You always wonder what a vagrant does with the quarter or dollar you give him.Will he use it for food or for some green tea or will he use it for booze and mind altering substances?Imagine a starving panhandler getting $50 bucks, but instead of buying food he spends $25 on a hooker and the other $25 on some yam-yamonly to find out that the hooker was a transvestite and the opium was actually sawdust.
That is exactly what the Nuggets pulled on us.The win against the Lakers was like getting the $50.Tonight’s loss to the Pacers was, well as the late Paul Harvey would say, “The rest of the story.”
The Nuggets have now lost four straight games against teams who are currently under .500.For some reason all the talk that every game is important seems to be just talk.I think we all knew that there was going to be some let down after the way Denver played against the Lakers, but this type of drop off is just unacceptable.I understand that there are nights where there is a lid on the basket, but effort and defense needs to be a constant.I am not saying the Nuggets did not play hard or want to win, but they did not match the effort of the Pacers.
The Nuggets posted a decent defensive efficiency rating for the game and the Pacers only made 38.5% of their shots, but it was not a great defensive game by Denver.They almost always had a breakdown that led to an open look for the Pacers.One unpleasant surprise was the return of switching screens.Indy ran some three man weave and Denver responded by switching.The bigs also switched on down screens. The Pacers had a set where they had Roy Hibbert set a down screen for Troy Murphy.The Nuggets had Nene stay out to prevent Murphy from getting an open look from three, but that left the seriously outmatched Kenyon Martin on Hibbert who was just too big.
I understand why on paper it may make sense to switch in those situations, but I continue to believe it makes for a passive mindset.
The Nuggets now face three very difficult games and do not look now, but there is a decent chance their once apparently safe divisional lead could be all but whipped out by this time Friday night.If the Nuggets have forgotten the importance of every game, they will soon be reminded of that fact.
Additional Game 60 Nuggets
I realize that no one was really playing well tonight, but why on earth was Linas Kleiza of all people on the floor for 12 of the final 13 minutes of the game?Does his presence give them the best chance to win?
Apart from a minute and a half stretch towards the end of the third quarter where Chauncey Billups, J.R. Smith and Melo all hit jumpers and the Nuggets scored 13 points the offense was just pathetic. The Nuggets offense has been faltering lately.
I think the last time Kenyon made a jumper I was shopping for Christmas presents, but God bless him, he won’t let that get in the way of him hoisting more of them up.
Nene was called for a five second violation and I think it might have been the first time I have ever seen that call made.The players who necessitated such a rule have long since retired.Anyway, the call was not Nene’s fault.He had the ball in the post and the Pacers sent a soft double his way.The other four Nuggets combined to move about a foot and a half as they all watched Nene wondering what he might do.
I do not want to think about this game anymore.Then again, I do not want to look forward to the Detroit game either because bad things happen to the Nuggets in Detroit.
The contrast between the Boston Celtics and the Denver Nuggets in the 114-76 demolition last night was quite startling.One of the biggest gaps between the two squads was how they defended screens.The Nuggets continue to rely too heavily on switching while the Celtics help and recover as well as anyone in the NBA.
I have put together several clips that display very clearly the hedge, help and recover system the Celtics use on pick and rolls and the switch and pray system the Nuggets are so fond of.
Keep in mind the Celtics played defense like this without Kevin Garnett who is a vital defensive cog in their system.Had KG been on the court it is possible the Nuggets would not have broken 60.
The point is as long as the Nuggets defend screens like this, regardless of the opponent, they will be lit up more often than not.Switching does rarely work as it did against Orlando and Philly, but against most teams it is like asking Stephon Marbury to show the new female intern his truck.
There were three simple differences between the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets tonight.
One team played all out on both ends of the court for 48 minutes and the other did not.
One team played aggressive trap and recover on ball screens and fought through on other screens while the other switched most screens.
One team made their shots and the other did not.
One team was the Celtics and they won by 38.The other team was the Nuggets and they lost by 38.
Playing hard for 48 minutes is a cliché.Every team has slumps of a few minutes here and there where the effort wanes and they get lazy.I promise you the Celtics played their bums off for all 48 minutes.The collective competitive spirit puts the Nuggets to shame.Kendrick Perkins was bickering with the refs with about a minute left after he was called for traveling.These guys do not care what the score is.The score is almost immaterial.They are giving it their all from start to finish.
For the Nuggets the built in excuse is that they have been on a three week long road trip and it was unfair to ask them to play the Celtics a day after they played in Milwaukee.I am not buying it.As has been pointed out by many people, including myself, the road trip they just finished was only a three game trip.Sure they played five road games in a row before that, but they had six whole days off during the All-Star break.The Celtics were the team that had to check into hotels last night after playing in Phoenix.
Honestly it did not matter who suited up, how many days in a row the Nuggets had played or what strategy the coaches asked the players to implement.Boston played with confidence and determination while the Nuggets looked like a scrawny book worm getting ready to ask out the prom queen.
Denver has now lost by 40 points, give or take a couple of points, twice in their last seven games.Does that scream contender?The game in New Jersey could be written off as a fluke, but for it to happen again just seven games later is shocking.I guarantee you the Trail Blazers and Jazz are licking their chops right now.
Denver now has a day off to prepare for an Atlanta Hawks team that was blown out by the Jazz and two days later the Lakers roll into town.They better get their act together by Wednesday or else they will be going back out on the road with a five game losing streak.
Additional Game 57 Nuggets
After the game George Karl said that they ran into a team who was, “Angry and pissed off and wanted to beat us.”Why weren’t the Nuggets that team?They gave away two winnable games and were returning home against the defending world champions.Show some heart and show some pride.I know the Celtics are good.Accept the challenge.
Ahead of the pack and bucket short of a 40 point margin of victory most people probably would not have batted an eye had Bill Walker put home a dunk with just a few ticks left on the clock.I thought he made a classy play by pulling the ball out and running out the clock.
Was anyone disappointed in the play of Johan Petro?He cannot catch a pass in traffic to save his life (Chauncey will not even pass to him unless he has no other option), but he can has little jumper, decent touch around the rim, can rebound and had a couple of nice blocks.He has been called on twice and in my book came through twice after playing well in Orlando and again tonight.
Once again George Karl lacked the “courage” to play Renaldo Balkman in the second half tonight.Balkman was the only Nugget other than the injured Nene to record a DNC-CD.As BeefySwats pointed out in the game thread there was a portion of the game where Anthony Carter was matched up against Paul Pierce.Pierce just shot over the much smaller Carter and looked like he could have challenged Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 100 points in a game with Carter on him.Could that have been a good time to dust off Balkman?
Chauncey looked slow tonight.Rondo can do that to his opposition, but it was more than that.His pathetic point total was a result of his very poor shot selection.
J.R. Smith was the only Nugget who was determined and able to attack the basket.He made a couple of terrible passes, but once he realized he could finish against whoever the Celtics had at the rim he put in layup after layup.
Even Chris Marlowe acknowledged that the way to beat the Celtics defense is to move the ball and dislodge their defense with quick passing and movement.The Nuggets played almost entirely one on one basketball.Clearly it did not work.
The Nuggets cut their turnovers down to 17, but for the second straight game they finished with more turnovers than assists.
I mentioned in my preview that the Nuggets Pythagorean projected record without Nene this season was 6-76.After tonight it is 3-79.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Defensive Efficiency:127.4 – Fourth worst single game rating this season.
Offensive Efficiency:84.9 – Second lowest single game rating this season ahead of only the 44 point drubbing in New Jersey.
I do not understand how this team’s collective mind works.Coming off a loss to an inferior team and playing another inferior team they play brain dead basketball and drop a very winnable game.How can a team play three straight games of great defense and then come out and play two games where they look like they have no clue how to cover for each other and rotate?I just do not get it.
How many times did you see the Bucks rotating the ball and Denver appear to be taken completely off guard when the pass went into the corner for an open three?That is a staple of every offense in the NBA yet time after time there was a Nugget standing in the lane completely oblivious to the fact that they needed to be running at the shooter in the corner until after he caught the ball.They also did a great job of sending two guys at a shooter thus ending any hope of their rotation going smoothly.
The offense was not above reproach either.They did score 117 points and posted a very good offensive efficiency rating, but they turned the ball over 24 times.If they manage to only turn the ball over 20 times, which still would have been offensive, they win that game.Most of the turnovers were unforced mindless decisions.The best example was J.R. Smith throwing a pass directly at Anthony Carter when Carter is way out in front of everyone and bouncing it off his head out of bounds.All he had to was loft the ball in the air and let Carter get it.
I can imagine some folks are saying that it was the last game in a long eight game road trip, but that is bunk.This was a three game road trip with no back to back games against three mediocre eastern conference teams and the Nuggets went 1-2.The Nuggets’ three and a half game lead over Portland over the All-Star break is now done to one and a half.
The other story, and potentially more important plotline, is the knee injury to Nene.I heard the play on the radio and had no idea how he sustained it thus making me nearly catatonic, which is not a good state to be in when behind the wheel.Needless to say as soon as I got home I raced to watch how it happened and was relieved to see that it was a knee to knee hit.Not to say that what happened to him was not incredibly painful, but knee to knee hits do not tear ligaments or destroy cartilage.Nene will almost assuredly miss tonight’s game against the Celtics, but I would not expect him to be out for long.
Denver now comes home for three tough home games against the Celtics, Hawks and Lakers.It is entirely possible that they stumble through a 1-4 or even 0-5 stretch. If there is a lesson here for Denver to latch onto it is that they cannot count on flipping the switch in the fourth quarter.
Additional Game 56 Nuggets
Renaldo Balkman started in place of Kenyon Martin and played the beginning of both halves.When he left the game in the first quarter Charlie Villanueva had four points.When Balkman was in the game in the third quarter Villanueva scored three points, one of which was a technical free throw.Villanueva was on the floor for 17 minutes while Balkman was on the floor and he scored seven points.The other 20 minutes Vilanueva was on the floor with Balkman on the bench he scored 29 points.And George Karl said he wished he had the courage to play Balkman more in the second half (last sentence of this article).What kind of courage does it take to play a guy who can shut down the opposing player that is slaying you?It is not like Balkman was killing them on offense.He scored ten points in his 17 minutes and eight of those ten were on layups and dunks.The other two points were from the free throw line after he was fouled on a layup attempt.
The Bucks were running a lot of three man weave triggered off a screen from the right wing at the top of the three point circle. The Nuggets response was to switch off. The result was a lot of Nene getting stuck at the top of the circle switching onto perimeter player after perimeter player. In fact, that was the reason he was on Richard Jefferson on the play where he hurt his knee.
With the Nuggets down three and 30 seconds left in the game they ran a play that brought J.R. off of a double screen to try to tie the game.He was hounded pretty well by Luc Mbah Bahmoute or whatever his name is and ended up forcing up an air ball.I think George Karl has done a pretty good job of drawing up plays all season whether they be out of timeouts or at the end of games, but in that situation, you take the quick two and foul.If you miss the three the game is over.Do not resort to shots like that until they are absolutely necessary.With the Nuggets down four and 17.8 seconds left he drew up a play where Melo curled of a screen, received the inbounds pass on the left wing and drove right to the rim.The result was Melo scored in only 2.5 seconds.As Jason Kosmicki astutely pointed out on the radio, if they run that play instead of the double screen for J.R. they are only down one with 25 or so seconds left with the Bucks shooting free throws instead of down three with the Bucks at the line.If they miss a free throw (which both Ridnour and Sessions did in the closing seconds) you are only down two and in great position to send it to OT.
Another of the 24 turnovers that made me nuts was a fast break where Anthony Carter had the ball and Melo is way out in front, the defender, Charlie Bell is at the free throw line and as Carter enters the front court he commits to Carter.At this point AC is well outside the three point line.With Bell having changed directions all Carter has to do is lob the ball over his head to Melo.Instead Carter continues to dribble and runs all the way into Bell before trying to pass to the wide open Melo.The result was a lazy over head pass that was easily deflected and stolen by Bell and a clear path foul called on Kleiza.The Nuggets stopped the Bucks on the following possession, but it was a four point swing as Bell made both free throws.Just a horrible play.
The Bucks went small to start the fourth quarter and Andersen was in the game.It would have been a perfect time to bring Balkman back in, but Karl stayed with Andersen who gave up a jumper to Villanueva and then a drive and dunk to Joe Alexander and then another jumper to Villanueva.Alexander and Villanueva were the “bigs” in the game for the Bucks.I am not faulting Andersen, he was playing hard.He even worked to deny the ball to Alexander way out past the three point line.The Bucks were able to take Birdman out of the paint and out of his game.At the other end on one occasion Birdman was being guarded by Luke Ridnour at the rim, but Melo was so determined to post up Charlie Bell he did not even look Andersen’s way.Andersen did make a couple of nice plays such as an offensive put back and a huge block on Alexander at the rim, but I really think Karl missed a chance to matchup better with Balkman.
Karl’s other option would have been to insert Nene and go medieval on their heinies.When Karl did sub Nene in with 7:07 left in the game Skiles responded by removing Ridnour for Cisco Elson.The Nuggets were only outscored by one during the small ball segment of the fourth, but had they used Balkman I believe they would have been much better off.
For some reason now that Kleiza has made a couple of threes he is going to the rim more.Do not ask me why he was not attacking the hoop in the middle of his 0-16 three point shooting slump.Anyway he had a beautiful take with 7:33 left in the fourth where he received the pass on the right side a little bit above the baseline.He exploded past Alexander with a great first step, took one dribble, took his two steps and laid the ball in the net.That is a drill that every player should work on, getting to the rim off of one dribble from your respective three point line (whatever the distance may be at your level) and for Kleiza to do it in a game and leave an athlete like Alexander in the dust was beautiful.(This however does not give him a pass for his atrocious defense all game long.)
Chauncey picks up his dribble way too much.
Mr. Big Shot reared his ugly head again as with the Nuggets down 114-113 with about 1:30 left in the game Chauncey brought the ball up the floor and took a three with 14 seconds left on the shot clock.I think most if not all of us can agree that J.R. tends to take too many shots like that so what kind of example is Chauncey setting for J.R. when he takes those shots?How can the coaching staff get on J.R. without getting on Chauncey?
While we are on Chauncey he displayed some absolutely atrocious court sense he displayed by stepping well over the three point line on his desperation with Denver down three and only six seconds left in the game.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Defensive Efficiency:121.3 – Ugh.
Offensive Efficiency:118.3 – Again with 24 turnovers.
In their first game coming out of the All-Star break the Denver Nuggets failed to show up for the first seven minutes of the game, then once they decided to start playing they still appeared to sleep walk through the rest of the first half.Lucky for them the way they played in the second half made it pretty easy to forgive them for their sorry play in the first half.
The Nuggets also owe the Sixers some thanks as well because there is no way Philly should have only been up by ten at the half.As bad as the Nuggets were the Sixers were not much better exhibiting some truly hideous offense over the first 24 minutes.Philly dominated the paint, but missed numerous shots from close in.By my count in the play by play they missed eight layups in the first half alone and I think Philly had several more tip attempts that rimmed out as well.
Do not get me wrong, Denver was terrible offensively in the first half.They did not score their sixth point until Melo made a layup with only 3:35 left in the first quarter.The Nuggets’ putrid play was due to their perimeter mindset, not an inability to make layups.
I think we all hoped to see the Nuggets crank up their effort and they clearly were not out of the game down only ten, but to see the ferocity they took the floor with was shocking to everyone.It was especially shocking to the 76ers and their stunned fans.The Nuggets began attacking the rim starting off the half with three consecutive layups off of the high pick and roll by Chauncey and Nene.In fact the Nuggets went on to make nine layups in the third quarter and were awarded free throws on a couple of occasions when they were fouled to prevent an easy lay in.For some reason those shots that rattle out when you are playing one pass and shoot perimeter ball seem to find the net when they are a result of a more free flowing unselfish offense.Thanks to their renewed sense of purpose on offense Denver was able to take the lead just two and a half minutes into the third quarter and produced a 24-4 run to start the second half.
Chauncey was clearly the catalyst and it was one of the first times this season where he triggered a second half spurt from largely getting to the rim instead of catching fire from the perimeter.After Chauncey scored 13 of the Nuggets’ 24 points to start the half Philly began to focus on him almost exclusively on defense.They assigned Willie Green to shadow Chauncey wherever he went.Green denied Billups the inbounds pass and when Chauncey would get the ball and drive off a screen the 76ers were trapping him relentlessly.
Carmelo and J.R. Smith were able to handle the ball and the Sixers’ strategy did not derail the Nuggets right away, but they did hold Denver to only two points over the final two minutes of the third quarter to get back to within three.
Despite the Nuggets’ offensive explosion in the second half you could make a strong argument that they won this game on defense.Even early in the game they were playing solidly and it was only after the first few minutes of offensive futility that their defense took a corresponding turn for the worse.In the second half the Sixers were hurt by the injury suffered by Andre Miller, but Denver really closed off the driving lanes, packed the lane, fought for rebounds and dared the Sixers to be them from the perimeter.Philly knew that they could not win the game by shooting jumpers and so they tried to stick the ball inside, which played directly into the strength of the Nuggets defense.The result was a lot of contested shots being taken from tough angles and with little space to operate.
The Nuggets now have two very winnable games in Chicago and Milwaukee to close out the eight road games they have had in February.At this point they are in second place in the Western Conference a full game ahead of the Spurs, which is actually two games due to the fact the Nuggets own the tie breaker against San Antonio, and with off days between both remaining games a 7-1 elongated road trip is a necessity.
Additional Game 54 Nuggets
One thing I did not mention yet was the Nuggets decision to switch screens again tonight.Again, as in Orlando it worked, but for different reasons.Philly likes to set a lot of back screens and they have a lot of interchangeable parts on offense.Andre Miller, Willie Green, Andre Igoudala and Thaddeus Young are all players that can be guarded by most any swingman.If Dahntay Jones gets switched onto Thaddeus Young he is not going to be able to go punish Jones in the post.Igoudala is the one player who can take a smaller defender into the post and make him pay (Miller can play in the post, but the Nuggets do not have any really undersized guards in the rotation). The Nuggets did a good job of doubling Igoudala in the post when he was able to get Carter down on the block.This is not an endorsement of switching, you all know I do not like it, but the 76ers are a team that you can really frustrate by eliminating their back screens by switching.
I fail to see how a player as talentless as Reggie Evans can get away with flat out shoving players in the back they way he does on almost every missed shot.Nene was called for his fifth foul in the third quarter on a play where Evans shoved him out of the way from behind to get the rebound.If the ref calls the shove on Evans Nene gets the board and is not called for his fifth.Even though it felt like the Nuggets had the game under control they were only up five at the time.
I have written in the past about how J.R. Smith averaged roughly one shot for every two minutes of floor time last season.This season he has definitely had nights where he could not wait to launch shot after shot, but last night he played 24 minutes and only took five shots.He continually tried to get into the lane and distribute to his teammates.He did not do a particularly good job of it as Philly really collapsed on him and closed off the passing lanes, but I think it is another sign of maturity that J.R. is almost eschewing his own offense for the sake of trying to get his teammates easy baskets.
Linas Kleiza on the other hand is all about chucking.Kleiza has not made a three pointer in over two weeks now a string of 16 straight misses.He still managed to fire off three ore three point attempts in 11 minutes of floor time.Obviously you do not get out of a slump without shooting, but he has to be smarter about how many threes he takes and in what situation he takes them.He missed on three pointer where there was no one within 15 feet of him and a lane all the way to the rim.
Speaking of players that need to stop shooting threes, Kenyon is now one for his last seven three point attempts and hopefully he puts that misfiring weapon back in his holster.
For some reason the Nuggets had a difficult time figuring out that with the Sixers playing that man to man defense with zone principles that we have talked about in the past they were leaving the weak side block wide open. Anthony Carter made a couple of attempts to get the ball there, but it was open all night long, especially when Melo had the ball on the wing.
Carter has been playing very well as of late.He had two major problems that were causing me to develop a strong dislike of him.One problem was his propensity to turn the ball over.After handing the ball to the Spurs seven times he has only turned it over an average of 1.8 times per game on the current road trip(s).It also appeared to me that his defense had taken a turn for the worse which was highlighted by the first Orlando game where Jameer Nelson absolutely abused him on the drive.Well, Carter’s defense has come back to him, at least temporarily.He did a great job on Dwyane Wade in Miami and last night he did well in keeping Louis Williams out of the lane and fighting against bigger players like Andre Igoudala in the post off of switches.
Chris Andersen had fumble fingers all night long. He dropped three or four passes that would have resulted in an easy dunk or layup. At least he played hard on the defensive end and erased a couple of easy buckets.
The Nuggets were nicked up a little bit too with Melo hurting his thigh and Kenyon straining his back. Neither issue appeared to be serious. Kenyon laid out on the floor for a while and Melo rode a stationary bike during the game. Both were able to finish the game.
Mindboggling Game Stats
Defensive Efficiency:92.0 – The third straight sub 100 game for the Nuggets.They also held Philly to 32.6% shooting.They are starting to resemble the team that was winning with defense earlier in the season.The Nuggets now once again have a better defensive efficiency with Billups than during the four games they played without him.It has been a month and a half or so since we could say that.
Offensive Efficiency:104.4 – Considering they only had five points more than eight minutes into the game that is pretty good.
There are numerous ways to defend screens in the NBA. You can trap, show and recover, hedge, lay back and guard the rim or attack and rotate. The worst of all the options is the straight switch although lay back and guard the rim is pretty bad itself.There are some situations where it is appropriate to switch screens such as with two seconds or less left in a game when you just need to make sure you can challenge the shot.Switching nearly every single perimeter screen for an entire game is pure lunacy.
For some reason the Denver Nuggets chose to do exactly that against the Sacramento Kings.
The result was a disinterested defensive effort, mismatches galore, foul trouble for Nene and open shot after open shot for the Kings. Fortunately for the Nuggets after the first 15 minutes of the game the Kings grew board from making so many easy shots and started daydreaming about the end of the season.
The idea behind switching is that you never allow your opponent’s perimeter shooters to be left open coming off of a screen.For some reason the Nuggets version of the switching defense had the opposite effect.Denver’s bigs were so eager to help when a guard was stuck playing defense in the post the Kings were rarely able to work the ball inside. Denver’s guards did a good job of fronting while the weak side help, particularly Kenyon Martin, did a great job of tipping or intercepting the lob. The bad news is Sacramento was able to get open jumpers from fifteen feet and out whenever they wanted. Against a better offensive team Denver would have been lit up.
I have put some clips together so that the Nuggets themselves can demonstrate the folly of switching screens.
If going into the possession you know you are going to switch screens you might as well start off in the mismatch and when the screen is set you can switch into a normal matchup. Needless to say I hope this is the last time I have to watch Denver use this tactic.
Tell me you weren’t freaked out when the Kings were up 34-24 early in the second quarter.Denver was coming off of a very frustrating loss the day before and they looked flat and disinterested.I kept thinking to myself that they could not let Houston beat them twice.I wish I could say all of a sudden they cranked up the defensive intensity and just blew the Sacramento Kings out of the building, but I cannot.While they did blow the Kings away finishing the second quarter on a 33-13 run, but it was not because of their defense.
The Nuggets chose to switch almost every perimeter screen all night long and the result was mismatches and a fast start for the Kings.I realize there may be some readers who are new to my blogging after the introduction of the ESPN/TrueHoop Network so I will make sure everyone understands from the get go that I hate switching screens for the sake of switching screens.Why a team would ever intentionally create two defensive mismatches for themselves makes no sense to me.It makes even less sense than my wife buying a bunch of clothes for my daughter and then getting upset that we do not have any money.It also fosters a lazy attitude and I think it was a big reason why the Nuggets came out lacking energy.
Getting back to our 34-24 conundrum the key to the Nuggets rally was that the Kings flat out went ice cold from the floor.After earning their ten point lead the Kings missed eight of their next nine shots.Almost all of those nine shots were open jumpers.I cannot credit the defense with that change in events, but the flurry of misses by the Kings was all it took to get the running game going.As the offense began to put the pressure on Sacramento the defense slowly came to life.Denver began playing with more enthusiasm on defense and by the end of the quarter they began clicking on both ends of the floor.
The key to Denver’s ability to switch screens and overcome the self imposed mismatches was the guards did a great job of fronting the Kings big men and the Nuggets’ weak side big was always ready to help on the lob pass.On the rare occasions when Sacramento did get the ball inside the Birdman was ready to swoop in and challenge the shot.A dominant shot blocker will always alter many more shots than he actually blocks and that was true tonight for Andersen.He was credited with three blocks, but continually forced the Kings into taking shots at awkward angles and having to release the ball when they were not comfortable (either too quickly or too late when they were on the way back down to the floor).
As nice as it was to finally see a game where the Nuggets pretty much clinched a win well before the end of the third quarter I am afraid that all they did was what they were supposed to do.However, Denver once again took care of business against a non-playoff team and hopefully built some confidence up for their showdown with the Hated Utah Jazz on Sunday.
Holy crap, what am I going to blog about until Sunday?
Additional Game 43 Nuggets
Dahntay Jones managed to separate his shoulder in pregame warm-ups (Chris Tomasson of the Rocky Mountain News shares that he “banged into someone”), but the silver lining to that cloud was that the Mythical Hustle Creature of Denver known as Renaldo Balkman was inserted into the starting lineup.I like the swapping of Balkman for Jones (even though the circumstances surrounding the change are unfortunate) as he gives the starting lineup some more size as opposed to when Jones and Smith were starting together.Plus we do not need to worry about watching Jones take 20 foot jumpers.Earlier this season I wrote that it seemed like Balkman was able to be productive no matter how few minutes he played or how many consecutive games he had recorded the DND-CD in the box score.I think I will have to retract that statement as he did not do anything of note in his time against the Magic the other night apart from his three point play immediately after checking into the game.Tonight I thought he posted a similarly vacant performance in the first half.However, he brought all the things Nugget fans have already grown to love about him in the third quarter.He recorded a couple of steals, grabbed some rebounds and once again showed his ability to stalk the rim along the baseline after receiving a great behind the back pass from Chauncey for a nice lay in.Needless to say I am excited about the prospect of seeing Balkman get some consistent minutes at least for a few games.
J.R. Smith may have turned the ball over six times, but he had a great game.He showed that he can dominate without making a single three pointer.He took good shots, attacked the rim, was unselfish when he was in the lane and was an all around offensive force.The downside was I thought his defense was absolutely atrocious early on and it was a factor leading up to the Kings ten point second quarter lead.Fortunately as the game wore on he was able to raise his performance from despicable to tolerable.Defense aside when J.R. plays offense like he did tonight he is nearly impossible to contain.The turnovers are a problem though and if he can eliminate the silly ones, like the behind the back pass to Kenyon in the first half that sailed out of bounds when Smith had a layup of his own, he will be even more deadly.
Linas Kleiza continued his savvy offensive play and after throwing up a couple of stink bombs from long range he deserves credit for changing his approach on offense.Tonight he scored a season high 27 points and every single point he scored was either at or near the rim or from the free throw line.The flip side of that coin is he did not make a single jumper all night, but his 11-11 performance on shots in the paint more than make up for it.
I have been getting more and more frustrated with the play of Chauncey Billups lately, but tonight he seemed to break out of his funk.He was much more aggressive going to the rim and as a result earned eleven free throws.He was credited with only ten shots and it was nice to see compared to the recent games where he was forcing perimeter shots and his attempts were in the high teens.
Anthony Carter played a very good game tonight.I have always been a supporter of his, but his high turnover rate this season made his play difficult to tolerate.He has turned that trend around as over the previous 12 games he has only turned the ball over more than twice one time.Tonight he was finding open teammates all over the floor and at difficult angles.His line of three attempted shots, ten assists and only two turnovers is as good a game as you could hope to get out of your back-up point guard.
In the seven games Denver has played without Melo J.R. has been either first or second on the team in plus/minus six times.In fact, he has lead the Nuggets in plus/minus in four of the last five games.Oddly enough in the game he did not lead the team, he was dead last with a ghastly -22 against Orlando.Tonight he was a superlative +32.Even in the Dallas game where he shot 1-14 he was tops on the team with a +7.
Johan Petro was able to display his wares for us in his first shot at playing in extended minutes as a Nugget.As a result I now withdraw my question as to why he did not see some spot minutes against Yao Ming yesterday.He looked to be physically overmatched against rookie Jason Thompson as he was forced to reach from behind and foul Thompson after getting pinned under the basket on a couple of occasions.He has decent hands and moves well.What else do you want from the last big on the pine?
Sonny Weems did not show us anything we did not know about him from my little scouting trip to Broomfield, CO to view his home debut with the Colorado 14ers.He showed his ability to get in the lane and his inconsistent jumper.He certainly did not look out of place during garbage time even though he did not score despite getting five shots up in just six minutes of game time.
Rocky made his half court backwards granny shot tonight.I have always wondered why a mascot intended to entertain kids can get away with such graphic pelvic thrusts every time after he makes that shot.Does anyone else find it disturbing?Do mountain lions have sex in public?
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor:99.8 – Pretty fast even for a Denver home game.
Defensive Efficiency:Wait for it…here is comes…99.2! – That is right it is the first time the Nuggets have posted a single game defensive efficiency of below 100 since 1846.Just kidding, it only seems like it has been that long.They actually did it last at Dallas on December 15th.Keep in mind it would have been even better if not for the buzzer beating four point play to end the first quarter and Sacramento scored 11 points in the last minute and a half of the game.
Offensive Efficiency:118.2 – Very good, even considering the competition.