The Denver Nuggets clinched the three seed after smashing the Suns by 20 points in their final home game of the year. The sun sets on a historic regular season as the Nuggets now await their first round playoff opponent, either Houston or Golden State.
UPDATE: The Nuggets will face the Golden State Warriors in a 3-6 first round matchup with home court advantage. Playoffs start Saturday, April 20, at 3:30 p.m. MST, then continue on Tuesday, April 23, at 8:30 p.m. MST; Friday, April 26, at 8:30 p.m. MST; and Sunday, April 28, at 7:30 p.m. MST. All other games are TBD.
Earlier today the Nuggets announced the 13 players Chad Iske will coach in the Las Vegas summer league next week. Nuggets fans should be pleased to know that every one of Denver’s draft picks from the last two seasons will be in attendance, only further proving that Masai and Josh are building an organization that values long-term player development. I’ll be heading out to Las Vegas this weekend to do some up close coverage of Summer League for Roundball Mining Company, and before our in-depth analysis gets rolling here’s a little bit of background on what we know about each of the prospects right now.
|Kenneth Faried, F 27 MIN | 9-13 FG | 0-0 FT | 13 REB | 2 AST | 18 PTS | +22
There’s not much to explain here. Faried dominated the game and yet he only played 26 minutes! Offensively, he continues to get better and better as a legitimate post scorer as well as a guy who can chip in double-digit hustle points any given night. Faried had a great first half in which he still struggled to rebound and stay in front of the Phoenix bigs on pick and rolls, two problems he clearly addressed in the second half to finish with one of his finest performances all season.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 37 MIN | 5-13 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 13 PTS | +21
Gallo was better than he has been, but let’s not keep kidding ourselves – Gallinari just isn’t the game-changing force he was earlier in the season. What I found particularly interesting was the fact Gallo missed a ton of easy shots and managed to throw in some lucky ones. It needs to be noted that Gallo was still great defensively, where he completely neutralized Jared Dudley and finished with two steals, two blocks and only one personal foul. With that kind of balance, the lack of scoring output isn’t so bad.
|Kosta Koufos, C 15 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 2 PTS | +16
It wasn’t a big stats game for Koufos, but his play was brilliant in a crucial third quarter surge that essentially put the game away before Phoenix could get anything going. Koufos was a big part of a starting five that so thoroughly out played Phoenix, he finished the game a +16 in only 15 minutes of action. That’s giving your team high-quality minutes.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 38 MIN | 6-10 FG | 7-7 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 19 PTS | +13
Afflalo started extremely slow, taking only two shots in a first half he only managed to score three points. Once he picked things up in the second half, Phoenix did not stand a chance as Afflalo made a play that summed up the game by attacking Nash in transition and smacking him in the face for the and-one layup that essentially became the dagger.
|Ty Lawson, PG 37 MIN | 10-16 FG | 4-4 FT | 4 REB | 10 AST | 29 PTS | +7
One of the finest games of Ty Lawson’s career, who could have easily had his first 30-point scoring game had he not decided to throw in in ten assists to only one turnover for good measure. Phoenix simply could not match up with him and Lawson torched the Suns’ defense from start to finish. When Lawson is aggressive and shoots the ball like he’s capable of, he’s nearly impossible to stop.
|Al Harrington, PF 23 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 8 PTS | -13
Harrington did his best to carry a bench rotation that just could not build on the momentum created by the starters. It wasn’t the bench’s finest performance despite Harrington’s respectable shooting and his admirable hustle on both sides of the ball, where Harrington gave much better effort than some of his bench counterparts. Big Al wasn’t bad, but expect him and the bench to bounce back in the final three games of the season and start looking a bit more like themselves.
|Andre Miller, PG 28 MIN | 3-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 8 PTS | -6
The Nuggets were fighting Andre Miller just as much as they were the Phoenix Suns. The story of the game was the starters’ complete domination followed by Andre Miller’s lackadaisical efforts to give everything back. As esteemed reader TJ McBride pointed out to me earlier, Miller accounted for five of the Nuggets’ nine turnovers and needed his teammates to carry him through a game he could not manage an honest effort towards winning.
|Corey Brewer, SF 16 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 10 PTS | +4
Any game in which Brewer scores double-digits while taking fewer than ten shots is a successful one. I loved Brewer’s defensive energy and his ability to pressure the ball, which only makes his extremely limited minutes more frustrating when the ineffective Andre Miller produces less in almost double the playing time. When Brewer has it going like he did against Phoenix, he’s a very disruptive force and someone the Nuggets should not be afraid to ride for longer stretches.
|JaVale McGee, C 19 MIN | 5-10 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 11 PTS | -9
McGee had a very solid finish after a poor first half. One of the things he really struggled with was Phoenix’s pick and roll game with Nash, which is no doubt one of the reasons George Karl is reluctant to trust him with significant minutes. McGee’s post defense was solid and he made much better decisions in the second half, where his awareness in the pick and roll led to a much improved defensive performance in the deciding third quarter.
Tonight the Nuggets notched their first win in Phoenix since 2004, and for George Karl it was his first win in the desert since 1997. Whatever has kept the Nuggets from winning in the US Airway Center in years past certainly was not preset this evening as the Nuggets took it to the Suns from the get-go, and did not let up all game.
When I sat down tonight to watch the Denver Nuggets take on the Charlotte Bobcats, I certainly did not expect to see the Nuggets pull off the fifth biggest margin of victory in franchise history. But… THAT JUST HAPPENED! (more…)
As they did against the LA Clippers last Wednesday, the Nuggets entered tonight’s contest with a healthy starting five and a full roster of players available. It’s a roster they hoped would take them back to the brink of a Finals appearance and convince Carmelo Anthony to reconsider staying in Denver when he saw how good a healthy Nuggets squad could be. With the worst defensive team in the league holding them to 20 points and taking a 12 point lead after one quarter, it was hard to avoid the grim feeling that hope for this fractured squad was absurd.
Not so fast. After a no-effort start with mixed results trying to go to Nene early, the Nuggets had nothing going for them except Arron Afflalo. They quickly fell behind by double digits and throughout the early second quarter Carmelo Anthony got aggressive and was able to keep it a semi-respectable game. At about the ten minute mark of the second, coach George Karl called for a lineup of Arron Afflalo and four subs – Ty Lawson, JR Smith, Al Harrington and Birdman. The Nuggets raced back from a double digit deficit and never looked back. After falling behind 32-18, the Nuggets then went on a 84-40 run to lead 102-72 after three. Game over
When LeBron James and Chris Bosh agreed to join forces with Dwyane Wade in Miami one of the big questions, aside from how many games over 72 they would win, was whether or not having LeBron and Wade on the same team with a third all-star in tow was good for the NBA.
It certainly spurred record amounts of interest in the league during the offseason and gave everyone from hardcore NBA fanatics to grandmothers who did not realize Michael Jordan had retired pegged the Heat and LeBron in particular as public enemy numero uno.
A month into the season the Heat are an uninspiring 10-8. LeBron and Wade are struggling with how to work together and at this point are not the unstoppable duo nearly everyone envisioned them to be. Erik Spoelstra is on the hot seat. Chris Bosh is looking like an overpaid role player.
With Miami failing to meet even the most pessimistic projections heading into the season I think we need to ask the big question once again. Are the Heat good for the NBA?
The Denver Nuggets appeared to catch a bit of a break as they prepared to take on the Phoenix Suns. Despite the fact Denver had lost 11 straight games in Phoenix, the Suns were coming off a hard fought game against the Los Angeles Lakers the night before during which they converted 22 three pointers. As the Nuggets learned from the Pacers, cold teams heat up, but the reciprocal corollary is true as well. Hot teams cool off. Surely the Suns would not be as hot from behind the arc as they were the night before.
The law of averages held true once again for Denver as the Suns did not shoot well from the perimeter. However, despite having played the night before, the Suns played with more energy and focus in the second half than the well-rested Nuggets did. The Nuggets were the team standing and watching on defense, playing lazy offense and making unforced turnovers.
That was painful to watch. With a division title on the line it was stunning at how the Nuggets failed to compete. I know Denver was playing their fifth game in five nights, but for anyone who questioned my assertion that there was no worse matchup for the Denver Nuggets than the Phoenix Suns I give you tonight’s contest. The Suns jumped on the Nuggets from the get go as they opened the game on an 18-2 run and never looked back.
Even though the Nuggets were closing out a grueling schedule to close the season, I do not think we can site fatigue for the Suns early 16 point lead.
The most vexing aspect of Denver’s play was the decision to revert back to switching ball screens after playing back to back games of relatively acceptable pick and roll defense predicated on the bigs challenging the ball handler. The Nuggets’ switching scheme was so bad they basically allowed the Suns to get any shot they wanted.
Now the Nuggets season rides on the very team that crushed them. Should the Suns win tomorrow night in Utah Denver will back their way into the division title they let slip away by losing games to San Antonio and Phoenix (and Minnesota, the Clippers, Sacramento -twice, Detroit, Washington and New York). That would give Denver the fourth seed and home court advantage in a series against the Utah Jazz.
Should the Jazz win tomorrow, they will win the Northwest Division, Phoenix will be fourth and Denver will fall to fifth where they must face the Suns. I am not sure how much of a chance Denver would have to knock off the Jazz, but it is infinitely more likely they could beat Utah than Phoenix.
If you are feeling down, just remember. What has past is merely prologue to the playoffs and a healthy Nuggets team can beat anyone in the NBA…aside from the Suns that is. Regardless of who the Nuggets face off against, I am going to do my best to give you the best coverage and analysis that is humanly possible.
The Denver Nuggets 123-101 blowout win over the Memphis Grizzlies had a kind of preseason feel to it. It was Kenyon Martin’s second game back from injury and he is still working his way into shape (although he needed the practice, I was relieved we did not have to watch him try to shoot free throws again). The Nuggets seem to be working their way through a transition from switching ball screens to a combination of hedge and recover and trapping the ball handler. As a team Denver had been struggling to get to the line at the rate they are accustomed to and the offense seemed to be not only stuck between first and second gear, but the clutch was grinding like drunks at a dance club.
In many ways the contest with the Grizzlies was simply a tune up for the big matchup against the Phoenix Suns that could decide the fate of the Nuggets season.
After a shaky first quarter that saw Memphis exploit some minor defensive breakdowns in defending the pick and roll and failing to aggressively rebound numerous misses by the Grizzlies, the pieces stated falling together.
Defensively, Denver began to tighten up the pick and roll defense. The lane was successfully sealed off and thanks to some aggressive trapping the Nuggets started forcing turnovers. Turnovers lead to a plethora of fast break points and for the first time in weeks the Denver Nuggets began to resemble the team that was the favorite to finish second in the West and challenge the Lakers.
On offense, Nene was fed early and often and he delivered in a big way. On the heels of his thee point two rebound stink bomb against the Spurs Nene tied a career high by fighting his way to the line 14 times and he made 12, which surpassed his old career high of ten. Denver was able to get the ball in the lane thanks to displaying much more patience on offense than they had in the previous several games combined. J.R. Smith found his shooting stroke, at least temporarily, as he made four threes in the first half and for the first time in five games the people of Colorado can get four tacos for a dollar and the purchase of a drink at participating Taco Bells as the Nuggets finally broke the 100 point barrier.
While it was good to see the Nuggets surge to an easy win they now face a red hot team in Phoenix. As I noted after the loss to the Spurs the Nuggets are making progress in the quality of their pick and roll defense (including video evidence) thanks to both a change in tactics as well as increased effort and focus. Now the real test comes in the form of Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.
I have long thought the Suns provided the most difficult matchup for Denver this season thanks to their abilities to run the pick and roll, make threes and score in transition. The question is will the two game crash course refresher course the Nuggets just completed against San Antonio and Memphis on how to properly play pick and roll defense be enough. Can Denver really execute their hedge and recover and/or trapping scheme against the best pick and roll point guard in the world?
Despite their improvement against Memphis, Mike Conley lit Denver up for 18 first half points, all of which came off of ball screens or transition, suggesting the Nuggets will still have problems dealing with Nash. The flip side of that coin is Denver was clearly more worried about Zach Randolph than Conley in the first half and after shifting their focus in the second half Conley was held to only four points. The Nuggets will be focusing on Nash from the second they set foot in Phoenix, but Conley is clearly not Steve Nash. The Nuggets must do better.
In addition to the difference between Conley and Nash, Memphis does not have a player who is in any way comparable to Amare. No big in the league is as dangerous rolling to the basket than Amare, largely thanks to the artistry of Nash. One way to prevent Amare from catching the ball in the lane with a head of steam is pressure on the ball. The Nuggets did a good job of forcing bad passes against Memphis, but Nash will not be as easy to fluster. In addition to pressuring the ball handler, Denver must have weak side help to make sure any pass intended for Amare is challenged. What they cannot do is just stand behind him because that is a surefire way to give up an and-one.
If you can manage to keep Nash out of the lane, prevent him from getting an open jumper and shield him from passing the ball to Amare, you still must worry about Jason Richardson, Channing Frye and Jared Dudley. They are all deadly thee point marksmen and if you can manage to slow the pick and roll, your recovery and rotations must be crisp and instantaneous to prevent open three point attempts.
I feel confident Denver can trap Nash, I feel slightly less confident they can keep him from passing to Amare in the lane, I am highly dubious of their ability to do both of those things and prevent Phoenix from earning those deadly opportunities from behind the arc.
I have said it before and I will say it again. Phoenix is the one team who can go toe to toe with Denver and win a Wild West shootout. That being said, they really do not have any player who is capable of handling Carmelo Anthony. Jason Richardson is too small, Dudley is too slow and Grant Hill is too old. Carmelo must be aggressive going to the basket and Denver has to take advantage of the fact Robin Lopez will not be patrolling the paint. Plus Amare has been known to get into foul trouble and if Denver can bait him into committing some early fouls it could change the complexion of the game significantly.
The other factor in the Suns favor is Denver will be playing their fifth game in seven days on Tuesday. The last time Denver played in that situation they were demolished in Dallas. There is a difference between those five games in late March and these five. Denver has only had to fly twice as their last three contests have all been in Denver. That should surely help prevent the kind of fatigue that plagued them against the Mavericks. It also helped that no player had to be on the floor for more than 33 minutes because of the nature of the Memphis game. Still, five games in seven nights is draining for anyone and Phoenix has a distinct advantage because of it.
I will add one other note and that is look out for Anthony Carter. At first I was thrilled that Ty Lawson received all the minutes backing up Chauncey until I realized that Adrian Dantley was quite possibly saving Carter’s legs for the Suns game. If that turns out to be the case, it will make things ever more difficult for Denver should their point guard who is best suited for a fast paced game and is the best pick and roll defender out of the three ends up watching the game while AC is on the court.
The Nuggets may have blown their chance to win the division, earn the third seed and possibly match up with a Portland team who suffered yet another injury, this time to Brandon Roy, by losing at home to the Spurs. Still, all it will take to redeem themselves is one final herculean effort in game 82. They have the talent and ability to beat the Suns in Phoenix. Their fate is in their own hands.
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.
I owe a big thank you to one of my least favorite shows, The Bachelor. When my wife found out it was the final episode of the ridiculously hokey show where we find evidence that no matter what the last man on earth is like, he will clearly have his choice of women, especially if he spends more time on his abs and pectoral muscles than helping children or old ladies.
The Bachelor saved me from having to watch the second half of a very depressing outing by the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets were coming off of a rough loss against the rival Lakers and playing their fourth game in five nights. Add in the absence of Ty Lawson and the fact that Chris “Birdman” Andersen was a ghost of himself before leaving the game early because his chronic patella tendonitis ended his night early. Ultimately, I do not care how badly the chips were stacked against the Nuggets their collapse in the second quarter was simply inexcusable.
Teams go through cold patches on offense where the shots just do not fall. Denver certainly hit one of those cold patches. The problem was not that the Nuggets could not hit shots, it was that the lack of quality shots that ruined them. The source of the offensive collapse was nothing other than a 2-3 zone defense.
There is a reason why zone defenses are the exception rather than the rule in the NBA. A zone defense in the NBA is working from a disadvantage from the beginning because of the defensive three seconds rule. The central defender is forced out of position before the offense even has to do anything. In addition to that, there is much more floor to cover because of the difference in the three point lines. While it is true NBA defenders are bigger, faster, loner and quicker, those physical advantages are not enjoyed solely by the defense.
For the Nuggets to struggle so mightily against a zone defense, with all of their talent, is inexplicable. They have been much more effective since Chauncey Billups returned to Denver thanks to his ability to shoot from distance and ability to drive when pressured.
There are several ways to beat a zone. The best option is to get to the rim before the defense gets set. That did not work because Denver did not exert the energy necessary to run and Phoenix did a good job of getting back on defense.
Option two, the option the Nuggets always immediately fall back on, is to shoot the zone into oblivion. We already mentioned how the Nuggets’ shooting ability went bye-bye so they had to find another way.
A third option is to penetrate the zone, forcing all the defenders to collapse into the lane, thus leaving their area of responsibility allowing for a quick pass to an open teammate. The Nuggets rarely attacked the lane and when they did, their decision making was subpar at best.
The other option for defeating a zone is to utilize quick passes to draw the defenders out of position and once again open lanes for driving, or to free a teammate for an easy shot.
Instead of employing any of those techniques, apart from missing a few three point attempts, the Nuggets drew a couple pages out of the what not to do against a zone. Namely, standing around, playing passively and missing open shots.
The coaching staff bears some blame as well for Denver’s performance against the zone as they did not seem prepared to handle it at all. Although at this level, players should not need much coaching in order to overcome a zone. I did notice on one occasion that Chauncey Billups was looking at the bench and shrugging his arms and shoulders in the international symbol of confusion as if to say, “What do you want me to do?”
The fact the Nuggets abided a 33-11 quarter and then came out after the half and gave up a 16-7 run, which was fueled by a 14-2 stretch after Denver scored on their first two possessions of the half.
The sad thing was the Nuggets played with such intensity and purpose in the first quarter on their way to building a 13 point lead early in the second. Their pick and roll defense was stout and they were active on both ends of the court. As was pointed out on the broadcast, as soon as the game was handed over to the respective benches in the second quarter the Suns simply exploded and Denver did not have a response.
After playing four games in five nights Denver only has two games over the next five days and three over the next eight games, all at home. I certainly expect a much better effort on Wednesday against Oklahoma City although the Nuggets have to be concerned about their depth with Birdman and Lawson both nursing injuries.
The Denver Nuggets played tremendous half court defense against the Phoenix Suns in their 105-99 victory at the Pepsi Center. Below is what was originally supposed to be a few clips that turned into a mass quantity of clips documenting the Nuggets’ successful implementation of their switching scheme.
A couple of things I forgot to mention in the video was that switching defenses are usually employed to prevent a team from getting open perimeter shots. Give the coaching staff and players credit for having the guts to implement the switching scheme and stick with it. Secondly, I forgot to mention that Nene and Kenyon did a very good job of not reaching. It is easier to reach than move your feet and they both expended the additional energy to play defense with their legs and not their arms.
The one comment I will make is I was disappointed that George Karl fell off the wagon and chose to play Anthony Carter over Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo. The Nuggets won and Carter obviously did not make any crippling plays, but I thought Lawson was doing a good job of defending Nash and Afflalo was playing exceptionally well defensively. I would have greatly preferred to see Afflalo in the game down the stretch, but as the Nuggets did pull out the victory it does not make for a very convincing case.
Even so, as was pointed out during the Altitude broadcast, give Carter credit for answering the bell and playing solid basketball.
I also thought the Suns desire to push the pace probably contributed to their downfall. Coming off a tough home game the night before against the Magic, their breakneck pace probably contributed to the outcome in the Nuggets’ favor. The Suns ran Denver out of the gym in the second quarter, but in the second half the Nuggets were much quicker to loose balls and seemed to have a little more spunk to their movements. Plus we have seen the Nuggets settle for jumpers when they become fatigued and I think the Suns played into the Nuggets hands a little bit as they settled for jumpers for much of the second half.
Congratulations to Denver on a good win, but as I pointed out after the loss to the Pistons, the Nuggets do not prove their worth winning home games, but winning road games. Still, a loss to the Suns in that situation would have been devastating and Denver deserves credit for pulling out a hard fought win.
I thought it was interesting Michael at Valley of the Suns mentioned the game last January where Grant Hill lost his balance at the end of a game in Denver. I expected the no call against Nene at the end against Nash would bring back old memories of that finish for Suns fans and I guess it did.
For a big picture breakdown of last night’s game click here and go to item number two. I will post some additional nuggets with the game stats later this afternoon.
- Finally Updated -
Additional Game 71 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 97.9
Defensive Efficiency: 120.5 – The Suns have been on fire lately, but there is no excuse for the kind of performance the Nuggets put forth. The only reason their defensive efficiency was not higher was the Suns committed 20 turnovers.
Offensive Efficiency: 117.5 – That should be good enough to win.
Once again the Denver Nuggets have to prove it. I consider a prove it game to be a pivotal game against a good team where you need to prove that you are as good as you want people to think you are. Denver has not done too well in “prove it games” this season.
Prove it game number one – Game 13: The Nuggets were 7-1 after acquiring Chauncey Billups including the big win over Boston as they headed into L.A. to face the Lakers. They were absolutely demolished in a game that was nowhere near as close as the 104-90 final score.
Prove it game number two – Game 20: After recovering from the loss to the Lakers by winning five of six the Nuggets were poised to send a message to the visiting Spurs and were rolled 108-91.
Prove it game number three – Game 26: The Nuggets bounced back from the loss to the Spurs by winning four straight before losing a game at Houston. Denver returned home to play the Cavs and Cleveland won so easily they probably thought it was just a scrimmage.
Prove it game number four – Game 53: The Nuggets predictably bounced back from the 44 point drubbing at the hands of the Nets to wipe out the Heat. The next night they were in Orlando where they had not won in years. Denver pulled out a huge 82-73 win.
Prove it game number five – Game 63: The Nuggets finally beat the Lakers and then promptly dropped games at Indiana and at Detroit, but bounced back to beat the Trail Blazers in Denver. Denver then traveled to Utah and the Nuggets got off to a great start only to get shredded by the Jazz in the closing minutes of the second and then the third quarter.
The Nuggets now have three straight prove it games on the road starting tonight in Phoenix and we are running out of season to bounce back from a poor performance.
The one thing you need to know about Phoenix is the offense is back. It may not be as flashy as when Steve Nash was running a three point circus with Amare flying down the middle for monster dunk after manhood stealing monster dunk. John Hollinger recently pointed out that even with the plodding Shaq and an aging Nash since Alvin Gentry took over the Suns are on a league record pace for offensive efficiency posting a 117.7 (as of March 17).
The Nuggets have won five straight games, but their play has not been what you would call exemplary. I especially have not been pleased with their defense. They have been content to play a solid quarter of defense here and there and then coast to a victory. They cannot afford to do that against the Suns.
Leandro Barbosa is out, but over the past couple of games Jason Richardson has looked like he did in Golden State with point totals of 31, 25 and 35. They may not have Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson, Jim Jackson or Casey Jacobson anymore, but they can still hurt you with the three thanks to Nash, Richardson and yes, Matt Barnes. The Nuggets have been struggling to defend the three and over the month of March the Suns have bumped up their three point attempts to 20.9 per game and are making 39.1% of them. They also have the surprisingly spry Shaq roaming the paint who is capable of either overpowering you or making a crafty pass to take advantage of any out of position defenders. The bottom line is if you miss on your rotations, fail to cover the pick and roll, fall asleep on the weak side or just flat out get out of position, the Suns will torch you and the Nuggets have struggled in all of those areas recently.
Keep in mind the Suns will have to stop the Nuggets as they can certainly put the ball in the hoop pretty well themselves. The Suns do not have any good defensive matchups for Carmelo Anthony or J.R. Smith and Chauncey will need to make Nash work on defense as well.
We have seen the Nuggets play lockdown defense this season and they are certainly capable of holding the Suns in check, but as I have said, this is a prove it game. I am going into tonight not expecting anything from Denver. They will have to show me they are ready to win.
Take this with you: The Nuggets have lost eight straight games at Phoenix. If you think that is bad, they have lost 17 of their last 21 in Phoenix too. And just to make sure you are not overconfident they have lost 37 of their last 44 contests in Phoenix. I do not care if Phoenix is currently ninth in the conference a win tonight will be a nice accomplishment.