When the Nuggets go to Orlando it will be a reunion of sorts. But with Al Harrington targeting a mid-December from knee surgery, Arron Afflalo is the only former teammate they’ll face on the court. It is the Magic’s opening game, and after having traded Dwight Howard, who for years has been the center of their universe, it’s really up in the air how they will look coming out of the gates.
Most analysts have predicted a (more…)
|Corey Brewer, SF 32 MIN | 3-9 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 8 PTS | 0
I find Brewer’s night tough to evaluate, but he did follow up one of his best games of the season with another solid effort. Starting for the injured Wilson Chandler, Brewer played within himself and provided all the little things he’s known for, namely energetic defense and nonstop hustle. Brewer contributed three steals while defending without fouling, no small feat considering he was asked to guard everyone from Jameer Nelson to Hedo Turkoglu.
|Kenneth Faried, F 27 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | +1
Throughout three quarters, Faried was struggling through one of his worst games in recent memory. He could not get anything going offensively and the 50/50 balls he usually gobbles up kept bouncing the Magic’s way. It must have been frustrating to say the least. Thankfully George Karl stuck it out with Faried, who spearheaded the crucial game-winning run down the stretch. It wasn’t pretty, but Faried delivered in a huge way when it mattered the most.
|JaVale McGee, C 11 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-2 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -19
Oh dear. I’m not even sure where to start. This was the most comical performance I’ve seen out of a Nuggets player in years, and that includes JR Smith’s lengthy Nuggets career, Strangely, JaVale was not particularly awful on offense or defense as much as he was just totally clueless. It was boneheaded play after boneheaded play with a cherry of frustration on top. McGee was a whopping -19 in a game where the Magic’s biggest lead was 4 points. He played only 11 minutes.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 40 MIN | 8-14 FG | 3-3 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 22 PTS | +12
Really fantastic. Afflalo has approached every game on the trip with a sense of urgency that’s often missing from the rest of his teammates. He is now producing with the type of consistency no Nuggets player has shown since Al Harrington’s fantastic early season run. There’s not much to say about Afflalo other than he’s been the normal, outstanding Arron of the past month or so.
|Ty Lawson, PG 37 MIN | 10-16 FG | 3-3 FT | 5 REB | 9 AST | 25 PTS | -4
Looking at Lawson’s shot chart gives you a sense of how thoroughly he dominated the game. Ty scored from anywhere and everywhere, while also tallying nine assists and only one turnover. The entire Magic team managed 15 assists. This was, quite simply, one of those superstar type efforts Lawson has shown he’s capable of producing on any given night.
|Al Harrington, PF 32 MIN | 7-14 FG | 2-3 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 18 PTS | +2
Harrington was the Nuggets’ main post-up option, coming in early and often for the woeful JaVale McGee. His offense was a potent mix of inside and outside scoring, but he recorded five fouls and struggled to rebound against an incredibly undersized Magic front court.
|Andre Miller, PG 28 MIN | 4-7 FG | 7-8 FT | 2 REB | 5 AST | 15 PTS | +2
It may have taken him fifty-plus games, but Miller finally seems to be buying into his role and approaching each game with a more professional attitude. I’ve noticed a distinct change in the way he carries himself and it’s evident in everything he does, from fighting around screens and actually hustling back up on the floor on defense. Miller still takes his fair share of bad shots and suffers frequent defensive lapses, but the intangibles he’s known for are finally producing results.
|Kosta Koufos, C 25 MIN | 3-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | +19
Koufos was really much better than his modest numbers indicate. He picked up two early fouls and initially struggled to contain Hedo Turkoglu in the Magic’s pick and roll sets. On a night McGee basically didn’t contribute anything, the Nuggets had to rely on Koufos’ defense and he pushed through a rough start to see them through. I’d like to see a better rebounding performance against a small Magic team, but Koufos was easily one of the most important guys in terms of securing the win.
|Jordan Hamilton, G 7 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | +2
Hamilton was encouraging in the extremely limited time he saw. I believe both his field goals were assisted and he helped the Nuggets get out in transition against the slow-down style of the Orlando Magic. It’s tough to draw any conclusions from Hamilton’s short stint on the floor, but I believe he showed he’s capable of providing a spark off the bench when called upon.
Tonight’s game against the Magic was just that: magical. There was magic happening in all corners at Amway Center this evening. The act of disappearing was in full effect as balls that looked to be in people’s hands suddenly were found in the laps of those in the front row. Also illusion was extremely prevalent, where feet that appeared to be in-bounds were called out. But my favorite had to the failed attempts between numerous players to try and teleport the basketball through their opponent to another teammate. Yes magic was everywhere the day after St. Patrick was honored around the world by noble citizens who paid homage to the patron saint by downing as many Jagerbombs as possible. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, “hangovers + magic” isn’t the best equation when it comes to winning basketball games. (more…)
If anyone was expecting to see the Denver Nuggets fold after the latest round of speculation and innuendo that all but had Carmelo Anthony getting sized for his new Knicks Uniform, sorry to disappoint you. The Nuggets proved to be completely unaffected by the rumors surrounding the team as they put together what was probably their best all-around performance of the season since the opening night dismantling of the Utah Jazz as they downed the Orlando Magic 111-94.
Carmelo himself played a fantastic game. He was in attack mode from the start. Fourteen of his 21 shot attempts came in the lane and he also made 11 trips to the free throw line. It was the most aggressive offensive game I have seen from him all season. Orlando was without Quentin Richardson and Mickael Pietrus, their two best perimeter defenders. Without those two Carmelo possessed a quickness advantage over Rashard Lewis and when Vince Carter was guarding him, Carmelo knew he could do almost anything he wanted.
The Magic ran a lot of double teams at him when he would catch the ball in the post, but Melo responded by making quick moves to prevent the double from trapping him. On the occasions where he found himself in straight up man to man coverage, he simply went to the rim. The result was 35 points on 14-21 from the floor and 7-11 from the line. It was a very impressive performance.
At this point in the season there are no moral victories. The Denver Nuggets may have given the Orlando Magic a really tough game on Sunday, but with the Nuggets now just half a game out of fifth place and facing a very difficult game in Dallas on Monday their 103-97 defeat was a costly one indeed.
Denver once again lost a game in which they held a double digit lead, the twelfth time that has happened this season, and it was all the old problems that caused the collapse. After looking very good to start the third quarter the Nuggets offense completely collapsed. A combination of bad perimeter shots and one on one over dribbling turned a 67-57 Nuggets lead into a 77-77 tie at the end of the third quarter.
From that point on the end result was just about set in stone.
While there were plenty of mental mistakes, the final 18 minutes on offense could be considered one big mental mistake, the players were able to keep the game close despite some poorly conceived strategy. When you play the Magic it is there perimeter shooting that kills you, not Dwight Howard. However, the Nuggets paid way too much attention to Howard in the post and gave up far too may open looks from behind the arc as a result. I have no problem with doubling Howard, but too often there were three or four Nuggets all paying attention to him when at this point he is not a big enough scoring threat to warrant that much respect from the defense. Orlando missed quite a few of those open looks yet they still managed to score 33 points on threes, most of which came in the second half, but it could have been much worse.
Denver played hard, they were victims of a poor plan and poor execution.
What makes things worse is I believe Adrian Dantley is hurting the team with his rotations. I praised the way he changed the course of the first game he filled in for George Karl in Minnesota, but since then things have not been quite as impressive.
The biggest problem is Anthony Carter.
Carter started the first six games of the season in place of J.R. Smith who served a seven game suspension to start the 2009-10 campaign. Even before Carter’s fill in status as a started ended Lawson was clearly the number two point guard. He was clearly better than Carter and any concerns about Lawson sitting because Carter was the “scrappy veteran” had been alleviated.
So how come at this point in the season is Lawson relegated to the bench and Carter is the number two guy behind Chauncey Billups? I admit that Carter had a couple of solid games when Lawson initially injured his shoulder, but those performances are a thing of the past. What has he done to wrest the backup point guard spot from Lawson? It is absolutely inexplicable and it is costing the Nuggets wins.
The bench is clearly struggling during the current road trip, but what do you expect when you keep a talent like Lawson chained to his cushy folding chair? The degree of difficulty has already been ratcheted up with the absences of George Karl and Kenyon Martin. How does it make sense to further complicate things by benching Lawson?
If Carter is in there for his defense, he sure did a poor job of validating it. On two or three occasions he blitzed Howard in the post, but flew past him while flailing at the ball completely taking himself out of the play. I question why you would double a player Howard’s size with a tiny point guard who he can easily see over, but Carter made it worse by failing to actually double. On one occasion in the fourth quarter Carter ran at Howard, and instead of getting in his face and trying to form a wall alongside the other defender, he just floated back a couple of feet so he was not guarding Howard, he was not guarding anyone else, plus he was not in a position to react to a cutter. Matt Barnes came right down the middle of the lane and made a layup thanks to Carter’s odd decision to basically do nothing.
The fact is you could build a decent case against Adrian Dantley for sabotage. It does not matter if you compare Lawson and Carter aesthetically, statistically or anecdotally Lawson is unconditionally the better player.
With the Nuggets playing their fifth game in seven nights on Monday it would be a real good time to unleash a fresh Lawson on the Mavericks. The Nuggets will not advance in the playoffs without Lawson playing a significant role.
Additional Game 74 Nuggets
Advanced Game Stats
Pace Factor: 82.8 – Slowest game of the season
Defensive Efficiency: 124.4 – Horrible
Offensive Efficiency: 117.1 – I was surprised to see the Nuggets shot 52.5%, sure did not seem like it.
The Denver Nuggets played a solid first half against the Orland Magic. They shot well, played decent defense, did a good job passing, but I just was not impressed with their overall effort and focus. At halftime I found myself anticipating, or at least hoping for, an increase in intensity. After all the Magic are the defending Eastern Conference champions.
Denver absolutely jumped on the Magic to start the third quarter oozing energy and intensity resulting in a 12-0 run to start the third on their way to a 35-19 third quarter.
It was interesting to see how the Magic defended Carmelo. They played a very similar style to what the Lakers usually try to do and that is pre-rotate a big to the block when Melo gets the ball in the post as a deterrent to the drive while the defender on the ball tries to take away the jumper. When it comes to a deterrent there are not many who deter like Dwight Howard. This defense not only slows Melo down, but it makes it much more difficult to get cutters open in the lane because there is one massive dude planted on the strong side block as well as help at the free throw line.
The one thing the Nuggets figured out against the Lakers (skip to the 4:10 mark of this video) was to give Melo the ball at the top of the circle. That way there was no strong side to shade to and every player had to suck in alongside the lane in order to be ready to help. There were only a couple of occasions when Melo received the ball at the top of the circle and two of them came back to back as soon as Mickael Pietrus, the French Michael Jordan, entered the game to cover Melo. Anthony was able to drive on Pietrus and drew two quick fouls on him. However, when Matt Barnes was on Melo he almost exclusively posted up on the right side of the floor. I am not sure if the Nuggets’ planned on Melo taking Pietrus to the middle of the floor when he was in the game, but it sure worked. He only played a few minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
The weakness of that defense is the backside because there are four players on the strong side of the court. In the third quarter Melo did a good job of staying a little further off the block, thus spreading the floor and opening up the passing lanes. Denver was able to get the ball to Afflalo in the corner and he converted on his opportunities making two threes.
After Afflalo made his threes the Magic stopped pre-rotating and as a result the lane opened up. For example Melo was able to drive from the right wing all the way to the rim on Barnes with 5:30 in the third.
Melo also started getting the ball closer to the lane so on the occasions when Howard did pre-rotate he it opened up the floor for cutters and Melo was able to hit Kenyon a couple of times in the lane for either the basket or a foul. The Nuggets ended up dominating a very good defensive squad.
The other big story was the Nuggets defense on Howard. A night after demolishing the Sacramento Kings to the tune of 30 and 16 Howard shot 1-7. Nene struggled lately to defend Shaq largely due to the fact he did not start fighting for position early enough in the play. Nene allowed Shaq to set up where ever he wanted before he started pushing on him. Tonight Nene, as well as Kenyon and Birdman when they were covering Howard, did a great job of making contact with him early in the play preventing him from getting deep position. When Howard did get in deep the Nuggets were content to foul, or they swarmed him and forced a miss or a turnover. None were more impressive than when AC ripped the ball away from Howard in the fourth quarter.
All in all it was a great win for Denver. The Nuggets are getting healthy, Ty Lawson was reportedly able to play although he did not see action, and they are playing well. Despite their struggles lately Denver is only a half a game out of second in the west and they have a bunch of home games coming up. The next couple of weeks are huge for Denver and I expect to see them safely in second in the conference by the end of the month. Plus with Kobe Bryant apparently struggling with his broken finger, who knows what will happen the rest of the season?
Additional Game 39 Nuggets
Editor’s Note: I am at Denver International Airport trying to finish this up before my plane departs. I may have to cut it a little short. We do have a few days to catch up on any details I might have to leave out.
Anytime you end a 15 game losing streak it is cause for celebration. When you do it by holding the fourth best offense in the league to 73 points I think we should all take the day off tomorrow. It was the fewest points the Nuggets allowed in a single game since April 6, 2007 when they defeated the Dallas Mavericks 75 to 71 at the Pepsi Center.
Watching the game was an excruciating experience. It felt like I was watching a postseason baseball pitchers’ duel. Every time Orlando got a guy on base (made a three) it felt like everything could crumble down. I did not feel comfortable at all until Nene made both of his free throws with 29 seconds left to put the Nuggets back up by eight 81-73.
You have to be impressed with the effort and intensity the Nuggets played with all game long, especially considering they played a tough game in Miami last night, they had already won three games on the trip and could have felt a sense of contentment and it was the last game before the All-Star break. Denver decided early on that they wanted to avenge the smackdown they received at the hands of the Magic last month.
I was impressed with almost everything Denver did on defense tonight. I am sure this will surprise a lot of you, but I am on board with their strategy of switching most of the perimeter screens. The Magic are a team that you can get away with switching. In fact, they are such a good perimetedoing so. Anyone who can guard Hedo Turkoglu can check Rashard Lewis. If you try to fight through
Orlando bombarded the Clippers with 16 threes in 26 attempts in the first game Jameeer Nelson missed. However, since then in three games the Magic have shot a combined 26 for 83 which converts to 31.3%. Orlando seems to have lost the drive and kick game without Nelson and that makes it much easier for teams to rotate and challenge shots, even after doubling or collapsing on Dwight Howard.
I thought Denver did a good job of mixing up their defense on Howard. Sometimes they played him straight up, sometimes the doubled and other times they swarmed him. NO matter what their strategy was they all seemed to be on the same page. I think it was the most organized the Nuggets have been on defense all season. Of course, despite the Nuggets solid defense Orlando deserves some of the credit (blame) for only scoring 73 points. When they did have open shots they ended up missing them anyway.
The Nuggets can really feel good about themselves heading into the second half of the season. They have set a team record for best record after 53 games and they have a few days off to get everyone healthy.
Additional Game 53 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 90.4
Defensive Efficiency: 80.7 – That destroys their previous season best of 83.7 from game 45 versus Memphis.
Offensive Efficiency: 90.7 – That would be a season low if it were not for the 78.3 they dropped in New Jersey.
Featured Blog: Third Quarter Collapse
There were a lot of people who were discounting Orlando earlier in the season because they believed the Magic’s incredible record was based solely on an easy early schedule. There is no way you can make that case anymore. Having watched most of their victory in Los Angeles Friday and their relatively easy dismissal of the Nugget last night I believe these guys are contenders.
They receive a great deal of credit for their three point shooting and offensive explosiveness, but it is their defense that really amazed me. It is easy to say that Denver played a lazy offensive game and did not try hard enough to get into the lane. From what I saw the Nuggets were trying to get to the rim, but Orlando just would not let them. Whether it was J.R. or Chauncey they always ran into a wall of defenders as soon as they hit the free throw line.
The Nuggets inside presence was completely negated thanks to Dwight Howard, foul trouble and poor shooting. When Nene was in the game he had a very difficult time scoring over Howard. You could tell he was not comfortable shooting over someone with such incredible physical gifts. Nene also suffered from foul trouble, but I think all of the fouls that were called on him were fouls. I did like seeing Nene get in Howard’s face a couple of times, but his game did not back up his bravado.
I remember wondering to myself how the Nuggets were managing to score at all even as early in the game as three minutes into the second quarter when they were ahead 31-29. When Orlando built up a nine point lead with a buzzer beating heave at the end of the third quarter by Hedo Turkoglu it seemed that it was an insurmountable lead.
I can handle the Nuggets’ lack of offense by the Nuggets because Orlando simply played stellar defense. What was frustrating was the way they completely dissolved in the second half defensively. The collapse was highlighted by Denver’s complete lack of understanding and/or desire to defend the pick and roll. The guards seemed disinterested in fighting through the screen and the bigs were more worried about not giving up a dunk to Howard than they were about stopping the ball. Nene was especially guilty as on most instances he never even went near the ball handler.
The other issue was simply Jameer Nelson’s ability to blow past whoever was guarding him at will. I have never thought of Nelson as a fast player and expected Billups or Anthony Carter to be able to keep him out of the lane, but he blew by them even without the benefit of a screen.
There was some discussion in the game thread as to whether or not the Nuggets were on the Magic’s level. Some thought with Melo we were better, but I have to disagree. I think you have to put Orlando in the same class as the Cavs, Celtics and Lakers. They are a very formidable squad.
Even with the loss last night you have to consider this to have been a successful homestand. To finish 5-2 against mostly playoff caliber teams was impressive, especially considering that they lost Melo for the final five games. As I wrote earlier the Phoenix win was what made the homestand for me. That was a good win against a very hot team. And the fact that Denver was able to hang with Orlando for the first 35 minutes last night was even somewhat impressive.
Tomorrow Denver faces another tough game, this time on the road against the Rockets. Houston is even more banged up than Denver as I do not believe Tracy McGrady or Ron Artest are going to play. Make note of the special Martin Luther King, Jr. Day start time of noon Mountain time.
Other Game 41 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor – 95.0
Defensive Efficiency – 111.6 – Not atrocious, but not good.
Offensive Efficiency – 92.6 – Yep, the lowest single game rating of the season surpassing the 93.2 they vomited up in the game against Cleveland in Denver.
Featured Blog: Third Quarter Collapse