3-on-3: Nene’s impact + links

In our second installment of the 3-on-3 series we’ll be examining Nene’s impact on the future of the Nuggets organization now that he has re-signed. Tom Ley, author of our recent Fan Mail feature on J.R. Smith, is back again after being the quickest to respond on Twitter to our request for someone to participate in this week’s 3-on-3. If you want to participate next time be sure and follow all of us on Twitter! And as always, don’t be shy to participate by giving your personal responses to the following questions in the comments section below! (more…)

It’s over – Carmelo Anthony traded to the New York Knicks

Updated: Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post has broken the story. A trade involving the Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves has finally been completed.

It is a done deal in principle, with minor details to be worked out following a conference call with NBA offices tomorrow. Details are known, but minor parameters such as draft pick protections could be subject to change by then.

The Nuggets have traded Melo, Chauncey, Shelden Williams, Renaldo Balkman, and Anthony Carter to New York. They will receive Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, and Timofey Mozgoz in exchange plus draft picks. Of the included picks are New Yorks 2014 first rounder, which pending lottery protections could go to Houston in multiple scenarios, which means this pick could turn into the “first available” number one pick that New York can send out if not conveyed to Houston by 2014. Via New York, Denver also receives second round picks in 2012 and 2013 from the Golden State Warriors. The Nuggets also receive $3 million in cash considerations from the Knicks.

As part of the trade, the Knicks and Timberwolves exchange Eddy Curry and Anthony Randolph for Corey Brewer. Denver facilitates the transfer of Eddy Curry to Minnesota, allowing the Nuggets to shed some $17.7 million in salary. This is more than enough to bring them below the luxury tax threshold immediately.

The deal is done. Of note is the murky status of the 2014 first rounder Denver receives from New York, the details and protections of which will not be known until the trade is approved by league officials. Anthony Carter is also slated to be traded to the Knicks despite them having two point guards ahead of him – Chauncey Billups and Toney Douglas. Anthony Carter surrenders his bird rights due to being on a minimum one year salary and he can exercise veto power on any trade, similiar to Matt Geiger and Devean George in the past. If Carter indeed invokes his power to block a trade out of Denver, the deal will still be completed with minor changes. It’s likely Melvin Ely would be exchanged instead. For now, expect AC to go to New York.

It’s an incredibly sad ending to the second Chauncey Billups era in Denver. Thank you so much for your hard work, dedication, and loyalty Chauncey.

Reaction, analysis and more to come from your RMC staff as the dust settles. Share your thoughts and memories here.

Midseason Progress Report

Normally this would be where I lay out numbers analysis at the halfway point, look at the strengths and weaknesses of the team and performance relative to expectations for the season. Not that I mind doing that or don’t think it’s a virtuous exercise or anything, I just don’t see the point in getting too in depth about any of it. With Melo’s fate holding the team and the NBA in suspense the entire season, it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions about a team living on borrowed time, where any day could be its last.

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Turkey, Radio, More Rumors and Flowcharts

Between moments of daydreaming of sweet Carmelo Anthony trade packages and sleeping on my couch I found out there is some kind of World Basketball Championship contest going on.

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Summarizing the Mark Warkentien Era

The Denver Nuggets have been to the playoffs seven straight seasons and have posted three straight 50 win campaigns for the first time as an NBA franchise. Despite the consistency they have displayed on the court, the front office is once again in a state of flux.

The Nuggets announced today Mark Warkentien and Rex Chapman will not have their contracts renewed and thus will cease to be employed by the club at the end of August (Denver Post article, Tomasson article on FanHouse). This is no surprise as Warkentien has been granted permission to speak with other teams about their front office vacancies. Over the previous four seasons the Nuggets have had quite a few cooks around the fire. Warkentien, Chapman, Bret Bearup and George Karl have all had a say in personnel matters and do not forget Stan Kroenke ultimately determines what he is willing to spend which plays a considerable role in player personnel decisions.

Despite the crowded kitchen Warkentien was the head chef and he made a significant mark on the franchise.

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2009-10 Denver Nuggets Preview – TrueHoop Network Style

Every TrueHoop Network member site will be posting their season preview today so make sure you check out as many as humanly possible either via the the drop down menu up above or the blogroll along the right sidebar.

Last Year’s Record: 54-28

Crystal Ball
The consensus prediction of the TrueHoop Network bloggers … and the best hopes of Roundball Mining Company.

Crowd Says: 53-29
RMC Says: 58-24

Yes We Can!
The sun is out. The seas have parted. The basketball gods are shining upon us!

It is easy to be down on the Denver Nuggets’ chances heading into the 2009-10 season. Their response to this summer’s Western Conference arms race was to continue to slash their payroll.

Some of you may think the Nuggets were disappointed that Linas Kleiza will play in Greece next season, but I suspect the front office was sending Linas bro­chures from the Greek department of tourism. Then again maybe it was the fact they never offered him more than the $2.7 million qualifying offer. Whatever they did, the ploy worked, as Kleiza signed with Olympiacos and will not be on the Nuggets’ payroll this season.

The Nuggets also were thrilled for Dahntay Jones when he signed his four year, $11 million contract with the Pacers. I think Mark Warkentien showed up the next day and personally carried Dahntay’s piano into the moving truck.

It might be difficult to be impressed with a team whose primary goal is to save money, but the Denver Nuggets are becoming quite adept at bolstering the roster while cutting costs. Last season they rummaged through the bargain bin and came up with Chris “Birdzilla” Andersen and Dahntay Jones. This year they brought in more cheap talent in Aaron Afflalo and Joey Graham. They are both cheaper options and better fits than Jones and Kleiza were. Plus the addition of Ty Lawson to backup Chaunc­ey Billups will pay dividends as soon as George Karl chooses to give him the job over Anthony Carter.  Above and beyond the players currently on the roster and even though it appears the Nuggets have passed him over, until he signs with another team I continue to think that Wally Szczerbiak might find his way to Denver.

If the upgrade to the bench is not enough to sway you, here is an interesting little fact to keep in mind. The only players still on the roster who exceeded expecta­tions in 2008-09 were Nene and Birdman. It is reasonable to expect every mem­ber of the Nuggets, other than thirtysomething Chauncey Billups, to improve on their performance next season. Carmelo struggled with injuries, Nene was still feeling the effects of his chemo treatments in the fall of 2008, Birdman had not played regular minutes in over two years before last season and J.R. Smith is still learning how to exploit opposing defenses with his array of diverse talents.

For those who still doubt me, hear this. The number one reason why Denver will be better next season is they have learned how to win. The team made a commitment to play better defense heading into last season, but they were still a work in progress. They now have a year of playing a more balanced style of basketball under their belts and they experienced how far it can take them.

This Nugget team is hungry and ready to prove their Western Conference Finals appearance was not a fluke like Utah’s was in 2008. Common NBA knowledge dismissed the Nuggets prior to last season. Do so at your own peril this season.

No You Can’t
A rousing dissent from a rival blogger.

Fun fact: No team has ever won a championship while featuring a power forward with a woman’s lips tattooed on his neck. Yes, I’m looking at you, Kenyon Martin.

– Matt McHale, By the Horns

All-A-Twitter
A 140-character insight into the soul of the team.

Here are two tweets from @BirdmanAndersen:

Spent some of my signing bonus. Got a boat. If I was on drugs? A flamethrower. A purple one…with an Ipod dock.

Porn gets a bad rap. It’s essentially Discovery Channel for humans. I know I’VE learned stuff from it.

On the Record
Single best quote concerning the team during the last 12 months.

For me averaging 28 points or something like that against the Lakers in this series, that’s tough to do. I do not know if you wanted me to average 30 or 35, I really don’t know. I am thinking there is nothing else that I can do.

– Carmelo Anthony following the Nuggets’ Game 6 defeat to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals

The 2008-09 Almanac
Some key stats from last season.

Offense: 7th
Defense: 8th
Pace: 6th

Team Factor Strength(s): Free Throws (1st), Shooting Allowed (5th)
Team Factor Weakness(es): Turnovers (25th), Free Throws Allowed (25th), De­fensive Rebounding (23rd)

The Play
Down a single point with 9.2 seconds to play in a must-win game. What’s the play?

Even with players like Mr. Big Shot Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith, who can make any shot at any time, you give the ball to Carmelo Anthony and clear out. I might even run seven more seconds off the clock and call a timeout just to increase the level of difficulty. Carmelo has developed a well-earned reputation in the NBA as a Defiler of Dreams. He broke hearts in Oklahoma City twice last season and I am sure you all remember the 3-pointer in the playoffs to beat Dal­las in Game 3 of the conference semifinals. Having Melo means you never have to run a play, just get the ball inbounds.

The People’s Choice
The fan favorite the crowd will be chanting for to see some action.

Karl has said he does not trust Renaldo Balkman because he cannot hit a jumper — although Karl does not seem to mind playing Kenyon Martin. The truth is Balkman brings energy and makes plays that do not show up in the box score. He helps Denver win games and fans cannot get enough of him.

If You’re Watching the Bottom Line, You’re Watching This
The single biggest spreadsheet issue hanging over the team.

The Denver Nuggets have done a great job of cutting payroll while still improv­ing the team the past two seasons. The real trouble is going to come in 2010-11 when the Nuggets’ current starting five will make about $65 million. As John Hollinger has pointed out, those five players may put Denver over the luxury tax line by themselves with at least eight more players to pay. There could be a fire sale in Denver next summer.

Denver Nuggets Wake Up in Beijing

After watching the Indiana Pacers roll over the Denver Nuggets in Taipei, I said I had some growing concerns about the mental state of this team. After one quarter against the Pacers in Beijing, I was not feeling any better. The Nuggets gave up their fourth 30 point quarter in 60 minutes against the Pacers and were down 33-29. The defense was not quite as porous as it had been in the first contest against the Pacers, but it was still lacking.

The frustration multiplied as the Pacers pushed their lead up to double digits a few minutes into the second quarter. The Nuggets finally found a spark with the group of Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, Renaldo Balkman and Nene. The intensity on both ends of the floor increased with that group on the floor and the Nuggets surged from down 11 to up one at halftime and beat the Pacers by 16, 128-112.

The Pacers still managed to score quite a few points, but Denver looked much better and it appeared that when faced with the prospect of falling to 0-3 against NBA competition in the preseason, they decided enough was enough.

The real story of the game however, was Carmelo. He triggered the Nuggets second quarter run with some incredible offense and very good defensive rebounding. Offensively, Carmelo posted a performance that nearly rivaled his 33 point third quarter last season. Melo used a combination of pull up jumpers and piercing drives to the rim to accumulate a spectacular 45 points. The efficiency with which he scored was staggering. He produced his 45 points on only 19 shot attempts and in a mere 24 minutes of floor time. Unlike in the first game the Pacers started doubling Melo on the block, but just like shooting Mongo in Blazing Saddles, it only made him angry. Melo responded by scoring over the double team and he also made a couple of nice passes that resulted in either layups or free throws.

We all know Melo can score as well as anyone when he has it going and as much fun as I had watching hi score, I was equally as thrilled to see Melo make a significant impact on the game on the defensive end too. Carmelo was very intense on defense and the proof came with his eight defensive rebounds. He worked hard to box out and even bodied up Roy Hibbert after a switch and ended up corralling the missed shot. The most spectacular play Melo made came early in the third quarter when he deflected a running layup attempt by Dahntay Jones complete with a, “Get that (expletive deleted) out of here!” Melo also helped off his man and blocked a shot by Troy Murphy at the rim a couple of minutes later.

If Carmelo can play with the level of intensity on offense and defense he displayed in Beijing, there would be a lot of nights where he would only need to play 24 minutes as the Nuggets cruise to victory.

Other promising signs that the Nuggets awoke in this game was that they rebounded as a team. After getting outrebounded 52-40 in the first matchup, Denver won the battle on the boards 50-45. Chris Andersen and Melo tied with a team high nine boards and Arron Afflalo added seven of his own. The one area that they could still improve in though is the guards do need to do a better job of getting to the free throw line when a shot goes up as the Pacers were able to nab a few long rebounds that would have gone to Denver had a guard moved to the free throw line.

Denver also finally appeared to tire of seeing Hibbert dominate the paint. Nene led the effort to slow the second year big man by playing him physically in the second quarter and Denver did a good job of keeping him out of the lane and off the glass.

This was the first time I saw Ty Lawson against legitimate NBA competition and I was pleased with his play. He did make a couple of poor decisions, but did a good job of taking care of the ball, setting up teammates and getting in the lane. His defense is solid, especially for a rookie, as he does a good job of keeping track of his man away from the ball and, that is half the battle.

Afflalo is not great at creating his own shot, but he did drive with his left along the baseline twice and finished one of those drives with a nice lay in on the opposite side of the rim. He also showed some defensive chemistry with Renaldo Balkman as they applied some full court pressure on a couple of occasions that caused the Pacers some problems.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Melo’s offensive performance was to see him completely abuse Dahntay Jones. Jones fouled out in only 23 minutes thanks to his inability to cover Anthony. Seeing as how the Pacers will probably not play the Hornets in the playoffs, I am not sure they are going to get their money’s worth out of Dahntay.

Joey Graham would appear to be leading the competition for the thirteenth roster spot with James White as White only played three minutes in the two games against Indiana. Graham has been solid, but unspectacular. I have voiced my support for White as he adds more of a three point threat and has far greater upside than Graham. I value upside in players that fill out the end of the bench.

Denver now gets a week off to return from China and get over their jet lag before they head off to Portland for their next preseason game.

Denver Nuggets Drop a Stink Bomb on Taipei

There were two things I could not wait to end tonight. One was the 31-6 beating my less than stellar coed softball team endured and the second was the replay of the Denver Nuggets third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers.

After watching the Nuggets’ 22 point loss I am reconsidering my stance on demanding all of their preseason games available for consumption.

Denver dumped one of the most disjointed (or would it be least jointed) efforts I have seen from this team in a long time. Aside from some early offense from Carmelo Anthony they were basically run off the floor by the Pacers.

Offensively the Nuggets looked like they did two seasons ago. A lot of one on one play complete with wild forays into the lane with a healthy dose of take the first open jumper you see. There was not much passing, very little movement and no discernable purpose to anything the Nuggets did.

As insipid as the offense was, the defense was worse. The Pacers killed the Nuggets on open threes and open layups. The rotations were nonexistent on the perimeter, no help came on drives and the Pacers were regularly able to get open looks in transition. In the second half George Karl tried to invigorate his players by having them trap on the pick and roll, but it only served to further expose their lack of help and defensive rotations.

In all honestly, it is difficult to come up with anything positive from that game.

To make things worse the two players I was most looking forward to seeing, James White and Ty Lawson, did not see one minute of playing time. The Nuggets also held Nene out of action.

Individually Carmelo had some nice moments on the block as the Pacers chose not to double him in the post and he tallied 17 points, but it took him 15 shots to do so and he was credited with five turnovers. J.R. was second on the team in scoring with 16 points, but it took him 16 shots to get there. On one hand I liked J.R.’s aggressiveness as he drove into the lane repeatedly and tried to attack the basket. On the other hand, he was driving to score too often and the result was a hoard of misses and blocked shots. He only dished off a couple of times that I remember and as a result the Pacers knew they could collapse on him and force a miss.

Joey Graham was one of the few Nuggets with an efficient offensive night. He showed he is capable of dropping in mid-range jumpers and if he is on the court with players like J.R., Chauncey and Nene he should get plenty of open looks. Other than that Graham is not very adept at creating his own shot and he does not provide much assistance other than his scoring, which is dependent on being set up by other players. Still, he does not force shots and is a smart player. If the Nuggets keep 14 players, he is a lock to stay with the team and due to the fact both he and James White have non-guaranteed deals, it is possible the Nuggets keep both of them for the first month or two of the season until their contracts become fully guaranteed.

Kenyon Martin displayed what was advertised as a new and improved jumper. His stroke is still far from textbook, but he certainly seems to have moved his left hand further back on the ball and as a result his release is not dependent on the same awkward twisting motion by his left hand and wrist that has plagued it in the past. The good news is he should make a few more jumpers than he did last season. The bad news is that may motivate him to take even more of those types of shots.

In the box score Anthony Carter was only assigned two of the Nuggets 21 turnovers, but it sure seemed like he was responsible for at least four. If it were not for a couple of nice plays in the fourth quarter, a clean pick and lay up going back the other way and a drive and kick out to J.R, for a three, his night would have been a complete disaster.

If one player was a bright spot for Denver it was Renaldo Balkman. He just makes things happen. Although he only shot 1-4 he was very active garnering two steals and collecting five boards, which is another stat along with AC’s turnovers that I have to question the veracity of. It appeared Balkman had that many boards in the first half alone. ‘Naldo was the only Nugget to depart the game with a positive plus/minus with a +3.

Malik Allen continues to move well, but he is so limited on offense. He did squeak in a follow dunk that barely slid over the rim, other than that he too is dependent on teammates to set him up with an open look in order to score.

Arron Afflalo forced his offense a couple of times with poor results. He too needs to work on spacing the floor and only attacking the basket when he can exploit a crack in the defense.

Chris Andersen was fine, but clearly struggled with the size of Roy Hibbert who had a dominant showing.

The only other things worth noting are Karl seemed pretty disinterested in the proceedings as well. I would have hoped that regardless of whether it was a preseason game or not that he would get on the Nuggets for playing with such a lack of focus and purpose.

It is easy to dismiss the Pacers’ hot shooting as just one of those nights as Troy Murphy was 4-8, Brandon Rush was 6-12 and A.J. Price was 4-6. I could buy into that if almost every single one of those makes was off a wide open attempt. If you are rotating and closing out shooters and they do that, I am not going to get too upset, but when known shooters like Murphy are consistently left alone I am not going to be very sympathetic.

I get a kick out of watching games where the announcers are not at the arena, but they are clearly not supposed to admit it. The team of Scott Hastings and Chris Marlowe did a good job although there were a few too many comments along the lines of, “Another three by the Pacers” instead of “A.J. Price hits another three for the Pacers.” At one point Hastings slipped up and commented on how the Nuggets were “there” instead of “here” which of course I found wildly entertaining.

The replacement referees did a very respectable job. There were not nearly as many fouls called as there have been in other games and at no point did I think they were having a negative impact on the proceedings. There were no calls where I had to wonder how they missed it. If anything, there were a couple of occasions where the whistle came a second or two late as they reacted more to the aftermath of a play instead of officiating the initial contact. All in all, they were not a story and that is what you want.

In conclusion I want to thank Mike Dunleavy, Jr. for wearing a hideous yellow jacket at the end of the bench. The combination of where he was sitting and the angle of the camera put the yellow monstrosity directly in line with the net on that side of the floor. It took me a little bit to figure out why the net had a pea green hue to it, then once I realized it was Dunleavy’s attire it was difficult to ignore.

I realize it was just a preseason game, but there are little bits of evidence here and there that are causing me to be concerned about the mental state of this team. We can delve into that as the preseason rolls along, but for now it bears watching. With the difficult opening schedule the Nuggets face and with J.R. suspended the first seven games Denver is not going to simply flip the switch once the games start counting. We need to see something from this team soon.

The Nuggets will play the Pacers one more time, this time in Beijing, on Saturday and it will be broadcast on NBATV and Altitude at 10:00 PM Mountain time. It will give us a nice potentially divorce inducing double header with the Rockies and Nuggets.

Denver Nuggets PER Projections

John Hollinger might be the most decisive NBA analyst in the business. I assume most NBA fans either think he is a stat geek who does not actually know anything about basketball, or he is one of the most astute observers out there.

I fall under the latter camp. I think Hollinger really knows his stuff and is the only member of the national media who is really attuned to the Nuggets. Sometimes I think he is in my head as I read his commentary on Denver. It almost makes me wonder if he reads my posts although if he were to ever stumble upon RMC, I imagine he would think in some situations I was copying his work. The truth is he watches a lot of basketball with unbiased eyes and that is why he can draw the same conclusions as someone like me who attempts to do the same thing.

Despite his impressive anecdotal insights he is best known for his statistical analysis, which brings us to today. It is a day that is widely anticipated by many NBA fans as Professor Hollinger has released his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) projections for the upcoming season. If you do not know what PER is, here is an explanation. The short definition is PER is a statistical per minute measurement of a player’s effect on a game and the average performance is set at 15.00. Anything higher than 15.00 is solid and anything lower is suspect.

You can see the list from of projections from one through 333 or check out a summary of the Nuggets as a team.

Some quick observations are that Chauncey is slated to play at the same level this season as last season, 18.85, which is promising. Hollinger projects a slight bump up for Carmelo Anthony, although if you read his scouting report (insider subscription required) it sounds like he expects his computed projection to be low as he expects a big season from Melo.

The player who Hollinger expects to make the largest leap forward is J.R. Smith who is projected to climb from 16.84 in 2008-09 to 18.15. Hollinger’s system has always been kind to a player like Smith who can get his own shot whenever he wants (usage rate) and score in bunches. However, reading the details it is clear the Professor has a very good read on what J.R. is capable of, primarily his playmaking abilities that most members of the national media have yet to fully recognize.

It is not all sunshine, lollypops and rainbows for Denver. Arron Afflalo has a disappointing projected PER of 9.40. Also, remember how there are 333 player projections? Malik Allen is number 331 with a microscopic projected PER of 6.52.

However, more concerning than that is the play of the Nuggets three key big men is expected to drop off a bit as Chris Andersen, Nene and Kenyon Martin are slated for dips in their statistical production with Andersen slated for the most precipitous drop from 18.16 to 16.58.

Most fans look at these projections and complain that their favorite player or players are not ranked higher. Keep in mind this is all automated based on almost every imaginable statistic and a detailed comparison of similar players performances at similar ages. Because it is stats based I will point out for players like Carmelo (who by the way is ranked 21 overall), Birdman and Nene is that all three are dealing with either an injury related drop last year, Melo, or very poor supporting statistics from previous seasons (Birdman and Nene) that all work to pull down the current statistical projection. This does not mean Birdman and Nene are not capable of playing up to the level they established last season.

Most of Hollinger’s player summaries are only available through ESPN Insider. I strongly recommend signing up for Insider so that you can access Hollinger’s data. It is amazingly thorough and intriguing to read. You also get a great deal more than just Hollinger’s work. Nevertheless, I understand not everyone can though so here are some of the more interesting quotes pertaining to the Nuggets.

Arron Afflalo (Projected PER 9.40): He’ll take over Dahntay Jones’ role as the top perimeter defender, and considering he costs less and is a far better shooter, he should be an upgrade for the Nuggets — provided that Afflalo sticks to his knitting as a shooting specialist and takes half his shots behind the arc.”

Malik Allen (6.52): Allen’s primary skill is his midrange jump shot, and he did that well enough by making 42.0 percent of his long 2s. Unfortunately, he was terrible at everything else.

Chris Andersen (16.58): “[Signing the new contract with Denver was the right move because] the support network he has in place was more important than the money. Even if he can’t replicate the ridiculous block rate of last season, it should be good deal for the Nuggets as well.

Carmelo Anthony (19.36): “While he hit a career-best 37.1 percent on 3-pointers and attempted more than ever, he had trouble when there was more company around. Anthony slumped to 48.2 percent on inside shots after hitting in the mid-50s the three previous seasons. From the right side of the floor, where he prefers to operate on isolations, he hit just 33.8 percent of his 2-pointers — the fifth-worst mark of any player with more than 100 attempts.”

“Anthony appears poised to have his best season. The improved 3-point stroke and strong finish last season both point in that direction as well, as do two other factors: He’s now 25 and should be hitting his prime, and he didn’t suit up for Team USA for the fourth straight summer.

Renaldo Balkman (15.83): Balkman attained a career-best 16.85 PER by playing with his usual boundless energy, ranking fifth among power forwards in offensive rebound rate and leading his position in steals per 40 minutes with 2.4. Only five players in the league had a better rate of steals, and none were frontcourt players.”

Chauncey Billups (18.85): Last season, Billups was once again the only member of the league’s “40-40″ club — 40 percent of his shots originated from beyond the 3-point line, but he still averaged more than 0.40 free-throw attempts per field goal attempt. Usually players who draw lots of fouls rarely shoot 3s and vice versa, but Billups is the exception: He was the only non-center in the league to finish in the top dozen at his position in both categories.

Anthony Carter (9.61): Carter finished 67th out of 69 point guards in turnover rate, and it made him marginal, at best, as a role player. Surprisingly, he still played over 22 minutes a game, as he became something of a security blanket for George Karl. But combine a miniscule 9.2 points per 40 minutes with a penchant for costly miscues, it’s tough to see why.”

Joey Graham (11.21): No player comment, which may be a comment in and of itself.

Ty Lawson (-): “Concerns about Lawson’s size (6-0) undoubtedly hurt, as did some worries about his practice habits and a tendency to sprain his ankles. Nonetheless, he was the top-rated player in my Draft Rater – even edging out Blake Griffin – and the Nuggets absolutely stole him by nabbing him at No. 18 in a trade with Minnesota.

Kenyon Martin (13.36): “More than a third of his shots came outside the immediate basket area, and he was abysmal at them. Historically, he’s converted from these distances in the high 30s or low 40s, but last season he made only 32.1 percent, the worst percentage in the league of anyone with more than 200 attempts.”

Nene (17.89): Nene is still raw enough to envision him improving in coming years. That said, there were elements of last season’s performance that look a bit fluky, so we might expect some regression to the mean in his immediate future. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll shoot 60 percent from the floor again.”

Johan Petro (8.65): “He ranked 65th out of 67 centers in true shooting percentage and 66th in field goal percentage. For a 7-foot center to shoot 41.9 percent and 41.5 percent in consecutive seasons is remarkably awful, and a troubling sign that his offensive development has not only ground to a halt but actually been thrown into reverse.

J.R. Smith (18.15): “Smith lobbed nearly half his shots from behind the 3-point line and made 39.7 percent — many of them from well beyond the arc — but still finished in the top third of shooting guards in free-throw rate. Unfortunately, his concentration lapses at the stripe hurt him. He made only 75.1 percent of his free throws, good for 51st among shooting guards, and that’s inexcusable given how well he strokes it from outside.”

James White (-): He’s a spectacular finisher on the break and he’s slowly but surely figured out how to use his athleticism at the offensive end. He turns 27 in October, so it’s taken a while, but he’s an NBA-caliber athlete and, at 6-7 with a decent jump shot, a prototypical small forward.

Denver Nuggets Drop Preseason Opener to Utah Jazz

The Denver Nuggets dropped their preseason opener to the Utah Jazz 103-87 (box score).

The number one thing I have to say about this game is why on earth could I not watch or listen to it? I can watch every Denver Broncos preseason game, but there is not even a radio feed of a game being played in an NBA arena. Stan Kroenke owns his own television network. I realize the Colorado Avalanche are playing and Altitude showed the Joe Sakic retirement ceremony, and rightfully so, but do you know what was on Altitude after the Sakic ceremony? The Miss Colorado pageant.

I am not asking Altitude to not show the Sakic ceremony or bypass an Avalanche game (which by the way was on Vs. not Altitude) for a Nuggets preseason game. I realize that football games are fewer and more precious, but I can watch a bunch of Colorado Rockies spring training games too. The NFL and MLB do not act like their preseason games are meaningless, why does the NBA?

I realize we get some nationally televised games as the regular season draws closer, but why does the NBA act like these games are truly meaningless? Give us some preseason coverage. I am not saying it has to be a live full production. I would be happy, nay, thrilled with a tape delayed telecast set up the 2008 Summer League with one camera and no announcers.

We need to see these games. I want to see the battle between Joey Graham and James White for what could be the final roster spot. I want to see how Johan Petro does against Kyrylo Fesenko. I want to see if the Nuggets starters were as bad as the stats make it look. I want to see how Arron Afflalo does…at both ends of the floor. I want to see how Chauncey looks one year older against an elite point guard. I want to see if Carmelo has worked on his left hand.

Having a preseason game at an NBA arena completely unavailable for consumption by anyone other than those in the stands is ridiculous.

All we have to look at from this game is the box score. I hate analyzing box scores, but that is all we have to go off of unless you want to draw conclusions from this generic AP story.

Looking at the box score the Nuggets starters were outscored by the Jazz. Were they that badly outplayed? Melo attempted three three pointers, maybe one was at the buzzer. Chauncey had four turnovers, was he picked clean or did he make a pass to a teammate who cut right as Chauncey threw him the pass? Did C.J. Miles light up Arron Afflalo? I have no idea, I did not get to see the game.

Looking at who played and who did not, Kenyon Martin was out resting a thigh bruise. J.R. Smith was not with the team and I have no idea why. (Update:  Chris Tomasson has reported J.R.’s absence was cleared in advance.) Ty Lawson played more than half as many minutes as Anthony Carter. James White played almost four times as many minutes as Joey Graham.

Looking at the actual stats, Renaldo Balkman, who George Karl has said may get to play some small forward, which in my opinion is his natural position, had an impressive line scoring ten points, 11 rebounds and compiling four assists. White was only credited with two shots, both threes of which he made one, but he took 14 free throws. I think one assumption we can safely draw from these numbers is that White was attacking the rim and running the floor. I seriously doubt he made it to the line that frequently by shooting jumpers.

Chauncey shot well, but as mentioned above turned the ball over four times and had a team worst -20.

Nene, who struggled with foul trouble last season, was whistled for five fouls in his 16:45 of playing time.

Carmelo was 4-8 on two point shots and attempted six free throws in his 20:27, but he shot and missed three threes.

Afflalo hit his only three point attempt and had the best plus/minus amongst starters with a -4, but he fouled out in just over 22 minutes.

The last point I will make is this was the first of what could possibly be many games officiated by replacement referees and there were 69 fouls called and 88 free throws attempted in the game. The average number of free throws attempted during the 2008-09 regular season in games the Nuggets played in was 57.5 and the season high was 86. Draw your own conclusions from those numbers.

By the way, did anyone see who won Miss Colorado? It was on Altitude.

Update: NBA.com has video highlights.  There were cameras there.  Is it too much to ask that someone send the tape to Altitude and they put it on TV?  It does not even have to be next day air, just toss it in the mail so Altitude can air it.  I will even offer to pay the postage.

Denver Nuggets – Real Training Camp

The Denver Nuggets are a staple on the annual series Real Training Camp on NBATV and they already made their appearance for 2009 today.

I love watching the footage, but before I get into what I saw I have to lambaste NBATV for the production. Nuggets fans get to watch a practice once a year. What we do not want to watch during the two hours of televised practice is two guys talking into the camera when there is a five on five drill going on directly behind them. We do not need to see shots of a player leaning against a wall while the team is working on defense. We do need to see as much actual footage of what is going on as possible.

Every year I get excited for real training camp and every year I am left to stew as I miss action on the court that I desperately want to be viewing. Please NBATV, quit broadcasting from a practice without showing us the practice. I promise I will still listen to what Rick Kamela and Bill Hanzlik are saying even if you show the action on the floor.

OK, I got that off my chest, now on to the actual practice. We can finally stop speculating and provide some commentary on real life footage of the Nuggets on the court.

  • For the third or fourth straight year we heard George Karl give his speech about not holding the ball. This time he added in that there are a couple of guys who he allows to hold the ball, but singled out Renaldo Balkman and new guys Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo and Joey Graham as players who he does not want to see catch the ball and hold it.
  • Afflalo looked good. He ran out and scored fast break baskets on a couple of occasions and displayed his baseline jumper that he has become very adept at. He looks like he has added a little bulk as well.
  • J.R. Smith is traditionally a slow starter, and in past Real Training Camps he has not had good shooting performances. Today he was on fire. In fact, I do not remember seeing him miss a shot. J.R. will be out the first seven games of the season, but hopefully when he comes back for game eight he will be shooting like he did today.
  • Ty Lawson looks very good. He is always very comfortable playing basketball and the fact that he is in his first training camp in the NBA did not faze him whatsoever. The best exchange involving Lawson was during some half court offensive work Lawson caught a swing pass and nailed a three from the left wing. George Karl immediately told the “Rook” that when he has a wide open lane to the rim to pass on the three and go “make a basketball play.” Lawson took the advice in stride, but we will see what the undersized guard who had a problem with getting his shot blocked in summer league does in similar situations during games. I am guessing that the open three looks pretty good to a six foot guard.
  • There remain some disturbing fashion trends on the Nuggets practice court as Carmelo Anthony still likes the dumbo look with the pocket linings hanging out of the pockets of his pants and Kenyon is still partial to the southern girl washing her car look with his practice jersey cinched tight around his chest.
  • I was impressed with how well Malik Allen was moving, but he once again displayed his lack of a post game as he shot turnaround jumpers over guards on two separate occasions on the block and was unable to back Melo down on another.
  • There was little to see in the battle between James White and Joey Graham. White nailed an open three off a kick out pass and Graham scored on a breakaway dunk. I will have to go back and watch the drills closer, but neither player really stood out. Graham did play a couple of uneventful minutes at power forward during one full court drill. He probably has the strength to play in the paint, but does not have the length to pull it off for prolonged stretches.
  • Keith Brumbaugh was mostly a spectator during the five on five full court work. He did make a tough running floater in the half court drills, but during the full court segment only managed to stand out for taking a bad shot on the baseline and for a couple of awkward moments dribbling the ball. He is definitely long and did spend his time playing small forward.
  • The most disturbing scene of the practice was the Nuggets working on switching screens. A lot. Melo, who was wearing a wire, said that he was going to switch every screen no matter who it was he was switching with. Those of you who are longtime readers know of my disdain of switching screens and I was hoping to see more hedging and trapping on pick and rolls.
  • The players were working hard, but there was a lot of levity on display. I saw more smiles today than when I saw Observe and Report. This team is clearly comfortable and confident, but we will not know how mentally prepared they are to meet the challenges of the season until the regular season tips off.
  • I am hopeful that Chris Andersen has improved his jumper to the point where I am comfortable with him taking it when left open. I only saw one jumper from Birdman and the result was not one that inspired confidence.
  • Kenyon did not appear to be any better at shooting 20 footers either.

Look for some intriguing video from the practice to show up here sometime over the next couple of days.

Mid September Hodge Podge

It has been a while since I have posted anything and I apologize. I guess the good news is I really have not missed anything. Still, there has not been a word on this blog about J.R. Smith slated to miss the first seven games of the season, former Nugget Allen Iverson signing with the Memphis Grizzlies, the potential referee lockout, heck, I never even finished my player by player recap of the 2008-09 season.

I have made it through another hectic week of work, pieced together two potentially dominant fantasy football teams and I finally have some time to discuss the Nuggets.

Where’s Wally?

Nuggets fans received some good news yesterday as it was announced Desmond Mason had agreed to sign with the Sacramento Kings (read about it at Cowbell Kingdom). The bad news for Nuggets fans is that it reduces their leverage with Wally Szczerbiak.

However, there are still several names on the list as the Nuggets have been linked with Rashard McCants, Flip Murray and now Keith Bogans, but I still think Wally is the guy who will end up in powder blue next season. With Chanucey Billups, J.R. Smith, Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo and Anthony Carter I do not see how McCants or Murray help this team. Chris Tomasson has an excellent article on Fanhouse outlining how J.R. Smith’s suspension (discussed below) is playing a role in who the Nuggets bring in to fill the 13th roster spot.

If the front office signs a player simply because the Nuggets will be short handed for the first seven games of the season, I think it is an overreaction. However, Tomasson reports that Denver offered Murray a minimum deal already. Murray is a nice player and I have no problem with Bogans either. Murray can score and Bogans is a very good defender, but what do you do with them once J.R. returns? Over the long haul Denver will be better off with a player like Szczerbiak who can really help for all 82 games than someone who will only provide a significant boost for seven.

Getting back to Wally, should Szczerbiak end up in Denver both he and the Nuggets are playing things cool. With the Nuggets’ commitment to saving every possible penny they are not about to toss Wally, or anyone else, a salary figure higher than they are willing to pay just to seal the deal. The Nuggets remain the best match for playing time and competitiveness. The only team who could I could see offering anything better than Denver would be the Lakers who have a couple of open roster spots and might not be planning on giving their spare minutes at small forward to Adam Morrison, plus it was announced today they will bring in.

I do believe Wally would be a very good fit in Denver, but if he ends up signing elsewhere, it is not the end of the world. It would actually clear up some playing time at small forward for Renaldo Balkman. I believe Balkman is at his best playing small forward as he struggles to defend many power forwards due to his slight stature.

Denver can also go small with J.R. or Afflalo sliding over to the three. Backing up Carmelo Anthony only assures you about 12 or 13 minutes of floor time anyway.

If the Nuggets sign Murray and Szczerbiak then I will be ecstatic, but they are serious about minimizing their tax payment and carrying more than 13 guaranteed contracts into the season is unlikely.

Training camp starts in less than a week and Denver has to sign someone. This cannot drag out much longer. Denver has options and the race may come down to which player will agree to play in Denver for the minimum.

The Least Popular Number 7 in Denver

For the third season in a row the Nuggets will be short a player to start the season due to suspension. J.R. will miss the first seven games of the 2009-10 season because of the reckless driving incident that resulted in the death of his friend and passenger Andre Bell. Smith was suspended by the Nuggets for three games to start the 2007-08 season because of the accident and last season Carmelo Anthony missed the first two games as punishment for his drunk driving arrest near the end of the 2007-08 season.

My initial reaction when I heard J.R. had been suspended for seven games was that it was far too severe. With the Nuggets likely locked in a tight battle for playoff position again those seven games could be very hurtful. Three of those seven games are back to back sets and the Nuggets will need all the fresh pairs of legs they can afford, even early in the season.

After reflecting on the situation I cannot argue that seven games is too severe. In fact, it is possible J.R. got off easy. I do not mean to keep dwelling on this, but a person lost his life because of J.R.’s actions. How can you say any amount of games is too steep a penalty?

I realize it is not the NBA’s job to punish J.R., after all he spent 24 days in jail isn’t that enough? On the other hand, who among us would still have a job, let alone a multimillion dollar paycheck waiting for us after incarceration?

Seven games is significant suspension, but is it excessive? I do not think so.

A Grizzly Outcome

I wrote a little last year about how interesting Allen Iverson’s free agency would be. I could not imagine him playing for a non contending team, but I could not imagine a contending team being interested in him.

Now he is a member of the Memphis Grizzlies.

What?

I think I am a pretty astute observer of the NBA, but the Grizzlies would not have been a team I would have pictured AI playing for and honestly with players like O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph all wanting the ball, especially Randolph he really wants the ball, I have a difficult time envisioning the partnership panning out.

Iverson signed a one year deal and I doubt AI expects to finish that deal in Memphis. I believe he plans on coming out and proving that what happened in Detroit was not his fault. It was the Pistons that made him look bad, not his declining abilities. If he can play at the level he expects he can, there should be playoff caliber teams banging down the Grizzlies’ door at the trade deadline to add a player that can give them a major boost at a low cost.

I never doubted Iverson’s ability to score, but we have all been waiting for the day when his body would betray his spirit. The Nuggets clearly decided that he had reached that point during training camp last year and what we saw from Iverson in Detroit certainly made Denver look prescient.

Now that his free agency has played out I think what happens from here will be more entertaining than the process that brought him to of all places Tennessee.

Check out the coverage of AI heading to Memphis over at 3 Shades of Blue.

What’s Black and White and Sweaty All Over?

I refereed a few intramural games in college. There were three leagues, A, B and C. I refereed C league games. As you probably figured out A was the top competitive league and C was the recreational league full of people who may or may not have played before. You would think that the C league would be pretty laid back and easy to ref. Some of the guys on my floor played on a team called “Wish There Was a D League.” I am pretty sure they never got on the refs.

On some nights you had teams like my floor mates who just wanted to run around and were happy to make fools of themselves, but on other nights the participants seemed to think they were battling it out for the Larry O’Brien trophy and as a result I took quite a bit of abuse. I remember being glared at days after a game when a guy from one of the games I worked passed me on the sidewalk.

The whole point of this is I do not know who on earth would want to be a referee.

Right now the NBA and the referees union are heading towards a lockout and we are facing the specter of replacement referees. David Stern reportedly pulled out of negotiations on September 8 because the referees backed out on an agreement for pension reductions. The league has agreed to a reduced two year contract instead of the regular five year deal, which means the refs can get a better deal sooner as long as the economy turns around by then, and the referees have agreed to $2.5 million of the $3.2 million in reductions requested by the NBA.

David Stern consistently refers to NBA officials as the best in professional sports and brags about their accuracy. If they are truly only a few hundred thousand dollars apart, how is this deal not done? The union is promoting the idea that Stern is trying to make an example of the referees to try to send a statement to the players heading into their upcoming negotiations.

The NBA is moving forward with bringing in replacement referees and things have the potential to get a little ugly.

Whether we are talking about NBA referees or C league referees, they are whipping boys (and girls). I honestly believe the NBA referees have been doing pretty well the past couple of years. Even so, I am willing to bet the majority of fans would disagree with me. If fans are upset with referees that are supposedly the best, how much more upset will they be watching lesser officials?

I doubt the NBA will let this drag out until the regular season, but when you start posturing, if that is indeed what Stern is doing, disagreements can take on a life of their own. How tough will Stern look if replacement referees are a disaster and he has to cave to the union’s demands?

Linas Kleiza Agrees to Deal With Olympiakos

The Denver Post is reporting that Linas Kleiza will sign a two year, $12 million contract with Greek team Olympiakos.  (Update: The contract is reportedly for $12.2 million and does have an opt out after one season.)

I cannot blame Kleiza because no NBA team was willing to pay him nearly that much, but as I pointed out previously, it only delays his restricted free agency to next summer, assuming he triggers his opt out clause after the first year of the contract.

Whether you love Kleiza or hate him, you have to admit that this hurts the Nuggets’ depth.  I have no problem with Renaldo Balkman backing up Carmelo at small forward as an offense/defense combo like J.R. Smith and Dahntay Jones last season at shooting guard.  Plus Balkman can fill in at power forward as Kleiza did when necessary.

Kleiza’s departure also saves the Nuggets an additional $5.4 million in luxury tax and salary and opens up another roster spot.  I am sure the Nuggets would have preferred to have Kleiza to sign the qualifying offer, but with the trade of Steven Hunter and now Kleiza heading to Greece, Denver has saved almost $10 million in salary and tax payments, which is significant.

Assuming Anthony Carter returns the Nuggets now have to add two players to their regular season roster in order to field the minimum 13 players.

2009 NBA Playoffs Round 2 Game 3: Denver Nuggets 106 – Dallas Mavericks 105

Box Score | Highlights

If you are looking for a reason why the Denver Nuggets struggled to duplicate their relatively easy wins from the first two games of the series against the Dallas Mavericks I will give you three.  First Dallas played with more fire and intensity because they were at home.  They are a very good home team. 

Secondly Dallas finally started running and scoring in transition.  In game three the Mavericks were credited with 21 fast break points while the Nuggets only compiled nine.  Dallas had only scored 13 fast break points in the first two games while Denver rung up 54.  Transition defense has been a weakness for the Nuggets all season and neither New Orleans nor Dallas have tried to take advantage of that aspect of the game.

Thirdly, the game was officiated in a way that was beneficial to the Mavericks.  That is not a complaint.  I thought the referees were consistent from start to finish, or at least from start through the first 11:57 of the fourth quarter.  Dallas needs the referees to penalize Denver from playing physical defense and they did.  In my opinion they called the game too tightly.  The third quarter seemed like it lasted an hour.  Dallas shot 21 free throws in the third quarter alone (all in the final 9:20) and the Nuggets shot 12.  Thirty-three free throws in a single quarter is just brutal to watch.

However, it is difficult to be upset with the referees (and not because of the way the game ended).  After watching the third quarter again the way the game was being officiated, it is hard to argue with the calls.  Many of them were on plays where the Nuggets were reaching.  Chauncey picked up two fouls trying to make a steal.  At one point Melo had switched onto Dirk, he fought for position in the post and forced Nowitzki out to the three point line to receive the pass.  Then he banged with Dirk continuing to fight for every inch he could.  Then after working that hard, he bails Dirk out by slapping his arms when he pivoted to shoot.  The Nuggets committed fouls due to either lazy defense or getting caught out of position.

Foul trouble became an issue in the third quarter as Chauncey, Chris Andersen and Nene all were called for their fourth foul by the midpoint of the third quarter.  Andersen committed two bad frustration fouls which gave him five fouls with over three minutes left in the third.  He would foul out after playing less than 11 minutes. 

As a result the Nuggets were forced to play with a smaller lineup and with the Mavericks forcing their way into the paint more frequently it forced the Nuggets to foul even more to prevent easy shots at the rim.

As the game progressed it was apparent to me that Dallas was playing with just a tad bit more intensity and intelligence at both ends of the floor.  As I have written before it is impossible to manufacture desperation and Dallas was playing with desperation.  Add in the poor shooting by the Nuggets in the first half, the lackadaisical defense resulting in the free throw parade in the third quarter, the foul trouble born out of sloppy defense and the Nuggets not being able to put together that decisive run we have become accustom to and it was a very frustrating game to watch.  The Nuggets did not play their best and everything I was watching convinced me the Nuggets would not pull this game out.  They lost a close game three in New Orleans and they were about to lose a close game three in Dallas. 

With 34 seconds left Anthony Carter made the horrible decision, as he frequently does, to run at Dirk from behind Dirk in an attempt to steal the ball.  Carter left Jason Terry all alone in the corner and in a play you could see happening before everything actually happened Dirk passed over to Terry who hit the open three to put Dallas up 105-101.  Game over, or at least so I thought.

From that point on the Mavericks made four big mistakes.  First of all needing to run some clock they allowed Carmelo to score on a dunk in only 2.6 seconds.  I realize you do not want to foul, but at least make Melo change directions.  If they manage to force just two more seconds off the clock, I think Denver has to foul on ensuing possession instead of playing to get one more stop with time on the clock.  

The second mistake was made by Dirk.  Not only did Dirk take some terrible shots down the stretch, but he probably lost the game for Dallas by shooting far too early on their second to last possession.  There was a differential of roughly four seconds between the shot clock and game clock.  Dirk shot with six seconds left on the shot clock.  By the time Denver corralled the rebound and called timeout there were 6.5 seconds left.  If Dirk shoots that shot with just one or two seconds on the shot clock, Denver is looking at only a second or two to tie or win the game instead of 6.5. 

The final two mistakes were the inability to foul convincingly, which I have already written about, and the unimaginative inbounds play the Mavericks ran at the end of the game.  I thought the final inbounds play by the Mavericks was pretty weak.  The Mavs only needed two points to win and running a play for Dirk or Terry to catch running away from the basket, forcing them to turn and shoot from long range was silly.  I think Dallas could have had Josh Howard cutting to the rim.  They should have known Denver would be focusing on Dirk and Terry which would have allowed Howard, who set a screen for Dirk, but when Howard curled around the backside he ran towards the opposite sideline instead of at the rim plus Brandon Bass was just sitting on the offside block anyway.

If Dallas makes better decisions or better plays in any of those four situations, apart from the final play with only a second left, that is a tough situation to bounce back from, perhaps the game ends up differently.

If you are looking for one thing that turned the game in the Nuggets’ favor look no further than a defensive adjustment George Karl made midway through the fourth quarter.  With Dirk scoring almost at will off of all the defensive switches the Nuggets were employing Karl changed things up during a timeout with 6:22 remaining in the fourth.  From that point on Denver started defending screens straight up with the big man hedging to slow down the ball handler and then recovering back to his man.  From that point on I believe Denver only switched one more screen the rest of the game.  However, Dallas probably did not realize the Nuggets had changed tactics for a couple of minutes because they posted Jason Kidd up on Chauncey for four or five straight possessions. 

Dallas ran their last set with Kidd posting up Billups at the 3:17 mark when Chauncey finally kept Kidd out of the lane and forced a bad turnaround jumper.  From that point on Dallas ran their regular down screens and pick and pop sets against the Nuggets more stout non-switching pick defense.  The result was out of Dallas’ final six shots not one of them came from in the lane.  Four of those six shots were badly forced jumpers by Dirk over Kenyon (of course one of them was the final shot of the game where Dirk had no choice, but to shoot a contested jumper).

When the Nuggets switch and Dirk is covered by a guard or Melo, he will back the smaller defender down and get an easy two.  If he has a big man on him, he almost always settles for the jumper.  By making sure Kenyon stayed on Dirk it ensured Nowitzki will take much more difficult shots.

Denver did hold the Mavericks to 40.0% shooting so from that standpoint it is difficult to say Denver did a poor defensive job, but I will.  The Nuggets hardnosed defense we saw against the Hornets has been softened because of all the switching.  Denver was forced to foul because the Mavs had the ball in the lane all night long.  The Nuggets defensive efficiency in games two and three against Dallas has been their two worst of the postseason. 

The Nuggets now have a chance at sweeping the Mavericks tonight in Dallas.  How amazing has this run been?

Additional Round 2 Game 3 Nuggets

 

  • I love how Chauncey defended the final play by Dallas.  Kidd was throwing the ball in and Dallas attempted to run Terry and Dirk towards the ball to receive a pass, turn and shoot.  Chauncey did not bother covering Kidd and when Terry flashed to the ball, Chauncey ran at him forcing him to run back out towards half court.  Kenyon forced Dirk to run almost all the way to Kidd to get open and at the three second mark of the five second count both Dirk, Terry, Chauncey, Kenyon and Carter were all bunched up in front of Kidd and Jason had nowhere to pass.  He made the inbounds pass to Dirk with just a couple of tenths of a second left on the five second count. 
  • One thing I have not heard mentioned about the play where Melo hit the game winning three pointer, although I have not read any game stories as of yet so someone may have brought it up, is even if the officials make the foul call the Nuggets still have the ball with over three seconds left to score.  Wright reached in at the 3.6 second mark so Denver still would have had plenty of time to set Melo or Chauncey up with a chance to win the game.
  • I do think Denver had to go for the win at the end of regulation.  With the foul trouble they were in, an extra five minutes might have been a dicey proposition.
  • Dallas deserves credit for the way they played. Their defense was spirited and offensively they were much more aggressive at going to the rim and attacking in transition. It will be interesting if they can recreate that effort after all the frustration from a very difficult loss.
  • With Denver down three and under a minute left Kenyon Martin forced a miss by Dirk on a wild turnaround jumper and the Nuggets quickly brought the ball into the front court.  Chauncey had been red hot in the second half and Melo had been getting to the line at will.  Surely needing a bucket to have any chance to win they would go to one of those two.  Instead Chauncey gave the ball to a player who at that point was 1-9 on the day.  Chauncey realized Brandon Bass cold not cover Nene.  Nene caught the ball on the right block, surveyed the court and noticed Bass was playing him high to keep him from turning getting into the middle of the lane.  Nene spun baseline around Bass and after avoiding a meager swipe at the ball by Dirk laid it in to bring the Nuggets to within one.  I do not know if Chauncey knew Nene was 1-9 and had been missing easy shots all day long, but the fact he gave the big man the rock in that situation shows the kind of trust these guys have in each other.
  • I have to take George Karl to task over one decision.  We all know Linas Kleiza is only worth having on the court if he is scoring.  Well, due to foul trouble Kleiza was on the floor for 13:54 despite the fact he could not shoot after slamming his thumb in a car door.  Why keep Kleiza on the court knowing he cannot provide anything on offense and suffer through his poor defense.  Renaldo Balkman absolutely must play in that situation. 
  • Rick Carlisle has received a lot of credit for having the guts to keep Josh Howard in the game with four fouls in the third quarter.  Apart from a couple of nice drives Howard did not really do anything.  He switched onto Dahntay Jones for much of that time so he was not helping on defense, he was just on the court to be on the court.  Plus he was called for a technical after in his frustration he swatted the ball out of play after it passed through the net.  Do you think Dallas would have liked to have that point back?
  • J.R. Smith had a poor shooting game, but he was excellent on defense and he ended up leading the Nuggets in plus/minus with a plus eight.  J.R. played very good defense and there were two occasions in the first half when he was switched onto Dirk where he prevented Nowitzki from getting to the rim and forced misses. 
  • Chris Andersen  was also largely an observer although he has little room to complain.  His fourth and fifth fouls were just very poor decisions.  For the Nuggets to win, on the road in the playoffs no less, with Birdman on the bench for almost 38 minutes and J.R. not scoring is a great sign.
  • Carter’s steal percentage has to be about the lowest in the league.  Near the end of the game when he tried to get a steal from Dirk and left Jason Terry alone in the corner I think every Nuggets fan saw the three pointer going in the hoop as soon as Carter ran at Dirk.  He may be a good on the ball defender and at chasing his man through screens, but he leaves his teammates out to dry by going for steals as much as Allen Iverson did. 

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  90.7 – Exactly the same as game two.

Defensive Efficiency:  115.8 – Exactly the same as game two as the pace factor was the same and Dallas scored 105 points in both games. 

Offensive Efficiency:  116.9 – Once again the offense was solid even with J.R. Smith struggling and Melo shooting a poor percentage.

Featured Blogs:   The Two Man Game | Mavs Moneyball

2008-09 Game 74: Denver Nuggets 129 – Golden State Warriors 116

Box Score | Highlights

After predictably sleep walking through the first six minutes of the first quarter and falling behind the Golden State Warriors by 14 in the first quarter the Nuggets were able to rouse themselves and run away for an easy win. 

George Karl called a timeout with the Nuggets down 19-6 after the first 6:25 of the game.  From that point on the Nuggets played with more intensity, but it was not until Chris Andersen entered the game with 3:50 remaining in the first quarter and Denver behind 23-11 that the Nuggets took off.  Less than seven minutes later Birdman threw down a vicious slam as he cut down the lane to put the Nuggets up 37-29.  In Birdman’s seven plus first half minutes he was a plus 20.

As soon as Andersen went to the bench Golden State actually briefly recaptured the lead 42-41.  It would be their final lead of the game though as Linas Kleiza hit his first three point jumper in over three weeks on the very next possession to put Denver back up 44-42. 

The run that put the Nuggets in complete control of the game was split between the second and third quarters.  Denver scored the final six points of the first half and the first 13 of the second half turning a 60-57 game into a 79-57 rout.  The Warriors did not get a shot within 18 feet of the rim as the Nuggets did a great job of collapsing on penetration and then rotating and running at shooters.  The Nuggets run actually even extended out to a 44-15 stretch ending with 28 seconds left in the third quarter with the Nuggets already having earned three tacos for a dollar on Sunday at participating Taco Bell’s even with more than a quarter to play.

The key to Denver sweeping the remaining games against sub .500 teams will be energy.  I would like to add focus too, but I do not want to get too greedy.  There was a point just a couple of weeks ago where I did not think we could count on the Nuggets to win any of these games and they still have to avoid falling into the trap of taking things for granted.  It definitely took the Nuggets some time to wake up tonight, but the fact that they erased the early 14 point deficit by the end of the first quarter was very impressive.

A lot can happen over these final eight games, but if Denver can keep playing like they have over the previous three games I may be in for eating a lot of crow and I will not mind one bit.

Additional Game 74 Nuggets

  • Carmelo continued his offensive renaissance.  Once again his jumper was falling, but he played a complete offensive game.  He was going to the rim, posting up and his passing was very nice.  He shot 12-21 and made mostly very good decisions with the ball.
  • The Nuggets captured the lead twice towards the end of the first quarter.  With the Nuggets behind 25-23 Denver forced a turnover, Andersen saved the ball to Melo who threw a long cross court outlet to J.R. smith just outside the Nuggets’ three point line.  Smith spotted Kenyon flying down the middle of the floor.  Smith him Kenyon in stride and Martin threw down a massive jam on top of poor Rob Kurz who was not only emasculated, but was also called for a foul.  Kenyon made the free throw to give Denver their first lead at 26-25.  At the other end Birdman sent back a shot by Azibuike, but was called for goaltending (after watching it several times, it looked like a good block to me) putting Denver back down 27-26.  The Nuggets had the ball with ten seconds left with a chance to reclaim the lead.  Anthony Carter missed a three with about two seconds left and both Kenyon and Birdman rammed the ball down on the rebound.  The play by play on both ESPN.com and NBA.com say Kenyon made a tip shot, but Andersen collected an offensive rebound.  Not sure how that works, but it looked pretty cool. 
  • I abandoned the Nuggets game in favor of watching the Phoenix Suns roar back from a 21 point deficit in Utah to take a late seven point lead only to see Grant Hill make mistake after mistake as the Jazz came back and won in overtime.  When I saw the final score I pictured a dismal effort in the fourth quarter by the Nuggets that would make me sick to my stomach.  The Warriors scored 42 points, how badly did Denver roll over?  After actually watching the play on the court I was surprised at how hard the Nuggets did play.  They were still scrambling, tipping passes, forcing turnovers and going after loose balls.  The Warriors did not see many open shots, and the ones that were wide open usually came off some kind of scramble or turnover not a dereliction of duty by the Nuggets defense.  After all the lineup on the floor was Carter, Smith, Kleiza, Balkman and Birdman.  We know Carter, Balkman and Birdman do not take plays off.  Smith and Kleiza were playing hard too.  My only real gripe with the Nuggets’ play in the fourth was J.R. took a couple of bad threes early in possessions that were not very wise.  The warriors just caught fire. 
  • Part of the Warriors’ comeback was an amazing individual spurt by Jamal Crawford.  With 9:26 left in the game Jamal Crawford nailed a three and Renaldo Balkman was called for a foul on the play.  Carwford hit the free throw for a rare four point play.  The next trip down the court Crawford hit another three with 9:14 left to play and Andersen was called for fouling him on the shot and Crawford made the free throw.  Back to back four point plays by the same player 12 seconds apart.  I am guessing that is an NBA first.  I have submitted an email to the powers that be to see if they can have someone look into it.   Scoring eight points in 12 seconds can be a good way to end up with a 40 plus point quarter.
  • Poor C.J. Watson probably got a kick out of Crawford’s four point plays, but he paid a heavy price for it.  Both fouls could be considered relatively weak calls, especially the one on Andersen, so a couple of minutes later when Watson was absolutely wiped out by a soaring Birdman in the left corner on a three point attempt all three refs turned a blind eye.
  • In the game recap of the win in Dallas I talked about earning things on the floor.  If you do a little something extra, something unselfish, you tend to get rewarded.  Linas Kleiza caught the ball on the left wing and Nene began to go to the weak side when Kleiza waived him back over and he had Nene post up and Kleiza passed him the ball.  Nene tried spinning into the middle of the lane and had to throw a bail out pass to Chauncey who took a three right before the shot clock expired.  Kleiza crashed the boards and collected the offensive rebound.  He then rose up and threw down a powerful dunk right in front of Ronny Turiaf.  It was the first basket of the Nuggets 19-0 run that spanned the second and third quarters.
  • Anthony Carter once again showed he is at his best in a fast paced game.  He ended up with 13 assists and only one turnover.  Seven of his 13 assists lead to layups or dunks.
  • I can handle this Linas Kleiza.  He did force four three point attempts, but can you blame him?  He actually made one.  However, he scored 14 of his 22 points on layups or dunks and shot 8-10 on two point attempts.  Lose the four three point attempts and we can talk.
  • How impressive is Anthony Randolph?  He is all over the court and thanks to his athleticism and length is already a great offensive rebounder.  In 30 minutes he pulled down eight offensive boards and had an amazing possession where he blocked back to back shots at the rim.  He is also an emotional player who wants to win.  I think he has an amazing future.
  • If one of Karl’s big objections to playing Balkman is his lack of a jumper Renaldo decided to make a case for more playing time tonight.  He was 4-4 from the floor, but two of those shots were from 15 feet and one was a three.  What do you think of that George?
  • Right now Denver and Houston are tied in the standings and although Denver lost the season series to Houston I kept seeing them in the third seed and Houston in the fourth seed.  I thought that was flat out wrong and almost wrote about how messed up the standings were.  Tonight Altitude taught me that if two teams are tied the first tiebreaker is whether or not one of those teams is a division winner.  That means all the consternation about Denver losing the season series to Houston is really meaningless.  As long as the Nuggets can hold onto the Division lead they can be the third seed and avoid the Lakers in the second round.  And here I thought I knew everything.  It was people like me who built the Titanic and said it was unsinkable.  When will I learn?

Mindboggling Game Stats:

Pace Factor:  102.9 – Lightning fast.  It was the fastest paced game since the Nuggets game 36 home win against Indiana.

Defensive Efficiency:  112.8 – Not terrible for such a fast paced game.  The Warriors scored 17 fast break points and nabbed 19 offensive boards which both hurt this number.  I imagine it was much better before Golden State’s offensive explosion in the fourth.

Offensive Efficiency:  125.4 – No complaints.  Remember, the Nuggets had six points more than six minutes into the game and still managed to score 129.

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