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.
I know it was Manu Ginobili, one of the top two or three most despised players for Nuggets fans. I know it was the Spurs, one of the two or three most hated franchises by Nuggets fans. I know it would have been another game winner by Carmelo Anthony, but that was a charge. Ginobili was outside the charge circle, he was on the spot before Melo gathered and Anthony dislodged Manu and knocked him to the ground. Ginobili is notorious for his flopping and he sure did not try to remain upright, but who would not make sure they hit the floor hard on a play like that?
The interesting question in my mind is was there any disagreement amongst the officials on the call. (more…)
ESPN.com recently ran a feature where Chad Ford and John Hollinger ranked the potential for future success of all 30 NBA teams (Insider required). Every team was ranked based on five important characteristics, players (weighted 40%), management (weighted 20%), money (weighted 20%), market (weighted 10%), and draft (weighted 10%).
As a Nuggets fan and observer I believe they forgot one very crucial category, luck.
Whether you call it luck or intangibles, mojo or fortune it comes down to the fact some teams seem to have things go their way a little more often than others. Look at the teams that have dominated the NBA over the previous two decades. Chicago, San Antonio, Los Angeles and Boston had at least one tremendously lucky break that has paved the way for their success.
Things were falling into place for the Denver Nuggets. Utah had dropped a game to Houston and opened the door for the Nuggets to claim the Northwest Division title and ensure the worst they would finish in the Western Conference would be third. All the Nuggets had to do was beat the San Antonio Spurs, who came into the Pepsi Center the night after losing at home to Memphis, and then beat Memphis on Monday night. Plus Kenyon Martin was making a return from a knee injury that could have potentially caused him to miss the remainder of the regular season and possibly the playoffs as well.
San Antonio had other ideas as they played a near perfect game and beat the tar out of the impotent Nuggets 104-85.
With the loss to San Antonio the Nuggets are going to have to either win in Phoenix, a game that will be their fourth in five days and the Suns will have a day of rest at home, or hope Phoenix can win in Utah on the final night of the season. Their only other hope is for Utah to lose at Golden State and I would not count on that happening.
Getting back to the game itself it was the Nuggets once potent offense that completely disappeared in the second half that allowed the Spurs to take control of the game. After a layup by Carmelo Anthony cut the Spurs’ lead to six early in the fourth quarter, San Antonio rattled off 12 straight points in only 2:39. During that time the Spurs scored on seven straight possessions, that streak would reach nine before the Nuggets finally earned a stop, while the Nuggets turned the ball over four times and missed two shots. On their six possessions they threw a total of five passes and two of those five were caught by players in black jerseys.
The most disconcerting aspect of the game was how the Nuggets completely checked out mentally. The combination of frustration created by the sound defense of the Spurs and the anger they felt towards the officials was apparently too much to handle. This game was in my mind the most important contest of the season, and it was made so largely due to the fact Denver blew so many easy games early in the season, yet Denver was completely unable to rise to the occasion. The way they failed to answer the bell in the fourth quarter was very distressing.
There was a slight glimmer of good news though. Despite the fact the Spurs picked Denver’s defense apart, the Nuggets actually showed significant improvement on their pick and roll defense. I am sure you will read that and scoff because the Spurs seemed to score at will. My high school coach used to say that any offense that is run correctly, will eventually earn an open shot. The pick and roll is the perfect example of that principle. A combination of a solid screen and the ball handler making sure he runs his man into the screen always creates an advantage for the offense. The Nuggets did a very good job of hedging, recovering and rotating against the Spurs pick and roll. The Spurs simply responded by executing their offense. The contrast between the motion and passing the Spurs exhibited on offense and the I-got-the-ball-so-I-better-shoot-it offense the Nuggets exhibited was very exacerbating.
I suspect there are some doubters out there regarding my claim the Nuggets improved their pick and roll defense so I put together a few clips as video evidence.
Denver still has time to get their act together for the playoffs, but I fear the way the season is playing out the most likely result for Denver will be a first round matchup against the Suns without home court advantage and that is very bad news for the Nuggets.
Additional Game 80 Nuggets
We are close enough to the end of the season to start projecting what might happen with some level of certainty. Honestly, I have no idea what order Dallas, Utah and Phoenix will finish in or how the bottom three spots will be sorted among Oklahoma City, Portland and San Antonio. I do believe two spots are locked in place. Obviously the Lakers will be the top seed and I think the Nuggets are all but guaranteed to finish as the fifth seed.
While that is a very frustrating sentence to type, Denver can be a dangerous fifth seed or they can be a pushover as the fifth seed. It all depends on how the finish the regular season and the Nuggets’ closing schedule is an interesting one. Almost every contest features a team playing at the end of a difficult stretch of games.
Portland comes to town Thursday playing their fifth game in eight days. Wednesday they bombed the Knicks, but still have to travel for the fifth straight game. Denver has been sitting at home since Monday night dwelling on how badly they have sucked for the past week. If we do not get a big effort from the Nuggets against Portland, it will be very bad news. I think the result is a win for Denver.
Next the Clippers, without Baron Davis who is out with back spasms, arrive in Denver on Saturday in the only battle between two rested teams remaining on the docket. The Nuggets will be on one day of rest while the Clippers will have had two days off after getting blown out in Toronto on Wednesday. That game should absolutely be another win for the Nuggets.
Denver then has three days off before their final five games in seven nights stretch to close out the regular season. The first outing is in Oklahoma City. The way Denver has been playing this would seem like a sure loss. However, this game will be the fourth game in five nights for the Thunder, who play in Utah the night before, and will have traveled before each of the four games. That smells like a win and a three game winning streak.
The next night the Nuggets return home to play the Lakers who are having some serious struggles on the road right now and really have nothing to play for. Even so LA/Denver has become a heated mini-rivalry and with the Lakers enjoying three days off I expect them to play well. Denver will be motivated to do well also with the division crown still within their grasp, but without Kenyon Martin and Coach Karl I suspect they drop this one.
After a day of rest Denver gets a visit from the San Antonio Spurs who will be playing their fourth game in five days. It will be interesting to see if the Spurs will knock themselves out in an attempt to avoid the eight seed and a first round matchup with LA. I suspect the Spurs will sit Tim Duncan and/or Manu Ginobili against Denver and I think this is another Nugget victory.
Two days later in the penultimate matchup of the regular season the Grizzlies come calling. It will be Memphis’ fifth game in seven days as they provide another victim for the now rolling Nuggets.
That brings us to game 82, a visit to Phoenix. The Nuggets will arrive in Phoenix with a solid stretch of five wins in six games and sporting a 53-28 record a half a game behind the Jazz who will be 53-27 and playing a game at Golden State on the same night. Denver will be playing their fifth game in seven nights, although unlike their recent horrific five in seven trip out east, they only have two travel days of which this is the second. The Suns enter the battle after a day off. Phoenix is a very difficult matchup for Denver when the Nuggets are full strength and the chances of earning a W in Phoenix are slim. Chalk that one up as a loss with Denver finishing the season 53-29, fifth overall in the conference.
These final seven games will be a test of Denver’s mental attitude and determination as there are “official” reports backing up my intuitive suggestions that they very well could be without Kenyon and Karl even after the playoffs begin.
Thursday night is the Nuggets’ fight or flight moment. Do they fold the tent and enter the playoffs a slumping has been or embrace the fact they can still capture the Northwest Division and remain relevant? Momentum changes come at unexpected times and as bad as they have looked recently all it will take for the Nuggets to recapture some of their lost mojo is a well played victory against the Blazers.
Give the San Antonio Spurs credit. They came into the Pepsi Center and flat out whooped the Denver Nuggets 111-92. I have mentioned the heart that this Nuggets team has, but the Spurs were so good that it looked like the Nuggets realized early in the fourth quarter that they had no chance to stage one of their comebacks and they basically taped out.
After defeating the Spurs twice in San Antonio this season the Nuggets seemed to take the Spurs lightly. San Antonio has not been playing their typical stout defense as they had in the past. However, tonight they looked as good as they have in a long time on that end of the floor and the Nuggets certainly did not appear to be prepared for the defensive effort the Spurs put forth.
Denver took the easy way out settling for jumpers and playing incredibly stationary on offense. Even on the possessions where Denver passed the ball, they were barely probing the membrane the Spurs set up at the three point line rarely making any threatening movements. To make things worse the shots the Nuggets repeatedly settled for were not falling and they were done in not so much by their inability to make a three, but their inability to keep themselves from jacking up the next one.
Chauncey forced several threes in the second half on his way to a 1-8 performance while J.R. attempted four, although none of his could be considered poor shots. Carmelo was the lone Nugget who shot well from behind the arc, finishing 2-3 from distance, but his shot selection was no better than Chauncey’s.
Melo started off the game probing the defense and making a couple of nice passes as he did against Dallas, but the way he played against the Spurs was wildly different from how he played against the Mavs. Instead of showing any kind of patience, he forced contested jumper after contested jumpers. The Spurs give Carmelo as much respect as any team in the league as the frequently send a player to double while the other three all have at least one foot in the lane ready to help at a moments notice.
While Melo forced a good number of bad shots that lead to his 6-17 performance we once again have to go through the chicken and the egg discourse questioning if Melo did not pass because no one would cut or if no one cut because Melo would not pass. Personnel certainly played a role with Denver’s immobility. Kenyon is Denver’s best slasher and he was wearing fancy clothes on the sideline. Neither Birdman nor Malik Allen like to cut both preferring to stand aside incase a pass comes their way off of penetration. Still it is frustrating to see Denver fall back into their no movement jumper chucking mode all the while watching and wondering if they have any idea how badly they are shooting themselves in the foot.
While I hate any loss, I have to wonder if Denver needed a wakeup call following their drubbing of the Mavericks to make sure they stay focused during the all-star break and do not enter the backside of the season overly confident.
Additional Game 53 Nuggets
Who needs Carmelo Anthony when you have…Kenyon Martin?
When Kenyon announced before the season that he wanted to be more aggressive offensively I do not think any Nugget fan thought to themselves, “Thank God, it is about time!” With Carmelo Anthony dressed in fancy clothes for the fourth straight game Kenyon lead the Nuggets in scoring and rebounding and Denver won 103-89 in San Antonio against the Spurs.
Typically when Kenyon has a big scoring night he has three or four, or more, highlight reel dunks. Today I do not think Martin had even one slam dunk, but converted on a variety of right handed jump hooks and open jumpers. He even tossed in his patented and this one is for your mother late game three to close off his work week.
To be honest, when I saw Joey Graham’s name in the starting lineup, my heart sank. It was not that I did not think the Nuggets were capable of winning in San Antonio without Melo, just that it was not very likely. However, the fact that Melo was out again gave us a chance to see which of the previous two games would be validated. Would it be the gritty win in Houston, or the no show in Oklahoma City on Friday night? I firmly believed the true Nuggets were on display in Houston and the loss in Oklahoma City was the fluke and I think today’s win proved that to be the case.
The Nuggets did two things very well on defense. They forced Tim Duncan off the block when he tried to post up and the guards really tried hard to fight over top the high screen the Spurs kept throwing at them possession after possession. The bigs did a decent job of hedging and doing just enough to prevent the Spurs guards from getting in the lane too often.
More than anything I was impressed with Denver’s resiliency.
There were four or five times during this game where the Nuggets could have gotten down on themselves and at any of those times had they started feeling sorry for themselves or doubted themselves the Spurs would have taken advantage and thrown a knockout punch. Denver held a 21-17 lead with 2:34, but less than four minutes later the Spurs had gone on a 10-0 run and were up 27-21. Three and a half minutes later Denver had taken the lead back. At another point in the second quarter Manu Ginobili hit a three to put the Spurs up 41-33. The Spurs did not score another point over the final 3:26 of the first half and Denver ran off 12 straight points. Even with all the good things Denver was doing, the Spurs were right with them in the third quarter. On three occasions the Spurs grabbed a one point lead, but the Nuggets never blinked and took the lead back on the next possession all three times.
To close out the third quarter and open up the fourth the Spurs did not score for almost four minutes as Denver reasserted control. Still the Spurs fought back and were able to get to within two points three times in the fourth quarter. Denver answered yet again as they scored on the next possession two of those three times and the instance where they did not score on the possession immediately after the Spurs got within two, Denver scored on the second one. The result was the Spurs only had the ball with a chance to take the lead once over the final 15:47 of the game and after the Spurs’ miss on that possession Chauncey pulled down the rebound, dribbled up the floor, threw a shimmy at Richard Jefferson that tricked Jefferson into giving Billups about six feet of space and he promptly drained a three to put Denver up five.
I kid about Kenyon Marin filling the role of Carmelo. Chauncey was incredible, as he has been through the entire month of January. The Spurs took the lead for the final time with 4:41 left in the third quarter. From that point on Denver converted on 13 field goals. Chauncey scored three of those 13, all three were from behind the arc, and he assisted on eight of the other ten.
Chauncey continually worked the Spurs defense to get the shot he wanted for himself or for Kenyon. It was beautiful to watch and he deserves all the credit in the world for the way he played and for this victory.
If there is any bad news for Billups it is that he played a game high 45 minutes. Chris Paul is going to miss the All-Star game and if Billups is not named the replacement I think we all need to pay a little visit to Commissioner Stern in NYC. One can only hope Chauncey will be playing at this high of a level come May and dare I say June?
The Nuggets have now defeated every team in the Western Conference except for Dallas, who they have only played once, and the Sacramento Kings and the Kings will be in Denver Monday night. Whether Carmelo is able to play or not, I do not expect to see the Nuggets fall or 0-3 against the third worst team in the conference.
Additional Game 47 Nuggets
The Return of Game Stats
Combined Pace Factor: 89.4 – Much to the Spurs liking
Defensive Efficiency: 99.6 – Impressive performance
Offensive Efficiency: 115.2 – That is even higher than the Nuggets’ average of 108.8
Bonus – Denver’s Effective FG%: 60.1%
San Antonio’s EFG%: 44.9% – Denver was 9-12 from downtown while the Spurs were only 3-17
I am not afraid of the San Antonio Spurs.
There is a belief around the NBA that you do not look good if you pick against or doubt the Spurs. They are champions, the big three, Popovich, a tremendous front office, the Spurs seem to have it all. Even with Duncan, Parker and Ginobili battling injuries last season San Antonio tied the Nuggets and Blazers for the second best record in the west.
Here are a few facts. The Spurs are now 9-8 overall and they have played 12 games at home and only five on the road so they have had a schedule loaded with home games. In those 12 home games, they are a respectable 8-4. On the road however, they are only 1-4. They have played road games at Utah, Portland and Dallas, which can be difficult places to win in, but we have seen Denver win at Portland, Oklahoma City has won in Utah and Golden State has won in Dallas. (Of course you can retort that Minnesota won in Denver, but the point is the Spurs have not faced an impossible road schedule that excuses a 1-4 road record.
The real kicker in my mind is the Spurs are only 3-6 against teams currently over .500.
The truth is these are all just stats that I can spin to try to prove my point. The five road games are certainly a small sample size and the Spurs’ plus 3.3 point differential seems to indicate they are better than a 9-8 team.
Let’s move past the stats and look at the contest between the Nuggets and Spurs.
In a game where very few things seemed to go in the Nuggets’ favor for the first half, Tim Duncan played brilliantly, Tony Parker played very well and the whistle was undoubtedly in the Spurs favor Denver still pulled out a big win.
As far as lucky breaks, the Spurs seemed to get them all, from DeJaun Blair losing control of the ball in the post only to have it soar through the air and end up falling through the rim, George Hill’s running three pointer to close out the first quarter, or the numerous loose balls that rolled or bounced to Spurs players, such as when Melo stripped Tim Duncan on the right wing, only to have the ball bounce behind him allowing Duncan to grab the ball and drive to the rim as the other Nuggets started to run back for the fast break leaving an open lane to the rim. These are only a few examples, there were many more.
As far as the officiating, if you read this blog regularly you know it is very rare I even mention officiating. I hate complaining about officiating and I usually hate listening to people complain about officiating. Hopefully, that lends some credibility to what I am about to type. I thought the Spurs got away with an awful lot of slapping, grabbing and bumping in the lane. You can point to the Nuggets 33 free throws, two more than the Spurs attempted, and dismiss this point, but looking at the number of free throws a team shoots to judge whether or not the game was called fairly. Denver probably should have been awarded 50 free throws. On the other hand, the Nuggets were clearly frustrated by the way the game was officiated, Melo especially, but they kept their composure and fought through it.
In the past Melo would have allowed himself to get taken out of the game by his frustration, but he went on to play a magnificent second half.
In addition to the fortunate bounces and friendly whistle, Duncan was great. He made almost everything he threw up, although it certainly was not luck. He worked for good position and only attempted good shots. In fact the Spurs would have been better served by Duncan taking more than the 12 shots he was credited with. Parker too had his moments in the second half as he carried the Spurs offense for the first part of the fourth quarter.
The biggest difference I see with the Spurs is those two are not getting the support from their other teammates as they have in the past. The biggest culprit is Manu Ginobili. Manu is not a frightening player anymore. He does not seem to have the explosion he used to that allowed him to get into the lane and finish. According to 82games.com after posting effective field goal percentages of 67% and 63% the previous two seasons, his EFG% on close shots has dropped to 50%. Hoopdata.com tells us he is shooting only 45% on shots taken at the rim.
In addition to Manu’s struggles, big offseason acquisition Richard Jefferson does not seem to fit very well with the Spurs. He is not used to being the third or fourth option for a team and I am not sure he is good enough anymore to consistently be a second option.
Before the season I believed the player San Antonio acquired that would keep them in the group of teams chasing the Lakers was Antonio McDyess. Dyess has scored in double figures only three times all season and his zero points against Denver, in 24 minutes mind you, was the third straight game in which he did not score. His struggles is forcing the Spurs to rely on the one dimensional Matt Bonner (OK, he is one and a half dimensional as he is a decent rebounder).
Enough about the Spurs, it is not just their failings that has erased my fear of them, but the way Denver matches up with them. It all starts with Carmelo Anthony who the Spurs have struggled to contain since he averaged 26.8 points per game against them in the 2007 playoffs. Players like Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley who used to be able to crowd Melo on the perimeter and funnel him to help have not been replaced as evidenced by the Spurs decision to hope Keith Bogans could slow Carmelo. Bogans is a find defender, but he does not have the size to deal with Anthony and it was Melo who brought the Nuggets back in the second half as he once again took what the Spurs, and referees, would give him. He hit a series of short to midrange jumpers over top of Bogans or whoever else was in front of him in the final two quarters. Melo tallied 22 second half points and lead Denver to a big win on the road.
The other player the Spurs have struggled to deal with is J.R. Smith. San Antonio has no one who can stay in front of J.R. and Smith usually makes them pay by attacking the rim mercilessly. He did not have his best game Saturday, but he did find holes and gaps in the Spurs defense.
Beyond Melo and J.R. Denver now has a third player whose perimeter speed is just too much for the Spurs to handle and that is Ty Lawson. Lawson played a huge role for Denver in the second and fourth quarters as he was able to get into the lane at will. He even went toe to toe with former Finals MVP Parker in the fourth as the two combined to score 15 straight points. Even more impressive than his physical attributes is Lawson’s mental toughness. He did not shy away from the pressure of facing Parker and the mighty Spurs for the first time in his NBA career.
The Nuggets actually have an advantage in the paint over the Spurs as well. With McDyess struggling and Blair not quite ready to battle night after night the Nuggets won the battle of the boards 38-31 and San Antonio only had five offensive rebounds. Nene may have only nabbed one rebound, and it was late in the fourth after the game had been decided, but Kenyon pulled down 13 while Melo and J.R. collected seven each.
Now that poor Greg Oden is out for the season again I think the race for the second seed comes down to Dallas, Phoenix and Denver and I firmly believe the Nuggets are the better team of the three. After the Suns 20 point loss to the Lakers tonight, Denver is in sole possession of second place in the west only a game and a half behind the Lakers who have only had to play a league low four road games so far.
One more thing, it would not be right of me to rail on Chauncey’s shot selection one day and then ignore the fact he showed a great deal of restraint in San Antonio. Chauncey made his first two three point attempts in the first six minutes of the game and surprisingly only shot one more the entire game. Kudos to Chauncey for not cranking up transition three after transition three because he hit a couple.
Before we begin the season previews and start looking forward to next season, I am going to look back at last season. I made a multitude of predictions over the previous 12 plus months and I started wondering how accurate I was. Did I successfully predict how well Chris Andersen played? What about the Nuggets acquisition of Chauncey Billups or how many games the Milwaukee Bucks would win?
The only way to know if I knew what I was talking about is to go back through thousands and thousands of words and pluck out all the things I said would happen no matter how hair brained or how mundane and assign a verdict.
Here is the first of four posts full of things I thought would happen. We will start by looking at my general preseason projections and game by game forecasts. Tomorrow we will look at my projected season records for all 30 teams. We will then move on to my projected personnel moves and then finish with my projections for player performances.
Prediction: I believe the Denver Nuggets must alter their style of play if they are ever to become a true championship contender. I love the Denver Mile High Mystique as much as anyone, but I strongly believe the Nuggets must evaluate the overall philosophy of their franchise.
Verdict: I am going to say correct. The Nuggets still ran, which is fine, but they dropped from their perennial spot of first or second in pace down to fifth, it may not sound like much, but they were closer to the eleventh fastest paced team, Milwaukee, than they were to the second fastest paced team, New York. The greater focus on defense and working for better shots on offense was a great recipe.
Prediction: I might be completely wrong, but if we are ever going to see the best of the Nuggets and the best of George Karl, it has to be this season.
Verdict: Correct, the embarrassing sweep at the hand of the Lakers in 2008 shook the players and forced them to deal with how far away they were from contending. That led them to push themselves to great things last season.
Prediction: The [Western Conference] number eight seed will make the playoffs with 44 to 46 wins next season.
Verdict: Incorrect, Utah was the eighth seed with 48 wins.
Prediction: The lower class [of the Western Conference] will be better. Oklahoma City, Minnesota and Sacramento will fall into the categories of improved to much improved. The Clippers may have lost Elton Brand, but they played most of last season without him anyway and the additions of Baron Davis and Marcus Camby (although I have a difficult time buying them as a playoff contender) will clearly make them more competitive.
Verdict: Incorrect, all three combined to win only one more game than the Lakers, 66 to 65. However, the Wolves were 10-4 in January only to have Al Jefferson suffered a season ending injury in early February and the Thunder were a very improved team going 18-27 from January 10 through the end of the season. The Clippers were simply abysmal, but at least I did not pick them to make the playoffs like many others did.
Prediction: Out of the teams that finished outside the playoffs looking in last season the only team that I believe needs to be taken seriously is Portland.
Verdict: Correct, Portland was the only non playoff team from 2007-08 to win more than 30 games in the west.
Prediction: Some believe Golden State can compete for a playoff spot, but I do not see it.
Verdict: Correct, Golden State finished 19 games out of the playoffs. I need to keep making predictions against nebulous conglomerates such as “some.”
Prediction: I believe the Nuggets and Blazers will make the postseason.
Verdict: Correct, both did.
Prediction: This season is the year that they [Denver] will be better off having a representative in Secaucus, NJ instead of having their representatives massacred at the hands of the Lakers or Hornets in the first round.
Verdict: Wildly incorrect, but had they not made the Billups trade, I think that prediction would have been the truth. I was wrong about the Hornets too.
Prediction: If you are looking for a team to fall apart this season how about the Clippers? They have a point guard who is famous for his horrid shot selection paired with a control freak head coach. They lost their best player in what might have been a far more incompetent negotiating process by the front office than anything the Nuggets have been guilty of and God’s Gift to Defense Marcus Camby is not going to play a single game in the preseason due to a heel injury. Oh yea, and do not forget that Chris Kaman is coming off of a season where he played only 56 games plus he put some extra wear and tear on his body by playing for Germany in the Olympics.
Verdict: Correct, they were without a doubt the biggest disappointment in the West other than perhaps the Suns. By the way, that was in response to ESPN.com’s NBA writers naming the Nuggets the most likely team to self combust.
Prediction: [After game 23] they [the Nuggets] face three straight back to back sets against some very good teams which will tell us a lot about how good this team can really be.
Verdict: Incorrect, Denver was only 2-4 in those six games (at Dallas, at Houston, Cleveland, at Phoenix, Portland and at Portland), but the season turned out OK. Of course, I could go the other way and say they only went 2-4 and that showed us they were not going to be NBA champs.
Prediction: The Nuggets have already clinched a tie with the Mavs for the season series, but I believe they will certainly win at least one of the two games left to clinch the tiebreaker in case it should come into play.
Verdict: Correct, the Nuggets swept the Mavs in the regular season.
Prediction: I do not like their chances against the Spurs or the Hornets (especially now that Tyson Chandler is back in the Big Easy) and I would not be very confident should the Nuggets face off against the Jazz [02/20/09].
Verdict: Incorrect, in defense of my lack of faith, this was following a blowout loss against the Bulls and Tyson Chandler was healthy and looking strong and Manu Ginobili had not yet been injured.
Prediction: A big thanks to Detroit and Boston for blowing games against the Spurs and Jazz tonight. Way to go bozos. I will forgive the Celtics as long as they lose to the Nuggets next Monday.
Verdict: Incorrect, Boston beat the Nuggets, but I actually found it in my heart to forgive them, but I am not going to count it one against myself.
Prediction: With the talent on this team and with the schedule providing them with a plethora of winnable games I feel very good guaranteeing that the Nuggets will make the playoffs [03/10/09].
Prediction: With the stink bomb the Nuggets dropped on us the past couple of weeks they have almost completely destroyed any chance of earning home court advantage in the playoffs. I have a difficult time envisioning a scenario where they catch the Spurs, Jazz or Hornets. Plus with the loss last night they have lost the season series to the Rockets making it even more difficult to surpass them in the standings. In order to earn home court advantage the Nuggets would have to overtake two of those four teams. At this point almost any best case scenario we can construct leaves the Nuggets playing either the Spurs, Jazz or Hornets in the first round. Because of that I am afraid there is little hope of Denver reaching the second round [also 03/10/09].
Verdict: Absolutely 100% incorrect. Out of all the incorrect predictions I made, this is the one that bugs me the most. I wrote it following the Nuggets two point home loss to the Rockets that was their fifth loss in six games. Of course they went on to win 13 of 14 to push themselves into second in the conference. I hate that I wrote it, but thank God I did because it clearly turned the Nuggets season around. Honestly, I try my best to not get caught up in the emotion of a season, but I also have to write what I believe. If I end up with egg on my face, well, when life gives you eggs, break them and drink them like Rocky (Balboa, not the mountain lion or the squirrel).
Prediction: The Nuggets will beat the Hornets in seven games because Chris Paul will not lose game 6 at home.
Verdict: Incorrect, although I still do not think Paul would have let the series end in New Orleans.
Prediction: Should the Nuggets win [Game 4 versus New Orleans], I think they win game five to close out the series.
Prediction: Logic tells me tonight [Game 5 versus New Orleans] will be nothing short of a formality.
Verdict: Correct, Denver rolled over the Hornets by 19.
Prediction: David West will not make another All-Star team.
Verdict: It may be presumptuous of me, but I am going to call this one correct.
Prediction: The Denver Nuggets will beat the Dallas Mavericks in six games.
Verdict: Incorrect, the Nuggets won in five, but they did win.
Prediction: I expect the Nuggets to close this series out [versus Dallas] just as they did against New Orleans and six hours from now we will be celebrating the Nuggets’ first appearance in the conference finals since 1985.
Verdict: Correct, the Nuggets did indeed close out the Mavs in five games, although it was a little closer than game 5 against the Hornets.
Prediction: My official prediction is the Lakers in seven games.
Verdict: Incorrect, partly due to the Nuggets late game ineptness the Lakers won in six.
Prediction: I do believe the Nuggets will win [game 2 versus the Lakers].
Verdict: Correct, despite literally throwing game one away, Denver won game two.
Prediction: As you would expect I think the Nuggets will win [game 6 versus the Lakers] tonight.
Verdict: Um…really incorrect. The Lakers rolled the Nuggets in game 6 at the Pepsi Center.
The final tally for the first section of projections is 12 out of 23 were correct, good for a rate of 52.2%. Not bad, but not great either. Part two coming tomorrow.
There is one less team in the west for the Denver Nuggets to worry about. Manu Ginobil is out for the season. I guess all those years of flopping have taken their toll. How sweet would a second round series against Manu-less Spurs team be? I guess this is not their odd season.
No pressure, just play your game…or not
I am writing this at halftime of the national championship game and Michigan State is down 21.
How can Michigan State play this poorly? The entire state of Michigan is in the toilet. They are playing in front of 50,000 fans whose lives completely suck and need them to win more than they need Toyota and Honda to fold. Didn’t they hear all the talk about how big of a game this is for people in Michigan? Even Michigan grads are cheering for them. They only talked about it for two whole days. Don’t they understand how big of a deal this is? The whole state needs them to win so badly. Come one, put the weight of the entire state on your young shoulders. What is wrong with you guys?
Updated Holicky Projection (pre Manu injury announcement)
The Nuggets are the hottest team in the L over the last 10. If they go 3-1 over the last 4, they clinch 2nd. The worst they can now finish is 6th. If they go 2 and 2 they clinch home court and 3rd (barring something very bizarre.) In fact, they can lose the next three and then beat Portland in the last game and they get 3rd.
Denver 52-26 4 games remaining.
San Antonio 49-27 Magic Number = 3.
Houston 49-28 Magic Number = 3.
Portland 48-28 Magic Number = 2.
NO 47-29 Magic Number = 1.
Utah 47-30 Magic Number = 0.
Dallas 46-31 Magic Number = 0
Suns 42-35 Magic Number = 0
Final standings (see below)
LA 60+ wins
SA 55 wins
Denver 54 wins
Houston 53 wins
Portland 52 wins
Jazz 51 wins
NO 49 wins
Dallas 48 wins
Suns 46 wins
· If Denver and anyone finish tied for the three seed, and Denver wins the division, Denver wins the tie breaker.
· Because Denver wins the tiebreaker with Portland and they play the last game of the season, if Denver wins that game they almost certainly finish ahead of them.
· If the Nuggets go 3-1 the rest of the way they clinch 2nd.
· Utah wins any potential tiebreaker with New Orleans, so first round matchup would be Nuggets/Utah.
· Sun wins the tiebreaker with the Mavs, so if they end up tied, it goes to the Suns.
Denver has 52 wins
Ok City W
Denver finishes with 54 wins
Utah has 47 wins
@ Mavs W
@ Spurs L
@ Lakers W (will the Lakers be shut down?)
Utah finishes with 51 wins
Houston has 49 wins
@ Kings W
@ Warriors W
@ Mavs W
Houston finishes with 53 wins
Dallas has 46 wins
@ NO L
Dallas finishes with 48 wins
Suns have 42 wins
@ NO L
@ Grizzlies W
@ Wolves W
Phoenix finishes with 46 wins
Hornets have 47 wins
@ Heat L
@ Mavs L
@ Houston L
@ Spurs L
Hornets finish with 49 wins
Portland has 48 wins
@ Griz W
@ Spurs L
@ Clippers W
Portland finishes with 52 wins
San Antonio has 49 wins
@ Thunder W
@ Kings W
@ Warriors W
San Antonio finishes with 55 wins.
Thanks again to Mr. Holicky for putting all of that together for us.
It may not be an off day, but I meant to post most of this yesterday. If I wait any longer they will be both irrelevant and uninteresting.
The NBA has announced that Horse will be added to the events of All-Star weekend and the competition will be held on an outdoor court that is built into the TNT set. Today we found out that thanks to the wonders of corporate sponsorships whoever is involved will be playing GEICO instead of Horse.
That makes it even more special.
Those of us at the ESPN/TrueHoop network worked up our own ideas for how to make All-Star weekend better. Check out our great ideas over at The Two Man Game.
WizzNutzz has come up with their own entertaining list of improvements as well .
One last theory on the Spurs JV game
One last interesting view point on Gregg Popovich’s decision to sit Duncan, Parker and Ginobili (he also sat Michael Finley who I am sure is developing some kind of complex because no one has really cared that he was held out) is Pop was pissed at the NBA over the Spurs schedule. Both Jason Kosmicki of the Altitude Radio Network and Matt Steinmetz, the Warriors’ television color commentator, mentioned how the Spurs had to travel east, thus losing an hour, and having to take a two hour long flight (which they both argued is longer than usual to travel for a back to back game) in order to play in the “high altitude” of Denver, Colorado. I do not have a link because these were arguments I heard over the airwaves so you will just have to trust me.
I am not sure if there is anything to that, but it is an interesting view point.
By the way, my “ESPN colleague” John Hollinger agreed that Pop may have been playing some head games in that should the two teams face off in the playoffs both of them will remember that the one game Duncan, Parker and Ginobili all played the Spurs trounced the Nuggets and Denver will have the memory in their domes of the night they barely beat the Spurs without those three at the Pepsi Center.
Is Melo really clutch, kind of clutch or just lucky?
After his game winning shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder Carmelo Anthony is shooting 10 for 17, which computes to 58.8%, on shots that would put the Nuggets ahead in the final ten seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime. Since entering the league only one player with at least ten attempts is even shooting 50% and that is David West (6 for 12).
If you take a look at the clutch stats on 82games.com (compiled during the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime and neither team ahead by more than five) Melo has the third highest points per 48 minutes average in the league. Kobe is first at 57.3, LeBron is second at 57.0 and Melo is third at 54.7. These change quickly and Melo was actually at the top of the list a few days ago. Other numbers in Melo’s favor are shooting percentage (Kobe – 49.2%, LeBron – 51.3%, Melo – 59.4%!) and three point shooting percentage (LeBron – 36.4%, Kobe – 50.0%, Melo – 66.7%).
Stat heads claim that there is no such thing as clutch, but Melo has put together a pretty decent track record of rising to the moment so far in his career.
Do you guys honestly expect me to write cohesively about that monstrosity? What a horrible display of basketball. The Denver Nuggets struggled to put away the San Antonio Spurs JV squad after Greg Popovich chose to hold Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili out of the game. Reportedly Manu has a hip contusion he suffered the night before in Oakland, but there was no apparent reason that Duncan and Parker sat out.
The Nuggets had some problems of their own as Kenyon Martin was home with tonsillitis and strep throat (Tonsillitis? Really Kenyon? I had my tonsils out when I was four. I freaking missed Halloween.) and Chauncey missed the second half after tweaking his right ankle in the second quarter.
The Nuggets appeared to take control of the game late in the first quarter as they turned an 18 to 12 deficit into a 29 to 21 lead in just over four minutes. They carried a double digit lead for most of the second and third quarters. The Spurs would not go away, or more accurately, the Nuggets would not give them a reason to go away as they kept sloughing off on defense.
I have not seen the Nuggets so confused on defense from start to finish of a game all season. Perhaps that had something to do with Denver not having time to adjust to the Spurs scaled back roster. The Nuggets made about every mistake you could imagine at some point. They failed to rotate, they overrated frequently as it was fairly common to see two defenders running at a shooter, the bigs failed to step up on picks even late in the game after they should have realized that the one player that could bring them down was Roger Mason, in some instances both players would go with the player coming off a screen and there were other times where neither player would guard the man coming off the screen. It was the most disorganized defensive effort I have seen in a long time.
Offensively, they mailed the second half in as they have been prone to do settling for jumper after jumper. The offense had good flow to it in the first half and Denver did a good job earning easy shots. I wish I could blame the insipid offense on the absence of Chauncey, but we know he has been prone to join in the chuck fest when the Nuggets start getting completely perimeter oriented.
Even when the Spurs pulled to within two in the fourth quarter it was frustrating, but I never got the feeling that Denver would completely let the game slip away. There was a lot of a wins a win type analysis after the game, but the way Denver’s defensive effort yo-yoed all second half long it only creates more concern in my mind about their mental toughness.
With that Denver now embarks on two road trips broken up by the All-Star break and game one is tomorrow night in Oklahoma City. At this point it is not known if Chauncey will be able to play.
Additional Game 48 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 95.9
Defensive Efficiency: 100.1
Offensive Efficiency: 108.5
Before we get started make sure to head on over to the ESPN/TrueHoop Network Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell for a mini-interview with a world renowned Nuggets blogger.
Beware the San Antonio Spurs. I was one of the moronic suckers that really honestly though the Spurs had no shot to keep their run of championships in odd years going in 2009. Well, guess who is second in the west after overcoming early season injuries to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili?
Playing against the Spurs is always an event for the Nuggets due to the fact they have put the kibosh on Denver’s two most promising campaigns over the previous four seasons, but tonight’s game is especially vital. The winner takes the season series two games to one and thus earns the tiebreaker should it come into play.
The Spurs have won four straight and eight of their last nine with the sole blemish being a smack down at the hands of the Lakers at Staples Center. Tim Duncan has been playing great this season. His scoring is up a smidge and his rebounding has fallen off a bit, but what has made him so effective this season is he is averaging his highest assist rate of his career.
Tony Parker is scoring at a higher rate than in the past. After leveling off a bit in the middle part of January he has scored from 23 to 26 points over his last four games, although he did not post those totals in numerical order.
The only concern Spurs fans have really had lately has been whether or not Manu was going to be healthy enough to do Manu things. Well, over his previous three games he is averaging 28 points per outing. Last night he dumped in 32 points in Golden State as the Spurs came back from a double digit fourth quarter deficit to win in overtime.
We all know what those three can do, but to me the real key to the Spurs success this season has been Roger Mason. The only flashy number Mason is putting up is his 44.9% three point shooting, but if the Spurs need a big basket and the ball finds its way to Mason, he always seems to come through.
Hopefully the extra reps that Golden State put the Spurs through last night will help Denver tonight.
The Nuggets need all the help they can get. The last time they played the Spurs in Denver San Antonio simply demolished the Nuggets thanks to a 31 to 15 second quarter run that basically ended the competitive portion of the game. The Nuggets will have to close out the Spurs shooters, defend the pick and roll soundly and keep Parker and Ginobili out of the paint.
Obviously those things are not easy, but good teams are able to take away what their opponent does best.
One other thing to keep in mind is this is the Nuggets last home game until they play Boston on February 23rd.
A second other thing to keep in mind is George Karl has said he wants to limit Carmelo Anthony’s minutes in his first few games back from his fractured hand. It will be interesting to see how much Melo plays if the game is close, which I fully expect it to be.