Every year around this time ESPN introduces its annual #NBArank series codifying all 500 players in the NBA from least to most valuable. Last year Roundball Mining Company decided to get in on the action and began ranking each of the players on the Denver Nuggets’ final 15-man roster in the same fashion. We’ve polled all seven of our writers, asking them to arrange each player on the Nuggets roster from one to 15 (one being the best, 15 the least valuable), then we added everyone’s scores together to come up with a single, definitive list of the 15 “most valuable” Denver Nuggets. J.J. Hickson, the third of Denver’s four recent acquisitions, comes in at No. 9 in our #NuggetsRank series. (more…)
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 27 MIN | 1-10 FG | 4-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | -9
I wish I could say it’s surprising, but it’s not. Gallo was due for another one of his duds and he predictably chucked his way to a 1-10 shooting nightmare. It’s the seventh time this season Gallo has failed to reach double figures in substantial minutes. I wouldn’t be so hard on Gallo if he hadn’t pulled the same tired act all last season. Gallo had an embarrassing moment towards the end, where he avoided a Damian Lillard poster by pretending to block out Koufos, his teammate.
|Kenneth Faried, SF 18 MIN | 3-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | -13
3-10 shooting in just 18 minutes doesn’t even begin to tell you how bad it was. Faried was dominated by JJ Hickson from the opening tip and it never really got any better. Defensively, he looked totally lost yet again.
|Kosta Koufos, C 20 MIN | 3-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 7 PTS | -5
Koufos recovered from two quick fouls to put forth one of the few respectable performances from a regular rotation player. He cannot provide anything on offense, which limited his impact in an ugly game like this.
|Ty Lawson, PG 37 MIN | 6-15 FG | 1-1 FT | 3 REB | 8 AST | 13 PTS | -10
A really disjointed game from Lawson, who was able to penetrate but didn’t consistenty put pressure on Portland’s defense throughout the night. His speed and energy were not a factor in the game as Lawson mostly faded into the background save for a few garbage baskets towards the end.
|Andre Iguodala, SG 27 MIN | 5-13 FG | 3-6 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 13 PTS | -9
Not awful, but his shot selection is disappointing as his growing complacency with the Nuggets’ culture of indifference on the defensive end. He was supposed to be a part of the solution for Denver’s abysmal perimeter defense, a system so broken it’s shown little, if any, sign of improvement from last season.
|Anthony Randolph, PF 8 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | -1
I continue to maintain that the Nuggets should be giving Randolph a look. His post defense isn’t any worse than Mozgov or Koufos and he outruns any center in the NBA with ease, a skill which shouldn’t go unnoticed in the Nuggets’ second unit. He is also one of the few Nuggets able to change and alter shots with weak side help, a fundamental skill often lacking in Denver’s regular front court play.
|Jordan Hamilton, SF 13 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-1 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | +6
He still can’t really get minutes or show he can consistently knock down a three. I would love to see Jordan be able to change games with his rebounding, passing and defense but right now he looks to be struggling a great deal with his overall confidence and shot selection.
|Corey Brewer, SF 29 MIN | 4-10 FG | 5-6 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 13 PTS | +4
A near double-double and lots of hustle, but the Nuggets offense is in a bad way when Brewer is playing 29 minutes as the main scoring threat off the bench. Brewer did his job but he should be earning minutes with his defense, not the other way around.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 10 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | -5
Not traded yet, but the nuggets are obviously still trying. They don’t seem interested in giving him a chance or just moving on, so it’s likely he’ll continue to be showcased for other teams. We saw some bad hands and decent defense out of Moz, which is nothing new and doesn’t really change things for the Nuggets either way.
|JaVale McGee, C 15 MIN | 3-8 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 7 PTS | +2
He looked winded and flat out spent at the end of the game. As much as I think the Nuggets have to trust JaVale more and give him room to grow, McGee did not look like someone I’d trust to maintain effort for 30 minutes. He needs to play at the same level energy-wise throughout the game, something JaVale isn’t close to doing right now.
|Andre Miller, PG 28 MIN | 5-14 FG | 2-2 FT | 9 REB | 7 AST | 12 PTS | 0
He had a near triple-double and did a great job limiting his turnovers, but color me unimpressed with Andre Miller as a floor leader. He should have posted up Lillard 20 times tonight, but instead we got some truly awful shot selection including two hopeless threes on a night the Nuggets were desperately looking to him for leadership. As a defender, he looks washed up and near useless.
|Evan Fournier, SG 9 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 2 PTS | 0
Thrown into the fray after a bizarre first quarter in which Karl briefly emptied his entire bench, Fournier looked surprisingly comfortable. He struggled with his handle, but got pressure on the ball and was disruptive on the defensive end. If he can learn how to make shots, Fournier looks good enough in everything else to be a quality rotation piece.
|Corey Brewer, SF 26 MIN | 5-14 FG | 0-1 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 11 PTS | +4
14 shots in 26 minutes is a lot, but Brewer has never been shy about letting it fly and he’s continued to develop into a more consistent offensive player. I thought it was a very tough matchup going against Gerald Wallace and Nic Batum, but Brewer held his own. Karl did a fantastic job managing his minutes and not forcing him out there in a super-small lineup where he’s likely to be overpowered by bigger players.
|Kenneth Faried, F 17 MIN | 6-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 13 PTS | +8
It sounds ridiculous for a player who only saw 17 minutes, but if I had to give an MVP award for this win it would undoubtedly go to Faried. He was instrumental in setting the tone for the Nuggets, defending with vigor and dominating the paint on both ends. Seven offensive rebounds is the most any Nuggets player has gathered this season, and Faried did it in less than 20 minutes. The “Manimal” is growing up quick and when you imagine what he might do with more minutes and a more polished offensive game — it’s downright scary.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 23 MIN | 6-10 FG | 2-3 FT | 9 REB | 1 AST | 14 PTS | +3
Mozgov had a very solid performance. Although he struggled defensively at times, much to Scott Hastings’ chagrin, Mozgov was physical with Aldridge and much more assertive on the offensive end. He’s been struggling with turnovers and rebounding, two areas in which he improved greatly tonight. Mozgov just needs to be more consistent in terms of production with his 20 minutes a night as he continues to prove himself as a valuable role player.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 36 MIN | 4-13 FG | 3-6 FT | 1 REB | 6 AST | 12 PTS | +9
Afflalo’s shot was flat and he missed several big free throws, but outside of that his game was superb. Afflalo’s been much more confident in his offensive game and continues to improve by taking more shots in the flow of the offense. The only things missing right now are the three-point consistency and his reliability at the foul-line. If those areas improve and he continues the kind of production we’ve seen in the last two weeks, Afflalo could be safely considered one of better shooting guards in the Western Conference.
|Ty Lawson, PG 38 MIN | 8-15 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 9 AST | 18 PTS | +17
Lawson started slow after returning from injury and seemed to be going through an up-and-down night as he struggled to find his rhythm. On the other hand, the Nuggets offense looked so markedly different with him back in the mix it became clear how important he is despite not being able to make his shots. Lawson then exploded late and assumed total control of the game behind 6-9 shooting in the fourth quarter. His offense was brilliant most of the night and he delivered the win when the Nuggets needed someone to step up down the stretch.
|Al Harrington, PF 31 MIN | 5-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 13 PTS | +8
Al played a good game, replacing Faried early and often but maintaining good enough defense and rebounding to avoid much of a drop-off in either area. Al was clearly worn out before the break and struggling to work off his teammates for shots. Harrington played 30 minutes and looked tired at the end of his stint, but there’s no denying he took much better shots and gave way better effort in other areas outside of scoring.
|Andre Miller, PG 29 MIN | 1-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 4 PTS | +1
Miller was not as bad as his stats indicate, but just take a look at how dreadful his line was. Although Miller looked spry and was more “active” on the defensive end, he still struggled to rotate and close out on shooters. It should be stressed Miller was better on defense than he has been, but his game is still plagued by inconsistency and frequent stretches of flat-out horrible play. Miller took only four shots, two of which were three-pointers and he committed two bad turnovers late, when all Denver had to do was hold onto the ball in order to win.
|Kosta Koufos, C 25 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 8 PTS | +3
Koufos was his usual productive self, providing a steady rebounding presence and decent enough offense in his limited time on the floor. Where Koufos really shined was in the closing stretch of the game, where Karl trusted him to close out the win in Nene’s usual role. Koufos defense was spectacular in some crucial late-game sequences and he never stopped playing hard. This is some of the most focused defense I’ve seen out of Koufos, who had two of his four blocks in a pivotal fourth quarter where the game was closer than it seemed.
|Jordan Hamilton, G 14 MIN | 5-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 11 PTS | +2
Hamilton was a mixed bag – but mostly good as he’s still finding his way through the first handful of meaningful games in his pro career. Hamilton was extremely aggressive on offense, dishing his way to three nice assists but also taking some bad shots, a couple of which he made in spectacular fashion. You have to love the energy Hamilton is playing with, but he failed to block out Batum on a fourth quarter putback which ended up getting him benched. A double-digit scoring game is progress and Hamilton just needs to work on his fundamentals and accept the short leash that comes with every rookie mistake.
After 13 years of NBA service, it’s fair to say Andre Miller has been one of the more overlooked and undervalued point guards of his generation. His ability to produce well into his thirties places him in the rarified company of Steve Nash, Chauncey Billups, and Jason Kidd yet his lack of playoff success and individual accolades exclude him from being held in the same regard.
Playing with that chip on his shoulder has made Miller the successful, highly motivated player he is today. Unfortunately, it’s also put Andre at the center of another point guard controversy in Denver after candidly telling Chris Tomasson he’s unhappy with a backup role and prefers to go elsewhere in free agency next season.
The Nuggets played the first of what will undoubtedly be many ugly games in Portland tonight. It was a messy affair from the start, dominated by fouls, turnovers and questionable shot selection. Ultimately the game came down to a 2-minute stretch in which the tougher, more composed Blazers held it together and came out on top.
It was something the Nuggets haven’t had to worry about in a very long time. With the ball, shot clock turned off and one bucket away from winning the game. If it wasn’t a straight up inbounds to Melo in isolation, it was a failed high pick and roll with Chauncey and Nene, the ball ending up in Melo’s hands anyway. Just as the Nuggets adapt their style of play to an overhauled roster, the coaches are in uncharted territory trying to re-learn how they are going to close games.
I had to listen to most of this one on the radio, so excuse this recap for being fairly bad and shorter than usual. Long story short, Denver puts together a composed defensive effort and unleashes their dormant offensive attack in the second half to walk over Portland in familiar home court fashion. Like many teams playing the supremely difficult Denver back to back from Pacific-time zone cities, the Blazers fatigue was a factor. However the Nuggets weren’t able to simply run them out of gas early. The Nuggets patiently played to their strength inside and leaned on a combination of defense and size to break Portland.
With 8:50 to go in the fourth quarter, Carmelo Anthony picked up his fifth foul and was forced to the bench. With 3:08 left, Portland’s Nicholas Batum drew a charge on Melo to foul him out of the game. Denver scored 12 points in the fourth quarter on 3-of-13 shooting.
That pretty much tells you how this one turned out.
The Nuggets posted a combined 54 points in quarters one and three, while only scoring a dismal 29 points in periods two and four. The story of Denver’s season encapsulated in 48 minutes at the Rose Garden on Thursday night.
In a slow-paced game which clearly suited Portland’s style of play more than Denver’s featured two very different tales of how this game would turn out. Denver’s shot selection, aggressiveness of taking the ball to the basket and defensive intensity was night and day in those two halves of the game. The whole game was one of runs, with Denver blowing multiple double-digit leads and Portland feeding off their electric crowd to pull this one out. Portland was without All-Star guard Brandon Roy whose knees are giving Blazers’ fans nightmares of Sam Bowie and now Greg Oden, who will miss the entire season with another microfracture surgery on his bad knee.
Portland coach Nate McMillan only went with an eight-man rotation, and all of his starters played at least 36 minutes (that distinction would go to Marcus Camby), so you’d think Denver could take advantage with a somewhat deeper bench and a clear advantage in the backcourt (on paper). Lets take a look at some postgame thoughts in bullet form:
Next up for Denver is the Nets on Saturday night back at The Can. New Jersey is playing without Troy Murphy who is still suffering from a foot injury. The rookie Derrick Favors (rumored to be coming to Denver in that four-team trade before the season) and Kris Humphries should pose no threat to Denver’s frontcourt, but you never know what kind of production Denver’s bigs will give you. Brook Lopez is a double-double threat, Anthony Morrow can shoot the lights out and Travis Outlaw has big-time potential, but if Denver doesn’t win by 15+ I will be shocked and disappointed. Plus Carmelo Anthony has another chance to audition for his possible next destination, right? (too soon? sorry guys.) After dropping 120 points on the Knicks earlier this week, expect a similar high-point total in this one. A loss would drop Denver below .500 for the first time this season; I don’t know about you but with all the speculation and rumors surrounding this team, with this level of competition out West, that does not bode well for support or confidence in Nuggetland anytime soon.
The Northwest Division was recently featured in the annual CelticsBlog season preview smörgåsbord and you can peruse the various posts from the list of links below:
How will Big Al fit in out in Utah? Will the Blazers stay healthy? Will Melo still be a Nugget on opening night? Can the Thunder avoid a sophomore slump? Just what is the plan in ‘Sota? All this and more in the Northwest previews.
Recaps: All Previews
Daily Dime Live also spent a day on the Northwest where the consensus was that it will be probably the toughest division in the league, as least as long as Melo dons the garb of the Nuggets, and the Thunder are getting a little too much hype, a statement I do not agree with. You can follow all the heavy hitting analysis right here.
Sorry for my lack of posts recently, but I am working on a research intensive post which requires me to watch a lot of film. I think it will be well worth the wait. I also have the long promised defensive scouting report of Al Harrington waiting in the queue so look for that soon as well.
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.
Merry Christmas to everyone. As you come down from your sugar high and get ready for the big showdown between the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers check out the 5-on-5 comparison between the Nuggets and Blazers featuring Henry Abbott, Kevin Arnovitz, J.J. Adande, John Hollinger and David Thorpe. Plus swing by the Daily Dime Christmas Day marathon chat which I will be a part of by tip off.
Before we begin the season previews and start looking forward to next season, I am going to look back at last season. I made a multitude of predictions over the previous 12 plus months and I started wondering how accurate I was. Did I successfully predict how well Chris Andersen played? What about the Nuggets acquisition of Chauncey Billups or how many games the Milwaukee Bucks would win?
The only way to know if I knew what I was talking about is to go back through thousands and thousands of words and pluck out all the things I said would happen no matter how hair brained or how mundane and assign a verdict.
Here is the first of four posts full of things I thought would happen. We will start by looking at my general preseason projections and game by game forecasts. Tomorrow we will look at my projected season records for all 30 teams. We will then move on to my projected personnel moves and then finish with my projections for player performances.
Prediction: I believe the Denver Nuggets must alter their style of play if they are ever to become a true championship contender. I love the Denver Mile High Mystique as much as anyone, but I strongly believe the Nuggets must evaluate the overall philosophy of their franchise.
Verdict: I am going to say correct. The Nuggets still ran, which is fine, but they dropped from their perennial spot of first or second in pace down to fifth, it may not sound like much, but they were closer to the eleventh fastest paced team, Milwaukee, than they were to the second fastest paced team, New York. The greater focus on defense and working for better shots on offense was a great recipe.
Prediction: I might be completely wrong, but if we are ever going to see the best of the Nuggets and the best of George Karl, it has to be this season.
Verdict: Correct, the embarrassing sweep at the hand of the Lakers in 2008 shook the players and forced them to deal with how far away they were from contending. That led them to push themselves to great things last season.
Prediction: The [Western Conference] number eight seed will make the playoffs with 44 to 46 wins next season.
Verdict: Incorrect, Utah was the eighth seed with 48 wins.
Prediction: The lower class [of the Western Conference] will be better. Oklahoma City, Minnesota and Sacramento will fall into the categories of improved to much improved. The Clippers may have lost Elton Brand, but they played most of last season without him anyway and the additions of Baron Davis and Marcus Camby (although I have a difficult time buying them as a playoff contender) will clearly make them more competitive.
Verdict: Incorrect, all three combined to win only one more game than the Lakers, 66 to 65. However, the Wolves were 10-4 in January only to have Al Jefferson suffered a season ending injury in early February and the Thunder were a very improved team going 18-27 from January 10 through the end of the season. The Clippers were simply abysmal, but at least I did not pick them to make the playoffs like many others did.
Prediction: Out of the teams that finished outside the playoffs looking in last season the only team that I believe needs to be taken seriously is Portland.
Verdict: Correct, Portland was the only non playoff team from 2007-08 to win more than 30 games in the west.
Prediction: Some believe Golden State can compete for a playoff spot, but I do not see it.
Verdict: Correct, Golden State finished 19 games out of the playoffs. I need to keep making predictions against nebulous conglomerates such as “some.”
Prediction: I believe the Nuggets and Blazers will make the postseason.
Verdict: Correct, both did.
Prediction: This season is the year that they [Denver] will be better off having a representative in Secaucus, NJ instead of having their representatives massacred at the hands of the Lakers or Hornets in the first round.
Verdict: Wildly incorrect, but had they not made the Billups trade, I think that prediction would have been the truth. I was wrong about the Hornets too.
Prediction: If you are looking for a team to fall apart this season how about the Clippers? They have a point guard who is famous for his horrid shot selection paired with a control freak head coach. They lost their best player in what might have been a far more incompetent negotiating process by the front office than anything the Nuggets have been guilty of and God’s Gift to Defense Marcus Camby is not going to play a single game in the preseason due to a heel injury. Oh yea, and do not forget that Chris Kaman is coming off of a season where he played only 56 games plus he put some extra wear and tear on his body by playing for Germany in the Olympics.
Verdict: Correct, they were without a doubt the biggest disappointment in the West other than perhaps the Suns. By the way, that was in response to ESPN.com’s NBA writers naming the Nuggets the most likely team to self combust.
Prediction: [After game 23] they [the Nuggets] face three straight back to back sets against some very good teams which will tell us a lot about how good this team can really be.
Verdict: Incorrect, Denver was only 2-4 in those six games (at Dallas, at Houston, Cleveland, at Phoenix, Portland and at Portland), but the season turned out OK. Of course, I could go the other way and say they only went 2-4 and that showed us they were not going to be NBA champs.
Prediction: The Nuggets have already clinched a tie with the Mavs for the season series, but I believe they will certainly win at least one of the two games left to clinch the tiebreaker in case it should come into play.
Verdict: Correct, the Nuggets swept the Mavs in the regular season.
Prediction: 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 [02/20/09].
Verdict: Incorrect, in defense of my lack of faith, this was following a blowout loss against the Bulls and Tyson Chandler was healthy and looking strong and Manu Ginobili had not yet been injured.
Prediction: 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.
Verdict: Incorrect, Boston beat the Nuggets, but I actually found it in my heart to forgive them, but I am not going to count it one against myself.
Prediction: With the talent on this team and with the schedule providing them with a plethora of winnable games I feel very good guaranteeing that the Nuggets will make the playoffs [03/10/09].
Prediction: With the stink bomb the Nuggets dropped on us the past couple of weeks they have almost completely destroyed any chance of earning home court advantage in the playoffs. I have a difficult time envisioning a scenario where they catch the Spurs, Jazz or Hornets. Plus with the loss last night they have lost the season series to the Rockets making it even more difficult to surpass them in the standings. In order to earn home court advantage the Nuggets would have to overtake two of those four teams. At this point almost any best case scenario we can construct leaves the Nuggets playing either the Spurs, Jazz or Hornets in the first round. Because of that I am afraid there is little hope of Denver reaching the second round [also 03/10/09].
Verdict: Absolutely 100% incorrect. Out of all the incorrect predictions I made, this is the one that bugs me the most. I wrote it following the Nuggets two point home loss to the Rockets that was their fifth loss in six games. Of course they went on to win 13 of 14 to push themselves into second in the conference. I hate that I wrote it, but thank God I did because it clearly turned the Nuggets season around. Honestly, I try my best to not get caught up in the emotion of a season, but I also have to write what I believe. If I end up with egg on my face, well, when life gives you eggs, break them and drink them like Rocky (Balboa, not the mountain lion or the squirrel).
Prediction: The Nuggets will beat the Hornets in seven games because Chris Paul will not lose game 6 at home.
Verdict: Incorrect, although I still do not think Paul would have let the series end in New Orleans.
Prediction: Should the Nuggets win [Game 4 versus New Orleans], I think they win game five to close out the series.
Prediction: Logic tells me tonight [Game 5 versus New Orleans] will be nothing short of a formality.
Verdict: Correct, Denver rolled over the Hornets by 19.
Prediction: David West will not make another All-Star team.
Verdict: It may be presumptuous of me, but I am going to call this one correct.
Prediction: The Denver Nuggets will beat the Dallas Mavericks in six games.
Verdict: Incorrect, the Nuggets won in five, but they did win.
Prediction: I expect the Nuggets to close this series out [versus Dallas] just as they did against New Orleans and six hours from now we will be celebrating the Nuggets’ first appearance in the conference finals since 1985.
Verdict: Correct, the Nuggets did indeed close out the Mavs in five games, although it was a little closer than game 5 against the Hornets.
Prediction: My official prediction is the Lakers in seven games.
Verdict: Incorrect, partly due to the Nuggets late game ineptness the Lakers won in six.
Prediction: I do believe the Nuggets will win [game 2 versus the Lakers].
Verdict: Correct, despite literally throwing game one away, Denver won game two.
Prediction: As you would expect I think the Nuggets will win [game 6 versus the Lakers] tonight.
Verdict: Um…really incorrect. The Lakers rolled the Nuggets in game 6 at the Pepsi Center.
The final tally for the first section of projections is 12 out of 23 were correct, good for a rate of 52.2%. Not bad, but not great either. Part two coming tomorrow.
I want to know what George Karl expected to happen. I have written more than once as the season has wound down that desperation counts for a lot in the NBA. With the Denver Nuggets knowing they had already wrapped up the second seed in the Western Conference and the Portland Trail Blazers knowing they had to win in order to have home court advantage in their first round series with the Rockets it was pretty obvious which team was desperate and which team was not.
Sure it would have been nice to have shocked the Blazers in their own house, but that was not going to happen. Karl should have benched Melo, Chauncey, Nene and only let Kenyon play the first seven or eight minutes since he is still trying to get back in a groove after returning from his rib injury.
Apart from the exposing the Nuggets key players to additional injury risk Karl might have damaged their psyche. I suspect the Nuggets will be able to simply shake the muck and mire off and move on with renewed focus to take on the New Orleans Hornets in the first round of the playoffs, but instead of rolling into the playoffs with confidence they will have a game where nothing went right for them fresh in their minds.
The Nuggets definitely played hard, but the focus was not there and I find that to be completely understandable. The Blazers on the other hand were one fired up unit. The end was written before the game even started.
As far as the play on the court I loved the way Melo attacked the rim time after time. Even though he was not finishing and certainly did not get any calls I was very encouraged by his aggressive play. I thought Nene played hard around the rim and did not show any of the hesitancy he has displayed recently against other large centers. Birdman was his typical energetic self and recorded his typical three blocks in 20 minutes.
I am not going to waste any more time on that monstrosity. The playoffs are here.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 89.3 – Definitely Portland’s pace.
Defensive Efficiency: 116.5 – Not quite as bad as it seemed with the Blazers raining threes down on Denver’s defenseless noggins.
Offensive Efficiency: 85.1 – That number even seems a little high. Portland played very stout defense for most of the night.
The Nuggets may be facing some interesting choices tonight. By the time their game in Portland tips off the Houston/Dallas contest will most likely have reached its conclusion. If the Rockets have won, then it is game on. The Nuggets will go all out to pull out a win. However, should the Mavs win then the Nuggets will already have clinched the second seed in the conference.
At that point there would only be one thing on the line. The single season win record. (The Nuggets actually had back to back 60 win seasons in the final two years of the ABA, but this is the NBA and that ABA crap doesn’t count.) The question then becomes is going after a fifty-fifth win worth putting your players in harm’s way?
My answer is no. Cleveland came up with the same answer. With the opportunity to tie the 1986 Boston Celtics for best home record in NBA history, 40-1, they have announced LeBron James, Mo Williams and Zydrunas Ilgauskas will all be watching from the cushy chairs tonight.
The postseason is what matters and landmarks like setting the NBA franchise record for wins in a season are only post script to what will hopefully be bigger and better things. When looking back at this season the first thing that will come to mind is how far they managed to go in the post season. If a fifty-fifth win is a part of it, it will merely be a statistical side note.
The flip side of that coin is if Houston wins and the Spurs lose in a game that also should be completed before tonight’s tip off the Blazers will be locked into the fourth seed and Denver will be the team who needs a win.
Looking at the game itself, there are two teams in the NBA who have won nine of their previous ten games and they are the Nuggets and Blazers. The Nuggets have actually won 14 of 16 and Portland is riding a five game home winning streak.
The Nuggets have actually done well in Portland as the last time they lost both games there was the 2001-02 season. Even in 2003-04 when they won 17 games they managed to win on the road against the Blazers once. Denver is 8-5 in Portland since 2003-04 and that includes their loss there earlier this season when Melo was nursing his fractured hand.
The Blazers have a difficult time matching up with Carmelo Anthony. Brandon Roy has had some success against him towards the end of games, but he has yet to cover him for the bulk of a game. Carmelo has scored at least 25 points in his last five appearances at Portland. Melo is one of only three visiting players to accomplish that feat since the Roe Garden opened in 1995. The others are Kobe Bryant (13 straight and counting) and Allen Iverson (seven straight).
Carmelo is not the only player who posts good numbers against Portland. Nene actually owns the highest career shooting percentage at the Rose Garden as he has made 72.7% of his attempts there.
On the flip side the Nuggets seem to do a pretty good job of corralling Brandon Roy. While Roy shoots 45% against Denver on the season, he only averages 16.3 points per game against the Nuggets. The only players who seem to consistently raise their game against Denver are LeMarcus LAdridge and Joel Przybilla.
If events leading up to the game dictate both teams need a win to climb where they want to be in the standings I think we will be in for a pretty spirited contest, but be prepared for a situation where one team or the other does not have much to play for.
I will be taking part in a TrueHoop liveblog documenting the important events of the final night of the season. I encourage you guys to check it out and I will post a link when I have one.
Take this with you: Desperation plays a huge role in the outcome of NBA games. How desperate will either of these teams be? Denver knows even with a loss they will at the very least be the third seed and will have home court in the first round. Portland could have home court wrapped up before the game starts as well.
Update: Follow the TrueHoop liveblog here!
The Denver Nuggets just completed a disastrous stretch where they actually lost five games in only nine days. I understand how physically demanding such a stretch is and how the Nuggets were short handed playing without Kenyon Martin in three of those games and Anthony Carter in four. Those are all just excuses. Denver has managed to play very well other times during this season while playing six games in nine days. What matters is at a time in the year where other teams are raising their level of play (Utah, New Orleans, Portland and San Antonio all come to mind) Denver is playing as poorly as they have all season.
I have two reactions to tonight’s loss against the Houston Rockets. First, I would argue while many fans are waiving the white flag the season is not over. The Nuggets have now completed one of the most difficult portions of their schedule and while they are floundering they have a great opportunity to collect themselves and go on an immediate five game winning streak. Their next five games are comprised of contests against the Thunder, Clippers and Nets at home, a road game against the Grizzlies and then they return to Denver to play the Wizards. A five game winning streak will put them right back at 20 games over .500 where they were when this debacle first began in Chicago. If they can rebuild some confidence and recapture the efficiency on both ends of the floor which made them such a strong team the first three and a half months of the season 52 or 53 wins is still well within reach. With the talent on this team and with the schedule providing them with a plethora of winnable games I feel very good guaranteeing that the Nuggets will make the playoffs.
While the season is not over my second reaction following the loss to the Rockets is, well, the season is over. With the stink bomb the Nuggets dropped on us the past couple of weeks they have almost completely destroyed any chance of earning home court advantage in the playoffs. I have a difficult time envisioning a scenario where they catch the Spurs, Jazz or Hornets. Plus with the loss last night they have lost the season series to the Rockets making it even more difficult to surpass them in the standings. In order to earn home court advantage the Nuggets would have to overtake two of those four teams. At this point almost any best case scenario we can construct leaves the Nuggets playing either the Spurs, Jazz or Hornets in the first round. Because of that I am afraid there is little hope of Denver reaching the second round. (The one caveat I will add is if the Trail Blazers manage to crash the party and earn a top four seed and end up matched up against Denver in the first round. I would welcome that series no matter who has home court advantage. However, I do not see Portland finishing that highly in the standings as a likely outcome.)
What is most alarming is the Nuggets seem to be at a complete loss as to why they are losing games. After dropping last night’s contest to Houston Carmelo Anthony is quoted as saying, ”I can’t really pinpoint what’s going on.” If they want to figure out why they are losing all the Nuggets need to do is throw in some game film of their home win against the Jazz or of the second half in Philadelphia and then put in the tape from last night. The differences will be obvious and they all revolve around mental focus and the desire to do what is necessary to win. Do not get me wrong, Denver has played very hard in the fourth quarters of both the Kings and Rockets losses, but that is not enough. We are 65 games into the season and they do not seem to have figured that out.
You may be thinking to yourself that I am panicking and am way out of line. Let me say this. I do my best to stay on an even keel on this blog and remain consistent in my coverage of the team. I try to remove emotion from the equation and give thoughtful analysis. The season is long and it is not always easy to keep from getting too high when things are going well or too low during tough stretches such as this one. I sat on this post for at least 12 hours since writing it trying to decide whether or not I wanted to publish it. What it came down to is this is my honest assessment of the current situation and if it is what I truly believe, I would be cheating both myself and you all by not posting it. After all, I proclaimed last season that the Nuggets would lose in the first round again after the fifth game of the campaign. If I was confident that I was not jumping to conclusions at that point in the season I should fell alright arriving at the same determination in March this season. What the Nuggets have displayed for us since the All-Star break is all the proof I need to see.
Of course I have been wrong before and I hope I am wrong now. There is still over a fifth of the season remaining and things can change quickly. Look where Utah was fifteen games ago and where they are now. The same thing can happen for the Nuggets. As I have said over and over the schedule is still set up in their favor, but they have to step up and earn wins. Teams like Sacramento are not going to just roll over and thank Denver for blessing them with the honor of their presence. The opportunity to claim home court advantage and win the Northwest Division title is still there as long as the Nuggets take every second of every game seriously from here on out. I just wish I thought they had it in them.
Prove me wrong Denver, I beg you.