three) and they also converted on their first four possessions of the fourth quarter.
So there you have it Nuggets fans. Denver dominated this series and won easier than even the most optimistic fan thought possible. The Nuggets averaged 24.2 more points per game that the Hornets and I believe have proven themselves a team to be taken seriously for as long as they remain active in the playoffs.
Look for additional nuggets tomorrow, but if you still thirst for more of my thoughts on game five, including a bit on Melo’s maturation, you will enjoy box seven of the Daily Dime (although I recommend checking out the other nine boxes too).
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: Game Five – 88.9 | Series – 88.5
Defensive Efficiency: Game Five – 96.7 | Series – 95.1
Offensive Efficiency: Game Five – 120.3 | Series – 122.4
Before I sign off for the night I would also like to thank Niall Doherty and Ryan Schwan from Hornets 24/7 for the insight they provided throughout the series. They run a great blog and they proved to be a class act on top of everything else as Niall sent me a very gracious email following the game.
I am not sure how to handle tonight’s game. I will say I know I should be thrilled. Logic tells me tonight will be nothing short of a formality. The Denver Nuggets are clearly a more talented and hungry team than the New Orleans Hornets. New Orleans is overmatched, banged up and mentally broken. I do not think you can make a credible case that the Hornets’ will win tonight. The only real reason seems to be they have too much pride to not come out and play well after such a lopsided beat down. The time to show pride was entering the third quarter of game four and New Orleans clearly folded.
So there you have it. As long as Denver plays hard a victory tonight should be a foregone conclusion. If that is the case, then how come I am so nervous?
I am like the dog that gets beaten every day after his owner gets home from work. The twenty plus years of experience I have of cheering for the Nuggets has conditioned me to always prepare for the worst case scenario. All the data and everything I have seen over the previous month compels me to expect a Nuggets victory and in my mind I do. My heart is just not so quick to make the leap.
Feel free to judge me or if you can understand where I am coming from, to commiserate with a fellow fan who is held hostage by fear.
Take this with you: As an NBA fan I really want to see how Chris Paul reacts to being almost completely shut down. For the good of the league part of me wants to see him play well. I think the fact he tweaked his knee has given him the excuse to underachieve. I believe that he has admitted to himself, at least subconsciously, that the Hornets are going down and there is no reason for him to kill himself for the sake of his teammates who are clearly not holding up their part of the bargain. Will we get the game three Chris Paul with the killer instinct or a disinterested one who is resigned to his fate?
Tonight in game four of the first round playoff series between the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Hornets the Nuggets did many things well. You have to do a lot of things well to tie the all time NBA playoff record for largest margin of victory at 58.
Denver played great defense, great offense and I thought Carmelo took another major step towards proving he has finally figured out how to play in the playoffs. Out of those three I cannot decide which to discuss first so in the spirit of the choose your own adventure books that I used to read in college elementary school I will let you choose what you want to read about first. Make your choice below:
|Read about Carmelo first||Read about the defense first||Read about the offense first|
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 87.2
Defensive Efficiency: 72.2 – Best single game of the season topping their 80.7 from game 53 in Orlando.
Offensive Efficiency: 138.7 – Second best of the season behind their 139.7 in game 68 against New Jersey.
After game two I was giddy with the possibility that Carmelo might have turned a corner. He accumulated nine assists and I was hoping it was a sign that Carmelo was going to stop forcing his way through double teams and start finding the cracks in the defense.
Game three came and went and I did not mention anything about whether or not I thought Melo had proven the nine assist game a fluke or if he had truly learned from five seasons of post season failure.
After watching game two I have to say that findings are inconclusive.
Carmelo started the game forcing three straight jumpers, none of which were close, and it looked like the old Carmelo had returned. However, he quickly realized his shot was not falling and began attacking the basket. The Hornets appeared to eschew the immediate hard trap for more of a soft double pre-rotating so that the help defenders were already in place.
Having the help defender lay off closed off some of the passing lanes Melo took advantage of, but the result was Melo was able to get into the lane almost at will. He did struggle to finish from time to time as the Hornets did a good job of meeting him at the rim and going straight up to avoid fouling.
After his initial barrage of jumpers over the first four and a half minutes Mel only took six more the remainder of the game. It was the first time all series the Hornets allowed him to penetrate. It will be interesting to see tonight how the Hornets play him if they stick with the soft double or trap right away although I would expect them to mix it up as the game progresses.
Melo did finish the game with five assists even though he was able to be more aggressive with the drive. However the Nuggets needed a sixth assist from him in order to pull out a win as his pass in the final seconds to Kenyon Martin was tipped away.
So did the light go off in Melo’s head before or during game two? I would have to say I remain encouraged that after the first few minutes he did not force outside shots, nor did he force passes when they were not there. He took what the defense gave him and that is what good offensive players do. The key tonight will be for Melo to recognize how the Hornets are defending him from possession to possession and adjust accordingly.
Of course, it would also be nice when he does drive to complete the play and hit the shot.
I have to admit I am a little worried about the return of the elbow contusion. It really bothered him earlier in the season and he reached the point where he basically could not score. If it gets that bad, Denver will be in some serious trouble.
As far as the rest of the Nuggets, game four will be another test of their collective will. The scary Chris Paul arrived in game three and I suspect he will be on the court for game four as well.
Watching game three it was pretty clear the Hornets exceeded the Nuggets’ intensity for the first time. Now that the Hornets have a sense of hope their intensity will burn even hotter, which in turn will make the Nuggets job even more difficult.
As Andrew at Denver Stiffs pointed out it seems that in most playoff series that end after five games the losing team tends to win game three at home. I agree that certainly seems to be the case. Of course, we do not know if this will be a five, six or seven game series. After tonight we will have a much better idea. Should the Nuggets win, I think they win game five to close out the series. If they lose tonight, this thing is going seven games.
Take this with you: I do not think we can count on Nene to provide any offense whatsoever right now. He certainly looks slow and when he makes a move he has been using all season to score and the defense is able to stay with him, it baffles him. As a result his confidence has disappeared. Nene’s four shots were the third lowest total of the season. It looks like the Nuggets are going to have to win this series without him.
If the Nuggets are going to give themselves a good chance to advance as far as they can they need to win the next two games and hopefully earn Melo and Nene some time to rest.
If you have not done so yet, look at the box score. Look at how close those stats are. Go right down the line and you will notice only two numbers where there is a difference of more than one or two digits. The first is field goal attempts. The Nuggets took five more shots, but made the same number as the Hornets, 30. The other number is free throws made. Denver made four fewer free throws even though both teams shot 35.
The Nuggets did shoot 35 free throws , which would seem to signify they were being aggressive on offense, but if you look at the shot chart you can see how perimeter oriented their offense was (keep in mind, missed shots resulting in free throws do not show up as they are not counted as an attempt and the dot in front of the rim represents more than one shot).
Now look at another couple numbers. Check out the Game Info page and look at the fast break points and points in the paint. The Hornets led in both categories with a 22-6 advantage in fast break points and New Orleans outscored the Nuggets in points in the paint 44-30.
(Warning, the rest of this section may seem very self congratulatory, but trust me, I am just reporting what happened. Do not let the fact that I was right about this stuff make it sound like I am trying to tell you how great I am.)
When I was a guest on the podcast with Alejandro de los Rios and he asked me what Hornets fans could look at to help themselves feel better after their losses I mentioned the Nuggets were not getting many points in the paint and they had been playing almost exclusively on the perimeter. From Chauncey to J.R. to Melo a great deal of their offense was coming off of jumpers. When those jumpers stopped falling we all knew the Nuggets could be in trouble.
New Orleans also made some important adjustments that I may have mentioned. I thought the Nuggets would struggle to defend the pick and roll if the Hornets ran it with Nene’s man setting the screen every time. Tonight, when Nene was on the floor the Hornets were doing exactly that. That affected the Nuggets’ defense in three big ways. First of all, Nene was almost exclusively guarding Tyson Chandler or Sean Marks and those two are the best New Orleans has at rolling to the basket after setting the screen requiring the Nuggets to suck into the paint.
Secondly, it reduced their dependence on David West. As I mentioned after game two the Hornets were force feeding West instead of working to get the ball to their hot shooters. By setting fewer screens with West it allowed him to either spot up or attack the glass (he pulled down three offensive boards in game three after pulling down only one in each of the first two games) and also and allowed Paul to spread the ball around more and find players like Posey in the first half and Butler in the second who were hitting their shots. Thirdly running the pick and roll at Nene forced Nene to try to contain Paul and he has proven to be the worst Nuggets big man at keeping Paul out of the paint. Also, four of Nene’s six fouls were a result of defending the pick and roll. Two were called when he tried to dislodge the screener and two were instances where Paul drove into his body.
Another adjustment I thought the Hornets needed to make was to allow Paul to attack the Nuggets’ porous transition defense. Paul was very aggressive in game three and there were many occasions where he was able to get in the paint easily in transition.
The other change Paul needed to make was to be himself. That means splitting double teams and to not give up his dribble so easily. Saturday afternoon we saw the MVP caliber Paul that I was so afraid of heading into the series. If he can squeeze off two or three more 32 and 12 performances another one of my comments will turn out to come true as well and that is these two teams will play all seven games of this series.
Additional Round 1 Game 3 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 87.4
Defensive Efficiency: 108.7 – Much higher than what they did in the first two games, but not bad. If they can hold New Orleans in that area for game four it should be good enough to win.
Offensive Efficiency: 106.4 – This was the area that really killed them. The jumpers stopped falling and so did their efficiency.