Fight or Flight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thrashing the Thunder, Melo vs Durant, Adding Bigs and Some Links

Box Score | Highlights

What can we take from the Denver Nuggets 119-90 dismantling of the Oklahoma City Thunder? The Nuggets were certainly due for a breakout game and the Thunder apparently forgot to drink their energy drinks this morning. The Nuggets certainly rediscovered their ability to pass, score in the paint and run the floor. However, Oklahoma City did not put up much of a battle.

In an attempt to document the expected conflagration between Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant Royce Young from Daily Thunder and I were asked to carry on an email conversation for the Daily Dime. Unfortunately, for Royce, the game was a disappointment, but we still managed to compare and contrast Melo and KD.  (In case you missed it David Thorpe provided his own in depth breakdown of how Melo and Durant match up earlier today.)

After the duel between the two superstars failed to materialize Nuggets fans were still treated to some good news. Chris Andersen looked healthy again. Just two days after moving around the floor in Phoenix like an octogenarian he was spry and bouncy. All the evidence I needed to see came when Andersen stepped away from his man to challenge Russell Westbrook as he approached the rim from the right baseline. When Birdman met Westbrook in the air the point guard dished off to Birdman’s man Nick Collison. Andersen landed, recovered and leapt in time to block Collison’s point blank shot before it started on its way down. It was an impressive play and hopefully a sign that Bird’s chronic patella tendinitis will not be a problem in the near future.

As far as all the regular things we fret over from game to game such as pick and roll defense, rotations and offensive tactics, with the lack of competition I do not think there is anything to draw any hard and fast conclusions.

I guess there is one other thing we can say and that is Kenyon stop shooting from outside the paint. Please, you are killing me. He bricked a three pointer so badly off the backboard that security had to put the ball out of its misery to ease its suffering.

With little to reflect on as far as game action instead of calling it a night we will turn our attention to a question from drewjay. Should Denver be preparing to welcome Mark Blount to the team?

With the Nuggets searching for big man depth the bought out player field never quite materialized. As much fun as it was to daydream about Zydrunas Ilgauskas coming to Denver to hit shots and be really tall, there was never any real chance of that happening. He has played his entire career in Cleveland. They kept him around early in his career when it appeared he would never be able to run from one end of the floor to the other without breaking his foot and this is the best Cavs team, perhaps ever. There was never any chance he would end up anywhere else.

I had hopes of Drew Gooden becoming available, but after conflicting reports as to whether or not the Clippers were going to buy him out we found out the Clippers wanted him to stay. It makes sense for the other LA team to try to win as many games as possible to appear as a better destination for free agents. Had Gooden not been shipped from the Wizards to LA he likely would have been bought out, but alas it was not meant to be.

So who is left? Umm…how about Mark Blount and Mikki Moore?  Any takers?

Considering the way the Nuggets are spending money, or should I say not spending money, the only way they will bring in another player is if that player is significantly better than one, or both of the Nuggets spare bigs, namely Malik Allen and Johan Petro. It is clear that Karl does not trust either one. They only get significant playing time when someone in front of them is injured or during blowouts.

I cannot see Blount enticing the Nuggets at all and I cannot imagine a player who has been played 15 minutes over the past 13 months coming onboard and earning any more trust than Allen has. However, with Moore there is certainly smoke. As Chris Tomasson has reported Moore is recovering from surgery to remove a bone spur on his right heel and could be ready to play be mid March.

Moore is no spring chicken at the age of 34, but he has only played in 557 games and as long as he is healthy could provide an upgrade over Malik Allen. If Moore does come to Denver it will certainly not be to play 20 minutes a night, but as a fourth big who can run the floor, bring energy off the bench and most importantly give Renaldo Balkman a run for his money in the bad hair competition he is probably worth the gamble.

Heck according to the video below Moore is a deadly shooter, great finisher, has an excellent post game and is an all around dominate force (you have to watch it simply to see where on the backboard the ball hits the backboard as he banks a turnaround jumper at the 50 second mark).

If the Nuggets pass and decide not to sign anyone I am not going to lose a second of sleep. I would much prefer not signing anyone to signing Blount. However, signing Moore would be a cheap move with little downside.

Sticking with news from Tomasson he has reported that Carmelo received an IV this morning and that he was slightly dehydrated which could help explain some of his lackadaisical play. If Melo plays like he did tonight after getting some fluids, I say hook him up to an IV every morning.

John Hollinger explains why Chauncey Billups’ 43.9% shooting percentage is historically misleading.

One more link to pass along although it is a little outdated. Sebastian over at NBA Playbook breaks down a lob play the Nuggets ran at Golden State to help ice the game last Thursday.

Additional Game 61 Nugget

Arron Afflalo hurt his thumb and reported had it x-rayed following the game, but he claims via twitter that he is fine and will play Friday.

The Return of Game Stats

I finally updated my spreadsheet and the advanced stats on the right sidebar after only three quarters of the season have passed.

Pace Factor: 98.6

Defensive Efficiency: 100.0 – OKC produced a Nuggets opponent season low FG%, 32.5%, and EFG%, 37.3%.

Offensive Efficiency: 120.6 – 30 assists on 44 makes

Is the 2009 NBA Draft Monumentally Bad?

There has been a great deal made about how weak the 2009 draft class is.  I actually do not think it is that bad of a group.  The real issue is the top of the class is lacking in star power.

There is no top three or four players in this draft.  In fact a lot of analysts believe that you can get just as good of a player at 18 or 20 as you can at four or five.  That does not reflect well on the top of the class, but I think there is some depth here.  Players such as Earl Clark, Eric Maynor, Ty Lawson, DeJuan Blair, Jeff Teague, Chase Budinger and Nick Calathes are all good prospects.  There may not be a superstar in the group, but there are a lot of potential starters out there.

The other observation I will make about this draft is I actually think Blake Griffin is overhyped because he is head and shoulders above the rest of the group.  Working off that analogy if the average height of the top players in this class is 6’0″ tall, then Griffin is 6’5″.  Griffin looks great righ now, but the typical draft class has an average height of say 6’4″ and when Griffin gets out among those players he may not be such a sure thing after all.

Kind of reminds me of a guy out of Cincinnati named Kenyon Martin.

One thing I think Nuggets fans should be concerned about is despite having to worry about the Jazz and Trail Blazers, the Timberwolves and Thunder are both in a position to really help themselves tonight.  The Thunder are drafting third and I expect them to add another nice piece to their collection of young talent.  If they land Ricky Rubio, look out.  There are reports that Russell Westbrook is telling the team, or at least his agent is, that he does not want to be shifted to shooting guard and not to draft Rubio.  General Manager Sam Presti cut his teeth in San Antonio.  I do not think he is going to let the desires of a second year player prevent him from doing what he thinks is best for his team.  In addition to the third pick they have selection number 25 too.  That is right in the range where some undervalued players will be waiting to be snatched up.

Minnesota has four first round picks.  I know it is difficult to think of Minnesota drafting well, but if they manage to pull out two starters and two rotation players, that will put them well on their way back to respectability.

I will leave you with three lists.

Players I like: Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, Earl Clark, Eric Maynor, Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough, DeJuan Blair, Jeff Teague, Chase Budinger, Nick Calathes and Toney Douglas.

Players I do not like: Hasheem Thabeet, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Gerald Henderson (Dahntay Jones part two), Terrence Williams, Austin Daye and Sam Young.

Players I do not know what to think about: Jonny Flynn, Jordan Hill, James Harden, Jrue Holiday, James Johnson, B.J. Mullens, Omri Casspi, Taj GIbson and Darren Collison.

Second round value: Patrick Mills, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, A.J. Price, Paul Harris, Lester Hudson and Jon Brockman.

Coming up next, the ESPN/TrueHoop Network draft live blog/chat.

2008-09 Game 79: Denver Nuggets vs Oklahoma City Thunder Live Blog!

I am coming to you from the EconoLodge in Sioux Center, IA in anticipation of a big night for the Denver Nuggets.  The Portland Trail Blazers are playing the San Antonio Spurs right now and the Nuggets play the Thunder later tonight.  It is possible that the Nuggets will clinch the Northwest Division title in just a few short hours.  

The Spurs and Blazers are on ESPN and as long as my wireless connection is strong enough I can follow the Nuggets game on NBA League Pass Broadband.  Here we go…

6:37 (all times Central and PM, we all know it is not 6:30 in the morning in the US so I will not waste keystrokes notating PM from here on out) - I have picked up my Pizza Hut Meat Lovers (TM) pizza and a couple of 20 ounce bottles of A&W.  I was a little bummed out about paying $16.0 for a medium pizza, but when I got back to my room I opened it up and it looked like after they cooked it they sprinkled another layer of sausage on it like croutons on a salad, plus I will get reimbursed so I am going to just enjoy it.

 Moving on, I missed the first quarter of the Spurs/Blazers game and am pleased to report that San Antonio is up by 15 as we start the second quarter.  Nice.

6:41 - Before the start of the second quarter Nate McMillan said that the Blazers are settling for jumpers.  I know what that is like.

6:43 – The Spurs score another easy bucket as Greg Oden fails to shut down the lane like an elite defender.  The Ginobili-less Spurs are up 19 early in the second.  

6:44 - By the way, you can watch the Spurs/Blazers game on ESPN360.

6:48 - As Jon Barry points out, why does Greg Oden push Bruce  Bowen out of the way to get a rebound?  Does he not have an extra six or seven inches and 75 pounds on him?  Second foul on Oden who gives up a tip shot to Tim Thomas on the other end before throwing down a dunk on the return trip.  Spurs up 17.

6:51 – Steve Blake penetrates the Spurs defense and dishes off to Travis Outlaw for a dunk.  Popovic calls timeout.  This game is definitely not over and we will see how the Spurs adjust to life without Ginobili.

6:55 - The Blazers go to zone and the Spurs start depending on jumpers while Portland is now attacking the rim.  They have at least eight points in the paint over their previous five or six possessions.

6:57 - Roy is taking this game over much earlier than usual.  He has brought Portland to within 11 with a flurry of layups and an assist or two.  Time out San Antonio.

7:02 - Usually if Oden gets a pass when he is outside the charge circle he starts looking to pass.  Upon catching a pass halfway up the left side of the lane and saw he was being covered by Matt Bonner.  He took a dribble (I think with his left hand) to get closer to the basket and flips in a left handed lay up.  Good recognition and a high percentage move.  Of course, he should not deserve too much credit.  It is what most big men would do.

7:06 - Outlaw hits a 15 foot jumper off a cross screen to pull the Blazers to within nine, 47-38.

7:08 – Why does Jon Barry keep talking about the Blazers players’ like they play for Partizan Red Star?  NBA fans are aware of Brandon Roy.  The media caught onto him a couple of years ago.  Rudy Fernandez is a rookie, but we have known about him for a while too.  He played for a team called “Spain” in a thing called the “Olympics.”  These guys are not strangers.

7:11 - Interesting end to the first half.  OK, that was an understatement.  An incredible end to the first half.  Portland had the ball with 21 seconds left and the shot clock off.  Hold for the final shot right?  Well, Blake and Roy hooked up on a backdoor cut that was left wide open because the Spurs expected them to hold for the final shot.  Roy made the layup and was fouled.  However, that gave the Spurs the ball with 15 seconds left.  Do you hold for the final shot or take the easy bucket like Portland did?  

The conventional wisdom is to hold for the final shot.  It is your chance to get an extra possession on your opponent however, is it worth passing an easy two points just to limit one possession?  I do not have the answer, but taking the quick shot sure worked for the Blazers against the Spurs to close out the first half.  

Tony Parker answered Roy’s three point play by making a layup of his own, however, there was still just over three seconds left and Blake tossed in a half court three at the buzzer to give the Blazers six points in the final 16 seconds and more importantly cut the Spurs’ lead down to two points at the half.

7:27 - Turning the focus to the Nuggets game tonight is definitely a must win game.  Not must win to make the playoffs or win the division, but must win to continue to have a shot at advancing in the playoffs.  Yes, Denver is in a great position to claim the second seed, but they are still in danger of not having home court advantage in the playoffs if they drop two or three of their final four games.  

Kenyon Martin will not play tonight and Balkman will start in his place.

After showing some spunk the Thunder have stumbled down the stretch.  They have lost six of their last seven, although the one win was at San Antonio, and Kevin Durant is still not quite back to where he was before spraining an ankle about a month ago.  Still, they are dangerous and Durant loves to light up Denver.

I am not sure how much posting I will do during the game because I will be watching on my computer which will make tying difficult, but I will do my best.

7:37 - I am sure you guys are wondering what Iowa is like.  Well, on my way to get my pizza I found one station that was not playing country and the DJ played a new song from Richard Marx called “Hold on to the night.”

Here on the western side of the state that borders South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota about 98% of the stations play country music.  One percent plays Christian music and one percent plays Richard Marx.  The eastern side of the state that borders Illinois is much better.  There the breakdown is 45% country, 45% classic rock, eight percent Christian and there is one current hits station and one alternative station.  Much better, but you still have to work to find a song that is younger than Kevin Durant. 

By the way, the Spurs started out the third quarter strong pushing their lead back up to eight.

7:43 - Wow, Matt Bonner just penetrated and kicked out to Mason for an open three.  Bonner created a shot for a teammate!  Put that in the season highlight video.

7:44 - Aldridge is taking the game over.  They are tied at 61.

7:46 - Roy three point play, Portland up 64-63.

7:47 - I had intended to talk more about the west and less about the play by play of the game, but I have three quarters of a pizza and 30 ounces of A&W in me and I feel a food coma coming on.  Anyway, we have been wondering about if Denver can hold off the Spurs and hang onto the second position.  The way San Antonio is playing they could very well fall to fifth or sixth.  That has to be in the conversation.  As a couple of you have pointed out if Houston can pass the Spurs in the Southwest Division that would reinstate the Rockets’ 3-1 series win into the equation as the tie breaker should they tie the Nuggets.  

I still think the Nuggets should end up as either the second or third seed and part of that reason is I think they beat Portland on the last night of the regular season.

7:53 - The Blazers are up three and Roy has not had to do much to regain the lead in the third quarter.  He should be poised to implement his typical Brandon Roy act in the fourth.

7:56 - Really bad news for Spurs fans.  Tim Duncan has not been 100%.  Well, in a tough and important game Duncan has four points and five rebounds through three quarters with 23 minutes of game time.  Tony Parker is amazing, but he cannot do it on his own.

8:03 - I get my first view of Hastings and Marlowe, yes it is the Altitude feed on League Pass Broadband!  I cannot wait to hear how bad NBA officiating is.

8:05 - It appears I will be able to watch the game in ten second increments.  That should work, right?

8:06 - Portland is up five with less than eight minutes left.  I do not see anyway the Spurs are winning this game.  Make that a seven point Blazer lead.  No Northwest Division crown tonight.

8:11 – Great just as the game is starting my feed completely grinds to a halt.

8:13 – I can hear what is happening, but I am stuck looking at J.R. Smith clapping at the scorer’s table, which happened about five minutes ago.

8:16 – So far this is a disaster. I have seen about 15 seconds of the game and it was footage of Melo’s free throws. Exciting.

8:36 – I went to the tiny screen and managed to see the final two minutes of the first quarter. It looks like the Thunder are getting whatever shot they want on offense. The Nuggets have done a very good job of jumping on weaker teams in the first half and taking away any hope they may have had of winning. Let’s see if they can ramp up the defense in the second quarter and build a lead.

8:44 – Nuggets getting some great outlet passes resulting in easy buckets. Kleiza got to the line off a pass up the floor off a dead ball. You do not see that everyday. Durant is out of the game and Denver needs to keep building their lead.

8:49 – If the Nuggets do not get a steal they cannot stop the Thunder. Completely in-cohesive on defense.

8:51 - Kleiza claims he speaks four languages.  He forgot the fifth one.  He definitely speaks brick.

8:54 – Did Karl actually just say the Nuggets play like the most like the San Antonio Spurs than any other team in the NBA? Beating the crap out of bad teams does not make you like the Spurs.

8:58 – Oklahoma City is killing Denver on the pick and roll. Once again Denver is not putting in the mental effort in to defend the play everyone in the league runs over and over every game. Denver is playing completely reactionary defense and they are always a step late.

9:01 – J.R. has gotten to the rim a couple of times, but Melo is not getting a chance to touch the ball. Get Melo in the post and see what happens.

9:02 – Denver is playing this game like there is nothing on the line. If they think this two game lead in for the second seed is safe, they will find out otherwise.

9:07 – Denver is down three at the half. Chris Marlowe just said something along the lines of how Karl is probably going over his half time speech in his mind. It makes me mad that everyone thinks it is the coach’s job to get the players to put forth an honest effort. If the Nuggets players need a reason to come out and pound on the Thunder there is something wrong with them. If they want the national media to buy what they are selling, they cannot struggle like this against the Thunder.

If George Karl wants the league to think Denver plays defense like the Spurs, they cannot submit a half like this. You can play like the Spurs for two weeks and then if you play a half like this everyone is going to look at it and say, “See nothing has changed in Denver.”

9:32 – I am not encouraged by the start of the third quarter. Oklahoma City is still getting whatever they want on defense and all of Denver’s points are coming from the perimeter.

9:37 – Terrible three by Birdman, just horrific.

9:41 – Nice play by Kleiza on the offensive glass. If Denver can just boost their effort a little they will be in good shape.

9:55 – Denver can win this game with offense, but it sure would be nice to see some D to close the game out.

10:08 -Whether you love Kleiza or hate him, he has payed his best all around offensive game in a long time tonight and without him hitting a couple of threes and running the floor Denver would certainly not be up 11 right now. They are up 11 right? I am watching on a screen the size of a business card.

10:11 – OK, nine point lead.

10:15 – Denver begins attacking the rim with Melo and Nene getting big (easy) dunks and Denver has built a 12 point lead. This game should be over.

10:19 – I say something nice about Kleiza and eh chucks up two contested threes and tries to give the game back to the Thunder. Glad to see him head to the pine.

10:23 – What do we need to do to get the Nuggets to stop shooting threes? Are they trying to keep it interesting? Is Stan Kronke in their ear telling them not to win by too much because Altitude needs the ratings?

10:27 – There you have it. An uninspiring win against a scrappy team (note I said scrappy, not crappy although their record would suggest otherwise). My final thoughts are that Nene was absolutely terrible on defense. He never stepped out to challenge a shooter when he had to and he was soft on screens. Birdman blocked a bunch of shots (seven), but went after a bunch of other shots that opened the lane up for offensive rebounds. The Thunder were only credited with 13 offensive boards, but I guarantee you that number is low. Once again the transition defense was nearly nonexistent.

Ultimately, Denver expended a lot of energy the night before they have to travel to Los Angeles to play the Lakers in a game where a win would almost guarantee them the second seed and would give them a bit of a mental boost should they actually make it to the Western Conference Finals against LA.

There you have it. Four hours, almost a whole pizza, 40 ounces of root beer and one live blog that ended up missing out on recording Nuggets’ history. Maybe destiny is demanding a win on the final night of the season in Portland for the Nuggets to prove they deserve the division crown and the second seed in the playoffs.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  97.2

Defensive Efficiency:  115.2

Offensive Efficiency:  125.5

Box Score

Featured Blog:  Daily Thunder

2008-09 Game 66: Denver Nuggets 112 – Oklahoma City Thunder 99

Box Score | Highlights

It sure was nice to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in a game that did not require a last second shot for once.  Denver was in control from start to finish, but before we get too carried away with an easy win against a less than stellar squad, let’s take a look at how Denver did in the areas we highlighted earlier this afternoon.

The Nuggets definitely cranked up the running game.  Led by the return of Anthony Carter and the aggressiveness of Linas Kleiza and Renaldo Balkman Denver posted 25 fast break points.  That is the most they have scored in a single game since February 6 in Washington, which was 16 games ago, when they accumulated 27.

The pace factor was a relatively slow 90.7, but that is most likely due to the number of offensive rebounds, the two teams combined to nab 33 offensive boards and offensive rebounds prolong possessions.  We can tell from the fast break points, and from simply watching the game itself that both teams ran early and often.

The Nuggets addressed the issue of declining assist totals by playing unselfishly and earning good shots.  18 of the Nuggets 22 first half baskets were assisted.  For the game they finished with 33 assists on 42 makes and 22 of those 33 assists were on shots converted at the rim.  The movement and passing, especially in the first half, was outstanding.  One of my frustrations lately with Chauncey Billups was that he rarely makes imaginative passes.  It has been weeks since I saw him throw a pass that took me by surprise.  He even made some nice passes to the roller off the pick and roll.  Tonight was as good of a passing game as Denver has put together in a long time.

The other primary pitfall on offense was the fact the Nuggets had been shooting blanks.  Against the Thunder they shot 50% for the game and that was made possible by the fact they shot 64% at the rim.  They also shot 50% between fifteen feet and the charge circle.  As I pointed out earlier today that range is typically the least accurate of the four areas we analyzed (layups, charge circle to fifteen feet, fifteen feet to the three point line and behind the arc).  The key to shooting that well was the fact that the shots they took from that range were mostly wide open looks.  As we moved further away from the rim their shooting on long twos and threes was not spectacular.  The Nuggets shot 35.7% on both long twos and threes, but that beat their pathetic percentages from the previous ten games. 

Another positive sign was 47% of Denver’s shots were layups.  That is up from their season average of 44.5%.  Denver was incredibly aggressive in the first half as 56.8% of their shots attempted were layups.  Part of the reason for that increase I believe is the Thunder lack a shot blocking presence in the lane and the Nuggets felt comfortable attacking the rim (Tyson Chandler anyone?).

While the Nuggets made progress on offense there is less of a reason to be excited about their defense.  The two areas I sited where Denver has fallen off were in committing shooting fouls and defending the three.  Denver sent the Thunder to the line 32 times where they amazingly made 30 of them.  Those 32 free throws were slightly higher than the Nuggets had been allowing during their 11 game slump and Oklahoma City attempted one more free throw than Denver.   

The Nuggets would appear to have defended the three pretty well as Oklahoma City made only 3 of 13 attempts.  A closer look reveals the Nuggets contested only four of the Thunder’s 13 attempts from behind the arc.  They did miss all four of those attempts and only made three of the nine open attempts, but that ratio of open shots to contested ones was not good a better shooting team will make a much higher percentage of their open threes.

As I mentioned this afternoon the real issue was with the Nuggets’ poor rotations and overall team defense.  The Thunder do not have any deadly three point shooters with Kevin Durant out of action and because of that when they played drive and kick the recipient of the pass either took a midrange jumper or drove.  Both of those plays are easier to defend than a three point attempt because there is not as much ground to cover.  The few times the Nuggets were required to rotate they did not do a particularly good job.

Overall Nuggets fans should just be happy with a win in which the Nuggets were not seriously threatened.  On the other hand there were some red flags.  Aside from the tendency to foul and their inability to consistently challenge Oklahoma City’s three point attempts the Nuggets yet again struggled to hold the lead.  Denver built up a 42-23 second quarter lead and saw the Thunder gnaw it down to five in roughly six minutes.  The key was another problem we have seen in the past and that was the Nuggets inability to defend the fast break.  Earl Watson continually drove through the Nuggets sluggish transition defense as he was allowed to drive as deep in the lane as he pleased.  The one time Anthony Carter tried to stop him about 16 feet from the rim AC never even moved his feet and was called for a tripping foul.  It was not just Carter though all of the Nuggets’ guards were guilty.  J.R. was the worst offender and Chauncey was only slightly better as he at least made Watson change directions before making a layup. 

The Nuggets built up another 19 point lead in the fourth quarter, but once again allowed the Thunder to whittle it down to nine with over three minutes left in the fourth quarter.  Their inability to put the game completely out of reach is unsettling. 

The Nuggets have four more games against subpar teams to get these kinks worked out.  Both the Jazz and Trail Blazers lost tonight and it is tempting to get excited about the Nuggets’ prospects to win the division again.  Before I anoint the Nuggets favorites again they will have to prove to me that they have addressed all of the problems we have dealt with today. 

Additional Game 66 Nuggets

  • Fourteen of the Nuggets first 16 shots were layups or dunks.  You cannot complain about that.
  • Anthony Carter sure showed what he can do when he is on his game.  He did a great job fueling the running game as he racked up a season high 12 assists.  He made great decisions with the ball and he has not passed ahead to whoever was streaking up the floor that well since last season.  I vote for AC only playing every fifth game.
  • Linas Kleiza did a great job running the floor and only took two threes.  He actually displayed a midrange game and was able to get to the line nine times.  The last time he shot more than seven free throws was mid November.  I can deal with the Kleiza we saw tonight even though he did miss a couple of layups.
  • I need more Renaldo Balkman like Christopher Walken needs more cowbell.  As I wrote in the game thread how can any coach watch him play and not think to himself, “I have to get this guy on the floor for 20 to 24 minutes a game.”?  One of the concerns is his apparent lack of offense, but he creates offense by hitting the offensive glass, running the floor and finding open space in the defense.
  • As promising as the Nuggets play on offense was I think we all suspect the Nuggets will forget how much easier it is to score when they play unselfishly, move the ball and move without the ball the way they did tonight.  As soon as they face a tougher foe it will be back to superhero basketball.  Stand back, I’ll handl this!

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  90.7 – Slow for a game in Denver, but understandable due to the high offensive rebound rate.

Defensive Efficiency:  109.2 – Not as strong a performance as we hoped for, but they did hold the Thunder to 40.2% shooting.  However, if Durant had played this number would obviously have been much higher.

Offensive Efficiency:  123.5 – Very good offensive performance, but we already knew that.

Featured Blog:  Daily Thunder

2008-09 Game 66: Denver Nuggets vs Oklahoma City Thunder Game Thread

Even without Kevin Durant the Thudner are rolling.  Jeff Green is back and Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha and Nenad Krstic are all playing well.  Even Kyle Weaver is hitting his threes.

No Kenyon tonight (as I pointed out he tweaked his back on the first play of the second half against Houston), but Anthony Carter is going to play.  

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Featured Blogs:  Daily Thunder

Previous Matchups:  Game 34 – Den 122 OKC 120 | Game 49 – Den 114 OKC 113

Offday Offerings – Was Standing Pat a Mistake?

I have yet to really put anything together about the trade deadline and that sucks because, well, it has passed.  The consensus amongst fans, commentators and the Nuggets front office was that Denver is playing well and should stand pat.  That is exactly what they did. 

I only have two questions.  First, is this team a true contender right now?  Secondly, will they be a true contender next season?

There have been an increasing number of stories out there trumpeting the Nuggets’ virtues.  Fans are starting to expect great things and are throwing around the term contender.  In my mind a contender is a team who has a reasonable chance at defeating every other team in the league in a seven game playoff series.  How far the Nuggets go in the playoffs depends completely on matchups.  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.  Even if you think Denver could defeat all three of those teams, we still have not mentioned the Lakers.  I would love to be forced to eat my words in May and June, but I just do not think it is reasonable to expect a team that has not advanced past the first round in 15 years to suddenly surge into the finals.

As I have pointed out in the past, building a championship team is a process.  Denver has taken a big step forward in that process this season.  Ideally if the Nuggets do not win it all this season, it will be a campaign where they grow closer to that goal and hopefully find themselves as a legitimate finals contender next season.  Well, if you look at their salary structure I do not think we can count on them being in a position to capitalize on their progress next season. 

With the economy floundering we have seen many teams seeking to unload contracts and no one really interested in taking on any additional salary obligations.  David Stern claimed during the all-star break that teams should expect the salary cap and luxury tax level to drop next season for the first time since its inception.  The luxury tax limit was $71.15 million this season and might drop down to around $68 or $69 million next season.  Denver has cut a lot of salary over the previous ten months or so, but looking ahead at next season, they are going to have to slash more payroll in order to avoid the tax. 

Right now the Nuggets are over $68 million with only Kenyon Martin, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Nene, J.R. Smith, Steven Hunter, Renaldo Balkman and the money they owe Antonio McDyess.  That is only seven players.  Chris Andersen has been a Godsend playing as well as he has for the minimum.  He is going to get a significant raise next season and I doubt the Nuggets will be able to afford to bring him back.  It is also highly unlikely that they can bring in a player who will play anywhere near Birdman’s level for such a pittance.  They will need to add a backup point guard and even they bring Anthony Carter back it will cost them roughly another million against the cap.  The qualifying offers for Linas Kleiza and Johan Petro add up to over $5.5 million combined.  Needless to say the Nuggets are likely to be in some financial straits again next season.  They have done a masterful job of dropping payroll while improving the quality of the team.  Pulling that off over two consecutive seasons would be a pipe dream.

You are free to disagree and make your case in the comments, but I think the evidence points to the Nuggets not being a legitimate contender this season and they will most likely not be one next season either.  I believe the Nuggets needed to put a strong emphasis on winning right now and that they should have pulled the trigger on a trade to try to push them over the top. 

What should that trade have been?  They should have acquired whatever they could have in exchange for Linas Kleiza and Charlotte’s future first round draft pick.  Steven Hunter and Dahntay Jones’ contracts should have been fair game as well. 

The one problem with trying to improve the team by trading Kleiza is that most teams around the league may have a better grasp of Kleiza’s value than the Nuggets do.  The Nuggets have placed far too much value on Kleiza and I think it is due to his rapid development between his second and third seasons.  Kleiza has already reached his ceiling as a player, but the Nuggets front office are expecting even better things because of how quickly he has improved.  The truth is he is a poor defending gunner with no passing ability.  If his shot is not falling he is a complete liability. 

The Nuggets have had the opportunity to trade him last season, but perhaps they hung onto him for too long.  With each passing game he is exposed further and further to be a one dimensional player.  He will most certainly not be back next season so why would they not look to unload to make a push right now when the Nuggets have what is arguably their best team since they joined the NBA?

If I am wrong and Stan Kronke is willing to do next year what he was not willing to do this season, and by that I mean foot the bill for an $80 million payroll, then I am fine with the Nuggets sticking with the current roster and hoping to further augment the roster next season.  I seriously doubt that will be the case though.

Chris Tomasson is thinking along the same lines as I am, although he was smart enough to publish his post before the trade deadline passed.

What was Oklahoma City Thinking?

I am baffled by the Thunder’s decision to stamp return to sender on Tyson Chandler’s forehead.  I thought that trade was going to push them into playoff contention next season.  To decide that his old turf toe injury was too much of an issue going forward blew my mind.  There were first hand reports of actual fan excitement about the Thunder.  It made them a hot topic around town, but now they may have to deal with a fan backlash, especially if Chandler’s tow does not explode like the Hindenburg on the court at some point over the next few months.  

The kicker is that the team physician that flunked Chandler’s physical was the same doctor that performed the surgery on his toe in the first place when New Orleans was playing in Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina.  The doctor basically said, “I did a bad enough job on repairing his toe that I think it will crumble like a two day old bran muffin.”  Nice work Dr. Mengele. 

I never understood why New Orleans wanted to trade Chandler during the season anyway.  The deal was not going to save them any money this season and they could pull the trigger on a Camby like salary dump over the summer without sabotaging the current campaign.  I thought that deal was bungled on both ends.

Oklahoma City did manage to add a nice piece in Thabo Sefolosha.  He is a defensive oriented swingman with great size and solid potential.  If they only had hung onto Chandler they might have had the foundation in place for a 50 win team in Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Green and Chandler.

Thank you Portland

I was worried that the Trail Blazers might pull off a deal for Richard Jefferson or some other small forward who just might propel them past the Nuggets in the Northwest Division.  Thankfully they chose to stick with their current roster and I think lost a chance to vastly improve their team.  They will have some cap space to play with this offseason and it will be interesting to see what they turn that into. 

Memphis no longer has a glut of point guards

Remember when Memphis had Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry and Javaris Crittenton?  Well, now they just have Conley.  Crittenton was shipped off to Washington and Lowry is now a Houston Rocket.  I found the three way deal that also sent Rafer Alston to Orlando interesting because I think Lowry is a better player than Alston.  Skip to My Lou is a much better shooter, but Orlando is a secretly good defensive team and Lowry is much superior to Alston on that end.  Neither player is a perfect fit, although Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith both agreed that this deal pushed the Magic ahead of the Cavs somehow.  Personally I think Lowry would be better for the Magic as he can defend and play the drive and kick game they love so much.

John Paxson gets active two years too late

John Paxson finally pulled his balls out of wherever he had them stored and finally pulled the trigger on a big trade and a couple of smaller ones.  The sad thing is it is too late to transform the once promising Bulls into a contender.  The acquisition of John Salmons has apparently paved the way for the departure of Ben Gordon this summer.  If Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah can build on their play over the past month or so Chicago has a decent core of Derrick Rose, Salmons, Luol Deng and the aforementioned bigs.

New York actually making trades for basketball reasons

I did not understand the reasoning behind the Knicks acquisitions of Larry Hughes and Chris Wilcox.  There was no monetary benefit from what I could tell.  Then it donned on me.  It was actually about trying to improve on the court.  With so many deals being discussed for purely financial reasons I was caught off guard by the attempt to actually use trades to improve a team.  There is no impetus to tank in New York as they do not have the rights to their 2010 draft pick so they might as well try to win while ensuring they do not take on any obligations beyond the summer of 2010. 

The NBA on TNT

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.

2008-09 Game 49: Denver Nuggets 114 – Oklahoma City Thunder 113

Box Score | Highlights

I am not sure if I should look forward to playing Oklahoma City or not.  On one hand, the nip and tuck nature of these two games has been completely draining.  On the other the sweet thrill of victory puts a hop in my step and a song in my heart (Livin’ on a Prayer by Bon Jovi is somewhat appropriately currently streaming through my arteries). 

Before we get to the causes for the big turnaround we need to look at how the Nuggets found themselves down by 16 in the second quarter.  The Nuggets were up five points, 38 to 22, with 10:19 left I the quarter.  Just over seven minutes, and some of the worst basketball the Nuggets have played all year, later Denver was behind 58 to 42.  That is right, they were outscored 25 to four and that includes a 15 to zero run.   

The Nuggets had two primary issues during that stretch.  First of all, they were getting decent shots, but they were just missing them.  There were a plethora of layup attempts and short open jumpers that just did not go down.  As a result of all those missed shots the Thunder players led by Earl Watson and Russell Westbrook scored layup after layup in transition.  That was the real problem and the reason why Oklahoma City dumped 39 on the Nuggets in the second quarter. 

The Nuggets guards, Anthony Carter, J.R. Smith and Dahntay Jones did a terrible job of slowing the Thunder guards down.  Anthony Carter was especially bad.  He would set himself up at the three point line and then just watch as the offensive player, who obviously has the benefit of momentum, blow past him.  In a situation like that you need to set yourself up beyond where you want to start to slow the dribbler and begin to give way as he approaches.  If you are not going at full speed by the time he reaches you the only way to be anything other than a shinny blue billboard on his way to the basket is to become a speed bump and just throw yourself at his feet and take him out.

The Nuggets were able to get the gap back down to 11 at the half and heading into the third quarter I had one reason for hope and that was I knew the Nuggets were going to stop switching screens in the second half and that we could expect a better scheme to slow the Thunder down.  In the first half on the few occasions the Thunder had to set up their half court offense Denver was burned time and again by switching screens.  The Nuggets repeated their performance from the previous night against the Spurs as there were times when only one defender switched the screen.  I have no idea how at this point in the season these guys have such a difficult time getting on the same page defensively.  Either you are switching or you are not. 

Denver also suffered from rotation breakdowns that we have seen in the past.  They would have one or two players rotate, but then when it came time for the next rotation no one arrived resulting in open jumpers for the Thunder Threesome. 

The Nuggets played much smarter and more together on defense in the second half.  There were two big keys to that in my mind.  One was as I mentioned, they stopped switching screens and secondly the big men started jumping the ball handler on the pick and roll.  Nene and Chris Andersen did a good job trapping along the sideline and that additional ball pressure, believe it or not, made a big difference.  Go figure.  Add in the fact the Nuggets continued to score and thus did not give the Thunder a chance to run and the result was a paltry 43 second half points for Oklahoma City.

The last topic that jumped out at me was the battle of wits between George Karl and Scott Brooks as both coaches had the chance to draw up two plays in the closing seconds. 

The first play was drawn up by Karl.  The game was tied at 111 with 29 seconds left.  J.R. Smith threw the ball in from the riht sideline to Melo who came off a down screen by AC.  J.R.  ran off a baseline screen by Nene and received a pass from Melo on the left wing.  He made a ball fake right and then drove left on Weaver drawing a foul.  He once again showed that he is unclutch form the line as he only made one of two free throws.  The decision to get J.R. the ball was a good one as he was on fire for most of the night.  Having him pass the ball in from and then run along the baseline screen to get open was sound.  As a secondary option J.R. had the opportunity to dump the ball to Nene who was covered by Westbrook after Nick Collison left Nene to cut off J.R.’s penetration.

Brooks now had the chance to devise a play of his own down 112-111 with 22 seconds on the clock.  His play may have been simpler, but it was more effective.  Westbrook entered the ball from the left sideline to Durant who was freed by a down screen by Collison.  Durante then dribbled to the middle of the floor and just blew by Dahntay wit his right hand and flew to the rim for a layup.  Secondary options included a kick out to Jeff Green had Melo helped off to stave off the driving lane and Collison was crashing from the weak side.   

The ball was once again in Karl’s court down 113-112 and with 17 seconds on the clock.  He chose to get the ball to Melo and allow him to create.  Ac inbounded the ball on the left sideline and Melo was freed up by a down screen by Nene.  Westbrook was guarding the inbounds pass and he started to flare out towards Melo as he neared half court.  Carter was forced to toss a little lob to Melo and he had a difficult time catching it.  Had Westbrook gone after it, he might have corralled a game saving steal.  Melo was able to latch onto the ball in the backcourt and settled in the middle of the court with Jeff Green crouched in his defensive stance in front of him.  Melo made his move with about nien seconds on the clock.  Russell Westbrook was cheating over off of Carter to help if Melo drove right. The key to the play was having J.R., who did not miss a three all game long, set up on the left wing.  Weaver could not risk leaving J.R. to help out on the drive.  Knowing this Melo beat Green off the dribble with his left hand and did not encounter any resistance until Collison came over to help inside the charge circle.  Melo somehow managed to flip the ball in with his right hand while being squeezed by Green on his right and Collison on his left.  I have no idea how it managed to float into the net.  It was a truly awkward shot.  Melo’s secondary option would have been to kick the ball out to J.R. had Weaver helped. 

Once again down one point and this time with 5.3 seconds on the clock Brooks had to answer.  Being down only one with that much time left on the clock I expected something similar to the previous play where Durant simply drove right to the rim.  Instead Brooks had Westbrook inbound the ball to Collison.  Westbrook cut to Collison and received the ball on a handoff.  AC was well behind Westbrook and Nene switched off.  This all happened in 1.2 seconds and Westbrook now has the ball in the middle of the floor well above the three point line.  Durant, who had started on the weak side of the floor on the baseline, runs off a double screen up the left side with Green and Collison  attempting to brush off Dahntay.  AC who had switched onto Collison jumped out at Durant and forced him to receive the pass from Westbrook running away from the rim about 30 feet from the basket.  There is only 1.9 seconds left on the clock when Durant receives the pass.  He manages to turn and fire a 35 foot turnaround fade away that catches a lot of rim, but bounces helplessly away.   There really was no time for a second option as the play took so long to develop and KD received the pass running away from the basket.  Had there been an extra second or two on the clock and Durant had been able to dribble a few times it would have been fine.  I also wonder if Collison was supposed to set his screen deeper.  As it was, he was at the three point line and that forced Durant to curl further away from the rim than Brooks had hoped.  I certainly expected the Thunder to get a better shot off than they did in that situation.

I will also add that was the correct situation to be switching screens.  When time is short and you cannot afford to let a player like Durant get an open look switching on the perimeter is the right decision.  I think it was important that Melo did not switch the first screen that Green set for Durant as Green could have easily slipped into the lane for a layup with no one in position to help on the weak side.  It was a well executed scheme by the Nuggets. 

Denver now has a day to rest and then faces the team with the worst record in the entire league, the Washington Wizards on Friday night.  I would expect Chauncey and Kenyon to play.

Additional Game 49 Nuggets

 

  • Carmelo Anthony was fantastic again as he set a career high with 11 assists.  What was so incredible about his assists was nine of the 11 resulted in a layup or dunk.  There is a lot of talk about making your teammates better.  Well, nothing makes teammates better than consistently delivering the ball to them in position to score at the rim. 
  • I told you Durant, Westbrook and Green were playing well.  The Trail Blazers get all the attention in the team of the future discussion, but look out for these guys in two or three years.  After all, Durant is only 20!
  • Linas Kleiza made a smart play with under seven minutes left in the game and the Nuggets down four.  The Thudner ran a pick and roll with Watson and Joe Smith.  Carter and Birdman doubled Watson who skipped a pass across the court to Kyle Weaver.  Kleiza started to rotate up to Weaver, but before he did he correctly recognized that if he rotated to Weaver he would leave Jeff Green, a much better three point shooter, open in the corner.  He retreated back to Green and Weaver took the shot.  At the time Weaver was 0-5 including 0-2 on threes.  He missed the open jumper, Denver collected the rebound and the result at the other end was a Kleiza dunk to get Denver back to within two. 
  • Unfortunately, the Nuggets defense did not benefit from such high level mental computation during every play.  As in the first meeting Melo fouled Durant about 28 feet from the rim which handed the Thunder two free points and allowed them to tie the game at 111.  Watching the play is completely frustrating.  Melo is putting forth effort to deny Durant the ball.  After KD flashes to receive the pass and turns toward the passer, Melo decides to stay on his back instead of between Durant and the hoop.  By the time Durant catches the ball Melo is between KD and Denver’s hoop leaving Durant wide open to attack the lane.  To compound his mistake of being out of position, Melo then reaches in thus drawing the foul.  That sequence is just more proof that Melo still does not have the mental comprehension of what constitutes good defense as opposed to simply acting aggressively.
  • The Nuggets’ come from behind win was made even more thrilling by the fact that Portland, New Orleans, Houston and Phoenix all lost.  Pulling out this win earned the Nuggets an extra game on all of those teams in the standings.
  • Oklahoma City shot 12 more free throws than Denver did. That is the second worst total of the season after the Lakers shot 13 more in game three.
  • The Nuggets gave up a lot of offensive rebounds, but I believe many of them were a result of Andersen and Nene helping on the pick and roll and not being in position to block out.  
  • Jeff Green had a rep as a player who tended to disappear from big games when he was at Georgetown.  Well, he definitely disappeared tonight.  The last positive entry in the play by play for Green was when he grabbed a defensive rebound with 7:26 left in the fourth quarter.  He as mentioned only one more time and that was at the 5:31 mark when he threw the ball away.  He did not get a rebound, make an assist or even take a shot over the last 7:26 of the game. 

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  96.0 – Both teams like to play fast.

Defensive Efficiency:  117.7 – I wish I could have calculated the defensive efficiency by half.  I bet the first half was about 135 and the second half about 100.

Offensive Efficiency:  118.7 – Considering they were missing Chauncey that is pretty good. 

Featured Blogs:  Daily Thunder | Blue Blitz

2008-09 Game 49: Denver Nuggets at Oklahoma City Thunder Game Thread

Do not get your hopes up Nugget fans.  There is no chance that the Oklahoma City Thunder sit their big three tonight.  Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green are all going to play. 

I get it, you scoff at the idea that Durant, Green and Westbrook should be considered a formidable big three combo?  Well, consider this.  Over their previous seven games they are averaging a combined 70.6 points, 21.7 rebounds and 11.0 assists.  They are also shooting 48.0% from the floor as well so this is not just a result of volume shooting.  As a comparison in the two games since Melo returned the three Nuggets with the best stats are Melo, Nene and Kleiza.  Over those two games they have put together cumulative averages of 63.5 points, 21.5 rebounds and six assists.

I have another average for you to consider and that is 20.7.  What is that you ask?  That is the average age of the Thunder threesome and they appear to be maturing awfully fast. 

Obviously the difference between the two teams are after the Thunder Threesome Oklahoma City does not have a lot of talent where the Nuggets have players like Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith whom we have not even mentioned yet.  However, the Thunder are playing hard and are starting to overcome that first hurdle that shows a team is becoming competitive and that is winning consistently at home. 

We all recall how the Nuggets escaped a disappointing loss earlier in the season at the hands of the Thunder when Melo threw in a desperation three pointer at the buzzer to pull out a 122-120 victory.  Since that night he Thunder are 5-2 at home and have defeated Utah and Detroit easily during that stretch.  Well, that is doing them a disservice.  They demolished Utah.

Tonight both Chauncey and Kenyon are game time decisions, Chauncey because of his ankle and Kenyon due to strep throat.  (I am no doctor, but are we sure we want Kenyon on an airplane with the rest of the team for two hours with all of them breathing that re-circulated air?  Can we have him hang his head out the window or something?)

Melo has been great offensively since returning and he will have to have a big night again tonight, even if Chauncey does manage to play.  I think we will be in for another exciting game and do not miss the chance to watch Durant play.  He already is, as George Karl would say, special.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Previous Matchup:  Game 34 – Den 122 OKC 120

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Chucky Atkins Traded to Oklahoma City

The Nuggets have traded Chucky Atkins to Oklahoma City  along with their (protected) 2009 first round pick in exchange for Johan Petro and Oklahoma City’s second rounder. 

I honestly think this is a very good deal.  Petro is far from a stud, but he is a big body and definitely provides the insurance in the front court that the Nuggets have been seeking.  Petro, like Chucky in Denver, had fallen out of the rotation in Oklahoma City so do not look for him to see much playing time in Denver unless there is an injury. 

Petro has never developed as an offensive player.  If he is not within a couple of feet of the rim, he is not going to score.  I remember watching him in summer league action a couple of summers ago and being baffled at how poor his offense was.  It was obvious that he was there strictly to work on his scoring so he was a complete black hole when he received the ball.  It was not pretty.

The draft picks involved are the most interesting part of this deal.  In recent drafts early second round picks have become more valuable than late first rounders due to the salary scale imposed on first round selections.  Teams can not afford to draft foreign players after the first few picks because the slotted salary is not high enough to pay their exorbitant buyouts.  Because of that the first pick in the second round is coveted because it is the first pick without any salary stipulations attacked and this the first shot at the best foreign talent.  Last season the only pick that was locked in after the first two was the first selection in the second round where Minnesota drafted Serbian big man Nikola Pekovic.

Financially this deal is a big winner for Denver.  They cut another $1.3 million off the books and now know that they will be under the luxury tax level even if J.R. Smith earns some or all of his bonus money.   With any trades from here on out the Nuggets will be playing on an even financial field where they will not be looking to take back much less than they send out.

All in all this may seem like a big trade to Nuggets fans because Chucky was brought in to be a starter, but in reality it is a swap of non rotation players and some draft picks that will come about long after the names of college and international players that the casual fan knows of will be picked.  Still, I think it was a good deal for Denver.

One last note, looking at the salaries this deal must have been completed using trade exceptions.  The salaries do not match and you cannot combine a trade exception with a player.  Denver has the big trade exception from the Marcus Camby trade that was “refreshed” in the Chauncey Billups deal and Oklahoma City has a trade exception from their trade sending Wally Szczerbiak to the Cavs last season.  Now Camby’s $10 million trade exception is down to about $7.5 million give or take $100,000.

2008-09 Game 34: Denver Nuggets 122 – Oklahoma City Thunder 120

Box Score | Highlights

Yes, Carmelo Anthony hit an amazing last second shot and the Denver Nuggets overcame another second half double digit deficit to win on the road, but just because it was exciting does not mean it was a good win.  I do not want to see how badly they will lose tonight against the Hornets if they play defense like they did against Oklahoma City.

You can whine and complain that the Thunder were hitting all their shots.  Well, the reason why they hit so many shots is because 90% of them were wide open looks.  If you leave Kevin Durant open, he is going to make you pay.  If you leave Jeff Green wide open, he is going to make you pay.  If you leave NBA shooters open they are going to make shots.  It is their job.  I know not every player gives it his all every minute of practice, but shooting is fun and everyone likes to practice that part of their game.

I actually thought the starters played pretty good defense in the first quarter and it took a couple of lucky shots for the Thunder to reach 26 first quarter points.  Then one of the recent issues came to the forefront in the second quarter.  For some reason the Nuggets cannot have a good game from both their starters and their bench at the same time.  

When the second stringers entered the game was when Oklahoma City started finding their groove and the result was a 38 point second quarter.  The Nuggets did play with more intensity in the second half, their rotations were better, they attacked screens better, but the Thunder already had found their confidence.  The Nuggets increased pressure on defense may not have made an impact on their shooting, but it did help create some turnovers and made Oklahoma City work harder for their points. 

The one thing I was glad to see tonight was Melo playing in the post.  He has a very good post game, including a nice spin move and a serviceable short range turnaround jumper.  He is also very good at getting off the floor to tip in his misses.  Tonight Melo dusted off that spin move on the block and it worked for him.  Melo has really gotten away from his post game lately and I think it has hurt him.  During his career best scoring season of 2006-07 where he averaged 28.9 points per game Melo took more shots in the paint than he has the past couple of seasons.  In 2006-07 43% of his shots qualified as in close.  In 2007-08 his percentage of in close shots dropped to 38%.  This year his percentage of in close shots has fallen further to 36%.  If Melo can once again embrace his post game I think he can get back close to the level he was performing at in 2006-07.

Additional Game 34 Nuggets

  • Melo was atrocious on defense early in the third quarter.  On one possession he was guarding esmond Mason, Chauncey was screened off of Russell Westbrook who dribbled right over to Melo and Melo correctly switched to Westbrook.  However, when Chauncey recovered Melo just sunk back into the lane instead of returning to cover Mason.  Durant received a pass from Westbrook and Mason set a screen for him going towards the sideline.  Melo was caught in the middle of the floor and was not in position to help guard Durant off the screen.  The result was a wide open jumper that Durant drained.  On another play Melo completely ignored the very large Robert Swift, who he was practically standing next to, after he rolled to the rim off of a screen resulting in a wide open layup for Swift.  All of those paled in comparison to his foul on Durant with 58 seconds left allowing the Thunder to tie the game with no time running off the clock.
  • One of Melo’s biggest problems is he reaches at really in appropriate times.  I understand taking a swipe at the ball when someone is turning to shoot because you know where the ball will be.  Melo takes dramatic pokes at the ball while his man is still dribbling.  What makes it worse is he stops moving almost every time he does it so not only does he always swing and miss, but he takes himself out of the play. 
  • However, I do need to mention that Melo played pretty solid defense on Durant on the three he made with 2.7 seconds left to put Oklahoma City ahead.  He was trailing slightly, but was in position to challenge the shot, he really crowded Durant and did a good job to get close without fouling.  Durant just made a great shot. 
  • Twice Chauncey passed off to teammates who had nowhere to go other than charge into the defender in transition.  The turnover goes to the player who charges, but on both occasions it was Chauncey’s fault for putting them in that position.
  • This is obvious to anyone who watched the game, but the shot J.R. Smith took at the end of the third quarter was just abominable.  The problem was that it was not quite the end of a quarter.  After receiving the ball with about second seconds left, and the shot clock off mind you, he immediately drove toward the lane from the right wing, was cut off and took a spinning fade away jump hook that barely drew iron.  The result was a break away layup for Oklahoma City.  I have seen Melo and Kleiza take some shots way too early before the end of quarters over the past couple of seasons, but this was the most egregious mismanagement of what should have been the last possession of the half I can remember.
  • Altitude has the quickest trigger I have ever seen when it comes to changing the score after a made basket, well tonight they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.  With the score 116-113 and 58.9 seconds left Nene had a free throw go halfway down and then rimed out.  Altitude briefly flipped the score to 117 before the ball rimmed out.  I guess they are human after all.
  • A play at 5:41 of the fourth quarter left me wondering after you are fouled, is there anything you cannot do other than dribble to lose your continuation?  With his back to the hoop and the ball on the left baseline just outside the block Nene spun to his left and was bumped by Chris Wilcox.  On his way to the rim Nene hooked Wilcox to get past the original foul and then traveled before he could get the shot off.  Players should start taking advantage of this and do all they can to get a shot off after a foul on the block.  Hook, travel, charge, push all is fair after you have been fouled.
  • That segues into the officiating.  I thought the game was called very differently from the first half to the second half.  In the first half they allowed a lot of contact to go unchecked and then in the second they started to call a lot of touch fouls.   
  • Nene played perhaps his best offensive game of his career scoring 27 points on only 11 shots.  Chauncey deserves some of the credit as he gave Nene several nice passes in the lane.  In fact all of Chauncey’s assists were on layups or dunks.  Anyone can get an assist by just passing the ball to an open teammate on the perimeter, it takes a truly smart and crafty passer to consistently earn his teammates easy shots at the rim. 
  • Usually Chauncey Billups plays the entire first quarter and then George Karl removes him a couple of minutes into the second quarter.  Tonight he took Chauncey out with 2:31 left in the first quarter.  I have no idea if there was a reason for the change in the rotation.  Billups had no fouls.  Perhaps Karl was hoping to give him a little rest before facing off with Chris Paul the next day, but due to the nature of the game Chauncey ended up playing 39 minutes.

Mind Blowing Game Stats

Pace Factor – 95.3

Defensive Efficiency – 126.0 – Remember the Thunder entered the game last in the NBA in offensive efficiency at 97.6.  The great defensive collapse of 2008 has spilled into 2009.  The Thunder shot 58.4% from the floor including an effective FG% of 63.6 (taking the extra point from making a three pointer into account) and a true shooting percentage of 67.8% (taking free throws into account)!  All of those percentages are season highs.

Offensive Efficiency – 128.1 – Second best rating of the season thanks to some fourth quarter three point marksmanship.

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2008-09 Game 34: Denver Nuggets at Oklahoma City Thunder Game Thread

Yes, we will continue to have game threads here at RMC.  The only problem is new comments will not automatically appear as they did at our previous location so hit the refresh button early and often. 

The Nuggets have a very winnable game that would cap a successful 3-1 road trip as they face the 4-29 Oklahoma City Thunder.  The Thunder may have the worst record in the NBA, but they are not a decent home team.  They may find a way to lose almost every game, but over their previous nine home games they have an average scoring margin of only -3.7.  They play hard and keep games close and they have won two of their past four home games.

Kevin Durant started off slowly, but has regained the edge he seemed to find towards the end of last season When he pummeled the Nuggets for 37 points including some insanely clutch long bombs on the way to a memorable 151-147 overtime victory for the then Sonics.

This is a game where the Nuggets have a shot at ending their slide down the defensive efficiency ranks as the Thunder are last in the league in offensive efficiency at only 97.6. 

The Nuggets are yet to falter against a non playoff caliber team this season so there is no reason to expect anything less than a victory.  However, this is hungry team who will fight and claw all night long and if the Nuggets get off to another slow start look for a tight down to the wire game.  

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Previous Matchup:  None

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