Now the real work starts. As George Karl has pointed out approximately 236 times since the end of game two a playoff series does not start until someone wins on the road. A win today in New Orleans would end the competitive portion of the series. Heading into this postseason there have been 85 instances of a team taking a 3-0 lead in a seven game series. Those teams have won 85 times. Only nine of those 85 games have made it to game six and only three of those teams won game six to force game seven.
As good as the Nuggets have been on offense, it has been their defense that has carried them. The good news is great defense translates no matter where a game is being played. If the Nuggets can produce the same defensive effort as they did in the first two games you have to like their chances to win game three.
However, we do not know how much the energy from the home crowd has helped boost their performance. Truly great defensive teams thrive off of silencing a crowd on the road as much as inspiring their own fans. At this point the Nuggets are not in the truly great category. On the season Denver posted a 105.6 defensive efficiency rating at home, but that number slid to 110.0 on the road. Clearly the Nuggets have raised their focus to a new level during the playoffs, but two games does not a reputation make although they are off to a good start. Another top notch defensive effort tomorrow on the road will improve their case considerably.
The other primary story of the series has been the historic play of Chauncey Billups. Out of all the incredible performances in NBA playoff history there has only been one player to score more points in the first two games of a series than Chauncey’s 67 without committing a turnover. You may have heard of him, his name rhymes with Gichael Tordan. Yes, MJ himself scored 70 points in the first two games of the 1998 NBA Finals without coughing the ball up. Sure it is a made up stat, but it sure sounds cool doesn’t it?
Reader Pedro from Brazil (the Internet sure gets around doesn’t it?) crunched some numbers and figured out that between his 67 points and 12 assists Billups has accounted for 92 of Denver’s 221 points in the series which equates to 41.6%. That is pretty impressive, but when you look at his numbers for when he is on the court it gets even better. The Nuggets have scored 178 points with Chauncey on the floor and his production has accounted for 51.7% of those 178 points. By comparison LeBron James accounted for 51.9% of Cleveland’s points when he was on the floor (I am assuming that is a regular season number, but it might be just for the playoffs) so you can see Chauncey’s first two games of the post season are MVP caliber.
I have somewhat similar numbers for Paul, but they are based on field goals instead of points so it does not take into account three point shots. This season Chris Paul either scored or assisted on 51.3% of the Hornets’ field goals. That is the third highest total ever behind John Stockton’s 51.6% in 1990-91 and Nate Archibald’s record 53.5% in 1972-73. Paul has been “struggling” in the playoffs, but he has still either scored or assisted on a whopping 57.1% of the Hornets’ field goals. Perhaps instead of ripping on Paul’s performance we should be impressed that he is doing so well considering how strong the Nuggets have been on the defensive end.
In my mind the one aspect of the game I am most excited to witness is whether or not Carmelo will have another highly effective and unselfish attitude when it comes to passing out of the double teams he will undoubtedly see. We will see if his nine assist game was a case of temporary sanity or an aberration. If he truly has changed his stripes, it is just another reason to watch out for the Nuggets over the next few weeks.
I do not think we need to get into X’s and O’s or matchups at this point. We know what both teams are trying to do. There may be some minor tweaks, perhaps Paul holds onto the ball longer and put the Nuggets’ bigs in the situation of trying to decide if they need to try to help pursue him as he backs away from the rim or if they should turn tail and try to recover back to their man. It is a no man’s land that big men hate. For the Nuggets perhaps they run the offense through Melo in the post more frequently to take advantage of his ability to find the open man out of the double.
If you want to worry about something worry about the game shifting to New Orleans. The Hornets were a very good, not great, home team this season in the regular season with a 28-13 record in the Big Easy. If we judge them by last season’s playoff performance there is reason to be concerned. In seven home games last postseason they were 6-1 and outscored their opponents (Dallas and San Antonio) by an average margin of 13.0 points per game. I can see you are thinking that the Hornets were a better team last season and that is true, but consider they were outscored by the same margin in their seven road games and you can see these guys are capable of turning up the heat in their own building.
Denver will have their work cut out for them, but the job is certainly one they can complete. Even with Chauncey due to slow down and the Hornets sure to come out swinging if Denver plays with the tremendous focus they brought to games one and two they should be in position to pull out another win.
Take this with you: The Hornets are claiming they still have confidence and believe they can come back in the series. The evidence they keep citing is their experience last season when they were up 2-0 after winning their first two home games against the Spurs, but ended up losing. I may be wrong, but is it really that encouraging to remind yourself how you could not win a series last season when you won the first two games when you have just lost the first two of another series? I think they are trying to trick themselves into thinking they have a shot the way I trick myself into thinking I can have a brownie smothered in Hershey’s chocolate syrup because I will run the next day. As soon as it is time to run I start thinking about how the wind is blowing and I have other things to do. Believe it or not I somehow end up not running. The Hornets are telling themselves they are going to run tomorrow, but if the Nuggets can make things hard on them, they will soon realize all the talk about going for a jog was just a bunch of bunk so they do not have to face the truth that they are a flat blob with a chocolate covered brownie problem.
Even though Chauncey Billups has been absolutely incredible and Carmelo Anthony played a tremendous team oriented game on both ends of the floor Dahntay Jones has proven to be almost equally as valuable.
I have said that Kenyon Martin seems to have been created to defend David West. Well, Jones was pretty well designed for guarding Chris Paul. I am not saying Jones can take Paul one on one and take him out of the game. No one individual can. Dahntay needs, and receives a lot of help from his teammates, but he has enough quickness to hound Paul while possessing the size and strength to absorb the contact Paul likes to create and still recover to either challenge the shot or handle the change of direction.
Jones has been labeled a good defender since his arrival in Denver, but he was never known for his defense in his previous NBA stops. I have seen plenty of games where his defense was far from being considered “lock down.” In fact I only remember being really blown away with his defense when he covered Jose Calderon and Chris Paul. Since Toronto is not in the Western Conference I guess it is a good thing Denver is playing New Orleans.
George Karl has taken notice too. In March and April when J.R. Smith rediscovered his offensive explosiveness Jones’ minutes dropped down to 14.4 minutes a game, basically the first six minutes of each half and garbage time. In the first two games against the Hornets Jones has logged 21 and 20 minutes. It is the first time he has played at least 20 minutes in back to back games since February 6.
You can see that Jones is loving every second of it too. And clearly Chris Paul is not. Paul is a competitor and a tough player, but the physical defense that Jones is playing is getting to him.
The Nuggets also switched a lot more on defense in game two and that left Dahntay matched up against West and even Chandler in the post on multiple occasions and he did a great job holding his ground and not giving anything easy. Chauncey also did a great job in those situations too.
And oh by the way, the Nuggets hottest shooter is not Chauncey, it is Jones who has hit eight of his nine shots in the first two games.
Chandler and West Respond on the Boards
After getting pushed around in game one the Hornets big men, Tyson Chandler and David West both had good games on the glass collecting 21 rebounds between them. Chandler also did a very good job on Nene as he made the adjustment to simply hold his ground in the post and not go for Nene’s up fake. Chandler is clearly hobbled and you can see every time he turns to run.
Hornets Still Hounding Melo
Carmelo rebounded nicely from his poor shooting in the first game, but the Hornets still managed to keep him out of the lane. Of his 20 shots, 16 came from outside 15 feet and only one was at the rim. Part of the reason for that is due to his willingness to pass and not force anything, which is a good thing. He does a very good job of turning into the help when he is doubled to beat the double team. He has been doing it for most of the season though and I am surprised the Hornets have not picked up on it. Every time he pivots toward the defender it catches them off guard.
BeefySwats asked if there is something wrong with Nene. Even though he had good numbers in game one and received a lot of praise for his play I thought his performance was a little shaky, but chose to believe the stats over my insecurity. Well, last night in game two he definitely struggled. He did make a couple of jumpers, but was largely ineffective in the post. On more than one occasion he passed up a chance to dunk and the result was missed layups.
As I mentioned earlier Chandler did a good job of defending him on the block, but it is more than that. At the beginning of the season Nene admitted he was still feeling the effects of his chemotherapy. He started out strong though so I think any physical impact from his cancer treatments was forgotten. Even if he was full strength to start the season he is four games away from passing his career mark for most games played in a season. In 2003-04 Nene appeared in 77 regular season games and five playoff games. This season he matched the 77 regular season games and he will certainly surpass the 82 total games from 2003-04 as the Nuggets have at least four games left (should the Hornets sweep the next four). Playing this many games in one season is really a new experience for Nene and when you consider what he went through physically with his cancer treatment you have to expect him to hit a wall at some point.
Nene’s 14 rebound effort in game one was only his sixth double digit rebound game since the all-star break. The Nuggets need to close this series out quickly for no other reason than to give Nene a few days off.
Finally the Shoe is on the Other Cheek
Hornets fans are doing a lot of complaining about the officiating in game two. Nuggets fans never expected to be on the other side of that fence in the playoffs. The biggest complaint I have read are about how the Nuggets have drawn offensive fouls with their feet moving. The Hornets have had a very difficult time clearing space to get their shots off. As a result they have been pushing with their off arm quite a bit and that is a foul. We have seen Melo called for doing it all season long.
One adjustment the Hornets made between contests was to try to knock Kenyon off of West with a ball screen. They only ran it a few times with limited effectiveness, but if West is hitting his shot, it will be an effective tactic.
Game Four Info
With the Jazz defeating the Lakers in Utah tonight Game four of this series on Monday, April 27 in New Orleans will be played at 6:30 Mountain time and broadcast on NBATV instead of TNT as the Lakers get that spot. It will also air locally on Altitude.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 86.9 – Tied for the third slowest paced game for a game in Denver this season with game 28 against Portland. The two slowest paced home games this season were game 38 versus Detroit, 86.3 and game 68 when New Jersey came to town with a pace factor of 86.6. By the way, the Nuggets won three of those four games.
Defensive Efficiency: 107.0 – Garbage time pulled this number down a little, but still a solid rating.
Offensive Efficiency: 124.3 – Actually better than game one, 122.6.
Do you all remember during the regular season when the Denver Nuggets could not stop the pick and roll to save their lives? There were many games where they looked completely lost at what to do when the opposition set a ball screen.
What they are doing now in the first two games against the New Orleans Hornets series is almost too good to be true. Tonight the Nuggets actually implemented four different schemes, at least that I recognized, to slow down Chris Paul. During game one they brought help on both sides of the screen in order to keep Chris Paul out of the lane. Tonight, they ran much less of that while they did a lot more switching, they also trapped and they even played some straight up hedge and recover.
No matter what scheme they followed Paul was never left alone and Denver was able to direct him into situations where his best option was to pass. In game one the Nuggets played off of him a little bit more and he was able to get off 19 shots. I think Denver decided that they would rather have Paul rack up the assists with a few points than a bunch of points with his typical amount of assists.
If that was indeed their thinking it could not have worked better. Ina game where I expected to see a hyper competitive CP3 look to dominate the game from start to finish, Paul only managed 11 shots. Not nearly enough to impact the game with his scoring.
As in the first game the Nuggets played almost equally well on both ends of the floor. Chauncey was obviously on fire again. With Melo and J.R. also having efficient offensive nights the Hornets were at a loss for how to defend Denver. They were so conflicted they actually completely lost track of Chauncey on one possession leaving him wide open for another made three pointer.
It has been incredible to see Chauncey almost reborn in the postseason. He has a fire and focus that we have not seen from him all season. He has even added some flash to his game. With 6:01 left in the second quarter Chauncey caught an outlet pass on the Nuggets side of half court. He dribbled towards the lane from the right side while Nene ran down the middle of the floor. Chauncey then attacked the rim forcing Chandler to step up to guard him and slipped the ball behind his back with his left hand, and practically right across Rasual Butler’s chest, into Nene’s hands.
Chauncey made an equally enthralling play in the middle of the third quarter. He caught an outlet pass from Kenyon with six minutes left at the Hornets’ free throw line dribbled up the floor. Chris Paul tried timing a steal on him, but Chauncey pulled off a beautiful spin to his right while keeping the dribble with his left hand leaving Paul in the dust. He then pulled up from 17 feet and drained the jumper. It was beautiful.
That is all for tonight. I am experiencing some serious sleep deprivation so you will all have to wait until sometime tomorrow for the additional game nuggets. If you simply cannot wait that long you can get a couple hundred more words on the game by clicking here and checking out item seven (yea I have fallen from number two to number three and now down to number seven).
In a seven game series there are many chances for momentum to turn. Should the new Orleans Hornets pull out a victory they will have erased the embarrassment of their game one beat down and will be in position to win the series by winning the three remaining games in New Orleans.
No one seems to give the New Orleans Hornets much of a chance to win tonight, but I do not think the final score of the first game was indicative of how closely matched these two teams are. I fully expect to see a more aggressive Chris Paul and David West will certainly make more midrange jumpers tonight than he did Sunday. The Hornets have had a chance to see how the Nuggets want to defend the pick and roll and they can game plan for it. Paul has had a chance to watch some film and see all of the opportunities he missed to be aggressive. I did not hear anyone acknowledge that Peja had a solid shooting performance in game one making three of his six three point attempts.
In my opinion the only thing that Hornets fans should really worry about is the health of Tyson Chandler, but he proved in game one he could be effective even though he looked gimpy from time to time. Their bench is not great, but if Paul, West and Peja all get the job done they do not have to be.
This is a dangerous game and for all the good feelings in the Pepsi Center during game one should the Nuggets let up at all they will find themselves facing a revitalized Hornets team in New Orleans for games three and four.
I do think the Nuggets have turned a corner. I think they will play much better from the start tonight as the win in game one should allow them to play with confidence. I also think this team has a hunger to advance that they have not possessed in the past.
I think game two is going to be a knock ‘em down drag ‘em out dog fight. Do not expect to see any starters sitting courtside in the fourth quarter tonight.
Articles you might have missed:
And of course if you missed my post on the adjustments I think both teams should make for game two, make sure you check it out. You cannot watch the game tonight without it.
We all know that once the first punch is thrown the battle of wits begins. Playoff series are made up of a series of adjustments and counterpunches to address you own weaknesses and to exploit the short comings of your opponent. The question is what adjustments will the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Hornets make heading into game two? The Hornets’ ability to run the pick and roll and the need for the Nuggets to stop it was the number one issue heading into this series and much of my attention has been directed at that matchup.
Before we get to that there are a couple of adjustments I would like to see made by the Nuggets. Chauncey Billups was incredible in game one and it is certainly possible that either Carmelo or J.R. Smith go off for 36, or more, most likely the Nuggets will have to be more diverse on offense.
Specifically Melo will have to do a better job of scoring. The Hornets were clearly focused on two goals. One was keeping Melo out of the paint and two was keeping J.R. out of the paint. Byron Scott was criticized for saying that he thought the Hornets did a good job on defense, but I agree with him. New Orleans successfully implemented those two goals and Chauncey made them pay. The Nuggets are too talented to take away every offensive option. If someone other than Carmelo or J.R. has a huge scoring night at least four times in this series then New Orleans will accept it and go on their summer vacation.
I think the Nuggets need to get Melo the ball at the top of the circle more as that gives him more options to drive as he has the whole floor to work with. Whenever he tried driving from the wing he was quickly pinched. I also like seeing him with the ball in the post as the Hornets consistently brought an immediate double team. That opens the floor up for his teammates and is an advantage the Nuggets should exploit.
I would also like to see them use fewer screens to spring J.R. The Hornets did a good job of trapping him off the screen. J.R. is a good ball handler, but he is not a point guard and he struggled with the traps. If Denver were to run more of an iso set for him without a screen he would have a better chance of getting open looks.
Denver would also benefit from getting the ball to Nene more in the post as he has a quickness or strength advantage on anyone who will be guarding him.
Defensively the Nuggets did a great job. They played more of a contain style defense against Chris Paul on the pick and roll than an aggressive trapping style. It seemed like they tried to trap along the sideline, but contain in the middle of the floor. The Nuggets’ biggest issue was when Chris Paul would penetrate their shield around the lane because at that point no one was really responsible for him and he could simply circle around and get an open look in the paint. The guards need to do a better job of sticking with the play and recovering to cover Paul.
Denver displayed adequate rotations, but there is plenty of room for improvement there as well as on a couple of occasions they had two players rotating to the same shooter. I am also worried about the Hornets’ or more specifically Paul’s ability to get to the rim in transition and I think the Hornets should try to take advantage of the Nuggets’ poor transition defense, but more on that in a second.
I have put together a video detailing the Nuggets’ pick and roll schemes along with some examples of what they need to do better.
The Hornets also must make some changes and it is always easier for the losing team to locate and address their errors. As I said before, I really think the Hornets defense was acceptable and nearly all of my adjustments I would make if I were Byron Scott are offensive and most of those revolve around the pick and roll.
Basically everything revolves around Chris Paul and how he needs to be more aggressive. I really think the Hornets are missing a big opportunity to gouge the Nuggets in transition. Paul can thread his way through retreating defenders better than anyone. By playing slowly and allowing the Nuggets to set up their defense it lets the Nuggets off the hook. Paul also has to be more aggressive in attacking the Nuggets big men, especially on switches. I think the Hornets also need to get David West in space as far away from Kenyon Martin and that means fewer post up plays and more pick and roll with Tyson Chandler.
As with the Nuggets here is some video documentation explaining these adjustments and more with video evidence.
Oh by the way, I would also make sure Devin Brown gets approximately zero minutes. When he is on the floor whichever Nugget he is guarding cannot wait to blow past him.
The NBA has announced the scenarios for the start time for the fourth and fifth games of the Denver Nuggets/New Orleans Hornets first round series.
Start time and network assignment for game four on Monday, April 27 in New Orleans depends on whether or not the Jazz can defeat the Lakers at least once. A fifth game in the Lakers/Jazz series would bump the Nuggets/Hornets off TNT and on to NBATV with a starting time of 6:30 PM Mountain time. If the Lakers sweep the Jazz Denver will play the Hornets at 7:30 PM Mountain on TNT.
For game five in Denver on Wednesday, April 29 the Nuggets and Hornets will play on TNT at 8:30 PM Mountain unless Atlanta and Cleveland both sweep their series against the Heat and Pistons respectively. Should neither one of those series have a game five, then game five of the Nuggets/Hornets series will be the lone game of the evening and start time will be 7:00 PM Mountain on TNT.
Regarding the start time for game four the way the Jazz are playing a sweep by the Lakers is a decent possibility and no Lakers puts the Nuggets on TNT at 7:30 PM Mountain. However, I think Utah should be able to win one game at home and that would mean the Nuggets and Hornets would be relegated to NBATV (Altitude would still carry the game locally) with a 6:30 PM Mountain start. As far as game five I do not know about the Pistons, but I suspect Dwyane Wade will find a way to win at least one game against the Hawks and thus game five for the Nuggets will be at 8:30 PM on TNT.
I was fortunate to have been a guest on another podcast this morning with Alejandro de los Rios of The Gambit (a New Orleans magazine similar to 5280) and this time I was opposite Bradley Handwerger from WWLTV.com. We look back at game one and discuss Chauncey’s big night and whether or not the Hornets can make this a series.
Click here to download the file directly.
It is only one game and I am trying not to get too carried away so I am going to try to remain composed and will simply say I enjoyed that thoroughly.
There were three aspects of the Nuggets performance that simply blew me away. The first was the clutch shooting of Chauncey Billups. Normally the clutch arrives at the end of games. Tonight Chauncey showed us what it means to be clutch early in a game.
The Nuggets know how important this series is for the franchise and to start the game they played like they felt the pressure. At the end of the first quarter Nuggets not named Chauncey Billups had shot 2-12 and committed six turnovers. Billups was 5-6 with no turnovers. While the rest of the team was fretting about what might happen if they lost this game Chauncey with the calm and confidence of a player who has actually made it out of the first round.
Without Chauncey stepping up and keeping Denver in the game early on there is no telling how tight the Nuggets’ sphincters would have become. Chauncey’s incredible play allowed Denver the opportunity to relax and just play basketball. By the time the third quarter came around the Nuggets had settled in and were just playing basketball. They buried the Hornets with a 21-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters and the game was over.
There were times this season where I have wished to see more on court leadership from Chauncey. After watching him tonight I feel foolish for questioning that aspect of his personality. He clearly came alive tonight and even though there will be nights where his shot is not falling he will still bring his leadership night in and night out. (For a little bit more insight on Chauncey’s performance click here and go to item three.)
The second aspect of the Nuggets’ win, which was and will be equally important to what Chauncey brings to the table, was the Nuggets’ great defense. In order for the Hornets to win this series Chris Paul is going to have to be otherworldly. Tonight he was simply himself and that was not good enough. The Nuggets were able to force four turnovers and held him to 36.8% shooting. More importantly Denver was able to keep him from owning the paint.
We mentioned the Nuggets 21-0 run in the second half. In order to complete a 21-0 run you have to hold the opponents to zero points while you score 21.
The run began with New Orleans going to West in the post on back to back possessions which both resulted in turnovers. The next possession Chris Paul, being pressured by Chris Andersen and Chauncey Billups, lost the ball. After that West was able to get in the paint, but missed a layup (although he did not get credit for a block on the play, I think Birdman got enough of a fingertip on it to reroute the ball). To end the quarter J.R. Smith made a great hustle play to tip the ball away from Devin Brown and off his leg forcing yet another turnover.
We have talked about how the Nuggets can play great defense when they are focused. Tonight was a great defensive effort from everyone. Carmelo had a couple of moments that had me going nuts (both switches for no reason), but from start to finish I believe this was his best defensive game of his NBA career.
The third aspect of this game I thought was important was how the Nuggets not only matched the intensity and desire of Chris Paul, they surpassed it. Denver was certainly the hungrier team and they showed it. Whenever two teams play each other for a week or two they develop some bad blood and you get some shoving matches, harsh words and intense glares. Tonight’s game felt like game four from that standpoint. It was very physical and while a player like Tyson Chandler was pushing and bumping into people just for the sake of appearing physical, the Nuggets played the game with physicality. What I mean by that is defensively and on the boards they made sure they accomplished what they wanted whether holding their ground or clearing space. They were not bumping into other players away from the ball just to be physical, they were playing basketball physically.
The other big story was Melo’s performance. The glass half full version is Denver had a great offensive game without Melo having a big night. (In fact, he was on the bench for the entirety of the 21-0 run and did not play at all over the final 15:11.) He still contributed on defense and he has nowhere to go but up. The glass half empty version is he has a history of shooting a low percentage in the playoffs and his 4-12 performance in game one will only serve to exacerbate things. I still think Melo will have a big series. New Orleans is paying a lot of attention to him, doubling and showing help as soon as he touches the ball, but I still think he will do a better job of attacking the rim and his jumper will start falling.
Denver may have made it by the Hornets without Melo tonight, but they will need him to produce on offense if they are going to win this series.
The Nuggets have won the first game for the third time in their six recent playoff appearances. I think this time they actually win the series.
Additional Round 1 Game 1 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 92.2 – A little slow for a Nuggets home game, but still quicker than what New Orleans likes.
Defensive Efficiency: 91.1 – Incredible performance. The Hornets shot merely 35.1% on two point shots.
Offensive Efficiency: 122.6 – A great rating for the postseason where things are supposed to slow down and points are supposed to be difficult to come by.
Can you feel it? The Denver Nuggets are on the precipice. They are favored to make it to the second round. After two decades of futility during which you could argue the Nuggets were one of the worst three or four franchises in the entire NBA they are finally a division champion with a high seed. More importantly they are expected to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
The next few weeks will either become the experiences that most Nugget fans point to when asked what their favorite Nuggets memory is or we will witness another chapter written in the story of a franchise that simply cannot earn success. Division championships, All-Star appearances, all-time victory totals, they all pale in comparison to the next step.
The next few games are what we will remember. This is why we attach ourselves to a silly sports team. This is why we watch and obsess and fret.
It begins tonight and when and how it ends is all that matters.
This is what we have been waiting for year after frustrating year. It’s time.
There are a few things to cover before I get to perhaps the first link dump I have ever done.
A lot of people seem to think Denver will win this series in six games because that is what you say when you think it will be a competitive series, but will not go seven games. I do not believe Denver will win in six games because I do not see Chris Paul losing game six at home.
Some people are dismissing the Hornets because they believe a single player cannot carry a team to the championship. That is true, but one great player can carry a team past the first round.
Also, one area I did not get to delve into in my series of pre series posts was how the Hornets will defend Carmelo Anthony. Melo will be covered by Peja Stojakovic, James Posey and Rasual Butler. Peja will play Melo based on how he is hurting him. He will begin by laying off of Anthony in an attempt to entice him to settle for the jumper. If and when Melo hits a couple of jumpers then Peja will crowd him. Look for Carmelo to drive and go to the post. When Melo posts up the Hornets will double him. During the season they came with the second defender on the catch, but it is certainly possible they will try to mix it up and bring help when he puts the ball on the floor.
Melo will need to keep from settling for the jumper and when he is doubled his teammates must move without the ball and give him options.
The Nuggets seem to have a big advantage although with the long layoffs between games the Hornets will ride their starters as long as possible. Even so the Nuggets must dominate whoever Byron Scott decides to rely on amongst Posey, Hilton Armstrong, Shawn Marks, Antonio Daniels, Julian Wright and Morris Peterson.
In case you missed it in my podcast or chat with Hornets 24/7 my prediction is Nuggets in seven.
On to the link dump.
Dave McMenamin of NBA.com – The pressure is on the Nuggets to win.
Various Insightful Previews
New Nuggets blog Nuggets Nuggetz – The Balkman vs Bowen matchup
At the Hive – Amazing graphs!
Chris Tomasson – Melo says Nuggets in seven.
There is no doubt that the Denver Nuggets are going to have to defend the pick and roll at least competently in order to have a chance in this series. The Denver bigs are all capable of playing good to great pick and roll defense. Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen all move their feet well for their size and should be very useful in slowing Chris Paul down.
The Nuggets seemed to get better and better at defending Chris Paul as the season wore on. In the final meeting between the two teams Denver forced Paul into six turnovers thanks to an aggressive trapping scheme. However, it is important to note that the Hornets were playing without Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler. Trapping Paul will not be as easy with Chandler diving down the lane and Peja spotted up on the weak side.
Denver will need to employ more than one scheme as Paul will be able to solve anything they throw at him eventually. Look for the Nuggets to trap, to surround Paul with a soft umbrella of help designed to keep him out of the lane and even to switch. In an interview on Friday with 1510 AM George Karl said the coaching staff had considered starting Melo or Kenyon on Paul. By starting with a mismatch they can then switch and then have everyone matched up correctly. Of course, in that situation my response would be to skip the pick and roll and exploit the mismatch. I imagine someone like Chris Paul would figure that out as well. However, in watching film from the previous matchups whenever the Nuggets switched Paul would almost exclusively pass off to the screener. I wonder if he will be so passive in the playoffs.
Once again I have put together some clips of the Nuggets pick and roll defense looking at both successes and failures. It should come as no surprise that the Hornets were able to take advantage of the slightest breakdown or belated rotation by earning a quality shot. As I point out in the video instead of Julian Wright taking open jumpers, in the playoffs it will be Peja.
Chris Paul showed last season that he is capable of raising his game to incredible levels in the playoffs and Denver will have to deal with a determined, supremely talented and aggressive player. The one thing that really frightens me is Paul’s ability to draw fouls. Look for him to drive into the body of the Nuggets’ bigs in an attempt to draw fouls. If he can get two out of the threesome of Nene, Kenyon and Birdman into foul trouble it will be a big advantage for New Orleans.
Paul is going to play like a man possessed and Denver better be ready to match his desire and intensity.
One of the key matchups in the upcoming series between the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Hornets will be the battle between big men David West and Kenyon Martin. The good news for Nuggets fans is that we do not have to hope and pray that Kenyon can outscore West, because the chances of that are similar to the chances that the Celtics, Spurs and Blazers all lose at home on the first day of the 2009 NBA playoffs. Well, maybe that is not the best analogy, but you get the idea.
Kenyon is a superb defender, especially when he puts his mind to it and I think he will have a much greater chance for success than the previous postseason when George Karl chose to have him cover the NBA MVP Kobe Bryant.
He can move laterally as well as any power forward in the NBA yet can still hold his own in the post. Kenyon is far from an infallible defensive player, but a player like David West is right in his wheel house. The players Kenyon struggles with are ones who are either heavier or taller than him. Size wise both players are listed at 6’ 9” and 240 pounds and Kenyon is certainly capable of dealing with anything West can bring to the table.
Even so West will get his points. Despite not being blessed with explosive athleticism West is still a very good scorer. He is not a player you think of as taking you down to the block and abuse you, but if you do not respect his touch around the rim he can embarrass you. West is also a capable driver and will utilize spin moves and pump fakes to get a clear shot at the rim. However, his most effective weapon is his jumper. West can kill you without ever setting foot in the lane and that makes him a difficult cover.
Once again I have put together some video to see how these two matchup and I think the video shows what an even matchup it will be.
You will notice that all of those clips were of Kenyon covering West. It is vital that Kenyon keeps West from posting big scoring nights it is also important that this does not become a matchup that is only worth watching at one end of the floor. Kenyon is a capable scorer as well and he has the talent to put some points up on West himself. It seems to me that since his back and rib troubles Kenyon has not been going to the rim nether as frequently nor as effectively as he did earlier in the season. We have not seen much of his spin move and push shot from the lane and I think it is important that Kenyon make West work at both ends of the court.
The Hornets supporting cast is not good enough to afford a down series from West. Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler look to be less than 100% and if West is held in check it will be virtually impossible for the Hornets to win. Over the previous two seasons against the Nuggets West has played in six games and only made 44 of 106 field goal attempts. That is only 42.3% and it is more than 5% lower than he shot over those two seasons.
If West only hits 42% of his shots over the next couple of weeks I think the Nuggets are a shoe in for the conference semifinals.
Two big questions we all face heading into the Nuggets/Hornets series is how healthy is Tyson Chandler and what kind of impact will he have? Chandler himself claims to only be about 70% healthy so what that means we will have to wait and see. Chandler did not play in any of the four contests between the two teams this season, but we can look back to previous matchups to see what his presence means for the Hornets.
I have compiled some clips from game 44 of last season. Chandler had ten points on four for five shooting and 16 rebounds as the Hornets defeated the Carmelo-less Nuggets 117-93 in New Orleans. However, Chandler only had one block and played somewhat passively on the defensive end.
I do my typically sterling job narrating the eight clips, but watch for the timing he and Paul have on the pick and roll. The duo combines to execute on plays where Chandler cuts to the rim immediately, when he makes a delayed cut and even in transition. You have to wonder with Chandler missing so much time if they will still possess that sense of timing and chemistry.
Defensively I thought it was interesting how Chandler was content to watch the action. He moves well and generally is in the right position, but his lack of big shot blocking numbers can be attributed to the fact he is content to let his opponent score largely unchallenged. We see the opposite end of that spectrum in Birdman who launches himself at shots that he has no business attacking, but we have also seen Birdman have a larger impact through forcing altered shots than Chandler does in the clips to follow.
Again these clips are from last season when Chandler was healthy. Who knows how much of this performance he can duplicate. According to Ryan and Niall at Hornets 24/7 Chandler had four throw downs of the pick and roll in the last game against the Spurs. However, if he is feeling any discomfort I would expect him to play ever more passively on defense and hopefully Nene can take advantage of that.
I took part in a podcast with Niall Doherty from Hornets 24/7 (I think I will be communicating more with Niall and Ryan than my family over the next week or two) and Alejandro de los Rios from various publications and we analyzed the matchups between the coaches and starting five. The podcast is posted over at Blog of New Orleans or you can click here to donwload the MP3 file.
First off make sure you carve out some time to take part in a live chat here at RMC featuring Niall Doherty and Ryan Schwan from the exceptional blog Hornets 24/7 tonight (Thursday) at 7:00 PM Mountain. You can ask questions or just read along. You choose your own level of involvement just like Project Mayhem in Fight Club.
I am not sure any of us should be excited about the fact the Nuggets drew the New Orleans Hornets in the first round. While it is true the Hornets have been struggling down the stretch run they are a very dangerous team. The only major difference between this season and last was health. During the 2007-08 season during which the Hornets won 56 games to earn the second seed in the west, Peja Stojakovic played 77 games and Tyson Chandler played in 79. This season Peja appeared in only 61 games largely due to a balky back and Chandler was on the floor for only 45 contests thanks to a bum ankle.
Tyson Chandler is back having played in the season finale last night in San Antonio and in his 45 appearances this season the Hornets are 30-15 on the season, a 55 win pace, compared to 19-14 without him. We all know how deadly Chris Paul can be running the pick and roll and he is only that much better with Chandler flying down the lane towards the rim. Defensively Chandler has never blocked more than 1.8 shots a game in his career, but he is a great rebounder and also adds a presence in the lane that the Hornets lack otherwise.
Peja’s health issues has had a major impact on the Hornets’ three point shooting. Last season New Orleans was in a statistical dead heat for the league lead in three point shooting percentage by hitting 38.9% from behind the arc. This season they are a very mediocre 36.4%. If you look at their individual shooting percentages they are all very similar to last season except for one. Peja dropped from 44.1% last season to a still respectable, but un-Peja like 37.8% this season. He has seemingly recovered, but he has only made one of his previous ten three point attempts so either his back is still bothering him or he is ready to bust out. Only time will tell.
Turning to the Nuggets Melo has struggled with various schemes and individual defenders in the playoffs over the years. I think finally he has a good matchup. He will be covered primarily by Peja and James Posey. We all know Peja has no chance covering Melo, but I do not think Posey can hang with him either. Posey has a rep of being a very good defender, but he does not have the quickness or strength to cover Melo one on one. They way Melo has been attacking the rim and posting up more frequently over the previous couple of weeks I think he has a big series.
Also the Nuggets have shown good progress over the course of the season in defending the pick and roll. Paul will always get his assists, but over the last two meetings, both in New Orleans, the Nuggets forced him into committing five turnovers in one game and six in the other. If the Nuggets can continue that success they will be in great shape.
Finally, I believe the Nuggets have one major intangible on their side and that is the red hot desire to finally win a first round playoff series. We have seen changes, some big (Chauncey Billups), some small (a slight uptick in Melo’s defense, George Karl standing during many games) in this team since last season and they have all been spurred by the desire to make a move in the playoffs. This is the year for that to happen and the players know it. I think we will see a focus and drive that we have not seen from them before.
Do not get me wrong, Chris Paul is a competitor and his will to win may be stronger than any individual Nugget player and David West is a fighter as well, but collectively I do not see the Hornets matching the Nuggets’ desire and that is a huge key to this matchup. We have seen how powerful the Nuggets can be when they play with focus and I think we are going to see a very focused group.
We have two more days until game day so look for plenty more coverage to come from the chat tonight to some video, a podcast appearance or two and the answers to questions not everyone will be asking such as can James Posey replace the great play the Hornets received last post season from Jannero Pargo?
Update: Hornets 24/7 has an incredible rundown of news covering both the Nuggets and Hornets and Andrew at Denver Stiffs lays out a blueprint for what the Nuggets must do differently this year to succeed in the playoffs.