There are certain games at certain times of every season that I get a funny feeling about and just dread having to watch. In the past, it was the predictable slumps and offensive hell the Melo-era Nuggets so often fell into during big-time road games. After losing to Orlando in nothing short of heartbreaking fashion, it was an unwelcome case of déjà vu giving me that oh-so familiar feeling that tonight’s back-to-back in Miami would not be a fun one. It’s not that I haven’t been a believer in the remarkable strides this team has made in a short time playing together, I am just naturally skeptical of the Nuggets in big time “show up” games on the road. With that said, attempting to stay grounded about this team’s progress brings a certain understanding that maintaining an identity with grit and determination in a loss to a premiere team is nothing to sneer at. Call it complacency, but in my mind these last two losses are a sign that the NBA is taking notice and adjusting to a surprisingly tough team that is not without flaws – and crashing the new-look Nuggets party like this might be something that needed to happen.
This was a game and effort simply not worth the time it would take you to read about. Long story short, the Nuggets move to 0-2 on their three game road trip in demoralizing fashion at Houston. Since more important matters like the trade deadline loom, I’ll limit this exercise to some story-telling and general commentary while I watch this latest loss wind down.
The game started off very strange, with the Nuggets hitting shots and the Rockets throwing a very early zone at Denver in response. At first, it didn’t seem to matter as Houston struggled to convert stops into points at the other end. The Rockets offense looked lifeless and Denver took control quickly. It was almost as if Houston was offering up the game at that moment, saying “just be patient, play some defense and you guys can go ahead and have this one.” At one point, the Nuggets lead reached 15 in the first quarter. Then…
I have to admit, after reliving that incredible fourth quarter comeback against Dallas I almost bought back in. It’s been tempting at numerous times this season when the Nuggets occasionally act like the good team they think they are. Even through the first half of this game I thought it was the best Denver has looked on the road all season. Something just made me uneasy about saying with another half to play and unfortunately it turned into a cruel reminder of why I can’t get fooled anymore.
As I write this, the Nuggets are down by 18 in New Jersey and will lose to the Nets by a yet to be determined amount. One thing is sure, and that is that the Nuggets play is so fundamentally poor that it’s hard to make the argument that Denver is actually a good, contending team simply going through a lull of poor play. If that’s indeed the case, it’s been a frequently occurring lull lasting the entirety of the season. Despite facing the third worst offense in the league, the Nuggets again allow their opponent to shoot lights out in another embarrassing defeat that’s no longer the least bit surprising to anyone.
During a brief road resurgence in which the offense got rolling, the Nuggets settled into their familiar road habits and lose the last two to arrive at a predictable 8-15 record away from home. Fundamentally, the Nuggets don’t run anything different or drastically change their style on the road. They simply make a ton of selfish, mental mistakes out of frustration and fall into the mindset of other inexperienced and mentally weak teams that suffer similar problems on the road.
Carmelo Anthony is a very talented player, but no longer has any desire or passion to put on a Nuggets jersey. While both sides have “made the best” of a challenging situation, the long and trivial season the Nuggets are trudging through keeps reminding us they cannot run from their fate much longer. In yet another example of the common theme we’ve seen in games this season – a disinterested team led by Melo begrudgingly go through the motions, squandering their early advantage against Philly en route to a routine, but still frustrating road defeat.
I’ll have to admit, I’ve missed the last three games, and thanks to new contributor GoldenNugget I’ve discovered they’ve been able to bring their balanced offensive attack on the road to the tune of some rare wins. We all know the Nuggets haven’t won with defense in quite a while, but with such a poor road record they need to be what they are and take wins however they come away from home. Unfortunately, what they are is incredibly inconsistent and it showed after this game opened up like a typical road contest this season. When both teams are content to take quick shots, Denver’s offense can carry them all the way through when the ball is moving and finding open shooters. Chauncey Billups provided the early spark in this one, making his first three shots from deep and kicking out to others for open shots off his dribble penetration. He vaulted Denver to an early nine point lead and it seemed the Nuggets merely needed to take care of the ball while once again the offense could settle in and do all of the work on this one.
Note: Due to your usual staff missing in action for tonight’s game, please enjoy the guest recap and first RMC contribution from GoldenNugget!
Tonight seemed like nothing more than a glorified street-ball game, in which the goal was simply to embarrass the opponent with the most blocked shots or amazing dunks that you could; defense was certainly an afterthought – which of course, is not a typical characteristic of a championship caliber team.
I don’t normally like to include personal information into recaps, but in this situation I feel it’s appropriate given the context, so here it goes…
Normally this would be where I lay out numbers analysis at the halfway point, look at the strengths and weaknesses of the team and performance relative to expectations for the season. Not that I mind doing that or don’t think it’s a virtuous exercise or anything, I just don’t see the point in getting too in depth about any of it. With Melo’s fate holding the team and the NBA in suspense the entire season, it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions about a team living on borrowed time, where any day could be its last.
It’s not terribly surprising the Nuggets lost one of their toughest matchups yet against the league-best San Antonio Spurs. On one hand, you’d have to be happy with a complete effort defensively and a mere sign of improvement on the road in the second game of a back to back. For fans that know this team, it’s another miserable reminder this team can’t reach its potential while the constant delay to ending this soap opera robs them of any real hope or vision for the future. In what should be the end of the Carmelo Anthony era in Denver, the Spurs put on a defensive clinic to embarrass a disjointed Nuggets team, dropping them to a rock bottom 5-13 record away from home.
For me, the saddest thing I’ll remember about this golden era of Nuggets ball is the fact they never learned how to win on the road. It seemed every year they dug a hole and fought uphill the rest of the season. This year more than ever, it’s again a tale of two teams. There is currently no playoff team in either conference with fewer road wins than the Nuggets. They’re tied with Philadelphia at five. It’s why these Nuggets teams were regarded as more flash and flare than actual substance. It’s what separated them from being good most of the time but championship worthy only once.
Having won only 2 of their last 9 road games, the Nuggets look to improve their 5-13 mark away from the Pepsi Center against the 34-6 San Antonio Spurs. Despite losing to the Spurs in both of their previous matchups, the Nuggets have competed and overall played well against them twice. Had it not been for a controversial, but “correct” charge call on Carmelo Anthony, Denver might have turned a one point loss to a win on December 16th. On December 22nd, had the Nuggets managed to avoid getting outscored 29-14 in a fourth quarter collapse against the zone, they would have had their best win of the season. But almost doesn’t count and finishers finish in this league, which is why San Antonio won both times and shouldn’t fear the road weary Nuggets tonight.
Update: Ty Lawson will play, Birdman is still out. For San Antonio Matt Bonner and James Anderson are out.