Roundball Roundtable: ‘Spill your guts’ season preview

In the second half of our two season preview pieces we’re opening up the format for our writers to be more liberal with their content. This is an opportunity for them to say whatever they want in regards to the upcoming Nuggets season. As always, please chime in with your own “Roundtable Rant” in the comments section below, as we’d love to hear what’s on your mind on the eve of the 2012-13 season.

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Rapid Reaction: Denver Nuggets 95 Dallas Mavericks 105

Dallas Mavericks 105 Final
Recap | Box Score
95 Denver Nuggets
Nene, C 36 MIN | 6-12 FG | 4-5 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 16 PTS | -10
Nene had a harmless double-double. I was surprised he produced this much because he continues to have trouble finishing at the rim. Nene had an incredibly difficult cover in Dirk Nowitzki but that is not an excuse to completely neglect defending the weak side. No blocks, no steals, and too many turnovers. The one thing Nene did well was keep his head in the game instead of expending all of his energy arguing calls.
Julyan Stone, G 7 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 PTS | -8
I don’t know why the Nuggets went away from Stone. Karl keeps putting him in a terrible situation where he’s not in a position to make plays or develop his point guard abilities. I like the way Stone defends, but it’s hard to ignore how he helped the Nuggets get off to a horrid start on both ends of the court. I’ll give Stone an incomplete. The starting lineup experiment couldn’t have gone much worse and Stone suffered the most for it. He was not given a chance to play after 8 uneventful minutes.
Chris Andersen, C 14 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -13
Birdman is like that cheap, no-name vodka occupying the bottom shelf of your favorite liquor store. Are the cheap thrills of a good night once in a while worth the ensuing week-long headache? No, and consistently going there is a sign you may have a serious problem. Starting him was Karl’s strangest decision yet. He hasn’t started since 2008 against the Hawks, where he also struggled mightily and the Nuggets lost. I like Birdman in small, infrequent doses when the team is exceptionally flat. Starting him flat out didn’t work.
Arron Afflalo, SG 34 MIN | 4-12 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 12 PTS | -21
It’s tough to settle on a good grade for Afflalo, because he showed some fight coming off another horrendous start. There was a stretch in the third quarter where he looked to be asserting himself as a leader while imploring the Nuggets to work harder on the defensive end. Unfortunately, Afflalo was just way too up and down. He missed every big shot he took and just didn’t consistently play up to his talent. He finished with a game worst -21, a stat not indicative of his true play but a strong sign that he just doesn’t have it together. There are signs he is getting there.
Ty Lawson, PG 38 MIN | 5-16 FG | 4-5 FT | 1 REB | 10 AST | 16 PTS | -4
Lawson wasn’t aggressive enough, but it’s totally unreasonable to expect him to just start taking over games while trying to grow into his long term role as a starter. A double-double from your starting PG should be more than enough for any good team in the league to get a win, especially one with as much depth and scoring talent as Denver. It’s imperative that Lawson get way more aggressive going to the rim, but at least he is improving. The main problem is the defense and Lawson can’t fix that. Ty has the right idea in trying to make this haphazard offense work by not forcing too many shots, but he simply needs to get meaner and be relentless attacking the paint.
Al Harrington, PF 33 MIN | 6-10 FG | 3-5 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 17 PTS | -5
Great stats, but just one of those hollow efforts as you never got the sense he had much of an impact on the game. To be fair, the game was pretty out of hand by the time he came in. Al Buckets is at least making shots and not afraid to take them when needed. With the Nuggets suffering a crisis of confidence at the moment, you have to appreciate what Al brings to the table. Unfortunately Harrington is a big part of the Nuggets giving back way more points than they are able to put up. I had to dock Harrington’s solid production because he ultimately didn’t make plays when the Nuggets needed it most. Al’s effort does not go unnoticed though, I love how hard he’s playing and this team’s problems are much bigger than him.
Andre Miller, PG 29 MIN | 3-5 FG | 4-4 FT | 7 REB | 6 AST | 11 PTS | +4
His defense is so bad, you need a nightly double-double just to compensate. Miller can’t guard anyone and the team seems to know it. Karl seems okay with having him lay off his man while praying he can cut off drives to the rim. The problem is teams are finding the open shooter and Miller can’t be bothered to close out. Outside of the defense, Miller struggled again with turnovers but played about as well as he can offensively. This may be the best you can get out of Miller in a nightly bench role and I’m not sure giving a 36 year old this many minutes is the wisest idea.
Rudy Fernandez, SG 29 MIN | 6-9 FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 17 PTS | +4
Fernandez had the hot hand early and helped close out the second half on a mini Denver run. The Nuggets then curiously went away from him while the starters lost all momentum. His shot selection was much better and his gambling defense continues to be frustratingly hit or miss. Still, Rudy played with a lot of passion and showed resolve on a night the rest of the Nuggets looked scared.
Kosta Koufos, C 20 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | +3
Koufos is impressing me more with each game. He still makes a lot of mistakes getting caught on switches and trying to guard the perimeter, but the guy is only 22 years old and still learning the most difficult position in the NBA. He usually produces whenever he gets minutes, so I don’t understand why he was removed from the starting lineup. Koufos may have been the only positive in terms of the defense tonight and he barely played. I was wrong about the guy — he’s a surefire rotation player and the Nuggets need to live with some rookie mistakes while developing him.

Rapid Reaction: Denver Nuggets 108 Philadelphia 76ers 104 (OT)

Denver Nuggets 108 Final
Recap | Box Score
104 Philadelphia 76ers
Nene, C 38 MIN | 8-15 FG | 4-4 FT | 14 REB | 3 AST | 20 PTS | +9
It wasn’t the prettiest game, but Nene stuck with it and finished. Yes, he still shoots way too many underhand line drives at the rim, but Nene was the lone reliable big in this game. He secured the rebound that led to the game-winner and played the best defense he has all year.
Danilo Gallinari, SF 33 MIN | 1-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 3 PTS | +14
It’s hard to give Gallo anything other an ‘F’. He was benched for the final play of regulation and the entire overtime. He did nothing but tentatively stand around and hoist threes on offense. Gallo couldn’t even hold his own defensively against the wiry Thad Young and he was absolutely torched on every switch. He folded and turned in a truly spineless performance. Let’s hope it was a one time thing.
Kosta Koufos, C 7 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | -6
The slow-footed Koufos had a rough start against the rookie Vucevic who simply overpowered him. He shoots too many soft hooks and floaters and simply wasn’t physical enough for his presence to be useful in this game. He didn’t see any action after the first quarter as the small lineups delivered the win. I’ll give Koufos a break as he hasn’t played in a long time, but he needs to be tougher.
Arron Afflalo, SG 44 MIN | 5-11 FG | 3-4 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 14 PTS | -1
Another frustrating performance by Arron, who was on track for his best game yet with a solid first half. He disappeared in the second half and reverted to forcing shots and generally being un-clutch and clumsy with the ball in his hands. Afflalo did make a big pull-up jumper late and hit two free throws to seal the win. Like Nene, he kept his cool and finished strong despite some poor stretches of play. That kind of guts and character goes a long way to winning games like these.
Ty Lawson, PG 45 MIN | 6-16 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 7 AST | 13 PTS | +13
Lawson was frustratingly inconsistent all night long and was thoroughly outplayed by Andre Miller. He is unable to get in a any sort of rhythm and is struggling mightily to finish layups. His turnovers are up and his scoring is down, but Lawson continued to play with confidence and kept attacking when the team looked ready to pack in it.
Al Harrington, PF 26 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 12 PTS | -9
Harrington continues to do his job – stretch the floor and defend the post as best he can. Unfortunately he had to team with Birdman in the second half and with the Nuggets switching every screen after the first quarter he had trouble staying in front of the Sixers. I can’t fault Harrington’s performance and ultimately he stepped in for Gallo in overtime and played a huge part in gutting out the win.
Andre Miller, PG 39 MIN | 12-20 FG | 1-2 FT | 8 REB | 10 AST | 28 PTS | +18
He was clearly motivated against his old team and flat out dominated. Make no mistake, the Nuggets were dead in the water after a second half defensive meltdown fueled by turnovers – and Andre decided to go out and win the game. This was the best performance of any Nugget this season and I’m still fairly shocked at what I saw the 35-year old Miller just do to his old team on a back-to-back.
Chris Andersen, C 15 MIN | 2-4 FG | 4-6 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 8 PTS | -5
Andersen turned in another sub-par effort and the Nuggets won in spite of him. He played an acceptable first half and followed it up with his worst effort yet, which is saying a lot considering how up and down he has been. He mercifully fouled out early but otherwise played cowardly defense and contributed very little offensively after a first half in which he at least got to the line and scored some.
Corey Brewer, SF 18 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 6 PTS | -13
Brewer knows how to play only one way and it’s all out chaos when he’s in the game. Things are either going great or god-awful terrible when he’s in and there’s no in between. Overall I liked Brewer’s energy a lot although the team defense was wildly inconsistent with him on the floor

George Karl talks about defending the Pick And Roll

Benjamin Hochman’s Christmas special is up at the Denver Post, and it’s an absolute must read for Nuggets Nation. Hochman breaks down the opening day roster and George Karl shares some candid thoughts on his offensive philosophy and the challenges of winning without superstars. The most interesting bit comes at the end when Karl admits the Nuggets are likely to move away from the most maddening aspect of Denver’s pick and roll defense – switching screens.

Having Kenyon with Nene was huge, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do it with team concepts and philosophies and giving guys pride and responsibility to do it on their own. … He was a veteran, defensive-minded guy who was a big part of our toughness. Filling Kenyon’s minutes is probably the most difficult to do, but in the same sense, I think it can be done. Nene was basically always the B defender. Now he has to be the A defender. Nene can be in a similar category. The only problem is when you had two of them, you didn’t worry about foul trouble. Now can we get a team concept to camouflage that (by rotating in other big men for short snippets)? We also might jump in the pick-and-roll rather than switching all the time

Karl says a lot of interesting things with this statement and makes it well known that replacing Kenyon’s presence on defense is no easy task. Kenyon was a quick, physical defender whom the Nuggets could trust to guard one through five and either force a tough shot or funnel the ball into help. There is no player on the roster who can replace what he brings to the table defensively and it’s a very good sign the coaching staff realizes that.

Instead of switching, Karl suggests the Nuggets are going to use more traps and hedges against pick-and-rolls. Jeremy Wagner and I have been clamoring for the Nuggets to stop switching and adopt such a scheme since before this blog even existed.

This strategy itself won’t be a cure-all for Denver’s defense without Kenyon. The Nuggets bigs have the added responsibility of jumping out to stop the ball while being able to quickly recover to their man. Nene will have to do a better job as he’ll often show a very soft hedge and sag back allowing the ballhandler plenty of room to drive towards the basket and make a play.

When defending the pick and roll in any situation, the team has to make the right reads and rotations together as a cohesive unit. Instead of relying on Kenyon’s versatility to dictate  the scheme, I feel that hedging more will encourage a more aggressive team defense and create accountability for everyone on the floor to be active on the defensive end.

By using these team concepts and a “camouflage” approach, Karl also suggests he’ll use a deep frontcourt rotation and Kenyon’s minutes could be divided among three or four players given the situation. This is good news for those hoping to see the Manimal crack the rotation sooner rather than later. The Nuggets need to evaluate not only Faried but the rest of the young big men on the roster. Which one of these athletic young guys can hedge and recover on picks, while also being able to get back and compete for the rebound? That’s the one who deserves minutes and the Nuggets won’t know without letting all of them compete for the job.

The problem isn’t the concept of switching itself, but the extent to which the Nuggets used it as a primary method of defending pick and rolls. After playing great team defense and reaching the conference finals in 2009, the Nuggets kept reverting to switches like a bad habit. They would do it impulsively on every screen regardless of who was being switched onto who. Anytime you voluntarily enter into any mismatch on the floor, a good offense is going to be patient and find the weakness. That happened far too often in past years and I think we are finally seeing the coaches realize the time for change is long overdue.

It sounds small, but it’s tiny fundamental changes like these that are going to dictate whether or not the Nuggets can build a contender this season.

2011 NBA Playoffs – Nuggets lose Game One 107-103

Box Score | Highlights

The Oklahoma City Thunder strike first and seize the series momentum in a hard fought battle on their home floor. As is the case with any tough loss there is no shortage of frustration over a game that at times Denver seemed to control. While both teams struggled to get into a comfortable flow tonight’s game was an exciting reminder that this is playoff basketball at it’s finest. It may not have been pretty, but after tonight any doubts about the intense physical nature of the series can be put to rest.

Unfortunately many of the concerns we had before the series came to fruition. Free-throw shooting and injury woes continue to be the fatal flaws this team cannot overcome without improvement. Overall my initial reaction is there is still so much that is equally encouraging. Unfortunately winning is all that matters and the Thunder greatly improve their chances of moving on having gained a head start. The onus is now on Denver to adjust with an already thin margin of error that just got a whole lot thinner.

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2010-2011 Game 43: Denver Nuggets 121 Indiana Pacers 107

Box score | Highlights

On November 9th, the Nuggets gave up 144 points in a loss to the Pacers after fumbling away a tough game in Chicago the night before. Regardless of fatigue, it was an embarrassing performance in which Indiana dominated throughout and made their first 20 shots in a 54 point third quarter. Tonight the Nuggets got their opportunity for revenge, with the Pacers on the second game of a back to back this time as their road trip comes to a close in Denver. After a slow start, the Nuggets pass the ball and shoot lights out behind Melo’s 36 points to pay back Indiana with a blowout of their own.

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2009-10 Game 72: Denver Nuggets 99 – Boston Celtics 113

Box Score | Highlights | ESPN360.com Replay

I am done pulling my punches with this team. All year long I have proclaimed them the second best team in the west. Defended their softer defense and looked the other way with their bad habits. Now that they are shorthanded on the court and on the bench all of the little things they have failed to do all season long are catching up to them. The result is a three game losing streak and what appears to be the beginning of a downward spiral that is threatening their season.

What I really wanted to do with this post is list all the lazy defensive plays the Nuggets made in the fourth quarter alone, but I rarely trust my instincts. Then I remembered that the opposite of my instincts are usually wrong too so here we go.

11:30 – Carmelo jogs back on defense and thus was not in position to defend the pass to Tony Allen after Ty Lawson stopped the ball.

10:49 – J.R. Smith allows Allen to step inside of him on a shot giving up his position for the defensive rebound. The ball came off to the other side and because Smith was not in the lane Rondo was able to collect the ball and then score on the other side of the rim because J.R. was not where he should have been.

9:19 – Rajon Rondo begins a left handed drive from five feet beyond the three point line. He gets Chauncey, who was playing several feet off of Rondo to defend against the drive, on his hip at the free throw line. Carmelo Anthony who is actually under the basket at the time has no idea Rondo is coming because he is walking along side Pierce as he moves from the right side of the lane to the left with his back to the ball. Melo was under no physical or mental duress to prevent him from seeing the ball and staying with Pierce at the same time. It was a simply unconscionable non play.

8:53 – Paul Pierce brings the ball up the floor at a trot. Carmelo for some reason has decided to go over to Rondo even though Chauncey is close by and Pierce is Melo’s man. After an attempt to communicate and get back to covering their assigned man neither one covers Pierce who drives from half court to the rim for a layup. Nene did slide over to help, but instead of being ready to make a play on the shot simply stood still allowing Pierce to easily glide past him for the layup.

8:15 – A solid defensive possession where Nene hedged on the screen, Chauncey recovered and Lawson sunk into the lane to cover Garnett on the roll until Nene could recover leads to a travel. It really is not that difficult to defend a screen and roll.

6:48 – Pierce drives away from a screen and gets past Joey Graham. J.R. Smith makes a half hearted swipe at the ball, but honestly with the assignment of covering Ray Allen it is best that he stays home. Carmelo, covering the much less dangerous Tony Allen who is in the offside corner, barely budges and never comes over to help on the penetration by Pierce. Result a three point play

6:06 – Despite the fact he has about eight feet between he and Rondo Chauncey lays back and runs into a screen instead of moving one foot closer to his man and stepping over the pick. After Chauncey gets taken out, Melo shoves Rondo for a foul despite the fact he had done a half way decent job of keeping Rondo from turning the corner coming off the screen.

5:55 – Later that same possession after J.R. and Nene do a decent job trapping Ray Allen on a pick and roll no one steps over to help cover KG on the roll. Garnett catches a pass from Allen just above the block with no Nugget within five feet of him. Graham rotates over late and flies in front of Garnett who blows the easy layup. Once again Carmelo paid tribute to ancient Greece by impersonating an ancient ruin as he stood motionless on the weak side block.

4:59 – On a shot by Pierce Carmelo stood watching the ball as Tony Allen moved past him into the middle of the lane and Rondo cut past him along the baseline both in position to nab an offensive rebound. The ball caromed off the back iron flying well over all of their heads and Melo’s laziness goes unpunished.

4:35 – After a make by Graham Rondo is walking the ball up the floor. J.R. is walking near Tony Allen. The problem is he is supposed to be guarding Ray Allen who is wide open in the corner. The pathetic thing is Smith realizes his mental error, but instead of hustling to where Ray Allen is and possibly drawing attention to his mistake he shuffles slowly as if he has nowhere in particular to be. Rondo finally notices Ray and passes the ball. Smith is completely out of position and has no chance to cut off the baseline drive. Nene saves a basket by blocking the layup attempt. On the weak side Melo looks on. Joey Graham, who was coming over to do what he could kept Tony Allen, Melo’s man from getting the loose ball and getting a layup. Still the ball goes off of Graham and Boston retains possession.

4:26 – After having success with hedge and recover and trapping schemes on the pick and roll Denver is back to switching. Carmelo is brushed off of Pierce about 30 feet from the rim and decides to sling back into the lane covering no one in particular. Meanwhile Nene and Afflalo double KG on the block after Arron switched over to Garnett on a screen. Kevin passes to Ray Allen in the corner and Chauncey leaves Rondo to run at Allen. Melo had three choices. One, he could look for Chauncey’s man, Rondo who was the leading rebounder in the entire game, and get in front of him as he crashes the offensive boards. Two, he could go box out Tony Allen who is alone in the middle of the lane. Three, he could stand still. Melo chose to stand still and Rondo swept in for the rebound.

3:56 – Carmelo is playing Tony Allen to drive as he is a good seven feet off of him. Allen still chooses to drive and blows by Carmelo who was practically standing straight up instead of crouched and ready to defend. Afflalo rotates late and fouls Allen at the rim.

3:15 – Nene and Afflalo trap Ray Allen on the left wing after a screen by KG. Chauncey is at the top of the circle and when KG gets the pass back from Allen Chauncey plays him to swing the ball instead of getting in front of him and closing a wide open lane to the rim. This time Melo does come over to help, but only to take a weak swipe over his head at the ball. Nene recovers to challenge KG at the rim and forces a miss. J.R. Smith plays the role of statue on this play as he allows Tony Allen to run from the corner all the way along the baseline to tip the rebound to Rondo who passes to KG for an open layup.

2:37 – Chauncey and Nene trap Rondo after a screen by Garnett. The Big Ticket rolls into the lane while Carmelo inexplicably waits too long to react to the play. Melo must not realize that you can be in the lane, just not for three consecutive seconds. There is no reason he was not planted and ready to prevent KG from being wide open. Melo does foul Garnett which I guess counts as a moral victory.

1:57 – Rondo drives the left side of the lane and dumps the ball to Garnett. Tony Allen dives into the lane completely unnoticed by Melo. By the time Garnett shoots Allen is back outside the lane, but he runs right around Melo who is this time impersonating an individual viewing a solar eclipse with the ball filling the role of the sun. Allen gets the rebound in front of Carmelo and extends the possession. Ray Allen hits a three to put the Celtics up 15.

I think you get the idea. The really sad thing is that was probably the best quarter the Nuggets played defensively. It did not include the offensive rebounds off of free throws or instances where Denver was leaving the entire lane wide open.

It goes to show how one player can ruin a defensive possession. All too often that player is Carmelo. He showed some real moxie early in the season on defense and I praised him for his willingness to cover LeBron during their win in Cleveland. Right now he is playing some of the worst defense of his career and it is inexcusable.

The one thing that stood out to me in going over the film again was how hard Nene played. He did a great job of making it difficult for the Celtics bigs to set their screens and he prevented the ball handler from turning the corner and getting in the lane. Arron Afflao worked very hard too and kept the mental mistakes to a minimum.

The bottom line is Denver is in danger of falling into fifth in the West by the end of this road trip. If the coaching staff does not alter their tactics and get away from switching screens and the players do not begin to play with focus and attention to detail they are going to dig themselves a very dangerous hole.

Additional Game 72 Nuggets

  • Ty Lawson finally saw some game action and his presence provided a visible, albeit short lived, boost of energy and confidence. The players know who should be playing and who should not. From the day he stepped foot in Denver Lawson’s teammates talked about how good he was and how he should be on the court. It had to have been a little demoralizing to see Anthony Carter constantly enter the game when Lawson was physically able to play. Now the bad news, Lawson was not very good. Following a very good initial possession on defense where he fought over the screen and along with a strong hedge by Birdman forced Nate Robinson to turn the ball over resulting in a dunk for J.R. Smith Ty looked very rusty and turned the ball over three times, all of which were absolutely horrid passes. Still, Lawson got in the game and the derustification has begun.

  • J.R. played a very good game on offense. He only took three three pointers which is much better than seven or nine and two of those three came at the end of quarters. His lone make came at the end of the third as he caught a perfect pass from Chris Andersen as he ran a streak pattern up the left sideline, a play that showed great presence of mind by Birdman. J.R. took a rhythm dribble to gather himself and hit a big shot that narrowed the lead down to seven.

  • The Celtics crushed the Nuggets on the offensive boards. According to ESPN Stats and Information Boston entered the game 28th in the league in offensive rebound rate, but that did not stop them from posting an offensive rebound rate near 38%. Their 90 shot attempts was a season high.

  • Advanced Game Stats

    Pace Factor: 91.5

    Defensive Efficiency: 123.3 – embarrassing

    Offensive Efficiency: 108.2 – below average, but short of embarrassing

    Featured Blogs: Celtics Hub | Celtics Blog

My Annual March “The End is Near” Post

Box Score | Highlights

I have no idea where to start after that monstrosity.

The combination of horrific defense, staggeringly gruesome offense, conspiracy theory inducing end of game officiating and Anthony Carter was mind numbingly stupefying.

Let’s get the officiating issue out of the way so we can focus on how dismal the Nuggets were. With Denver down three and 3:30 remaining in the game J.R. Smith drew a charge on David Lee. It was not a difficult call to make. As soon as you heard the PA announcer say it was Lee’s sixth foul the refs pulled entered into a caucus and somehow the call was overruled because J.R. was supposedly inside the circle. During live action he seemed to be well away from the circle and replays confirmed it. If the side official was so sure J.R. was inside the circle why didn’t he call it right away? Why was there even any discussion? Not only did Lee not foul out, but he made both free throws and the Nuggets were down five.

That blown call was not the reason Denver lost. They had plenty of time to get over it and failed. Still, I firmly believe that entire episode would not have happened if it was not Lee’s sixth foul and as we all know perception is reality.

We do not need to spend much time on the lackluster offense. It was the typical lack of movement overkill on the jumpers. J.R. Smith was horrible as not only did he take far too many threes, although a couple came in the closing seconds of the game, but he badly forced his two point attempts as well. Also, for the second time in three games he had a possession where he missed three shots that were not repeated tip in attempts either. He then followed it up with a missed shot on the next possession.

Chauncey did a good job of attacking the rim, but conversely he launched five threes and at least three of them were terrible. Melo shot the ball well and had a good scoring night so I guess he gets a pass although most of his points came on jumpers and he only totaled two assists.

Even with all of those issues what was the most disappointing aspect of the game was Adrian Dantley’s insistence on sticking with Anthony Carter. In a game where the Nuggets were too perimeter oriented and struggled to score for stretches Carter did nothing to help. Lawson would have infused better energy and provided a spark. The Nuggets are saying Carter has played well while Lawson was out and that was true for about four or five games. He has not been helpful the past four or five games and Lawson must be on the floor. If Ty does not play tomorrow in Boston it will be inexcusable.

(Another big negative on Dantley’s record is that during the discussion about Lee’s sixth foul he was right there next to the referees. Instead of making sure they knew there was no way they should have been even considering changing the call he was talking to Chauncey. Chauncey had come over to get involved in the conversation between the refs that included David Lee by the way telling them J.R. was definitely inside the circle. Not only did Dantley not get involved, he prevented Chauncey from counterbalancing Lee’s lobbying. Not that it would have mattered, but the Nuggets needed a voice in that conversation.)

All of those things were incredibly frustrating the most infuriating aspect of the Nuggets play is their insistence on switching screens. I spent much of last season railing on utilizing switching screens as your primary defensive strategy on playing the pick and roll. I even have a switching screens tag for my posts. I guess I grew tired blogging about it, but whatever the reason I have not been as aggressive in my assessment of the Denver defense despite the fact they are doing nothing but switching screens. The Denver Nuggets are a very mediocre defensive team. No matter what stat you look at (Defensive Efficiency, Opponent FG%, Defensive Rebounds, Opponent Points per Shot) Denver is not good and the primary reason is they constantly switch screens. The only stat they crack the top ten in is steals per game and that has to be partly discounted due to the pace at which they play.

The Nuggets were a very solid defensive team last season and they were able to win games with their defense. That is not the case this season. They are an offensive team and that is that. I have been patiently waiting the Nuggets return to being at least a decent defensive team. The fact that they continue to rely on switching screens has torpedoed any hopes I had of that happening.

I could write 10,000 words on the problems that switching screens create. My two biggest issues with switching screens are you are voluntarily entering into mismatches and it fosters an environment of passivity and a complete lack of accountability.

There is a reason coaches do not assign a power forward to cover a point guard and a point guard to cover the opposing power forward. It leads to your opponent scoring. There are byproducts of this tactic. If you want to prevent the power forward from posting up the point guard or the guard from blowing by your big man, you have to help. That opens up holes all over for other offensive players to exploit.

There were plenty of examples of this happening in the loss to the Knicks, but here are two from the second quarter. Just past the halfway point in the quarter After Chris Andersen and Afflalo switched Afflalo was stuck on David Lee. Chauncey left his man Giddens, who was in the weakside corner to double. Giddens was just waiting for him to leave and cut to the rim. Carmelo was just a microsecond too late dropping down to replace Chauncey and the pass got through to Giddens for the layup.

A second example came with just over two minutes remaining in the second. Carmelo and Nene switched for absolutely no reason in the right corner leaving Melo on David Lee. Arron Afflalo, who had switched onto Al Harrington, was laying off of Harrington on the left wing. Afflalo turned his head anticipating having to help Carmelo should Lee back him into the post. Because Afflalo was so focused on the possibility of helping Melo who voluntarily switched into a mismatch, he lost track of Harrington who dove to the rim and drew a foul to prevent a layup.

The lack of accountability was evidenced late in the second quarter as well. The next possession after Harrington cut into the lane Chauncey was stuck on Gallinari, although honestly after looking at it again it was not because of a screen, Carmelo doubled and the ball was swung to the weakside. Chauncey rotated to the offside corner and Melo left Gallinari to kind of return to Duhon. The result was no one was guarding Gallinari and he cut to the basket and Nene had to foul to prevent the layup.

There are two secondary problems with switching that I cannot keep myself form touching on. First, the way the Nuggets cheat on the switches it actually opens up perimeter jumpers. The guards, instead of fighting over the screen, know they have to get behind the big to prevent the roll as a result the ball handler has all the space they want to shoot. Look at how much room the Nuggets give the ball handler on a high screen and roll. It would be so easy to step over the screen because there is frequently five feet between the ball handler and the screener. There is no pressure to force the defender into the screen and no pressure to keep the ball handler from turning the corner and blazing into the lane.

Secondly, the bigs who switch out on guards are not in the lane to box out the opposing team’s bigs. For a team who is missing their best rebounder I would think your scheme would seek to keep your rebounders in the paint. The Nuggets struggle on the defensive glass and switching screens is only compounding the problem.

And oh by the way, Toney Douglas hit a easy 15 foot jumper to put the Kincks up three with 27.8 seconds left in the game thanks in large part to a switch.  Nene found himself on Douglas who drove towards the rim, stopped and dribbled between his legs to get his rhythm and drilled the jumper.

This was a bad loss and it was made even worse by the way the Nuggets played.  It was on March 8 of last season where the Nuggets lost a game in Sacramento and I proclaimed they would be nothing other than a first round patsy again. From that point on they finished the season on a 14-4 tear and you all remember what happened in the playoffs. This loss feels a lot like that loss did so I reserve the right to overact.

I continue to question the contention that Kenyon Martin will be able to play again this season despite the fact he is riding a stationary bike “slowly.” News broke today that it was entirely possible that George Karl would miss the rest of the regular season due to his physically and emotionally draining cancer treatments.

Now add in the fact the Nuggets are bottoming out on defense, the offense has become increasingly reliant on the three point shot and acting coach Adrian Dantley would rather play Anthony Carter than Ty Lawson and they just lost the most winnable game in a five game in seven night road trip.

When Kenyon went down I commented that we had to entertain the possibility that Denver could fall out of the top four in the West and open up the playoffs on the road against a team like Phoenix or Utah. After what we saw tonight that outcome is absolutely on the table.

What is most frightening is for the second straight game Denver was out worked by a team playing on the second night of a back to back. Tomorrow they are going to be the team playing for the second night in a row against a surging Celtics team. Redemption is waiting around the corner, but I am not sure the Nuggets can capture it.

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Film Room – Nuggets Switching Screens to Perfection Versus Suns

The Denver Nuggets played tremendous half court defense against the Phoenix Suns in their 105-99 victory at the Pepsi Center. Below is what was originally supposed to be a few clips that turned into a mass quantity of clips documenting the Nuggets’ successful implementation of their switching scheme.

A couple of things I forgot to mention in the video was that switching defenses are usually employed to prevent a team from getting open perimeter shots. Give the coaching staff and players credit for having the guts to implement the switching scheme and stick with it. Secondly, I forgot to mention that Nene and Kenyon did a very good job of not reaching.  It is easier to reach than move your feet and they both expended the additional energy to play defense with their legs and not their arms.

The one comment I will make is I was disappointed that George Karl fell off the wagon and chose to play Anthony Carter over Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo. The Nuggets won and Carter obviously did not make any crippling plays, but I thought Lawson was doing a good job of defending Nash and Afflalo was playing exceptionally well defensively. I would have greatly preferred to see Afflalo in the game down the stretch, but as the Nuggets did pull out the victory it does not make for a very convincing case.

Even so, as was pointed out during the Altitude broadcast, give Carter credit for answering the bell and playing solid basketball.

I also thought the Suns desire to push the pace probably contributed to their downfall. Coming off a tough home game the night before against the Magic, their breakneck pace probably contributed to the outcome in the Nuggets’ favor. The Suns ran Denver out of the gym in the second quarter, but in the second half the Nuggets were much quicker to loose balls and seemed to have a little more spunk to their movements. Plus we have seen the Nuggets settle for jumpers when they become fatigued and I think the Suns played into the Nuggets hands a little bit as they settled for jumpers for much of the second half.

Congratulations to Denver on a good win, but as I pointed out after the loss to the Pistons, the Nuggets do not prove their worth winning home games, but winning road games. Still, a loss to the Suns in that situation would have been devastating and Denver deserves credit for pulling out a hard fought win.

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I thought it was interesting Michael at Valley of the Suns mentioned the game last January where Grant Hill lost his balance at the end of a game in Denver. I expected the no call against Nene at the end against Nash would bring back old memories of that finish for Suns fans and I guess it did.

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

Box Score | Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Round 2 Game 3 Nuggets

 

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

Mindboggling Game Stats

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

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

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

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2009 NBA Playoffs Round 2 Game 2: Denver Nuggets 117 – Dallas Mavericks 105

Box Score | Highlights

How many playoff games can you honestly say the opening jump ball played a role in determining the outcome?  Erick Dampier was called for stealing the tip and that gave the Nuggets the ball to start the game, but more importantly Denver got the ball to start the fourth instead of Dallas.  Entering the fourth quarter the Nuggets held a slim 86-83 lead.  Had the Mavericks received the ball first and converted they could have drawn to within one or even tied the game.  Instead of a confidence building possession for the Mavs Melo took the ball to the rim and set the tone for the final stanza and carry the Nuggets to a 117-105 victory.

To start the quarter Melo was on the left wing, took a handoff from J.R. Smith and drove right parallel to the rim off a double screen.  Antoine Wright ran to recover and get back in front of him and like a good running back Carmelo cut back to his left and drove behind Wright using his momentum against him.  All Wright could do was foul and Melo made both free throws. 

After giving up an offensive rebound to J.J. Barea of all people the Nuggets managed to get a stop.  Carmelo received a short outlet pass from Kenyon and dribbled with his right hand up the left side.  When he hit the three point line he cut right, absorbed contact from Antoine Wright and hit a right handed floater from about four feet out.  Just like that the Nuggets were up seven, the Denver players were saying here we go again, the Mavs players were thinking here we go again and the was a seven Melo had reasserted the Nuggets control of the offensive paint.  To top things off Rick Carlisle was called for a technical apparently upset that Melo did not get the “and one” he deserved after the contact with Wright.  Melo hit the free throw and Denver’s lead surged to eight.

Even though he had another big fourth quarter dumping in 15 points Melo was not the only star of the game on offense.  Nene continued to own the lane, setting a new career playoff high for the second game in a row, as the Mavericks have yet to find a way to stop him.  Even so Nene cannot claim all the credit as seven of his eight made baskets were assisted showing that the Nuggets did a great job of feeding him the ball in position to score. 

J.R. Smith also had a big offensive night.  When J.R. entered the game Denver had scored only seven points in the first six minutes of the game (thanks to a barrage of missed layups and even a missed dunk from Nene to start the game).  J.R. scored eight points himself over the final six minutes of the quarter and added two assists as well.  Smith would go on to score another nine points in the second quarter before taking what I believe was the worst shot of his career to [not] close out the first half.

Instead of running the clock down to virtually nothing, there was a fraction of a second difference between the game and shot clock J.R. launched a 30 foot three pointer with five seconds left.  The shot missed badly allowing Jason Kidd to drive up the floor and hit a 30 footer of his own at the buzzer.  Had J.R. even just waited another couple of seconds he could have thrown up that horrible shot with no harm done other than to the paint on the rim.

Denver did have some offensive issues such as a determination to take a lot of three pointers.  The Nuggets shot 28 threes.  It was the third most three point attempts for the Nuggets this season behind the 31 they shot at Philadelphia and the 29 they chucked up against Sacramento in game 81.  Carmelo himself took eight, yes EIGHT, three pointers making only a singular one.  Overall Denver was 8-28, good for 28.6%, from downtown and it would have been a lot worse if Chauncey had not caught fire and made four of five in the second half.  He even made a corner three, which is not his specialty.  Even so Denver still managed to shoot 50.0% for the game thanks to their 31-50, 62.0%, performance from inside the three point arc.  When you are dominating the paint the way Denver was how is it at all acceptable to shoot 28 threes?  I have no idea what they were thinking.  Along with the great shooting from the realm of the two point shot Denver also earned 40 free throws of which they drained 31 equating to 77.5%.  As you will see later even with the ridiculous amount of three point attempts the Nuggets put together some pretty good offensive numbers.

Unlike their efficient offense the Nuggets played their worst defensive game of the season.  Dallas was much more aggressive with the pick and roll and they continually hurt the Nuggets in the middle of the paint on a handful of occasions.  I think the Nuggets’ scheme played as big a role in the Mavs’ solid offensive performance as the Mavs adjustments did. 

Throughout the course of the entire season I have expressed my displeasure with switching screens.  I am not saying switching should never be utilized, but when switching screens is your primary tactic in defending ball screens you are bound to play with less aggression.  Karl likes to talk about how zone defenses are weak, but switching screens is every bit as weak as playing zone.  The Nuggets switched screens more frequently than they did in the first game of the series.  In fact they switched in instances where it was completely unnecessary and it cost them. 

The Nuggets’ 115.8 Defensive Efficiency was by far their worst of the postseason and it was the first postseason game where they gave up more than 95 points.  The TNT analysts were still giving the Nuggets credit for their defense, but Denver will struggle to win a game in Dallas if they play defense like they did tonight.

Now Dirk had a great night and I have to recant my belief that anyone on the Nuggets can slow him down one on one.  I have known for a long time that Kenyon struggles against taller or thicker players in the post, but for some reason chose to ignore that fact when I said he could contain Nowitzki.  I suspected Birdman’s success was more of a fluke than reality.  Really Nene might be the best option of the three especially since Dallas made the intelligent decision to post him up more.  The issue with having Nene cover Dirk is the potential foul trouble.  Nene has been such a force on offense I would hate to see him loose time due to foul trouble.  Dirk totaled 35 points on 11-20 shooting and accounting for a full one third of Dallas’ points.  While Dirk hit on 55.0% of his shots, the rest of the Mavs shot a pedestrian 44.8%. 

As painful as it can be to watch Dirk torch the Denver defense there is a lot of merit to letting him have success while maintaining a solid grip on the rest of the team.  Jason Terry did manage to score 21, but it took him 18 shots to do it and it was a very quiet 21.

Overall, it was another good performance from Denver and the fact they could still run away with the game when there were no indications they would be able to do so is encouraging.  All along I thought the Nuggets would win, but Dallas played them close enough for most of the game to put an ever so tiny smidge of doubt in my mind.

As far as the big story of the series, the physical-ness of the Nuggets and the un-physical-ness of the Mavericks I thought Dallas showed some guts in tonight’s contest although they rolled over in the end.  They played more in the lane than in game one, earned more free throws and made a couple of strong plays to stop easy buckets (one of which earned Kenyon a silly double technical).  They showed a little toughness, but not nearly enough to swing the series in their favor.

The refs called a tighter game and Dirk received the benefit of the doubt on a couple of calls that produced free throws as he took 13 free throws in game two.  Looking at the two major areas the Mavericks believed they could improve on from game one to game two, they really were successful.  They shot 17 more free throws as they went to the line 30 times and they cut their turnovers almost in half only coughing it up 11 times as opposed to 20. 

Sadly for Mavs fans the reduction in turnovers did not make a dent in the Nuggets’ fast break points.  The nine fewer turnovers only helped cut Denver’s fast break points down to 25.  Not much of a difference.  Plus their 30 free throws were still ten fewer than the more aggressive Nuggets shot.  The game was called much more favorably for Dallas’ style, but as we found out a tighter whistle may earn them more free throws, but it will get the Nuggets to the line more frequently as well.

There may have been far too many threes shot and the defense looked to have sprung a few leaks during the middle two quarters, but those complaints pale in comparison to the fact that the Nuggets are up 2-0 in the Western Conference Semifinals and are riding a 15 game home winning streak.

Additional nuggets and game stats will be posted tomorrow.  I need some sleep.

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2009 NBA Playoffs Round 2 Game 1: Denver Nuggets 109 – Dallas Mavericks 95

Box Score | Highlights

Once again I simply do not know where to start.  There were so many great storylines for the Denver Nuggets during their game one 109-95 win over the Dallas Mavericks I do not think I can do them all justice.

Carmelo was in foul trouble for much of the game, but came alive in the fourth quarter.  George Karl went small in Melo’s absence and it worked marvelously.  Nene was simply a beast in the paint.  The play of Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Anthony Carter off the bench was nothing short of amazing and of course the team defense played by the Nuggets was exceptional by the end of the game.

I have to start off with the defense.

As was pointed out before the series started defending the Mavericks will be much more difficult than shutting down the Hornets.  Early on the Nuggets’ plan to switch the high screen set by Dirk Nowitzki seemed disastrous.  Dirk started the game 6-6 from the floor and despite the switching Dirk was getting very open looks and the Nuggets were clearly struggling with matching up with him.

Things changed when Kenyon Martin leveled Dirk with a forearm along the baseline.  I think that play triggered a response from both the Nuggets and Dirk.  For Denver, they started playing Dirk much more physically and the open space he was enjoying early on disappeared.  For Dirk he was no longer as aggressive going to the rim.  Over his final 17 shots he only took four at the rim.  Was it a result of the hard foul or the Nuggets’ increased pressure?  My guess is it was a little of both.

Aside from Kenyon’s hard foul on Dirk I had a difficult time picking out exactly why the Nuggets defense was able to improve so much between the first 12 minutes and the final 12 minutes.  To me the other keys that led to the defensive awakening were the play of AC and Birdman and I think it took the Nuggets a quarter or two to adjust to the completely different scheme from what they implemented against New Orleans. 

There was a lot of talk about how Kenyon and Dirk would matchup in this series, but it was Birdman who played Dirk the toughest.  Andersen has the length to challenge the shot and for some reason Dirk never really challenged him with the dribble drive.  There were two instances where Dirk tried to drive on Birdman.  On one Andersen drew a charge (more on that later) and on the other Dirk blew past him into the lane, but simply dropped the ball as he tried to gather it to shoot.  I still think Kenyon is the best option to defend Dirk, but it was very encouraging to see how well both Bird and Nene stuck with him.  Plus the guards, even J.R., became very physical with him.  The plan to single cover Dirk no matter who it was on him worked very well to start the series. 

Regarding AC, before the series started I pointed out that I thought AC would play a bigger role than Dahntay Jones because he was a much better matchup for the Nuggets to check Jason Terry.  That certainly proved to be the case in the second half as Carter hounded Terry all over the court and even forced a couple of turnovers when Terry tried to run him off of the baseline double screen. 

Offensively Denver was spectacular, or at least after the first quarter they were.  With Melo in foul trouble players like Nene, J.R., AC and Birdman all stepped up and produced very efficient games. 

Nene ran the floor well in both directions as he was threw down two fast break dunks in the second quarter and also did a good job of retreating in transition, as did all the Nuggets, to prevent the Mavs from running on them.  The Mavericks had no answer for Nene in the lane.  Dampier was too slow and no other Mavs player is strong enough. 

With Melo on the bench for much of the second quarter Nene piled in 14 big points to keep Denver in the game.  Nene scored on an easy dunk after a pick and roll with J.R. thanks to a beautiful bounce pass from Smith and he made a layup off a drive and dish from Chanucey where he drew  a foul after elevating over Dampier who hit him on the arm as Nene finished at the rim with the left hand.  Nene also scored off a really nice set I did not remember seeing this season where he set a screen for Chauncey on the left wing, but instead of driving Chauncey threw a pass across the floor to AC.  Nene then rolled off the screen and AC delivered the pass for an easy lay in.  It was a beautiful play. 

J.R. started out by launching a couple of long jumpers, but soon after that switched into attack mode and the Mavs could not keep him out of the lane.  J.R. penetrated in transition, off of isolations, off of screens and he even split the double team a couple of times.  The result was a handful of nice finishes at the rim and six assists.  J.R. took 13 shots and only two of them were three pointers.  It was only the third time all season that J.R. attempted more than ten shots while putting up two or fewer threes. 

Carmelo had a very frustrating first half as he only played 12 minutes in the first half.  Still when he was in the game he was aggressive offensively.  Melo was credited with 10 shots, but he had another three attempts that resulted in free throws that were all at the rim.  That makes 13 shots and seven of those 13 were at the rim.  He also finished the game with four assists continuing his solid passing performance.  Melo came alive in the fourth quarter when he no longer had to worry about fouling out.  After going at the rim he began hitting his jumpers splashing two three pointers.  He made the first one from the right wing as no Mav came out to cover him off an inbounds play and the second was on the left wing in transition that basically iced the game putting the Nuggets up 106-89 with 2:49 remaining.

Carmelo only attempted ten shots, which I am willing to bet is a career playoff low, but he scored 23 points on those ten shots.  It was a highly efficient afternoon for Melo even with limited minutes.

The Nuggets have to feel very good about how the game went.  Carmelo and Chauncey were non factors offensively up until Melo’s fourth quarter explosion.  Dirk scored his points, but the Nuggets seemed to get a handle on him after his hot start.  Anthony Carter did a great job on Terry who finished the game a -20.  Dallas had good scoring games from Dirk and Howard and Terry shot a solid percentage, but it was not enough for Dallas to hang with them for 48 minutes. 

It has been amazing to see this team become aware of how good they can be in the playoffs.   They are very confident and they should be.  Denver is almost unbeatable at home.  As Karl was quoted saying during the broadcast Denver just wears teams down when they play in the Pepsi Center.  The opposition may be able to hold them off for 36 or 38 minutes, but sooner or later an onslaught is coming and there is nothing the visitors can do to stop it.  The Nuggets are up to 14 straight home wins and with their game one win are very solid favorites to win this series.

Additional Round 2 Game 1 Nuggets

  • I watched portions of the game trying to discern the defensive strategy of the Mavericks and it was not easy.  They seemed to try to have their big men hedge on screens, but Dirk generally laid back in the lane, but as the game wore on he stepped closer and closer to the screen until in the fourth he was hedging as well.  There is no originality in the Mavericks’ scheme and I have to give Karl and his coaching staff credit for the way they are playing defense.  The easy way out is to play vanilla by the book defense.  You need to double or triple team Dirk as the Spurs did because he is too good to risk being covered by your guards.  Karl is showing that he will do what he thinks is best no matter how silly it seems to the commentators or other observers.  Early in the game Hubie Brown was almost pleading with Karl on the broadcast to stop switching, but Karl stuck with it and in game one, it really paid off. 
  • Apart from the defensive scheme Karl coached a marvelous game.  I really cannot take issue with anything he did.  After the game he spoke about how with Melo in foul trouble he had to try something that he probably would not have tried otherwise and that was the small lineup of Billups, Carter and Smith.  The small combo ended up being very effective.  If Melo is playing 40 minutes, that group does not get out on the floor together.  He gave Kleiza a shot to play, but when he realized what a liability he was it was back to the bench for the remainder of the competitive portion of the contest for LK.
  • I was really glad to see both Howard and Dampier were able to return from their ankle sprains.  I would almost rather have Denver lose than be told the only won because Howard was out. 
  • I have not really mentioned the disparity in fast break points.  Denver scored easy bucket after easy bucket, especially in the second half when Dallas could not hold onto the ball.  Dallas on the other hand almost never looked to run.  There is no way Dallas will be able to score enough points against the Nuggets’ half court defense to win this series.  It seemed the Nugget bigs did a good job of retreating into the lane and the guards found their counterparts early on as well.  If Denver has fixed their transition issues that is just another reason for the league to take notice of how well these guys are playing.
  • Mavs fans were irate with the free throw discrepancy and if I were them I probably would be too.  There is a reason for Denver shooting almost three times more free throws than the Mavs did and the proof is in the points in the paint.  Dirk was the only Mav who ever attacked the rim.  While he did draw a lot of contact, but he was also constantly flailing and it certainly looked like on several occasions he was accentuating contact.  After watching Chris Paul grow frustrated that he was not getting the silly calls he had been drawing during the regular season and today Dirk not getting many calls when he was hoping for them I think the refs are under instructions to not reward flopping or dramatics.  The Nuggets are a team who rarely flop or wildly gesticulate in an attempt to draw fouls.  I think their more physical approach is being recognized by the officials and they are getting calls specifically because they are not trying to trick the refs into calling anything.  Maybe I am crazy, but it makes sense to me.
  • Dallas was clearly ready for Linas Kleiza.  Even though Dirk was on fire as soon as he checked in and stated attempting to cover Josh Howard Dallas started feeding Howard and letting him go to work on poor LK.  The result was Howard scored some easy points and Kleiza made a good argument for why he should be watching from the bench.
  • With 7:16 left in the fourth quarter Dirk was bringing the ball up the floor while Andersen was running beside him.  Dirk chose to slam into Birdman to draw a foul.  On the same possession the Mavs entered the ball to Dirk at the left elbow and Birdman drew a charge when he read (or guessed) Dirk was going left.  The only place I believe in karma is on the basketball court and the fact that Dirk was charged with an offensive foul seconds after he drew the lame foul on Birdman was just beautiful.
  • At the 6:02 mark of the fourth quarter Jason Terry drove into the lane and tried to squeeze a pass between Nene and Birdman.  It was a pass that was doomed from the point it was conceived in Terry’s mind.  Nene collected the loose ball and threw an outlet pass to J.R.  As Smith brought the ball up the sideline Karl was right next to him waiving his arm encouraging Smith to run.  Smith dribbled over the half court line, passed to Carter on the right win and kept running up the middle of the floor.  Carter fed it back to Smith who drew Josh Howard to him on the pass in the middle of the lane.  Smith then made a nice behind the back pass to Melo who was hanging out on at the left side of the rim for a dunk.  It put the Nuggets up 17, sent the crowd into a frenzy, forced the Mavs to call a timeout and triggered Rocky’s pelvic thrust celebration.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  94.6 – Average regular season home game pace, 95.1.

Defensive Efficiency:  100.4 – Dallas shot 48.8%, but Denver forced 20 turnovers and only sent the Mavs to the line 13 times.

Offensive Efficiency:  115.2 – Very good considering the slow start, limited minutes from Melo and Chauncey’s veritable no show in the scoring department.

Featured Blogs:  The Two Man Game | Mavs Moneyball

2008-09 Game 80: Denver Nuggets 102 – Los Angeles Lakers 116

Box Score | Highlights

I intended to post some very insightful and timely comments on the Denver Nuggets 116-102 loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.  Well, as you are aware it is Sunday now and anything I have to say will not be very timely, but they have not played since then so I still have time to meet my responsibilities as a Nuggets blogger.

While the Nuggets lost and the game was not particularly close by the time the final bell sounded, I thought Denver played a decent game.  There were prolonged stretches where they outplayed the Lakers.  Unfortunately the Lakers had a couple more dominant stretches than Denver did and they resulted in a double digit loss for Denver.

Kobe had a nice night on offense in both quantity and quality as he posted a very efficient 33 point outing.  Even with the Nuggets aggressively jumping Kobe off of screens and throwing every swingman on the team at him defensively he still managed to light them up.  That is Kobe.  When you load up against him and he still has a high efficiency outing you are in trouble.  When you pay that much attention to one player it weakens your ability to defend everyone else.  While Kobe was too much to handle the player that really killed Denver was Pau Gasol.

Gasol killed the Nuggets in numerous ways.  Straight post ups, in transition and especially on the offensive glass.  Gasol pulled down 11 offensive boards on his own, which according to Basketball Reference only Al Jefferson and Erik Dampier have had better nights on the offensive glass this season with 12. 

I wish I could pin the Nuggets weakness on the defensive boards on the absence of Kenyon Martin, but I think that would be disingenuous.  With the return of Andrew Bynum the Lakers have an imposing pair of seven footers and Kenyon struggles to defend players of that height.  Plus it was the Nuggets’ defensive scheme that left Gasol open for so many offensive caroms.  When he was not open because of Denver’s help and rotations he was left alone by Chris Andersen or Johan Petro who both seemed to try to block every shot the Lakers hoisted up.

On the other end of the floor I found it interesting that the Lakers chose to have Trevor Ariza cover Carmelo Anthony one on one.  As a result of the use of Ariza, Melo was able to take advantage of his midrange game and he was also able to get into the paint easier.  The Lakers were ready to help, but not quite so on their toes as when Melo was covered by Walton or Radmanovic.

Additional Game 80 Nuggets

  • For some reason Dahntay Jones did not seem too worried about Kobe early in the game.  On one early possession Jones lost track of Kobe twice and Kobe hit his first shot, a three pointer, as Jones stood and watched him catch and shoot right in front of him.  Maybe Jones did not read the entire pregame scouting report on that Brant guy.
  • On a few occasions the Nuggets did run a switching scheme that bordered on a 2-3 zone.  The idea was to try to keep Birdman as close to under the rim as possible and the rest of the defense were to cover the players cutting to the perimeter.  On more than one possession they utilized this style of defense to stymie the Lakers, but it is not a system that can be utilized for more than a few possessions at a time.
  • The run that really killed the Nuggets chances came in the third quarter when the Nuggets became completely perimeter oriented.  Melo scored on a nice three point play to draw the Nuggets to within a single point at 70-69 and Phil Jackson, who rarely calls timeouts, called a timeout.  The Lakers came out of the timeout and rattled off an eight to nothing run.  George Karl called a timeout of his own and the Lakers followed it up with four more points.  A one point game quickly became a thirteen point spread.  Here are the shots the Nuggets attempted during that 12-0 run:  Nene missed layup, Billups missed three pointer, Melo missed three pointer, Billups missed three pointer, following the timeout called by Karl where I suspect he encouraged them to get to the rim J.R. missed a 20 foot jumper and to close it out J.R. missed a three pointer.  It does not get much more perimeter than that.
  • The Kamenetzky Brothers over at the LA Times Lakers Blog have put together a very good recap of the game, including the Nuggets’ final fade into oblivion in the fourth quarter.  They lay down the big picture view of why many NBA observers do not take the Nuggets seriously despite the fact that they are currently second in the west.  There is also a link there to a podcast with Chris Brousard from ESPN.com where they discuss the Nuggets and their faults.  I encourage you to check it out.
  • Oh by the way, the Lakers shot 17 more free throws for the game than the Nuggets did, but I have a difficult time complaining about that.  The Lakers did get the benefit of the doubt more often than Denver did, but L.A. was simply more assertive than the Nuggets were with the ball and that is a big reason why there was such a disparity.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  96.5

Defensive Efficiency:  120.2 – They did hold the Lakers to 42.5% shooting, if only they could have collected a few more defensive rebounds.

Offensive Efficiency:  105.7 – Not good enough against a top notch squad.

Featured Blogs:  Forum Blue and Gold | LA Times Lakers Blog | The Lakers Nation

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

Box Score | Highlights

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

- Finally Updated -

Additional Game 71 Nuggets

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

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  97.9

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

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

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

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

Box Score | Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Game 70 Nuggets

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

Mindboggling Game Stats

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

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

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

Featured Blog:  Bullets Forever

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