2008-09 Game 72: Denver Nuggets 101 – New Orleans Hornets 88

Box Score | Highlights

The Denver Nuggets have answered.  With their backs against the wall they chose to fight and Denver came out swinging tonight against the New Orleans Hornets.  The Nuggets utilized a consistently solid defensive effort to a 101-88 victory in New Orleans.  It is the Nuggets first road win against a team with a winning record since February 18 and the first time they have defeated one of the other top nine teams in the west since beating the Mavs on December 15.

With Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler out George Karl chose to implement an aggressive trapping defense designed to keep Chris Paul out of the lane on the pick and roll.  Things started out a little rough as the Hornets scored two layups in their first three possessions due to the attention the Nuggets were giving Paul.  I was concerned that they would struggle attempting to execute a defense they had not utilized very infrequently and never for long stretches.

The Nuggets did a good job of adjusting on the fly and the Hornets easy looks slowly became few and far between.  As we have pointed out in the past an aggressive scheme provides the impetus to play with energy while a lazier scheme, such as switching screens, saps the intensity from a team and leads to sloppy disinterested defense.  By trapping and forcing him towards the midcourt Denver was able to disrupt the Hornets offense on the way to claiming a 28-21 lead at the end of the first quarter.  line the Nuggets were able to force Chris Paul into committing six turnovers and thanks to the harassing defense applied by Dahntay Jones, Chauncey Billups and to a lesser extent Anthony Carter Paul struggled to get anything going on offense. 

Paul did take advantage of ten trips to the free throw line, a couple of which were quite dubious, to record 19 points and he was credited with 13 assists, but he finished a game worst -19.

Offensively Carmelo had a couple of dominant stretches.  He started the game off making six of his first eight shots and scored 13 points in the first nine minutes of the game.  It was good to see Melo step up and hit some shots.  He helped set the tone for Denver on offense and let them know that even without Nene they can put points on the board.

Strangely enough the Hornets clawed back in the game in the second quarter with Chris Paul on the bench.  It was the second time in three games where Denver has allowed Antonio Daniels to make a run while Paul was sitting on the sidelines.  Both teams went small to start the second quarter with Balkman playing power forward for Denver and James Posey played the four for New Orleans.  It was the only stretch of the game where New Orleans made any shots.  When Daniels made a three just over four minutes into the quarter the Nuggets’ lead had vanished and the game was tied at 33.

The third quarter played out the same as the first with Carmelo scoring eight straight points and twelve in the quarter as the Nuggets once again took control.  Denver entered the fourth quarter up nine points, but with the sting of the loss in Phoenix still fresh in my mind and the memory of how the Hornets erased a first quarter lead quickly in the second I was far from confident. 

Fortunately Denver did not suffer from the same problem.  They came out of the break on fire hitting their first six shots and doubling their nine point advantage.  At that point it became clear New Orleans simply did not have the firepower to keep up.  Paul was at least somewhat contained, David West was playing terribly and no one else was stepping up to fill the void.  When Chris Paul was walking the ball up the court with just over six minutes left in the game and Denver up 18 I knew the Hornets did not have any fight left in them.

While tonight’s victory was far from a perfect win, it was the best effort the Nuggets had put forth from start to finish in a long time.  Fans always seem to call for their teams to play with desperation, but such a request is highly disingenuous.  Think about the times you have been desperate, and I am not talking about in seventh grade when you wanted to touch the hot girl’s booby.  I am talking about when you are out of money and payday is nor for another four days or when you are in a store and suddenly realize you are not 100% sure where your kid is.  Now imagine your boss asks you to put some desperation into the project you are working on.  Is the adrenaline rush and fear in your gut anywhere near the same level?  True desperation cannot be conjured from thin air.  Monday night Phoenix was desperate (and fortunately they were still desperate tonight as they beat the Jazz) and tonight the Nuggets were the desperate team.

Now we move from fight or flight to a prove it game.  They showed us some fight, now they have to prove to us that it was not a fluke as they must once again play without Nene on the road against a team chasing them in the standings. 

Additional Game 72 Nuggets

  • I mentioned in my preview how Chris Paul is always the best player on the floor when these two teams play and his supporting cast does enough for the Hornets to win.  Tonight I think both Chauncey Billups and Carmelo were better than Paul.  At worst they were comparable and Paul did not get much help from his teammates.  Rasual Butler is typically a Nugget killer, and he shot well when he received the ball tonight, but in over 30 minutes of floor time, he only attempted four shots.  James Posey was terrible.  We already mentioned how badly David West struggled and for some reason in the fourth quarter they kept force feeding him the ball on the right block, which made no sense.
  • I found it interesting that Karl basically shrunk his rotation down to six players in the second half after Dahntay Jones and Johan Petro left the game in the third quarter.  It was a glimpse into who Karl really trusts and I think it is safe to say he, like most of us, has lost trust in Linas Kleiza who played a paltry 6:25.
  • I do not understand why Hilton Armstrong does not get more minutes, at least against the Nuggets.  Instead of trying to prove the signing of Posey was a stroke of genius by playing small, put Armstrong in the game and let him rattle around in the lane.
  • I mentioned that the Nuggets play was far from perfect.  The fact remains that they were almost exclusively a jump shooting team.  Of their 101 points, only 30 came in the lane.  During their offensive explosion to start the fourth quarter five of their six makes were long jumpers.  I doubt anyone noticed while the game was unfolding, I know I did not, that the Nuggets only scored seven points over the final 7:38.  Even if they only go 3-6 to start the quarter the game may have been completely different.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  87.4

Defensive Efficiency:  100.7 – Solid.

Offensive Efficiency:  115.6 – Pretty efficient considering they were without their highest percentage shooter.

Featured Blogs:  Hornets 24/7 | At the Hive

2008-09 Game 72: Denver Nuggets at New Orleans Hornets Game Thread

In middle school science class I learned about fight or flight.  When an animal is confronted they will either step up and rumble or get out of dodge pronto.  With the announcement that Nene has been suspended for two games we will see firsthand which option the Nuggets will choose, fight or flight. 

The bad news is the New Orleans Hornets do two things pretty well that the Nuggets have been failing to defend and if you have spent any time here over the past week or two you probably know what I am about to say.  The Nuggets do not defend the pick and roll or the three point line very well.

The Hornets do rank in the middle of the pack in three point percentage, right alongside the Nuggets at 37%, but Rasual Butler almost always shoots lights out against the Nuggets, James Posey has already hit a couple of big threes against Denver in his first season in New Orleans and Peja Stojakovic is a game time decision after missing ten games with a bad back. 

The Hornets may also be without Tyson Chandler although after missing three games his ankle has improved enough to be a game time decision as well as is Hilton Armstrong (you will find a here is a complete rundown of the Hornets’ injury situation).

There are worse teams for the Nuggets to face without Nene than the Hornets.  Even if Chandler plays New Orleans does not have much of a low post game.  And if you are looking for a silver lining is we know we will see more Renaldo Balkman and more Chris Andersen.

I do not know that playing without Nene drastically reduces the Nuggets chance of winning, but I did not think their chance of winning was very high to start with.  The Nuggets have lost three of their last four games on the road against the Hornets with an average margin of 11.3 points.  All three losses have been by double digits.  Chris Paul is simply the best player on the floor whenever these two teams meet and he almost always gets enough from his supporting cast to overcome the Nuggets superior overall talent level.

Fight or flight Denver.  Show us what is in your heart.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Previous Matchups:  Game 16 – Den 101 NOH 105 | Game 35 – Den 105 NOH 100 | Game 46 – Den 81 NOH 94

Featured Blogs:  Hornets 24/7 | At the Hive

2008-09 Game 71: Denver Nuggets 115 – Phoenix Suns 118

Box Score | Highlights

For a big picture breakdown of last night’s game click here and go to item number two.  I will post some additional nuggets with the game stats later this afternoon.

- Finally Updated -

Additional Game 71 Nuggets

  • For some reason the Nuggets had a terrible time trying to cover Grant Hill.  Maybe it is because he is not explosive anymore or because he is not a great shooter and they did not feel a need to do something like pay attention to him when he moves from one side of the floor to the other.  The worst example of this came at 7:10 in the first quarter where Kenyon switched to Hill, but then chose to stand all alone, with nary a Suns player near him, on the right side of the lane as Hill slid over to the left side and was wide open for a 16 foot jumper.  Hill was basically left alone all night long with Nugget after Nugget switching onto him and then choosing to pay no attention to him.
  • Coming back from commercial with 5:52 left in the first quarter the camera was on the bench and you could not see George Karl directly, but you could see his hands moving which would leave me to believe he was speaking.  Anthony Carter was looking at Karl, but J.R. Smith was staring at the floor with a blank look on his face.  Renaldo Balkman was looking off into space, Melo was looking around at something outside the huddle on the court and I think Nene was the other player there, but it was too difficult to tell because of the towel draped over his head.  If that is the focus they show in the huddle is there any doubt why they do not play with focus on the floor?
  • The Nuggets played the pick and roll like five individuals instead of a team.  There were probably at least two dozen examples of this, but one that I found most interesting came with 50 seconds left in second quarter.  Chris Andersen trapped Nash off the high pick and roll and stayed with him pushing him towards the left sideline a good ten feet past the three point line.  Instead of pressing the trap Chauncey got nervous and left the trap to retreat to the lane and go into the post to defend Robin Lopez.  Without the pressure from Chauncey to help out Nash was able to avoid Birdman and the ball found Lopez in the post forcing Kenyon to foul him.  If Birdman was supposed to show, allow Chauncey to recover and then fall back to his man he was out of line pushing the trap.  On the other hand, if the scheme was to trap and try to force the ball back to half court then Chauncey was wrong to go to the paint.  The problem with this team is they seem to defend the pick and roll differently almost every time they see it and that is why I say they lack cohesion.  It almost seems like individual players have their own plans and some trap, some switch, some lay back in the lane and wait to see if something goes wrong. 
  • Nene scored six straight points against Shaq to start the third and the Suns quickly switched to zone.  Initially I thought it really helped the Nuggets.  They ran their offense and were finding cracks and earning good shots.  Everything fell apart when Melo started scoring.  Anthony scored 14 points in 4:30 and after that instead of cutting and exploiting the zone Denver started standing around waiting for Melo to do something.  After Melo’s run ended the Nuggets scored a mere four points in the final 4:35.
  • Even though their defense was sorry Denver stayed in the game thanks to Chauncey’s three point marksmanship in the first quarter and aggressive offense in the second.  Denver ended up shooting 20 free throws in the first half, but only ended up with 33 for the game.  To show how they stopped playing aggressively on offense as the Suns tightened up their defense the Nuggets only shot six free throws in the final 16:35 of the game.  Conversely the Suns took 32 free throws in the second half.
  • How frustrated is Linas Kleiza right now that the only three point shot he can make is a 30 foot hook shot/shot put heave?  I certainly do not want to see him earn more minutes, but part of me feels sorry for him.  He is not as bad of a shooter as he appears right now.  Then again, few NBA players are.
  • Nene certainly did not get his moneys’ worth for his flagrant two on Louis Amundson.  Regardless, he allowed a lesser player get in his head and bait him into a head butt and then an elbow to the eye socket.   
  • Melo had a pretty good look at the end to send it into overtime.  He has made more difficult clutch shots, but no one hits them all.  That is why when you have an 11 point halftime lead you do not want to put yourself in a position where you are counting on a last second prayer.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  97.9

Defensive Efficiency:  120.5 – The Suns have been on fire lately, but there is no excuse for the kind of performance the Nuggets put forth.  The only reason their defensive efficiency was not higher was the Suns committed 20 turnovers.

Offensive Efficiency:  117.5 – That should be good enough to win.

Featured Blogs:  Valley of the Suns | Bright Side of the Sun

2008-09 Game 70: Denver Nuggets 116 – Washington Wizards 105

Box Score | Highlights

Apparently the Denver Nuggets did not learn much from their battle against the Grizzlies.  Despite cruising to a relatively easy 116-105 win against the Washington Wizards the Nuggets played incredibly soft defense in the first quarter and allowed the Wizards to get off to a very good start.

Antawn Jamison shredded Kenyon Martin with his typical variety of offensive talents.  From awkward push shots to long range bombs Kenyon had no shot at slowing down Jamison.  The sad thing was at least he was trying to defend Jamison because neither he nor any of the other Nuggets seemed interested in playing any team defense. 

Kenyon may have had a difficult time with Jamison and I do not think anyone will think any less of him because of it, but Nene was the real problem on defense.  With 7:57 left in the first quarter Kenyon faded back into the lane as James dribbled away from a screen set by Jamison.  James passed it back to the wide open Jamison, but J.R. Smith rotated very crisply and Jamison passed to Dominic McGuire, who J.R. left to cover Jamison.  Kenyon was still in the lane and Nene was covering Darius Songaila in the corner.  Kenyon started drifting towards the corner expecting Nene to rotate up to McGuire.  Nene never budged and then Kenyon just decided that if Nene was not going to cover McGuire neither was he and he just hung back in the lane.  McGuire drove into the lane and hit a runner over Kenyon all made possible by Nene’s decision to impersonate a statue.

To make things worse the Nuggets were switching a lot of screens.  Nene allowed a layup by Jamison on a pick and roll when he started to switch with J.R. and ran towards the weak side with McGuire even though J.R. was right there.  Songailia then set a screen for Jamison and Nene was nowhere to be found. 

Kenyon was called for his second foul at 3:05 of the first quarter on a sequence where James cut through to the right corner and Jamison cut up to the right wing.  Instead of sticking with their men Chauncey and Kenyon switched.  Jamison cut to the rim and Chauncey was not big enough to defend him.  Kenyon was having to play further from the lane than normal due to James’ ability to hit the three.  When Jamison received the pass Chauncey could not stop him and Kenyon was too far out to help at the rim.

J.R. Smith was the real story of the night though.  His play on offense was nothing short of exceptional.  He posted his second career 40 point game and what was most impressive about it was it was not due to a barrage of threes.  He only scored nine of his 40 points on threes.  His career high 43 points were generated largely by his 8-15 performance from behind the arc.  We should have known J.R. was in for a big night when he scored the first bucket of the game from the post.  I think it was the first time in his career that Smith scored from the block.  He caught the ball, spun baseline on the bigger McGuire and laid the ball in on the far side of the rim.

J.R. was in the lane all night long.  He scored 22 points in the paint on a variety of drives, dunks and short jumpers.  He even dropped in a running hook.  His defense has been better ever since the last Laker game where he took the challenge of guarding Kobe Bryant.  Offensively he has taken his game to another level since being named a starter. 

If there is something that can push the Nuggets to a higher level down the stretch and in the playoffs it would be J.R. taking another step forward on offense.  

While the Nuggets did capitalize on the recent five game stretch against inferior opposition to get back into first place in the Northwest Division and back to 20 games over .500 they only played two quarters of exceptional defense, the first quarter against the Nets and the fourth against the Grizzlies.  They now embark on a crucial three game road trip that takes them to Phoenix, New Orleans and Dallas.  They may have a five game winning streak, but they will need to raise their level of play on defense in order to earn success in any of those three games.

Additional Game 70 Nuggets

  • During Kenyon’s absence George Karl talked about missing the high low game with Kenyon at the top fo the circle and Nene on the block.  Coming out of a timeout called with 7:33 left in the first Kenyon made a beautiful pass to Nene who turned and threw down an easy dunk.
  • The starters were very subdued on both ends of the floor aside from J.R.  He was the only one creating offense for the Nuggets and there was very little running.  Things perked up when Chris Andersen entered the game.  The Nuggets were down 26-20 when he started playing and within 40 seconds he had a big put back dunk off a missed three and less than two minutes later he threw down another dunk to put the Nuggets ahead one 29-28.  Denver dominated the paint offensive all night, but when Birdman was in the game Denver dominated the lane on defense too.  Andersen played one of the best games of his career posting a career high in points with 18, pulled down 11 boards and sent back six shots.  Perhaps most impressively his eight shot attempts traveled a combined distance of probably 18 inches.  Every shot he took was a dunk, tip or layup.  The one shot he missed he tipped in. 
  • There was much consternation amongst many Nuggets fans upon hearing Karl wanted to give Kleiza more minutes.  Fortunately Balkman came off the bench before Kleiza did and played 25 minutes to Kleiza’s 16 and the only reason Kleiza played that much was because LK was in for all of garbage time.  I thought Kleiza might have been in for a decent game after hitting a nice 16 footer on the baseline and then making a pretty dish from the free throw line down to Balkman on the baseline for a layup, but then he switched into selfish mode refusing to pass the ball to AC in the backcourt to start a possession, then he drove and threw up a bad leaner off a weak spin move and next came a brick from the left wing with both feet on the three point line.  Karl has said that he wants to get Kleiza going, but Kleiza has to realize there is more to basketball than hitting jumpers.  As long as you do not do anything else well and simply live by the jump shot, you are going to be useless when your shot is not falling.  Then throw in the fact that he is not a particularly good shooting in the first place and that is a recipe for disaster. 
  • It was interesting to see Dahntay Jones stuck to the bench for the second time in five games as he only played in garbage time.  Even so he was cheering vociferously from the bench, which is good to see.
  • How about Maya Starks discussing how she loves watching J.R. dunk on the break away and before she could finish her sentence J.R. stole the ball, raced up the floor and threw down a nice double clutch reverse.  OK Maya, now I want you to talk about how much you love seeing me find a treasure chest full of Spanish Doubloons in my back yard.
  • Kenyon’s back seems to be fine.  He took some shots that put pressure on his back and I never saw him flinch or stiffen up once.
  • It is interesting to see how the sport of basketball rewards you for doing things right.  With 4:39 left in the third J.R. passed up an open three from the corner in order to drive.  He made the layup and was fouled.  Soon thereafter with 3:05 left in the quarter J.R. set up for a three on a fast break.  When he caught the ball I said to myself, “You’ve earned it” and sure enough it hit nothing by nylon. 
  • Balkman looked like he strained his groin again, but even though he missed time two games ago because of his groin he never even had to come out of the game.  Either he has a really low tolerance for pain or his groin is made of rubber.
  • Anthony Carter played the ideal game.  Ten assists and only three shot attempts.
  • Carmelo has been passing the ball much more willingly lately.  His assist totals are up a little, but they do not fully represent how well he is passing.
  • Karl is usually very careful at not trotting out the scrubs too early in a game and tonight he danced with fire a little putting in Petro, Hart and Jones with only a 12 point lead and over two minutes left.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  101.0 – Highest pace factor since game 45 at Memphis (101.6).  The 42 combined turnovers played a factor in that as did the fact the Nuggets really ran the floor well in the last three quarters.

Defensive Efficiency:  104.0 – Solid, but not great.  They did force 23 turnovers.  Denver had not forced more than 16 turnovers in a single game since the game in Orlando immediately preceding the All-Star break.

Offensive Efficiency:  114.9 – Chauncey was pretty bad and 19 turnovers did not help, but the Nuggets did shoot 53.0%.

Featured Blog:  Bullets Forever

2008-09 Game 69: Denver Nuggets 111 – Memphis Grizzlies 109

Box Score | Highlights

The Denver Nuggets 111-109 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies was a perfect example of the difference between playing hard and playing with focus.  From the opening tip the Nuggets played hard.  They understood the importance of this game and they wanted to win.  But their hard work returned poor results because their lack of focus created easy scoring opportunities for the Grizzlies. 

Denver snuck to within two points early in the third quarter at 59-57, but then the Grizzlies exploded on a 20-5 run.  The Nuggets were not physically sloughing off, they simply made silly mental errors that allowed the Grizzlies to bag some easy points.

It all started after a nice defensive sequence by Carmelo Anthony who ran Rudy Gay off the three point line shut down a drive attempt and then when Gay went to the basket a second time Melo directed him baseline right into Nene resulting in the ball going out of bounds.   On the inbounds play O.J. Mayo passed the ball into Marc Gasol and then cut past Gasol to the baseline and took a handoff.  Dahntay Jones had been playing Mayo to come to the middle of the floor and was way out of position.  Nene stepped out on Mayo after the handoff and Mayo threw him a shot fake.  Nene left his feet and for some reason Jones, who was trying to get back into the play took a running leap from ten feet away, which even had Mayo shot would have been a completely ineffective challenge.  With Nene and Jones in the air Mayo drive right to the rim and laid in an easy finger roll. 

There was a play where Melo had to tie his shoe and he was late coming down the floor.  As a result of Melo getting into the play late Chauncey only had one option to trigger the offense and that was Kenyon on the left wing.  (Of course, Chauncey could have waited a couple more seconds to let Melo get back into the play or he could have penetrated or even shot, but he did not.)  Darrell Arthur realized Chauncey wanted to pass the ball to Kenyon and he overplayed him.  Despite telegraphing the pas and seeing Arthur all over Kenyon Chauncey passed the ball anyway.  Of course Arthur stole the pass and took it the other way for a pretty sweet slam.

After Melo missed a layup the Grizzlies went the other way on a quasi fat break.  Despite having four players back no one noticed Arthur running right down the middle of the floor.  Nene stayed at the three point line to help guard Mike Conley even though J.R. was right there too.  Chauncey was in the lane, but had his back to the ball looking at Mayo who was on the right wing outside the three point line.  Kenyon was under the basket watching Rudy Gay, but he also had his back to the play.  Arthur netted another dunk and the Grizzlies were up twelve 73-61.

During another Memphis possession Mayo took a shot from the top of the circle and J.R. ran out.  Gasol collected the long rebound and Mayo cut from where he shot to the left wing.  As J.R. came back in the play he just ran to the middle of the lane instead of running to Mayo and once Mayo received the pass from Gasol no one rotated over to him. 

The run was capped off by a Gay three point play where he received the ball on the left baseline with Melo on him.  Kenyon came over and doubled him.  With the double team Melo had the responsibility to close off the baseline and Kenyon was to cut off a move to the middle.  Even with his defensive responsibilities but in half (not having to worry about Gay driving right to the middle of the floor, Carmelo barely moved as Gay blew right past him along the baseline.  Nene was in position to help, but reached instead of stepping in and Gay made a spectacular layup on the far side of the hoop and cashed in the free throw. 

The Nuggets were playing hard, but they were playing with no focus or attention to detail.  Because of that they saw a two point deficit balloon up to 17 in barely more than five minutes.

Even down 17 in the third the Nuggets managed to come back, but doing so not only required an increase in physical effort, but mental effort as well.  In the fourth quarter the Nuggets played as hard as they have all season. 

Denver was behind 100-88 with eight minutes left.  Their comeback was triggered by an aggressive play trap a pick and roll by Renaldo Balkman who tipped the ball away from Conley and forced it out of bounds off of him. 

To me the key play was all about hustle though.  Melo tried passing the ball up the floor and his pass was tipped by Gay.  J.R. ran the ball down just before it went out of bounds along the right sideline and passed it to Balkman on the block who immediately kicked it out to Melo for a three.  The lead was down to eight at 100-92 and the Nuggets energy and focus was increasing on defense with every possession.

J.R. was hounding Mayo everywhere he went and on an ensuing possession after J.R. chased Mayo from one side of the floor to the other Mayo came off a screen and Chauncey pinched over from the top of the circle and forced a turnover. 

Next J.R. picked Conley up full court trying to pressure him into a mistake.  Conley ran off a Gasol screen where  Nene hedged and forced him towards the sideline.  J.R. was a little slow recovering, but after chasing Conley into the lane he followed the pass to Arthur and blocked his shot from behind. 

After a couple of baskets by the Grizzlies Nene and Balkman doubled Gasol as he spun on the block and got too deep under the rim resulting in a turnover and what followed was the “May the force be with you” moment of the game.  with the Nuggets down three, 104-101, Balkman received a nice pass from Nene, had his shot blocked, and then missed the wide open follow up layup.  He managed to get the rebound again and Kicked the ball out to Chauncey in the left corner.  Billups faked a pass up the sideline to J.R. and that fake drew Mayo out away from the middle of the floor which opened up the weak side wing for Melo.  Chauncey skipped the ball across to Melo who drained a wide open game tying three.

The final huge stop of the game came with the Nuggets up one and 33.2 seconds left in the game.  Memphis isolated Mayo in the middle of the floor near half court.  Gasol came out to set a screen to Mayo’s right.  Mayo never went anywhere near the screen allowing Nene and Anthony Carter to play a soft double.  Gasol then reset the screen and Mayo tried going right off of it.  Carter did a great job of crowding Mayo without fouling to avoid the pick.  Mayo was never able to break free and never looked to pass even though he was in a pack of Nuggets.  Kenyon, who was inserted back into the lineup for that final stand blocked his shot.  Melo made two free throws for the final margin.

Not only did the Nuggets play aggressive physical defense in the fourth quarter, but they also hit their shots.  From the time they were down 17 Denver hit seven threes in 13 attempts.  It is amazing what making shots can do for a team, just ask Sacramento.

I thought Memphis played well and they forced the Nuggets to earn the victory.  While being happy with the result it is once again a little frustrating that Denver could not put together a complete game.  Even with their amped up defense if they miss a couple of threes they lose that game.  Many of you seem to think that the Nuggets will blow through Phoenix and Dallas on the upcoming road trip, but if the Nuggets play like they did tonight they probably lose both of those games.

Additional Game 69 Nuggets

 

  • I thought Kenyon’s decision to foul Gasol before Memphis could get a three point shot off was a good one.  I think he saw Conley coming off clean and wanted to make sure he did not get the open look.  Of course, fouling to avoid allowing a game tying three does not always work, but I like the strategy.
  • In the first quarter the Nuggets were really attacking the rim and it was nice to see them not settling for jumpers, but their aggression was not effective because they were trying to force their offense as individuals.  All night long when they were patient and moved without the ball they were able to get good looks at the rim.  Nene in particular threw down a couple of awesome dunks off of cuts he made through the lane. 
  • I really like Melo’s offense tonight.  He did not settle for long jumpers, but worked to get in the lane either off the drive on from the post.  He did take five threes, but only one was forced and he made three of them.  
  • Balkman looked great alleviating any concerns about his groin.  He is an amazing athlete and covers ground like few humans are capable of doing.  He just recovers so well.  On a couple of occasions he went from the right wing above the three point line down to the left block to cover Hakim Warrick in the post before Memphis could swing the ball and enter it in the post.  He also lunged at post entry passes yet was able to reposition himself behind Warrick before he could start his move. 
  • Chauncey’s really played a poor game.  He had six turnovers and most of them were due to just shockingly poor decisions.
  • In the last minute of the third quarter and the first minute of the fourth both Birdman and Balkman found themselves on Marko Jaric, both left him after he passed and sagged back into the lane and both times he hit an open three. 
  • I thought the game was very physical and there were a lot of plays that resulted in one or two players hitting the floor.  Nene and Gasol really went at it in the post.  It was fun to watch. 
  • Gasol will be in the NBA for a long time.  After watching him play internationally I was not sure how well his game would translate, but he is a big boy who knows how to use his size.  I was also pleasantly surprised with Hamed Haddadi.  Coming into the game he had only played 15 minutes in his rookie season.  He played 18 minutes against the Nuggets and represented himself well.  He is not particularly athletic, but was active.  He showed good awareness and decent hands.  He definitely has a future in the NBA as a third center.
  • Kenyon’s back must be much better.  Not only did he play in the second half, but Karl reinserted him in the game in the last 33 seconds.  I thought that was a risky move.  If he reinjures his back there who knows how long he might have been out.  The risk paid off though as Martin blocked Mayo’s attempt to put the Grizzlies back in the lead with 11 seconds left.
  • It was interesting to see Kleiza’s minutes dwindle with Kenyon back and Balkman still featured in the rotation.  That cannot be good news for LK coming down the stretch in a contract season.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  94.2 – Pretty brisk for a road game.

Defensive Efficiency:  115.7 – Memphis shot 47.7% and only turned the ball over 10 times.

Offensive Efficiency:  117.8 – Very good considering Denver turned it over 19 times.

Featured Blog:  3 Shades of Blue

2008-09 Game 69: Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies Game Thread

The Denver Nuggets have righted the ship at home, but their last road game was the debacle in Sacramento and they still have a five game road losing streak to teams with records under .500 (Sacramento, Indiana, Milwaukee, Chicago and New Jersey).

They had better turn that around tonight in Memphis.  Look for Kenyon to play in the first half only again while Renaldo Balkman is questionable.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Previous Matchups:  Game 6 – Den 100 Mem 90 | Game 45 – Den 100 Mem 85

Featured Blog:  3 Shades of Blue

2008-09 Game 68: Denver Nuggets 121 – New Jersey Nets 96

Box Score | Highlights

I finally saw some of what I have been looking for from the Denver Nuggets during their 121-96 victory over the New Jersey Nets.  It did not last for long, primarily only in the first quarter, which kind of made it not quite as cool, but it did happen. 

The Nuggets played incredible pick and roll defense. 

I have been hoping for more than easy victories over these five games leading up to their three game road trip.  The wins are nice, but in games such as these I am looking for signs of improvement, not just a team who is out talent-ing their opponents.  For a few minutes in the first quarter the Nuggets played very good team defense and showed great collective awareness on the pick and roll and that made me happy.

Of course, it did not last.  There were spurts of good defense here and there, but nothing like they played in the first quarter.  However, instead of getting upset about the relatively porous defense the Nuggets played for most of the night, I am going to focus on the good.  After all, there has to be some good to come out of a 25 point win.

From time to time the Nuggets also applied very good ball pressure in the third quarter.   The best example came with 9:27 left in the third.  Brook Lopez caught an inbounds pass in the left corner.  Nene was all over him.  Lopez dribbled out to the three point line and picked up his dribble while Nene continued to hound him.  While Nene was pressing Lopez, Dahntay Jones was all over Vince Carter who was trying to cut to the ball.  Nene and Jones worked to knock the ball loose and the result was a break away dunk for Jones.

All was not well for the Nuggets defense though as they once again failed to close off the three point line.  The Nets were 9-21 towards the end of the third quarter before finishing the game 1-5.

With all the talk of defense you never would have guessed that the Nuggets posted a season high offensive efficiency of 139.7.  They only shot 45.5%, which is not bad, but they pulled down a whopping 25 offensive rebounds.  The Nets only had 31 total rebounds.  The offensive rebounding has been a trend over the three game winning streak as the Nuggets have posted three of their top eight offensive rebounding rates over the last three games.  Against the Nets they earned a nearly unheard of offensive rebound rate of 50.0%.  Chris Andersen lead the way with eight offensive rebounds in only 19 minutes making up for the fact he only nabbed one defensive rebound.  Renaldo Balkman snared six of his own offensive boards.

The Nuggets also continued their running ways racking up 24 more fast break points. 

The other big stories surrounding this game were the return of Kenyon Martin and the departure of Renaldo Balkman.  Kenyon returned to the starting lineup, but only played in the first half to avoid restraining his back after the half time break. 

Balkman, who had another amazing performance, gave Nuggets fans all over a scare when he strained his left groin muscle in the third quarter, but claims he will be ready to play tonight against Memphis.    

I will say that I was disappointed that the Nets were hanging so close late into the third quarter playing without Devin Harris and on the second night of back to back games.  After the Nuggets jumped on them in the first quarter New Jersey fought back, thanks to some impressive shooting by Vince Carter, and were only down six at the half.  However, I set the bar at not allowing the Nets to get within ten points in the fourth quarter and the Nuggets succeeded in accomplishing that.

Next comes a road game against a feisty Grizzly squad.  The Nuggets definitely look better now that they have had some days off.  Conversely the Jazz, who beat the Wizards by 15 at home tonight, had to deal with a tough east coast roadie that handed them a three game losing streak.  Denver is back in first place in the Northwest Division and fourth in the west, but both races are incredibly tight as the Nuggets are one of four teams with 25 losses, Utah has 26 and Dallas 27.

Additional Game 68 Nuggets

  • I mentioned how the Nuggets played great defense in the first quarter on screens.  Well, it was not really all of them.   Carmelo seemed to be on a personal mission to switch every screen he came in contact with.  I wish I knew if that was the scheme or if he does it on his own.
  • Another game, another physical defender on Carmelo.  Trenton Hassel really gave Melo fits when the two matched up in the playoffs during Melo’s rookie season.  Since then Carmelo really seemed to have solved Hassel, but last night the refs really let Hassle Bowen Melo up.  Hassell used his repertoire of grabbing, pulling and shoving.  Melo did get frustrated, but handled it reasonably well in the second half after getting hit with a technical in the second quarter. 
  • I thought Melo ran very well and at the 7:15 mark of the first quarter after Hassell made a jumper (thanks to Melo switching onto Carter and taking Jones by surprise forcing Jones to try to recover to Hassell) Carmelo beat everyone up the floor, sealed Vince Carter off, received a lob pass from Chauncey and made the layup before help could arrive.  I thought it was a good example of the kind of relatively easy basket that he does not seem to get anymore because he does not run the floor like he used to.
  • If I had a research department I would have them figure out what the record for the widest scoring differential between two teams over two games is.  The 69 point swing from the Nets 44 point win to the Nuggets 25 point win has to be one of the biggest in history.
  • Nene has been doing a better job lately of setting screens instead of constantly slipping them.  With better screens come more opportunities to score in the paint off the roll.
  • I was beside myself on the last play of the first half when on a fast break to beat the clock Anthony Carter faded from the lane for a jumper.  Does he not realize he has not made a jumper in three weeks?  Had he run to the rim he probably could have had a layup instead of a shot that may as well have come from Nebraska the way he is shooting right now.
  • One instance after Lopez had hit a couple of jumpers, Dahntay Jones ran at him to keep him from firing off another.  You would think Jones would then be able to keep Lopez from driving to the rim seeing as how he is a guard, but Lopez blew right by him from the top of the circle and got to the rim for a layup. 
  • In the third quarter the Nuggets were starting to dominate, but the Nets stayed close thanks to Vince Carter.  Carter drilled back to back threes because Dahntay Jones sagged off him into the lane to help on the pick and roll and Melo never once budged to rotate up to Carter.  You might be able to blame Jones for leaving Carter, but as a team defender, you would think Melo might consider helping his teammate.  Maybe after he hits the first one you might think about rotating over.  Sadly, Carter hit a third straight three off a long rebound  where Melo was standing all alone at the right side of the lane with no Nets anywhere near him and even then he hesitated to run at Carter.
  • The Nuggets guards have a problem of dumping the ball off to trailers who are right behind them on the break.  Carter did it to Nene at 9:34 of the fourth quarter.  When you leave the ball for a player coming directly behind you they have to catch the ball and then immediately avoid the player who was guarding you before you passed it.  It is an awful position to put a teammate in, but Chauncey, AC and J.R. all do it from time to time.
  • Kleiza is lucky he did not seriously injure his leg after he was fouled by Vince Carter with 7:46 left in the game.  The way it was caught underneath him and twisted could have broken a bone or shredded some ligaments.
  • J.R. made five straight threes in the third and fourth quarter, which was fun to watch as he has not exploded like that for a long time, but then as soon as he did his my hand is on fire act he missed his last two.  Lesson learned?  J.R. did make some great passes though.  He is the most creative passer on the team.
  • It was nice to see Chauncey continue to be aggressive making passes from the perimeter to the rim.  On one occasion he even caught Melo by surprise as he had to surge past the unsuspecting defender to stab the pass and lay it in.
  • The Nuggets had a season low six turnovers although it may have been due to the law of averages after fumbling the ball away 22 times against the Clippers.
  • By the way, I am sorry for the late recaps.  This one was due to a technical difficulty and I did not get to watch the game until Tuesday afternoon.  I promise to get back on track with the Memphis game.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  86.6 – Second slowest home game of the season thanks to all the offensive rebounds.

Defensive Efficiency:  110.8 – Not very impressive as a whole, but apart from their poor three point field goal defense it was a solid effort.

Offensive Efficiency:  139.7 – As previously mentioned, that is a season high thanks to all the second chance points.

Featured Blog:  Nets Daily

2008-09 Game 67: Denver Nuggets 107 – Los Angeles Clippers 94

Box Score | Highlights

The Denver Nuggets supplied us with another relatively easy, but uninspiring win.  Denver cashed in on runs in the first and third quarter to cruise to a 107-94 win over the slumping Los Angeles Clippers. 

The Nuggets played a very strong first ten minutes and it was good to see them jump on the Clippers early.  All too often Denver has allowed a lesser team to either be in the lead or remain very close at the end of the first quarter.  The result has been that the opponent develops a sense of hope and the game ends up being much tighter than it had to be. 

Even so after building a 13 point lead at 24-11 the Nuggets failed to score over the final 1:29 of the quarter while the Clippers tacked on a couple of Steve Novak threes in transition to drop the lead down to seven.  In the second quarter the Nuggets built their lead back up to double digits, but the Clippers were able to get to within three and were only down by six at the break.  The Clippers were able to come back because the Nuggets turned the ball over and LA hit a couple of jumpers.  Therein lies the problem with being happy to have a ten or eleven or twelve point lead.  They can disappear very quickly.

Despite the Clippers’ second quarter spurt the outcome of the game was never truly in doubt.  Denver jumped on them again to start the third quarter scoring the first eight points and the competitive portion of the game was over.  Although both teams were resigned to the outcome of the game in the third quarter, the Nuggets never did land a knockout blow where the lead was pushed up over 20 points and stayed there.  Denver had their biggest lead of 79-59 with 3:36 left in the third quarter.  In less than three minutes the Clippers had it down to 11.  I do not know where this sense of contentment comes from, but it definitely is not a good thing. 

The Nuggets defense was not seriously taxed by the Clippers.  Baron Davis was not overly aggressive and Eric Gordon seemed relatively passive himself.  Even so the Nuggets once again struggled to cover the three point line.  The Clippers shot 9-17 from behind the arc and 12 of those 17 attempts were uncontested.  They came via a variety of defensive breakdowns.  Two of the open threes came on passes out of the post, two came on drive and kicks, two were in transition, and the other open looks were results of a simple pin down screen, miscommunication, a loose ball situation and off a pick and roll.

Offensively, the Nuggets played with good movement and there were no prolonged stretches where they were settling for jumpers.  They took advantage of their opportunities to run accruing 27 fast break points.  The biggest difference I have seen in the running game is the outlet passing.  Guards are setting up closer to half court and the bigs are hitting them quickly and accurately.  The running game has also been augmented by having Renaldo Balkman in the lineup.  He fills the lane as well as anyone and you regularly see him flying up the sideline passing player after player like he is trying to get to the bank before they close to cash his paycheck.

Balkman had another spectacular game scoring a career high 20 points and collecting ten rebounds.  I love watching the way he gets his points.  Out of his 14 shots only one was a jumper and only once did he create his own shot.  He is a force on the offensive glass and, as mentioned many times before, he finds cracks in the defense around the rim resulting in easy hoops.

It is good to see the Nuggets get well during this portion of the schedule although they have not faced a team who has fought them like the Kings did, but I am not sure they will.

Additional Game 67 Nuggets

  • To start the game Marcus Camby was very aggressive offensively and apparently was channeling the spirit of Zach Randolph as he was a bit of a chucker.  Camby took four shots in less than four minutes and added a fifth before the quarter was halfway completed.  He showed us his entire repertoire from his creaky jumper to hi soft drives.  Camby’s shoot first, ask questions later attitude was part of the reason why the Clippers got off to such a slow start on offense.  Of course, when a team only manages nine points in the first ten minutes of a game it is a team effort.  At no point did I ever wish that Camby was in a Nuggets uniform.
  • Chris Kaman looked rusty and out of shape, but he probably should look rusty and out of shape considering he has missed 48 games this season.
  • Nene showed his ball handling abilities leading two fast breaks.  On one occasion he went behind his back before dumping a pass off to Chauncey who passed it to Renaldo for a layup.  It was not as pretty as it sounded, but it worked.  Later in the game Nene brought the ball up the left side of the floor and swept into the lane to toss in a pretty finger roll at the rim. 
  • I was not thrilled with Carmelo’s shot selection, but after watching many of his possessions over I think he was frustrated about going in the lane and not getting any calls.  Al Thornton was playing him very physically and I think that really bothered Melo.  I have enjoyed seeing Melo return to the passing mode he was in early in the season.  He did force a couple of bad passes resulting in turnovers, but he also threw two beautiful passes in the lane that resulted in easy buckets. 
  • Chauncey has also been making passes that he had not been looking to complete in the past.  For the second straight game he made a beautiful zip pass from the perimeter to Balkman under the rim plus he is passing more out of the pick and roll.  Over the past two games Chauncey has 18 assists and 19 shot attempts.  I like that ratio although against better teams he will have to attempt a few more shots per game.
  • After a special return from Anthony Carter looked more like his old self turning the ball over three times and missing perimeter jumpers.  However, he and Chauncey combined to corral 11 boards which also helped trigger the fast break.
  • J.R. Smith shot the ball well and handed out four assists, but he turned the ball over five times and was a -11 for the game.  He does attempt high risk, high reward passes frequently in traffic so seeing him turn the ball over like that is not a surprise.  The next steps in his offensive development is to be more patient and not force passes and as Scott Hastings has pointed out, he needs to be able to score in the lane without getting to the rim.  He must add a either a short pull up jumper or a floater.
  • Other important stats were the Nuggets as a team committed a ridiculous 22 turnovers.  They outrebounded the Clippers 56 to 30! Denver only attempted eight threes despite the fact J.R. and Chauncey were making them.  Just because they made a couple did not mean they had to toss up another five or six to see how hot they were.
  • Another are where the Nuggets have been struggling was allowing free throws.  They did send the Clippers to the line 36 times, which is too many, but the Nuggets shot 41 freebies so they still managed to out-attempt them which is important.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  98.9 – Fast pace as you would expect from a game with 42 fast break points.

Defensive Efficiency:  95.0 – Denver held the Clippers to 39.0% shooting and did not give them many second chances allowing only five offensive rebounds.

Offensive Efficiency:  108.1 – Pretty good considering they turned the ball over on almost 25% of their possessions.  You can thank the 41 free throw attempts here.

Featured Blogs:  ClipperBlog | Clips Nation

Offday Offerings – Replacing Dahntay?

I cannot believe I did not notice this sooner, but it just donned on me that I did not remember seeing Dahntay Jones play at all against the Thunder last night.  A quick glance at the box score shows that Jones had the DNP Coach’s Decision.

Could it be that George Karl has decided to give Jones’ minutes to Renaldo Balkman? 

With Kenyon Martin out and Anthony Carter returning to the rotation we probably cannot use last night’s game as a template for how minutes will be handed out for the remainder of the season.  Also, Jones started the game before against the Rockets because he was a better matchup against the Rockets’ pair of swingmen Ron Artest and Shane Battier.

A quick glance at the Player Efficiency Ratings shows that the Nuggets bench is full of a bunch of below average players.  Professor Hollinger sets the average PER rating to 15 and Anthony Carter (10.94), Linas Kleiza (13.10) and J.R. Smith (14.64) are all below average players.  Dahntay Jones’ 9.07 PER is the worst out of the Nuggets’ rotation players.  (To be fair, PER does not rate defensive ability outside of blocks and steals and as a result it probably sells players like Jones a little short.)

Renaldo Balkman’s PER is 17.55.

The question I have been asking myself lately is how much better would the Nuggets be if Balkman was getting more of Kleiza’s minutes.  The question I should have been asking is how much better would the Nuggets be if Balkman was getting Jones’ minutes.  I am not saying play Balkman 17 minutes a night at shooting guard, but if we allow Chauncey Billups, J.R. Smith and Anthony Carter to play the 96 minutes available between the two guard spots, have Kleiza back up Melo for 12 to 15 minutes a night, have Chris Andersen back up Nene for 18 to 22 minutes a game and then give Balkman another 18 to 22 minutes behind Kenyon that is a pretty stout rotation.  On some nights Balkman can also help fill in at shooting guard depending on matchups. 

As loyal reader Nuggets4 pointed out in the comments from the game recap Karl is still making references that the reason Balkman does not play more is because of his “spotty defense” and lack of a jump shot.  The only time I saw Renaldo get out of position last night was when his man made a relatively slow cut to the rim and it appeared that Renaldo decided to pass him off to the weak side low defender while he stayed at the strong side elbow so that he could run out at a potential three point shooter.  The result was Balkman’s man was open under the hoop and scored an easy layup, but at least there seemed to be some semblance of a team defense thought process behind his decision even if it was a bad one. 

Balkman does not have a good jumper, but he knows it and rarely takes it.  Kenyon Martin does not have a good jumper, but he chucks it up constantly.  I love the way Balkman plays offense.  He is always around the rim and has a knack for finding cracks in the opposition’s interior defense.  I understand why Karl wishes Balkman could shoot a midrange jumper.  Good outside shooting can open up the middle.  Do not discount what Balkman does do though.  His ability to find open areas and score in the paint breaks the defense down from its core, which is much more devastating.  Balkman’s true shooting percentage (adjusting shooting percentage to include threes and free throws) is third on the Nuggets at 59.2% behind Nene’s 63.9% (and falling) and Birdman’s 60.6%.

I will give Dahntay Jones credit.  He has never been thought of as a defensive stopper at any point in his career, but he realized that was the role he would need to play to earn minutes with the Nuggets and he has worked hard to develop that aspect of his game.  While he has had some great games as a one on one defender, he is not a night in and night out defensive stalwart plus he is not a high quality team defender.  However, if Balkman can get 20 plus minutes a night and Jones gets more DNP Coach’s Decisions I think the Nuggets would reap some pretty good benefits.

Getting in touch with our inner stat geek

Kevin Pelton over at Basketball Prospectus has been cranking out some great stuff as of late.  He came up with a formula to determine what teams are the most inconsistent as far as beating the teams they should be beating by as many points as they should beat them by.  Using adjusted expected scoring differentials Denver is considered the third least consistent team in the NBA.  Confused?  Just read it.  I promise it will help having a smart person explain it instead of having me try to do it.

Kevin has also taken a look at how a team’s average age impacts their defensive abilities using the Portland Trailblazers as the inspiration.

5280 article on George Karl

I am pretty sure I am the last Nuggets related blog to post a link to this piece on Karl, but if you have not read it yet, I highly encourage you to check it out.  Also head on over to Denver Stiffs as Andrew has an interview with the author Robert Sanchez.

NBA players like Chauncey

Sports Illustrated has conducted a poll with NBA players on what point guard they would pay to see.  Look who shows up tied for third.

A little humor to close the day

I never saw that Tokyo Drift movie, but I probably would have if there were scenes like that in it.

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

Box Score | Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Game 66 Nuggets

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

Mindboggling Game Stats

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

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

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

Featured Blog:  Daily Thunder

2008-09 Game 65: Denver Nuggets 95 – Houston Rockets 97

Box Score | Highlights

I am not here to make excuses for the Denver Nuggets.  However, knowing the Nuggets were playing their fourth game in five nights against a hot team made victory in this game a long shot.  I think many of the mistakes the Nuggets made tonight were a result of fatigue.

When the body and mind are tired they get lazy and look for shortcuts.  On defense that means laying off your man and not helping your teammates.  Offensively it means standing and watching resulting in the one or two passes and shoot style that is the bane of our existence. 

It is difficult to pick what side of the court the Nuggets lost this game on.  Nene did as good a job as any Nugget ever has on Yao by using his strength to keep him from getting position in the paint.  They gave up a few too many open looks from behind the arc and Houston scored almost at will in the second and third quarters.  However, Denver’s overall defensive numbers for the game were very strong.  Overall it was a good performance however, the subpar effort in the middle quarters cost them the game.

Offensively Denver took the second and third quarters off too.  After building up a ten point lead the Nuggets slowly stopped moving and passing.  The offense became much too stagnant.  Even though the defense could have been better had they made more than 38.1% of their shots, if they even equal the Rockets’ 42.5% they win the game. 

In the end basketball comes down to making shots.  Whether you are facing tough defense or nonexistent defense you need to knock down shots.  The Nuggets missed more layups than I care to track.  They also missed numerous open jumpers.  On one second quarter possession J.R. drove the lane and missed a right handed layup, Birdman missed the tip, but Nene was able to corral the rebound and passed it to Jason Hart.  Hart passed it to Melo on the right wing who drove in and kicked a pass out to J.R. who had no one near him in the right corner.  J.R. missed the open three, but Nene tipped the rebound to Melo who was all alone at the middle of the free throw line and he missed the wide open jumper.  You cannot fail to capitalize on chances like that.

As in the Kings game the Nuggets tried to crank up the intensity and make a late run and just like in the Kings game it was too little too late.  I have no idea why they continue to play a turn it on when it matters style after it has failed game after game since the All-Star break.  If they do not learn their lesson soon it will be too late.

The Nuggets are now a game behind Utah and Portland for the division lead.  They have a day off before Oklahoma City comes to the Pepsi Center.  The Nuggets had better get enough rest so that they can focus for an entire 48 minutes.  They cannot afford to forfeit prolonged stretches of the game to their opponent.  They cannot afford to give away another game to a sub .500 team and hold out any hope that this season will provide a different ending than any of the previous five. 

Additional Game 65 Nuggets

 

  • Driving home from work I heard a replay of an Interview on 104.3 The Fan with Chris Dempsey from the Denver Post.  He claimed in the interview that Kenyon Martin was a good week away from playing again.  I have taken the position that Martin needs to sit out as long as necessary to ensure he is healthy for the playoffs.  I was afraid the current losing streak would provide motivation for Martin to return to early.  Lo and behold look who was in the starting lineup tonight.  Kenyon played somewhat effectively and accumulated 24:05 on the floor.  I am afraid he did come back too soon.  During the very first possession of the third quarter he was on the right side of the hoop and Luis Scola pushed him under the basket after a shot by Yao.  Kenyon jumped up and reached back over his head to try to get the rebound.  I have seen Kenyon struggle with his back enough to see his upright stance after landing was a sign his back was barking at him again.  Kenyon remained in the game another seven minutes, but one he checked out with 4:18 left in the third, he never checked back in.
  • I was hoping Balkman’s performance had earned him some additional playing time, but with the return of Kenyon he saw absolutely no burn.  George Karl did manage to find over 21 minutes of floor time for Linas Kleiza though. 
  • Yao’s length really bothered Nene.  He missed numerous layups around the basket and a dunk because of Yao’s size.
  • This was the sixth time the Nuggets have played six games in nine days and it was the worst performance they have produced in those six situations posting a 1-5 record.  They went 4-2 from November 13-21, 2-4 from November 26-December 4, 2-4 from December 15-23, 5-1 from December 26 -January 3 and 5-1 from February 3-11.  The Nuggets do not have any more six games in nine night sets for the remainder of the season.  They also do not have any more four game in five night stretches either.
  • With 3:58 left in the third quarter J.R. Smith missed a layup attempt over Yao as he chased the rebound down near the Rockets bench he swing his fist in frustration and yelled something at the ref.  He must have said the magic word because three Rockets simultaneously leapt up off the bench and practically chased the ref down the sideline yelling at him to call the technical.  It really was pretty funny to watch their reaction.
  • Entering tonight’s game Shane Battier had missed 18 consecutive three point shots.  I predicted he would make at least three.  I was wrong, he only made two, but his second one was the decisive shot of the night when he put the Rockets up seven with a minute left.  Denver did pull to within two, but they had to start fouling to stop the clock.  If Battier misses that three the game is completely different and maybe Denver even pulls off the unlikely comeback.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  94.7

Defensive Efficiency:  102.4

Offensive Efficiency:  100.3

Featured Blogs:  Rockets Buzz | The Dream Shake

2008-09 Game 63: Denver Nuggets 91 – Utah Jazz 97

Box Score | Highlights

The Denver Nuggets did what I thought was impossible.  They led me to think they actually had a shot at beating the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City.  The Nuggets played an incredible 18 minutes to start the game, but the Jazz were not having it.  I have watched the turning point of the game, when the Nuggets took their 17 point lead at 47-30, a few times and there was no substitution or strategic master stroke.  The Jazz basically took back the paint.  Denver had been dominating the lane on both ends of the floor for most of the game, but just like that Utah started taking the ball to the basket and the Nuggets started taking jumpers. 

With 10:38 left in the third quarter C.J. Miles made two free throws to cut the Nuggets lead down to six, 47-41.  At that point former point guard Mark Jackson, the color commentator on the ESPN broadcast, proclaimed that it was Chauncey Billup’s job to step up and be a difference maker.  He was exactly right.  As the point guard Chauncey has the ball in his hands and the command of the offense.  He knew the Jazz had scored 11 straight points and the Nuggets were in danger of losing control of the game.  How did he respond?  Take the ball to the rim?  Get the ball to Melo in the post?  Run a set to get some motion in the offense and force the defense to actually defend the whole court? 

With all of those options and the Nuggets in need of a bucket Chauncey brought the ball up the floor, dribbled on the left wing for a few seconds, dribbled towards the middle of the floor off a pick by Nene and launched a 23 foot jumper, with both feet on the three point line, that was so strongly challenged by Deron Williams that he had to shoot the ball almost straight up in the air. 

I think the Nuggets deserve credit for fighting back and actually temporarily regaining the lead.  They could have completely folded and I think we all knew what the result of the game would be early in the third quarter when the Jazz completed their run. 

I think there are two big positives that can come out of this game.  First of all, J.R. Smith is proving that he deserves to start with his play at both ends of the floor.  He did an incredible job of taking the ball to the rim and his defense continues to improve.  The other positive that hopefully will come from the game is Renaldo Balkman proving to George Karl that he deserves to be on the floor. 

The Nuggets are still a half a game ahead of the Jazz and they have by far the easier schedule between the two.  As well as the Jazz are playing I think the division is still the Nuggets to lose.  As long as they beat the weaker teams on the schedule and split the tough ones they should finish ahead of Utah and Portland. 

Additional Game 63 Nuggets

  • I thought the officiating in the first half was fine and in the second half was fine, but the problem was that there was almost no correlation between how the first half was officiated and how the second half was officiated.  The first half was rough and tumble and the second every little bit of contact drew a whistle. 
  • Only Jazz fans boo every call against their team in a quarter when the Jazz shoot 17 free throws.
  • Chauncey clearly looked slow and I think he is at the point in his career where he cannot play 40 minutes on back to back nights.  The good news is in the playoffs there are no back to back games.  He was clearly outclassed by Deron Williams, but the way Williams is playing I do not think you can hold it against Chauncey.
  • Melo may have only ended up with six second half points, but I liked the way he played in the first half.  He was derailed by foul trouble in the second half and that was a big reason why Denver struggled to score.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  88.8

Defensive Efficiency:  109.2 – Not bad, plus they held the Jazz to 42.7% shooting.

Offensive Efficiency:  102.4 – The 8:50 stretch spanning the end of the second quarter and he first half of the third quarter where the Nuggets only managed to score five points drove their efficiency into the ground.

Featured Blogs:  SLC Dunk

2008-09 Game 61: Denver Nuggets 95 – Detroit Pistons 100

Box Score | Highlights

The Denver Nuggets just cannot beat the Detroit Pistons.  They dropped another winnable game on the road and it is officially time to really start to be concerned about this team. 

The Pistons started the game off on fire making six of their first eight shots, and they were able to collect the offensive rebound on both of the misses and eventually convert.  Fortunately for the Nuggets Chauncey was making everything he threw up too.  Billups clearly felt comfortable returning to Detroit and he lit up his former team scoring 21 first half points on 7-11 shooting.  The first half was not just all about Chauncey though as Denver was able to find a lot of holes in the Piston defense on their way to 54 first half points.

The Nuggets started the second half out strong as well using the pick and roll to continue to create holes in the defense.  Chauncey made a three, his fourth of the game, with 8:26 left that put the Nuggets up 65-54 and gave him 26 points on the night. 

At that point Richard Hamilton had seen enough.  After the ensuing Pistons possession Hamilton stood under the basket, made a gesture to Rodney Stuckey who had been covering Billups that communicated, “This is not working, you guard Dahntay Jones because he cannot score” and he began hounding Chauncey all over the court.  Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess then began trapping Chauncey off of screens and that really slowed down the Nuggets attack.  For the rest of the night the Nuggets struggled to score.  In fact, from the time Hamilton started covering Billups the Nuggets only scored 12 points over the next 12 minutes and only scored 30 points over the final 20 minutes.  The only reason they managed to score that many points was because J.R. Smith put up ten points in the final five minutes of the game.

Even with the limited offense if J.R. converts on a dunk attempt, on which he may or may not have been fouled by McDyess (Altitude never showed a replay of what may have been the most important play in the game, but after watching it a few times it did not look like McDyess touched the ball at all), The Nuggets might have pulled this game out.

In a game without Carmelo the Nuggets’ supporting cast was just not strong enough.  Linas Kleiza started, but was virtually useless scoring only two points in 26 minutes proving his one point performance in the first meeting was not a fluke.  Kenyon Martin shot 3-13 and scored a measly six points.  Chris Andersen missed jumpers and tip ins alike to finish 1-8.  Even with his strong finish J.R. was a sorry 6-16.  A major key to the game was in the second half Chauncey, Nene and J.R. scored all but five points for Denver.  A team with only a couple of weapons can be easily defended.

In the third quarter Detroit only had to worry about Chauncey and Nene.  After Nene made a jumper less than a minute into the fourth quarter he only attempted two more shots and one of those was a meaningless three at the final horn.   After Nene’s final bucket early in the fourth Chauncey and J.R. scored all of the Nuggets points, but one, a free throw by Anthony Carter.  You want your best players to shine down the stretch, but the lack of diversity in the Nuggets offense played into the Piston’s hands. 

Defensively the Nuggets played hard for most of the game, but they did not play together.  Almost all of the Pistons’ shots were uncontested as defenders either blew assignments and rotations or were simply out of position.

I was worried about how the Nuggets would respond to the suspension of Carmelo and I thought they played hard.  I think that the fact it was Chauncey’s homecoming game helped keep the effort up.  Unfortunately the focus and determination just was not there, especially on defense.

Up next the Nuggets return home for a Thursday battle with the second place Trail Blazers and then follow that up the next night with a battle against the surging Jazz in Utah.

Additional Game 61 Nuggets

 

  • It was great to see Chauncey receive such a warm greeting from Piston fans.  I do not think anyone expected anything less.  Even though the Nuggets lost I was glad to see Chauncey have a nice night posting a new season high. 
  • Sticking with Chauncey I thought he provided Carmelo a great example of how to trust your teammates.  Instead of forcing his offense down the stretch Chauncey deferred to J.R. and Smith carried the Nuggets offense and almost pulled the game out on his own pouring in 14 fourth quarter points. 
  • Kleiza played 26 minutes, which was far too many, but even though George Karl gave him that many minutes it was still encouraging to see Karl use Renaldo Balkman as much as he did in an attempt to slow down Tayshaun Prince.  Kleiza played hard, but had no answer for Prince’s offensive arsenal.  Prince scored nine points in the first nine minutes of the game being guarded by Kleiza, but only three more the rest of the half being covered by Balkman.  In the second half Prince scored four points on Kleiza in nine minutes, and seven on Balkman over the final 15 minutes.  However, Prince scored a layup after Balkman had to switch off of him and he made a three when Balkman had to help on penetration, but amazingly Renaldo still managed to get from under the hoop to the corner to challenge the shot.  The final tally was 13 points off of Kleiza over 18 minutes and ten off of Balkman in 24 minutes, but as I pointed out, five of those points on Balkman came as a result of him leaving Prince through the design of the defense.  Again, we can only hope that we see more of Balkman in the next few weeks.
  • Something is wrong with Kenyon Martin.  With 4:16 left in the second quarter Martin received a beautiful behind the back pass from Chauncey under the rim.  He tried to dribble over to the left side of the rim, elevate and dunk, but he barely got the ball up to the rim.  He is also not getting his typical elevation on his push shots around the rim and they are al coming up short.  Since he sat out the Milwaukee game to rest his back he has shot 15-45 and not all of those 30 misses have been jumpers.  According to his Hotspot chart  from NBA.com over those five games he is shooting only 14 of 29 from in close. 
  • Kenyon Martin shooting last five games
  • As in the Pacer game the Nuggets inability to collect rebounds late in the game hurt them.  With 1:37 left down 94-90 they forced Rasheed Wallace to take a long three.  Rodney Stuckey jumped over Billups and taped the ball back towards half court.  Rip Hamilton chased it down and passed it to Sheed before falling out of bounds.  Not one Nugget chased after the ball.  On their next possession Prince missed a jumper with 41 seconds left, but the ball bounced past Billups and Smith to Stuckey.  Game over.
  • The Nuggets free throw shooting was another problem, especially during the third quarter.  At one point the Nuggets missed five of six free throws.  It also did not help that they only made it to the line 22 times.  

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  79.4 – Very slow partly due to the lack of turnovers, only 17 combined, and offensive rebounds, 28 total. 

Defensive Efficiency:  126.0 – Very poor. 

Offensive Efficiency:  119.7 – This number belies how bad they were in the second half thanks to Billups hot first half and J.R.’s hot final five minutes.

Featured Blogs:  Piston Powered | Detroit Bad Boys

2008-09 Game 57: Denver Nuggets 76 – Boston Celtics 114

Box Score | Highlights

There were three simple differences between the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets tonight.

  1. One team played all out on both ends of the court for 48 minutes and the other did not.
  2. One team played aggressive trap and recover on ball screens and fought through on other screens while the other switched most screens.
  3. One team made their shots and the other did not.

One team was the Celtics and they won by 38.  The other team was the Nuggets and they lost by 38.

Playing hard for 48 minutes is a cliché.  Every team has slumps of a few minutes here and there where the effort wanes and they get lazy.  I promise you the Celtics played their bums off for all 48 minutes.  The collective competitive spirit puts the Nuggets to shame.  Kendrick Perkins was bickering with the refs with about a minute left after he was called for traveling.  These guys do not care what the score is.  The score is almost immaterial.  They are giving it their all from start to finish.

For the Nuggets the built in excuse is that they have been on a three week long road trip and it was unfair to ask them to play the Celtics a day after they played in Milwaukee.  I am not buying it.  As has been pointed out by many people, including myself, the road trip they just finished was only a three game trip.  Sure they played five road games in a row before that, but they had six whole days off during the All-Star break.  The Celtics were the team that had to check into hotels last night after playing in Phoenix. 

Honestly it did not matter who suited up, how many days in a row the Nuggets had played or what strategy the coaches asked the players to implement.  Boston played with confidence and determination while the Nuggets looked like a scrawny book worm getting ready to ask out the prom queen. 

Denver has now lost by 40 points, give or take a couple of points, twice in their last seven games.  Does that scream contender?  The game in New Jersey could be written off as a fluke, but for it to happen again just seven games later is shocking.  I guarantee you the Trail Blazers and Jazz are licking their chops right now.

Denver now has a day off to prepare for an Atlanta Hawks team that was blown out by the Jazz and two days later the Lakers roll into town.  They better get their act together by Wednesday or else they will be going back out on the road with a five game losing streak.

 Additional Game 57 Nuggets

  • After the game George Karl said that they ran into a team who was, “Angry and pissed off and wanted to beat us.”  Why weren’t the Nuggets that team?  They gave away two winnable games and were returning home against the defending world champions.  Show some heart and show some pride.  I know the Celtics are good.  Accept the challenge. 
  • Ahead of the pack and bucket short of a 40 point margin of victory most people probably would not have batted an eye had Bill Walker put home a dunk with just a few ticks left on the clock.  I thought he made a classy play by pulling the ball out and running out the clock. 
  • Was anyone disappointed in the play of Johan Petro?   He cannot catch a pass in traffic to save his life (Chauncey will not even pass to him unless he has no other option), but he can has little jumper, decent touch around the rim, can rebound and had a couple of nice blocks.  He has been called on twice and in my book came through twice after playing well in Orlando and again tonight.
  • Once again George Karl lacked the “courage” to play Renaldo Balkman in the second half tonight.  Balkman was the only Nugget other than the injured Nene to record a DNC-CD.  As BeefySwats pointed out in the game thread there was a portion of the game where Anthony Carter was matched up against Paul Pierce.  Pierce just shot over the much smaller Carter and looked like he could have challenged Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 100 points in a game with Carter on him.  Could that have been a good time to dust off Balkman? 
  • Chauncey looked slow tonight.  Rondo can do that to his opposition, but it was more than that.  His pathetic point total was a result of his very poor shot selection.
  • J.R. Smith was the only Nugget who was determined and able to attack the basket.  He made a couple of terrible passes, but once he realized he could finish against whoever the Celtics had at the rim he put in layup after layup.
  • Even Chris Marlowe acknowledged that the way to beat the Celtics defense is to move the ball and dislodge their defense with quick passing and movement.  The Nuggets played almost entirely one on one basketball.  Clearly it did not work. 
  • The Nuggets cut their turnovers down to 17, but for the second straight game they finished with more turnovers than assists.
  • I mentioned in my preview that the Nuggets Pythagorean projected record without Nene this season was 6-76.  After tonight it is 3-79.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  89.5

Defensive Efficiency:  127.4 – Fourth worst single game rating this season.

Offensive Efficiency:  84.9 – Second lowest single game rating this season ahead of only the 44 point drubbing in New Jersey.

Featured Blogs:  Celtics Hub | Celtics Blog

2008-09 Game 56: Denver Nuggets 117 – Milwaukee Bucks 120

Box Score | Highlights

I do not understand how this team’s collective mind works.  Coming off a loss to an inferior team and playing another inferior team they play brain dead basketball and drop a very winnable game.  How can a team play three straight games of great defense and then come out and play two games where they look like they have no clue how to cover for each other and rotate?  I just do not get it.

How many times did you see the Bucks rotating the ball and Denver appear to be taken completely off guard when the pass went into the corner for an open three?  That is a staple of every offense in the NBA yet time after time there was a Nugget standing in the lane completely oblivious to the fact that they needed to be running at the shooter in the corner until after he caught the ball.  They also did a great job of sending two guys at a shooter thus ending any hope of their rotation going smoothly. 

The offense was not above reproach either.  They did score 117 points and posted a very good offensive efficiency rating, but they turned the ball over 24 times.  If they manage to only turn the ball over 20 times, which still would have been offensive, they win that game.  Most of the turnovers were unforced mindless decisions.  The best example was J.R. Smith throwing a pass directly at Anthony Carter when Carter is way out in front of everyone and bouncing it off his head out of bounds.  All he had to was loft the ball in the air and let Carter get it. 

I can imagine some folks are saying that it was the last game in a long eight game road trip, but that is bunk.  This was a three game road trip with no back to back games against three mediocre eastern conference teams and the Nuggets went 1-2.  The Nuggets’ three and a half game lead over Portland over the All-Star break is now done to one and a half.

The other story, and potentially more important plotline, is the knee injury to Nene.  I heard the play on the radio and had no idea how he sustained it thus making me nearly catatonic, which is not a good state to be in when behind the wheel.  Needless to say as soon as I got home I raced to watch how it happened and was relieved to see that it was a knee to knee hit.  Not to say that what happened to him was not incredibly painful, but knee to knee hits do not tear ligaments or destroy cartilage.  Nene will almost assuredly miss tonight’s game against the Celtics, but I would not expect him to be out for long.

Denver now comes home for three tough home games against the Celtics, Hawks and Lakers.  It is entirely possible that they stumble through a 1-4 or even 0-5 stretch.  If there is a lesson here for Denver to latch onto it is that they cannot count on flipping the switch in the fourth quarter. 

Additional Game 56 Nuggets

 

  • Renaldo Balkman started in place of Kenyon Martin and played the beginning of both halves.  When he left the game in the first quarter Charlie Villanueva had four points.  When Balkman was in the game in the third quarter Villanueva scored three points, one of which was a technical free throw.  Villanueva was on the floor for 17 minutes while Balkman was on the floor and he scored seven points.  The other 20 minutes Vilanueva was on the floor with Balkman on the bench he scored 29 points.  And George Karl said he wished he had the courage to play Balkman more in the second half (last sentence of this article).  What kind of courage does it take to play a guy who can shut down the opposing player that is slaying you?  It is not like Balkman was killing them on offense.  He scored ten points in his 17 minutes and eight of those ten were on layups and dunks.  The other two points were from the free throw line after he was fouled on a layup attempt.
  • The Bucks were running a lot of three man weave triggered off a screen from the right wing at the top of the three point circle.  The Nuggets response was to switch off.  The result was a lot of Nene getting stuck at the top of the circle switching onto perimeter player after perimeter player.  In fact, that was the reason he was on Richard Jefferson on the play where he hurt his knee.  
  • With the Nuggets down three and 30 seconds left in the game they ran a play that brought J.R. off of a double screen to try to tie the game.  He was hounded pretty well by Luc Mbah Bahmoute or whatever his name is and ended up forcing up an air ball.  I think George Karl has done a pretty good job of drawing up plays all season whether they be out of timeouts or at the end of games, but in that situation, you take the quick two and foul.  If you miss the three the game is over.  Do not resort to shots like that until they are absolutely necessary.  With the Nuggets down four and 17.8 seconds left he drew up a play where Melo curled of a screen, received the inbounds pass on the left wing and drove right to the rim.  The result was Melo scored in only 2.5 seconds.  As Jason Kosmicki astutely pointed out on the radio, if they run that play instead of the double screen for J.R. they are only down one with 25 or so seconds left with the Bucks shooting free throws instead of down three with the Bucks at the line.  If they miss a free throw (which both Ridnour and Sessions did in the closing seconds) you are only down two and in great position to send it to OT. 
  • Another of the 24 turnovers that made me nuts was a fast break where Anthony Carter had the ball and Melo is way out in front, the defender, Charlie Bell is at the free throw line and as Carter enters the front court he commits to Carter.  At this point AC is well outside the three point line.  With Bell having changed directions all Carter has to do is lob the ball over his head to Melo.  Instead Carter continues to dribble and runs all the way into Bell before trying to pass to the wide open Melo.  The result was a lazy over head pass that was easily deflected and stolen by Bell and a clear path foul called on Kleiza.  The Nuggets stopped the Bucks on the following possession, but it was a four point swing as Bell made both free throws.  Just a horrible play.
  • The Bucks went small to start the fourth quarter and Andersen was in the game.  It would have been a perfect time to bring Balkman back in, but Karl stayed with Andersen who gave up a jumper to Villanueva and then a drive and dunk to Joe Alexander and then another jumper to Villanueva.  Alexander and Villanueva were the “bigs” in the game for the Bucks.  I am not faulting Andersen, he was playing hard.  He even worked to deny the ball to Alexander way out past the three point line.  The Bucks were able to take Birdman out of the paint and out of his game.  At the other end on one occasion Birdman was being guarded by Luke Ridnour at the rim, but Melo was so determined to post up Charlie Bell he did not even look Andersen’s way.  Andersen did make a couple of nice plays such as an offensive put back and a huge block on Alexander at the rim, but I really think Karl missed a chance to matchup better with Balkman.
  • Karl’s other option would have been to insert Nene and go medieval on their heinies.  When Karl did sub Nene in with 7:07 left in the game Skiles responded by removing Ridnour for Cisco Elson.  The Nuggets were only outscored by one during the small ball segment of the fourth, but had they used Balkman I believe they would have been much better off.
  • For some reason now that Kleiza has made a couple of threes he is going to the rim more.  Do not ask me why he was not attacking the hoop in the middle of his 0-16 three point shooting slump.  Anyway he had a beautiful take with 7:33 left in the fourth where he received the pass on the right side a little bit above the baseline.  He exploded past Alexander with a great first step, took one dribble, took his two steps and laid the ball in the net.  That is a drill that every player should work on, getting to the rim off of one dribble from your respective three point line (whatever the distance may be at your level) and for Kleiza to do it in a game and leave an athlete like Alexander in the dust was beautiful.  (This however does not give him a pass for his atrocious defense all game long.)
  • Chauncey picks up his dribble way too much.
  • Mr. Big Shot reared his ugly head again as with the Nuggets down 114-113 with about 1:30 left in the game Chauncey brought the ball up the floor and took a three with 14 seconds left on the shot clock.  I think most if not all of us can agree that J.R. tends to take too many shots like that so what kind of example is Chauncey setting for J.R. when he takes those shots?  How can the coaching staff get on J.R. without getting on Chauncey? 
  • While we are on Chauncey he displayed some absolutely atrocious court sense he displayed by stepping well over the three point line on his desperation with Denver down three and only six seconds left in the game.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  98.9

Defensive Efficiency:  121.3 – Ugh.

Offensive Efficiency:  118.3 – Again with 24 turnovers.

Featured Blog:  Brew Hoop

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