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
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.
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.
For a big picture breakdown of last night’s game click here and go to item number two. I will post some additional nuggets with the game stats later this afternoon.
- Finally Updated -
Additional Game 71 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 97.9
Defensive Efficiency: 120.5 – The Suns have been on fire lately, but there is no excuse for the kind of performance the Nuggets put forth. The only reason their defensive efficiency was not higher was the Suns committed 20 turnovers.
Offensive Efficiency: 117.5 – That should be good enough to win.
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
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
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
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
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.
Featured Blog: 3 Shades of Blue
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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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
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 94.7
Defensive Efficiency: 102.4
Offensive Efficiency: 100.3
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
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.
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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
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.
There were three simple differences between the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets tonight.
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
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.
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
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 98.9
Defensive Efficiency: 121.3 – Ugh.
Offensive Efficiency: 118.3 – Again with 24 turnovers.
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