2011 NBA Playoffs, Game 2 Recap: Game. Set. Match???

The Oklahoma City Thunder is better than the Denver Nuggets. After four games against the Thunder, and four straight losses, this is the overwhelming sentiment I have gathered. (more…)

Nuggets Found Wanting in Game 1

In the Denver Nuggets’ attempt to turn conventional wisdom on its head, score one for conventional wisdom.  After posting exceptional offensive efficiency numbers early in the game, weathering a furious charge in the second and third quarters, and batting tooth and nail in the fourth Denver found themselves leading the Thunder 101-100 with three minutes left.  They would not make another basket the rest of the night.

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2011 NBA Playoffs – Nuggets lose Game One 107-103

Box Score | Highlights

The Oklahoma City Thunder strike first and seize the series momentum in a hard fought battle on their home floor. As is the case with any tough loss there is no shortage of frustration over a game that at times Denver seemed to control. While both teams struggled to get into a comfortable flow tonight’s game was an exciting reminder that this is playoff basketball at it’s finest. It may not have been pretty, but after tonight any doubts about the intense physical nature of the series can be put to rest.

Unfortunately many of the concerns we had before the series came to fruition. Free-throw shooting and injury woes continue to be the fatal flaws this team cannot overcome without improvement. Overall my initial reaction is there is still so much that is equally encouraging. Unfortunately winning is all that matters and the Thunder greatly improve their chances of moving on having gained a head start. The onus is now on Denver to adjust with an already thin margin of error that just got a whole lot thinner.

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Final Thoughts Before Game 1

A few more thoughts before we tip off game one of the Nuggets/Thunder battle royal.

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An Overly Verbose Denver Nuggets/Oklahoma City Thunder Playoff Preview

The Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder are both teams who benefited significantly from midseason trades.  Each squad tore through the league over the final few weeks of the season and as a result we have had plenty of evidence for what these teams can do.  To make things even more interesting we have two games worth of film to study, with both teams hosting the other late in the season.

The question is how germane were the results of those two games to the playoff series we are about to experience? Denver played both games against the Thunder without their third big, Chris “Birdman” Andersen and starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo.  Obviously Denver is a better team with those two than without them.  Health is certainly going to be a very important theme in this series and we will address those concerns a bit further down the page.

Despite the Nuggets missing some significant pieces I believe both games gave us some fairly significant insights into what to expect from the upcoming best of seven conflagration.

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The Denver Nuggets and the 2011 NBA Playoffs – Revolutionary?

Denver Nuggets fans have endured months of trade rumors, post-trade declarations of irrelevance and more recently, some exciting and inspiring basketball.  It was all prelude to this.  The Denver Nuggets will match up with division rival Oklahoma City in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs.

The two teams faced off twice last week that saw some heated moments between big men Nene and Kendrick Perkins and some bad blood brewing with Kenyon Martin and Serge Ibaka.  Raymond Felton has gone on record of saying he wanted to clash with the Thunder because they talk a lot of trash and he wants some payback.

Whether the series lasts four games or seven, it is going to be physical and intense.  Of course, this is the playoffs and it should not be any other way.

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2010-11 Game 82: Utah Jazz 107, Denver Nuggets 103

After a valiant effort in which the Nuggets only played seven players for the majority of the night, the Utah Jazz finally pulled away in the waning seconds of the game to win the season finale on it’s home floor.  (more…)

Potential Playoff Matchups

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

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2010-11 Game 79: Denver Nuggets 89 Oklahoma City Thunder 104

Box Score | Highlights

Since the trade of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, one of the more interesting storylines of the season has been the Nuggets’ success abandoning a conventional star-centric roster for more of a team-oriented approach. While there’s no doubt Denver’s transformation has re-invigorated the team by allowing more of the role players to shine at once, it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder and their two-man show that’s consistently outclassed their Northwest Division rivals and most of the western conference as well.

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2010-11 Game 77: Oklahoma City Thunder 101, Denver Nuggets 94

If basketball were a semester of college drinking, this game would be classified as The Hangover. After coming off one of the best wins of the season against the Lakers on Sunday — just like a wild night of partying — the concerns of the after-effects were the last thing on our minds. But tonight, we were sobered up and pushed back into the realm of reality as the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant reminded us that, as Prince would say, “Parties weren’t meant to last.” (more…)

The Quadruple 50-Win?

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

2010-11 Game 65: Denver Nuggets 116 – Phoenix Suns 97

Tonight the Nuggets notched their first win in Phoenix since 2004, and for George Karl it was his first win in the desert since 1997. Whatever has kept the Nuggets from winning in the US Airway Center in years past certainly was not preset this evening as the Nuggets took it to the Suns from the get-go, and did not let up all game.

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2010-2011 Game 41: Denver Nuggets 112 Oklahoma City Thunder 107

Box score | Highlights

After losing a preferred trading partner for their disgruntled star, the Nuggets won a game against the division leading Oklahoma City Thunder. Under the circumstances, it might have been one of the gutsier team wins of the season against a top notch opponent in what was largely a sloppy game. Judging by the listless and sullen crown at the Pepsi Center, the win seemed overshadowed by yet another twist in the ongoing Melo saga that most fans know is going to end unhappily… sometime.

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Northwest Division in the Spotlight

The Northwest Division was recently featured in the annual CelticsBlog season preview smörgåsbord and you can peruse the various posts from the list of links below:

How will Big Al fit in out in Utah?  Will the Blazers stay healthy?  Will Melo still be a Nugget on opening night?  Can the Thunder avoid a sophomore slump?  Just what is the plan in ‘Sota?  All this and more in the Northwest previews.

Jazz : SLC DunkSalt City HoopsSBN Recap

Nuggets: Denver StiffsRoundball Mining CompanyThe Nugg DoctorSBN Recap

Thunder - Welcome to Loud CityPlanet BBallSBN Recap

Timberwolves - Canis HoopusTwolvesBlog

Blazers - Blazersedge.comSBN Recap

Recaps: All Previews

Daily Dime Live also spent a day on the Northwest where the consensus was that it will be probably the toughest division in the league, as least as long as Melo dons the garb of the Nuggets, and the Thunder are getting a little too much hype, a statement I do not agree with.  You can follow all the heavy hitting analysis right here.

Sorry for my lack of posts recently, but I am working on a research intensive post which requires me to watch a lot of film.  I think it will be well worth the wait.  I also have the long promised defensive scouting report of Al Harrington waiting in the queue so look for that soon as well.

2009-10 Game 78: Denver Nuggets 98 – Oklahoma City Thunder 94

Box Score | Highlights | Featured Blog: Daily Thunder

There are certainly two ways to look at the Denver Nuggets’ 98-94 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. The positive view is on a night where the Nuggets were missing Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen and acting coach Adrian Dantley suffering with kidney stones and in addition to those issues Denver was struggling to execute on both ends of the court, they made the plays they needed to make and came out with a win. The pessimistic view is the Nuggets did not play winning basketball, but pulled out a victory solely because the Thunder ran out of gas due to playing their fourth game in five nights, including the night after a mentally and physically draining overtime loss in Utah.

Honestly, both of those views have some merit. With playoff positioning on the line Denver had to win this game and they did. Regardless of how winded the Thunder might have been the Nuggets still had to make the shots and come up with the stops to complete their comeback.

The Thunder appeared to take control of the game with a 26-6 run spanning the third and fourth quarters. The Nuggets were 0-14 from the floor and turned the ball over seven times during that stretch. At that point I had tagged the body and was zipping up the body bag. Oklahoma City’s spurt was fueled by too few passes when the Nuggets had the ball. To make things worse, when Denver did pass, it was typically a poor decision, such as a lob by Chauncey Billlups in to Johan Petro who was being fronted on the block resulting in a travel when the help came from the weak side and on a three on one fast break J.R. Smith passed to Chauncey instead of Carmelo resulting in a easy block by Kevin Durant. (I do have to give Durant credit for how he played it. He shaded towards Melo’s side to bait J.R. into passing to Chauncey, then when the pass was made he simply closed in and blocked the shot. Still, it was a three on one and all it would have taken was for J.R. to realize Durant was baiting him into passing to Billups, fake to Chauncey and then dump the ball to Melo, or after KD committed to Chauncey he could have dropped the ball to J.R. or Melo for the score.)

So how did Denver manage to get back in the game? First and foremost, the defense finally made an appearance. After falling behind 89-76 with just over seven minutes remaining the Nuggets forced four turnovers and blocked two shots in the next three minutes and Denver ran off ten straight points. The key in my mind was the help defense. For much of the game OKC players were able to drive the lane and finish without worrying about encountering resistance.

Nene did a much better job of hedging on screens. The one time he was out of position, Chauncey squeezed down and tipped the ball away from Russell Westbrook. On another occasion Nene and Chauncey trapped Westbrook in the corner. Nick Collison cut to the basket, but Melo was in perfect help position. He slid over and was able to force a jump ball, which he then won against the taller Collison.

As the Nuggets picked up steam, the Thunder had clearly lost their legs. I believe every shot Durant took in the fourth quarter was short and jumpers from Westbrook and Green consistently hit the front of the rim. Defensively for OKC, the rotations that had closed off the lane for much of the night became a half step slower.

With Kenyon and Birdman sidelined the group that pulled off the comeback was the small ball bunch consisting of Chauncey, J.R., Afflalo, Melo and Nene. Despite the height disadvantage the Nuggets outrebounded the Thunder by nine. The starting back court of Billups and Afflalo corralled 13 rebounds while Carmelo tallied 11.

Defensively, Denver was simply much more active and they did a great job communicating.

There was some good and some bad by Adrian Dantley tonight. He continues to make the stunningly bad decision to give Anthony Carter playing time instead of Ty Lawson. It blows my mind that especially after the way Lawson played against the Clippers Dantley thinks it is a good idea to play Carter. Lawson is so vastly superior Carter’s stranglehold on playing time is difficult to fathom. I also thought it was odd that Petro started instead of Joey Graham. Oklahoma City plays Jeff Green at power forward so Graham would have been a good matchup to combat Green. Also, if Petro checks in for Nene you avoid the situation where your only big on the floor is Malik Allen.

Sticking with questionable decisions by the Denver coaches I was also blown away that coming out after halftime assistant Chad Iske said that the Nuggets were happy that the game had turned into a “defensive game in the second quarter” adding they wanted to slow the “young fast guys” from OKC down. The biggest advantage the Nuggets had was the fact the Thunder were playing their fourth game in five nights. Add in the fact that Denver was missing two of their three best bigs and I fail to see how a defensive half court game gave Denver the best chance to win.

Both coaching staffs engaged in a bit of a battle around Carmelo. Thabo Sefolosha is a very good defender, but he lacks the lateral quickness that other lockdown defenders possess. The Thunder gave Thabo the opportunity to try to handle Melo one on one. Melo blew by Sefolosha twice for layups and after that the Thunder switched to the pressure and pre-rotate system we have seen the Lakers make famous. For the remainder of the first half Melo was held in check. To start the second half the Nuggets made an adjustment that has worked to negate the pre-rotating defense that has been effective against the Lakers in the past. Instead of feeding Melo on the wing, they started giving him the ball in the middle of the floor. That adjustment allowed Melo to get into the lane again. The Nuggets also started curling Melo off a screen to get him the ball on the right side about 12 feet from the rim. That forced the defense to worry about Melo coming off the screen and shooting, Melo continuing to curl and drive to the basket and the fact that the screener was rolling to the rim. I thought Anthony missed some chances to dump the ball to Nene on the roll and once passed up the open short jumper to fake, spin and shoot a much more difficult turn around, but the set succeeded in getting Carmelo the ball.

I did like the play Dantley drew up with the Nuggets down four and 2:20 remaining in the contest. Afflalo threw the ball in to Billups from the right side of the floor. He then ran around a double screen by Melo and Nene. With the defense shifting to account for Afflalo Nene set a down screen for Melo who popped out to the free throw line wide open. Melo caught the pass and instead of settling for the jumper, drove into the lane and converted a short flip shot amongst four Thunder defenders. Sadly for the home team, three of those four defenders were doing more watching than helping.

With the Jazz losing in Houston tonight if the Nuggets can win their final three home games they will win the Northwest Division and have home court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs. That is easier said than done as the Los Angeles Lakers roll into town on Thursday on three days of rest and smarting after a demoralizing loss to the Spurs in Staples Center on Sunday.

Additional Game 78 Nuggets

  • How bad was the Denver Nuggets’ defense against the Oklahoma City Thunder for the first three plus quarters? The Brakes Plus Stop of the Game was an unforced error where Kevin Durant simply lost control of the ball. Needless to say if they had waited a few more minutes there would have been several much better plays to choose from as Denver really turned up the defense down the stretch.
  • Another very odd decision by the Nuggets’ coaching staff was to attempt to avoid calling a timeout while Carmelo Anthony was laying motionless on the court so that trainer Jim Gillen could make sure Carmelo was not paralyzed. Only after J.R. practically tried using Melo’s lifeless body as a screen to get off a shot did play finally stop.
  • Denver once again gave us some examples of good switching and bad switching. The bad switching was on display for much of the game, but especially early on when Carmelo consistently chose to pass Durant off to Johan Petro. Leaving Petro exposed on the wing against a player he had no business guarding. Believe it or not, Petro picked up two early fouls. The good switching came late in the game as the Nuggets guards successfully passed Durant off to one another on the perimeter in order to ensure he could not get space to fire off an open three pointer.
  • I am really impressed with how well the Thunder are coached. Scott Brooks may have some things to learn at the end of games, but it was interesting to watch how quickly the adapted to what the Nuggets would try to do defensively. If they could get the lane, they would drive and dunk. When Denver pre-rotated some help both weak side players immediately flashed to open areas that could not both be defended. Defensively, they are cohesive and challenge every foray into the lane. Even so, they are still the team I want to play in the first round.
  • After watching the closing sequence over a couple of times, I have no idea how Westbrook did not end up with the rebound after Durant missed a runner that would have tied the game at 96. One second it looks like he has it and then a split second later Melo is holding the ball. Not that I am complaining or anything…
  • Denver would not have won without shooting exceptionally from the charity stripe. They drained 10 of 11 attempts in the fourth quarter including two by Chauncey to give them the lead and two more by Melo to shut the door.

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