Patience and Trust

Yes, the Denver Nuggets can still win this series.  However, in order to do so, they will have to exhibit two characteristics that they have as of yet been unable to produce on the basketball court.

Utah far outclassed the Nuggets in game three, but Denver is capable of turning the tide as long as they play with patience and trust.

Offensively, Denver can win a shootout with the Jazz.  The Nuggets have more offensive depth and talent to outscore Utah.  Up until now the Jazz have been displaying the patience and trust on offense and Denver has not.  The Jazz run their sets and do not just jump at the first opportunity to shoot the ball.  They share the ball and believe that whether it is C.J. Miles, Kyrylo Fesenko, Kyle Korver or Paul Millsap who is sprung free that they will do their job and score.

The Nuggets have been far to reliant on creating offense individually.  Both Chauncey and Carmelo had relatively efficient offensive performances, but they generated almost no offense for their teammates.  That has to change.  When the Nuggets run some semblance of an offense, whether it be pick and roll or even simply sending cutters through the lane, they earn easy shots.  The way they played offense in game three reminded me of the Allen Iverson era.

When things got tough AI clearly only trusted himself.  The result was excessive one on one play, bad offense and losses.  Denver has a chance to show that they trust one another.  If they do not, this series is as good as over.

Defensively, Denver will have to possess the same characteristics.  The Nuggets have done a very good job of defending the pick and roll.  Utah has scored very infrequently off that play.  The problem is Denver has had no answer for the second, third and fourth options the Jazz throw at them.  Right now the Nuggets do not trust one another.  On one hand they do not want to commit fully to helping because they do not trust their teammates will cover for them and that creates a downward spiral of horrible team defense.

It may be a cliche, but Denver can win together or lose as individuals.  Right now they are losing, but there is still plenty of opportunities to display patience and trust.

By the way, if you are not following the coverage of this series by Kevin Arnovitz on TrueHoop, you are really missing out.  He is doing a tremendous job of providing first hand info from the coaches and players as well as in depth analysis.

Seeking Consistency Where None Can Be Found

First of all I let’s get something straight. Even after dropping a game at home to a very shorthanded Utah Jazz team in my mind the Denver Nuggets are still the favorite to win their first round series with Utah. However, I am done looking at this team through the perspective of what they can do and from now on I am only concerned with what they have done. They have successfully destroyed my sense of optimism about what they can be.

The arrival of the second season did not prove to be any kind of magic elixir that erased 82 games of up and down play and I will no longer operate under the assumption or hope that any single event can automatically cure this team from its ailments all of which can be summed up in one word, inconsistency.

Game two produced three different phases for Denver. Initially we saw the first half team that was way too laid back and proved to be ineffective ultimately giving up a big run to close out the first half that basically cost them the game. The second half brought a maniacal swarming defensive effort that triggered a run successful enough to demolish a 14 point lead and eventually earn a 102-98 lead with under four minutes remaining. From there Denver collapsed committing two offensive fouls, and one truly offensive foul, Carmelo’s silly sixth foul. Add in some unnecessary three point attempts when the Nuggets were scoring in the paint all night long and we discover that 20 minutes of good to great play is not going to make up for the 28 minutes of absent minded defense, misapplied physical aggression and some shots born out of what can only be described as a hero complex that hounds a couple of Denver’s guards.

In the end their inconsistency put them in a difficult spot and in the end produced some big mistakes.  The loss has cost them home court advantage and any mental edge they may have had due to the Jazz dealing with the losses of Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer.

The fact is inconsistency has hounded Denver for years, and this year, in a season where every game was supposed to be an important step towards earning a high seed to help propel another postseason push, Denver remained wildly inconsistent. Then again it might be said their inconsistency was consistent as evidenced by the gap between their performance against playoff teams versus their performance against sub .500 teams. Despite the fact Denver has a veteran laden team they continue to flounder mentally.

That inconsistency is born of having inconsistent players. You can never be sure of what you are getting from night to night from key cogs like Nene, Chris Andersen and the king of inconsistency, J.R. Smith. Denver can go from a well oiled machine scoring points in bunches to a gaggle of dudes who simply launch the first jumpers that presents itself.  And they can do so for inexplicably long stretches at a time.  Probably the only thing you know you will get night after night is Arron Afflalo will bust his butt every play defensively when he is on the floor, Carmelo will score at least 20 points and J.R. Smith and Chauncey Billups will combine to shoot well over ten threes whether they are falling or not.  How do you build a team around that?  What kind of identity can a inconsistent group produce?

Now consider Utah. They might have nights where their shots are not falling, but you know you are going to get a hard fought smart game from Deron Williams. Carlos Boozer is going to take high percentage shots and rebound. Paul Milsap will throw his body around and rebound. Kyle Korver will at least work hard defense and earn open jumpers. The team as a whole will run their sets and follow the instructions Jerry Sloan provides for them.

The fact that Denver’s style over substance is backed by such tremendous talent they have a good shot at defeating the team that simply goes out and does their thing night in and night out. However, regardless of their superior talent Denver’s EKG like performances put them at risk of ending this season with the greatest sin in sports, unmet potential.

The Night I Lost Faith in the Denver Nuggets

I will have more on the game two debacle later, but for now you will have to be content with my submission to the Daily Dime (box eight) and the replay of Daily Dime Live.

Nuggets/Jazz Game 2 Adjustments

Game one is in the books between the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz and even though both teams know each other very well, there will be adjustments heading into game two.

The biggest adjustment for game two will be the Jazz playing without Mehmet Okur, who is out for the season with a torn Achilles. The easy answer is to have Carlos Boozer and Paul Milsap each play a ton of minutes and I expect them both to play at least 40. The Jazz also have an opportunity to play small with Kyle Korver, C.J. Miles and Wesley Matthews all on the floor at the same time. We have seen Adrian Dantley play small ball too so look for more swingmen on the floor from here on out. Playing Korver, Miles and Matthews at the same time will definitely work offensively and would force Carmelo Anthony to be active running off of screens or tempt him to start calling for switches which would work for Utah as well. The problem comes on the defensive end, but that problem is not going away for Utah at any point in this series regardless of who they have on the floor.

With the Jazz likely going small it will allow the Nuggets to stick to their eight man rotation that thankfully Dantley uncorked in game one.

Utah is also much more susceptible to foul trouble now that they are down to only two legitimate big men. If Sloan decides to give Kyrylo Fesenko I expect to see the Nuggets attack him with pick and rolls and Nene facing him up. Fesenko is a big boy and his on and off court numbers suggest the Jazz are better with him on the floor than on the bench, but his fouls per 48 minutes total of 9.6 shows he has not learned how to stay on the floor for very long.

Getting to more of the X’s and O’s Denver did a fantastic job on Deron Williams in the first half as they trapped him well of the pick and roll. The second half was 180 degrees different from the first though as Williams started getting more chances to shoot playing off the ball in the half court and he was relentless in attacking Denver in transition.

I do not think Denver is going to solve their transition issues at this point so we might just have to live with four or five easy layups for Williams as he races up the floor. Look for Deron to be much more aggressive in those situations all game long.

Clearly Denver needs to continue to play the pick and roll well, but they cannot slack off on Williams when he is running off of screens just because he does not have the ball. The bigs need to step out and make sure Williams cannot simply catch and shoot in those situations so that the guard has a chance to recover. If they do that the screener is open to cut to the rim. The weakside defender will have to be ready to help out in that situation. The Nuggets one weakness in defending the pick and roll was help from the weak side on the roll man. They will have to tighten that up as well as be ready to help on the screener when Williams comes off his screens.

The Nuggets also got into early foul trouble by not respecting Miles as a threat to drive. I do not expect to see Denver make that same mistake in game two.

With the loss of Mehmet Okur Denver will not have to worry so much about the pick and pop game that Okur brought. With Boozer and Milsap likely both playing over 40 minutes from here on out the Nuggets must box out defensively. They held the Jazz to only four offensive boards in game one and they will have to repeat that effort throughout the series. Utah is going to score and limiting them to one shot on offense will be key.

Utah is going to have to do something different defensively. However, different does not necessarily mean better. After the first game Jerry Sloan said he was afraid to double Carmelo because Denver was scoring too easily in the paint and he was afraid that the Nuggets would get even more easy baskets by sending an extra defender at Carmelo. If Utah decides to continue to single cover Melo for most of the night they are going to have to be content with Melo scoring 30 to 40 points and the question becomes, can they contain Nene? Can they contain Chauncey? Can they contain J.R. Smith?

I believe the answer for the Jazz is to play more zone. Denver had some good possessions against the zone in the opening contest, but having watched Denver all season long, I do not think they will be disciplined enough to move without the ball for more than a few possessions at a time. Eventually they will start settling for jumpers and that will give Utah a chance of competing.

The one thing we know for sure is there is no way the Jazz can stop Denver consistently playing man to man. There are just too many mismatches for them. If they do not want to double, zone is the answer.

The one thing Utah has in their favor is Carmelo will not shoot over 70% again. He took, and made, some tough midrange jumpers. The chances of those shots all falling again in game two are low. As long as C.J. Miles and Wesley Matthews can coax Melo into shooting from 15 to 18 feet that will help Utah as well. They would have to sag off of him a little more than usual, but I think Utah has to hope Melo takes the bait and misses a lot more shots than he did in game one.

These two teams know each other very well and Utah played the defensive scheme they thought would work best and the result was not good the result was a ton of buckets for the Nuggets. There were very few possessions where Denver did not get the shot they wanted, and those possessions usually involved Kenyon Martin. Obviously Utah wants to get one of these first two games in Denver, but even if they lose game two, they can get right back in the series by winning games three and four in Utah. That gives Utah a little leeway to tinker in game two in an attempt to find something that will slow Denver down.

Offensively, I would like to see the Nuggets continue to pound the ball inside as they did in the first half. As mentioned above Melo settled a little too frequently for his jumper. It was excusable in game one because he made nearly every single one. I would love to see Melo force the issue by posting up more often, especially he will have a significant advantage over every defender the Jazz throw at him. He is bigger stronger and quicker than both Miles and Matthews. Utah did double Melo when he was within eight or ten feet of the basket and if he were to post up more frequently, I think you would see him doubled consistently. That would put a lot of pressure on the Jazz defense and open up a lot of options for Denver, both with Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen cutting to the lane, and with Chauncey, J.R. and Arron Afflalo on the perimeter.

I would also like to see more pick and roll between J.R. and Nene or Birdman. J.R. has really hurt the Jazz with his ability to slip a bounce pass to the rolling big man and Denver did not take advantage of that enough in the first game.

For Utah there will probably not be many adjustments offensively. They do their thing and do it very well. They may let Williams play off the ball a little more and I think they can have a lot of success playing Phoenix style by running the high pick and roll between Williams and Boozer and surrounding them with the three point shooting threats of Korver, Matthews and Miles. I thought Utah’s three point shooting was what kept them in game one and I think that will be a major factor for the rest of the series. They will need to shoot lights out from beyond the arc, and they have the shooters to do it.

2010 NBA Playoffs Denver Nuggets Win Game 1 126-113

Box Score | Highlights

Momentum and confidence cannot be measured. In retrospect you can always find a moment where momentum shifted and confidence blossomed. For most of the 2009-10 season the Denver Nuggets were seen as the primary challengers to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference. After suffering significant setbacks Denver arrives in the playoffs with a full complement of players. Denver then faces off against a Utah Jazz team in the first round missing their best one on one defender. They overwhelm the banged up Jazz and face the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round. With the additions of Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo, as well as the return of George Karl, who may not be coaching from the bench, but is feeling well enough to be around the team and help strategize for the Lakers series, Denver plays the Lakers even tougher than in 2009 and force a seventh game.

At that point anything can happen. After seeing the Nuggets blow out the Utah Jazz in the fourth quarter of the opening game of the series would that scenario surprise you? I guarantee you they are not hurting for confidence and we might look back at the barrage of threes that J.R. splashed in the final stanza as the point where momentum swung into the Nuggets’ corner.

Denver’s offense had dropped off considerably over the final month plus of the season. Offense does not appear to be very high on the list of concerns for Denver against the Jazz. Despite J.R. Smith’s fourth quarter performance it was Carmelo Anthony who announced his presence in the 2010 playoffs with authority by hitting six of his eight shots in the first quarter. Melo went on to finish the game with 42 points on a shockingly good 18-25 from the floor.

In a move that I find difficult to understand Jerry Sloan chose not to double Melo although Carmelo rarely had the ball on the block. However, in Sloan’s defense most of his offense came from the wing making it more difficult to double because he was further away from the basket and doing so would open up too much of the floor for cutters and making rotations more difficult because of the extra ground they must cover. Still I thought it was odd that Utah was not prepared to double him when he made his move and got into the lane. There were only a handful of occasions where they did send a second defender at Melo and Carmelo either made a smart pass or was still able to get a quality shot.

Utah saved their zone for the second half did switch in and out of a 2-3 zone in the second half. Zones have given Denver problems in the past and the way Utah would jump from zone to man and back again every few possessions seemed to keep the Nuggets a little out of sync. I was a little surprised they did not apply the zone more often, but I doubt Sloan has much confidence in it after the Suns absolutely demolished it on Wednesday.

Kudos to the Nuggets coaching staff as Denver was clearly prepared for the zone and showed good patience as they worked to break it down. Instead of simply chucking long jumpers they moved without the ball and did a very good job of getting the ball into the middle of the floor either through penetration or cutting into the lane. On one possession Nene was able to slip directly inside of Boozer right at the rim. He received the pass and easily laid the ball in for a gift layup.

Regardless of what defense the Jazz played they had no answer for Carmelo who is too big and strong for C.J. Miles, but is also too quick for him on the perimeter. Melo had his midrange shot falling and rained a hurricane of jumpers on the Jazz. He also drove to the rim just enough to make sure whoever was defending him could not get too tight on him.

Carmelo is not the only player the Jazz cannot cover, but J.R. Smith is a very difficult match up for them as well. J.R. played very well against Utah during the regular season and that continued in game one, at least in the fourth quarter. After a very slow shooting start, J.R. caught fire in the fourth and provided the boost Denver needed to create a cushion. Smith is capable of playing a much more complete offensive game and Utah will be in trouble if he begins to drive and dish or work the pick and roll with Nene or Chris Andersen more often.

Nene was another star for Denver as he was able to post up and earn easy shots on one end while playing very good one on one defense against Boozer and on the pick and roll at the other. He was more aggressive in looking for his shot and on more than one occasion he went to the rim when he would have gladly passed during the regular season.

The other key offensive player for Denver was Ty Lawson. Lawson hit a couple of early threes and I think it settled him down quite a bit. He pushed the pace and was aggressive in going to the rim. Lawson played so well that Dantley kept Chauncey on the bench for the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter. Deron Williams did take advantage of Lawson on defense in the fourth quarter getting into the lane and either making a layup or getting fouled on several occasions. Still, Lawson played great in his first career playoff game and he will continue to be a key for Denver as the playoffs progress.

Defensively, Denver played better than the numbers seem to indicate. They shunned switching screens and did a good job of challenging Williams on the pick and roll. Williams was held in check in the frist half with only six points and two assists. He exploded in the third quarter partly because he was much more aggressive in transition and partly due to the fact he played a little more off the ball. In my preview I mentioned that he gets more shots off of screens set for him as a runner than through the pick and roll and Utah had him running off more screens in the second half than the first.

While it was good to see so much pressure on the ball handler on pick and rolls, the weak side defenders did not do a good job of stopping the roll man from getting shots at the rim. The one or two shots Boozer got at the rim were off the pick and roll and it was due to the lack of help from Kenyon and/or Birdman. Denver also must improve their rotations as C.J. Miles was able to get off early due to late arriving defenders in the first quarter. Look for Denver to improve on those two areas going forward.

The big story of the night though is Denver looked like the Nuggets team that was a contender for much of the season and for me it is easy to envision a battle in the second round against the Lakers that could easily go either way.

Still, there is a lot of work left to do in this series, but if Denver plays as well as they did tonight, the depleted Jazz will struggle to keep up with them for very long.

Additional Game One Nuggets

  • It was truly sad to see Mehmet Okur go down with a potentially serious achilles injury. I honestly feel horrible for both Okur and Jazz fans who deserve better than this.  Hopefully he can return to play again in this series.
  • For anyone who was wondering how Kenyon looked, he threw down a nasty dunk early in the game and in the third quarter pulled down a very impressive offensive rebound between two Jazz players. On the first play he looked athletic and on the second he looked confident in the sense that he trusted the stability of the knee. It is good that both of those are present as he does continue to deal with pain. Kenyon did not shoot well, but was great on the glass pulling down a game high 12 rebounds in 35 solid minutes.
  • All three of the long range bombs J.R. dropped to open up the fourth quarter were catch and shoot threes. I know J.R. can hit pull up and step back threes, but his percentage would be much higher if he would be content just shooting off the catch.
  • I projected that Nene would draw the assignment on Boozer instead of Kenyon and Nene did a fantastic job. Practically all of Boozers’ offense came off of jumpers and if that is the only shot he can consistently get, I think the Nuggets will live with it.
  • Both teams shot over 50% with Denver dropping in an insane 57.1%. Denver shot over 40% from behind the arc, 42.3% to be exact, but what was even more impressive was their 63.8% shooting on two point attempts. The Nuggets were very good and they never had a stretch where they fell in love with the jumper.
  • The Nuggets dominated in the paint for most of the night. They easily won the battle for points in the paint 52-34 and outrebounded the Jazz 42-31. Utah only had four offensive rebounds, and I think all four came in the first half, I know for sure at least three did. Their 91.3% defensive rebound rate was easily a season high.

Advanced Game Stats

Pace Factor: 89.3 – relatively slow for a game in Denver

Defensive Efficiency: 123.8 – Pretty shaky although Utah deserves credit for the way the executed their offense

Offensive Efficiency: 141.1 – Wow, that is a huge number

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The Best of the Net – Previewing Nuggets vs Jazz

I decided to compile the previews of the various Nuggets blogs out there, but continue to be disappointed over the lack of Nuggets blogs out there. If you have a Nuggets blog that I do not have a link to or know about, please send it to me). Come on Nuggets fans grab a keyboard and start typing. Anyway, here is what the internet has to offer when it comes to the first round series between the Denver Nuggets and the Utah Jazz.

For all the relevant coverage check out the Jazz vs Nuggets series page. If you are an Insider, make sure to check out the Scouts. Inc preview. I will be a part of Daily Dime Live tonight so come by and submit your questions or comments during the game.

Andrew over at Denver Stiffs has an all encompassing preview that I highly recommend.

The disturbingly talented Zach Harper over at Hardwood Paroxysm has some good insights into the series, and his own unique way of thinking of the series.

Kurt Helin at Pro Basketball Talk hopes the Nuggets can be contenders.

Nugg Love has a good preview for Nuggets fans to check out.

Basketball John at SLC Dunk chimes in with his always solid coverage.

The Basketball Jones has a very good series of mini-previews, I recommend you check them all out here.

The gang at Bal Don’t Lie has decided to back the Jazz, albeit before the news that Kirilenko will miss the series broke, but I recommend you read the preview anyway.

If you are looking for some motivation this time of year, the guys over at the Chris Andersen Files has you covered (trust me you will want to click on this link).

If you are looking for a place to watch the game online, ESPN3 has you covered.

One last thought from me before game time.  This playoff season may very well be a defining one for Carmelo Anthony.  We all know about his many struggles in the playoffs.  Last season he broke through and produced what I believe was his best all around season this campaign.  If he can lead the Nuggets to another deep playoff run, his career can continue an upward trend.  On the other hand, a first round loss to the Jazz would make for yet another playoff flame out.  The fact is Denver has never lost a series when they have home court advantage since Carmelo arrived.  The sad aspect of that fact is they have only had two such series.

The NBA has a long history of talented players who never made much of themselves in the playoffs.  Melo needs to prove last season was not a fluke and that he does not belong in their company.

The Denver Nuggets versus the Utah Jazz 2010 NBA Playoff Preview

As a good Denver Nuggets fan I am sure you thoroughly dislike the Utah Jazz. It is not difficult to come up with a reason or four. The silly nickname, the we have nothing else to cheer for fans who shriek to the heavens over any call that goes against their team regardless of how correct the call was, the fact they think they have better skiing there than in Colorado and worst of all, the years of putting up with a dominant Jazz team that pounded the Nuggets for years thanks to Stockton and Malone.

Things have changed in the Era of Melo. Denver has been able to get the better of the Jazz more often than not since Carmelo Anthony rode into town on a light blue steed. This is the seventh straight season Denver has made the playoffs and they have now won three of the last five division championships (guess who won the other two). While they have battled each other for division titles and playoff positioning, these two Stalwarts of the Mountain Time Zone rarely face off in the postseason. They have only faced off in the playoffs one other time in the past 25 seasons. In 1994 the Jazz defeated the upstart Nuggets, fresh off their upset of the top seeded Seattle Supersonics, four games to three.

After a 16 year hiatus it is time to shift this cantankerous regular season rivalry into a full blown throwing things around the house and making the neighbors wonder if they should call 911 playoff conflagration.

These two teams are very evenly matched. “How evenly matched are they?” you ask. They have finished each of the previous two seasons with identical records with the Nuggets earning the tie breaker both times. The Jazz have been better over the second half of the season, but thanks to a 3-1 series win in the regular season Denver has the advantage of up to four games on their home court. Both teams are dealing with injuries with Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer nicked up for the Jazz and Kenyon Martin still recovering from patella tendinitis. All three are currently expected to play in game one, but if any one of the three is unable to perform up to the standard they have set for themselves it will be difficult to overcome.

At this point I think it is safe to expect both teams to have all of their players available as we enter the series. The fact that back to back games are now a thing of the past will help Kirilenko, Boozer and Martin continue to recover and get stronger as the series wears on.

Neither team has been particularly good defensively although neither is as bad as Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns made them look in their respective season ending blowouts. I think there is evidence that neither coach feels particularly comfortable with where his team is defensively as can be evidenced by the Nuggets desperate attempt to switch screens against the Suns and the Jazz playing a leaky zone.

I think we can expect to see the Nuggets play the Jazz as straight up as possible. The Jazz have the reputation of being a pick and roll team, but they are a team that sets a bevy of picks on every possession and force you to pay close attention to your man and worry about who might be coming free for an open shot. Denver has better this season helping on screens and cuts away from the ball, than figuring out how to stop the pick and roll. It will be interesting to see if the Jazz play more pick and roll to exploit Denver’s weakness or if they stick to their regular game plan and work to out execute Denver. I would expect the Nuggets to attempt to defend the pick and roll the same way they did against San Antonio and Memphis towards the end of the regular season. Denver did not switch ball screens much against Utah this season and seeing as how that is such a passive strategy I do not expect to see them begin to do so now.

However, the Jazz get most of their shots off of cuts either to the lane or directly at the rim. Williams does not shoot very often driving off a ball screen. If he cannot get the ball to the roll man, he will look to kick out if the defense is collapsing, or simply pass in order to set himself up to run off a screen where he likes to catch and shoot midrange jumpers.

From a personnel standpoint you can expect to see Arron Afflalo start out covering Deron Williams with Chauncey covering C.J. Miles. Afflalo will have to fight over the screens set by the large frontcourt players the Jazz can throw at you. Nene will start out on Boozer leaving Kenyon to cover the much larger Mehmet Okur.

Utah has had success running on Denver and it will be important for the Nuggets to limit easy baskets in transition. You can expect the Jazz to be aggressive in transition, they know Denver struggles in that area and will attempt to take advantage of it. They will not be afraid of a fast paced game.

On the other end of the floor Utah will attempt to have Kirilenko cover Carmelo one on one. Andrei is not the defender he once was and you can expect to see him sag off of Melo to defend against the drive and hope his length will allow him to challenge a jump shot. With AK-47 laying off the Jazz will probably not pre-rotate any help to Melo’s side of the floor and there have been times where I was very surprised to see how little concern the Jazz have shown for Melo’s ability to get to the rim. When Kirilenko is not in the game you can expect to see Utah double Melo mixing their looks up between immediate hard doubles and waiting until he puts the ball on the floor before sending the extra defender.

You can score on the Utah Jazz. If you are patient, move without the ball and share you can get almost any shot you want. It was impressive to watch Phoenix pass the ball five, six or seven times in order to get the defense moving and earn wide open looks, one after the other. It will be crucial for Denver to play with purpose. Utah will try to close off the lane and get Denver to shoot jumpers. If the Nuggets fall into that trap, which they have on a regular basis as of late, it will make for a frustrating series. On the other hand if the Nuggets work the ball around and cut the Jazz will struggle to stop them.

Little needs to be said about the coaching matchup as Jerry Sloan has won more Western Conference Championships than Adrian Dantley has coached playoff games. At this point I trust Dantely has committed to Ty Lawson as the backup point guard and will relegate Anthony Carter to the cushy folding chairs. It will be very interesting to see if either coach will be able to dictate lineups to the other. Dantley loves going small, but asking Carmelo to cover Carlos Boozer or even Paul Milsap is a disaster waiting to happen. Still, Boozer or Milsap would have an even more difficult time with Melo. If the size of the Jazz can relegate the Nuggets’ small lineups to a regular season memory it will be significant. On the other hand should Denver be able to force the issue with a smaller lineup it will be a boon for the Nuggets as they absolutely hold an edge over the Jazz in both quality and quantity of guards and swingmen.

Finally we can move on to the individual matchups where we start off with the Jazz big men. Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur are a difficult matchup for many teams. Okur is the larger man, but has the tremendous outside game that is vexing for opposing bigs who do not want to venture out 24 feet from the rim. However, if you put a smaller defender, such as Kenyon Martin, on Okur he can use his size advantage of score on the block. If Okur can have success against Kenyon on the block Denver will have to start doubling him and that will open up the floor for the cutters to slice and dice the defense for easy baskets.

I like the matchup between Nene and Boozer for Denver. Nene has the size, strength and quickness to contain Boozer. Plus I think Nene can drive by Boozer at will if he faces him up, or he can spin around him with his back to the basket. Chris “Birdman” Andersen is not a great fit to cover either one as he prefers to be in the paint than on the perimeter guarding Okur and Boozer is crafty enough not to let Birdman block his shot when he gets good position. The entire Jazz squad does a pretty solid job of throwing a ball fake or pump fake at their defender so Andersen will have to be ready for that.

As mentioned above, Utah will attempt to have Kirilenko cover Carmelo. I do not think it will end well for Kirilenko who is no longer quick enough to stay in front of Anthony, but seems to lack the explosiveness he used to have as a shot blocker.

J.R. Smith and Ty Lawson bring speed and quickness the Jazz cannot match. Both have had big games scoring and distributing this season against Utah. While I think Carmelo Anthony will be the best player in the series, I think Denver’s biggest advantage is the firepower they have on the bench in J.R. and Lawson. Still, the pressure remains on J.R. to not just shoot, but use his penetration and passing abilities to get his teammates easy looks at the rim. He has been particularly effective running pick and roll against Utah and dropping his smooth bounce pass to the rolling big.

Lawson had perhaps his two best games against the Jazz this season and I expect him to continue to fluster Utah’s guards with his speed and quickness. Ronnie Price is a nice player, but should not be much of a match for Lawson when Ty has the ball.

Of course Chauncey will be a big factor in the series. The less the Nuggets can have him stuck guarding Williams the better, but he will be up to the task when necessary. Hopefully Billups can curtail his Mr. Big Shot tendencies and demand an unselfish effort on offense.

Ultimately, I think there was a reason why Denver won the season series from Utah this season. I think they are the better team. However, that margin is razor thin. The Nuggets will certainly miss George Karl, but hopefully now that he is done with his treatment he can provide a little boost of moral. Still, I am a little disappointed Denver has been more distracted by the coaching situation than motivated by it. Even so, I think home court will loom large in this series although both teams are capable of stealing a game on the other’s floor.

In the end the Nuggets’ talent, athleticism and desire to push further into the postseason than they did last season will carry the day and Denver dispatches the Jazz in seven hard fought and entertaining games. And at the end, you will so despise the Jazz you will want to punch Branford Marsalis in the face.

The Denver Nuggets are the 2010 Northwest Division Champions

Thank you Phoenix.  The Denver Nuggets may have blown their shot at the third seed and a matchup with the battered Trail Blazers, but things could have been much worse.  The Utah Jazz will be a difficult opponent, but add in home court advantage and the fact Utah has not been great down the stretch, and Denver has more than a good chance to advance.  Chris Tomasson is reporting the Nuggets will open at home on Saturday at 8:30 Mountain (Editor’s Note:  It was apparently changed to Sunday – see below).

You can count on an avalanche of coverage over the next few days as we prepare for game time.  Head on over to Salt City Hoops for all the Utah Jazz info you can stand.

Update: Here is the preliminary schedule:

Game 1 – Sun April 18 Utah at Denver 10:30PM TNT
Game 2 – Tue April 20 Utah at Denver 10:00PM NBATV
Game 3 – Fri April 23 Denver at Utah 10:30PM ESPN2
Game 4 – Sun April 25 Denver at Utah 9:30PM TNT
Game 5 * Wed April 28 Utah at Denver TBD TBD TBD
Game 6 * Fri April 30 Denver at Utah TBD TBD TBD
Game 7 * Sun May 2 Utah at Denver TBD TBD TBD

The Nuggets and Avalanche are both scheduled to play at the Pepsi Center on Sunday and Tuesday.  Could be interesting.  I smell a steel cage match between Stern and Bettman before both games to see who gets the arena.

Update to the update: Games one and two have been moved up a day (these times are Mountain):

Game 1 – Sat April 17 Utah at Denver 8:30PM ESPN
Game 2 – Mon April 19 Utah at Denver 8:30PM TNT
Game 3 – Fri April 23 Denver at Utah 8:30PM ESPN2
Game 4 – Sun April 25 Denver at Utah 7:30PM TNT
Game 5 * Wed April 28 Utah at Denver TBD TBD TBD
Game 6 * Fri April 30 Denver at Utah TBD TBD TBD
Game 7 * Sun May 2 Utah at Denver TBD TBD TBD

The Denver Nuggets Lose in Phoenix, Can Still Win Northwest Division

Box Score | Highlights | Daily Dime Chat

Valley of the Suns | Bright Side of the Sun

That was painful to watch. With a division title on the line it was stunning at how the Nuggets failed to compete. I know Denver was playing their fifth game in five nights, but for anyone who questioned my assertion that there was no worse matchup for the Denver Nuggets than the Phoenix Suns I give you tonight’s contest. The Suns jumped on the Nuggets from the get go as they opened the game on an 18-2 run and never looked back.

Even though the Nuggets were closing out a grueling schedule to close the season, I do not think we can site fatigue for the Suns early 16 point lead.

The most vexing aspect of Denver’s play was the decision to revert back to switching ball screens after playing back to back games of relatively acceptable pick and roll defense predicated on the bigs challenging the ball handler. The Nuggets’ switching scheme was so bad they basically allowed the Suns to get any shot they wanted.

Now the Nuggets season rides on the very team that crushed them. Should the Suns win tomorrow night in Utah Denver will back their way into the division title they let slip away by losing games to San Antonio and Phoenix (and Minnesota, the Clippers, Sacramento -twice, Detroit, Washington and New York). That would give Denver the fourth seed and home court advantage in a series against the Utah Jazz.

Should the Jazz win tomorrow, they will win the Northwest Division, Phoenix will be fourth and Denver will fall to fifth where they must face the Suns. I am not sure how much of a chance Denver would have to knock off the Jazz, but it is infinitely more likely they could beat Utah than Phoenix.

If you are feeling down, just remember. What has past is merely prologue to the playoffs and a healthy Nuggets team can beat anyone in the NBA…aside from the Suns that is. Regardless of who the Nuggets face off against, I am going to do my best to give you the best coverage and analysis that is humanly possible.

The Denver Nuggets Continue to Impress

The Denver Nuggets split a back to back in Los Angeles and Utah over the weekend and despite the loss in Utah, I continue to be impressed with this team and the way they are playing.

Denver started the weekend off in style defeating the Lakers 126-113 (Box Score, Forum Blue & Gold) . Obviously the Nuggets played great on offense lead by Chauncey Billups’ career high 39, 37 of which came in the first three quarters thanks to nine fancy threes. Chauncey was slowed in the fourth quarter after rolling his ankle, but J.R. Smith picked up where BIllups left off dropping in 16 fourth quarter points to close out the Lakers.

It is one thing to be hot on offense. Any team can catch fire for a night and bury their opponent. To me the real story was the way Denver defended the Lakers in the second half. The two Lakers who have had their way with Denver in the past are Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Those two combined to score 33 of the Lakers’ 64 first half points. However, in the second half Denver held L.A. to 49 points and Kobe and Pau only netted 17 between the two of them.

Kobe was red hot in the first quarter producing an impressive 20 points. Kobe is an incredibly competitive individual, which is news to no one. After the credit Arron Afflalo received for his performance against Kobe in the first meeting this season, you knew the Black Mamba would be out to prove Afflalo could not handle him. Despite the big scoring quarter, I thought Afflalo did about as good a job as he did previously. Kobe was just hitting difficult shots. Even with Afflalo playing solid D, the Nuggets chose to double Kobe for much of the second half to prevent him from having one of those nights.

With the double teaming of Kobe, it would stand to reason that Pau would get loose inside and dominate with his touch and passing ability. Not so. The Nuggets also had a new wrinkle for Pau. When Pau caught the ball with his back to the rim, the Nuggets waited for him to put the ball on the floor and then sent a double team at him as well. Gasol tends to take his time in the post and once he starts dribbling, you can expect him to dribble more than once or twice. Knowing that, Denver was able to wait for him to dribble before they doubled him. This prevented him for working to get exactly the shot he wanted and either rush the shot or pass out of the double.

It was a significant change for Denver who generally dislikes doubling anyone, but it was an effective strategy and a big reason why they were able to win the game. With Kobe and Gasol held in check, none of the Lakers supporting cast failed to rise to the occasion. Ron Artest was 3-9 and scored 12 points. Andrew Bynum shot 5-7, but only scored two second half points. Derek Fisher had four points on seven shots. Sasha Vujacic missed all five of his threes and only totaled four points on six shots.

The Los Angeles bench did manage to score 37 points, which is a good total. The kicker is it took them 36 shots to get there. Conversely the Denver bench (J.R. Smith, Ty Lawson and Chris Andersen) racked up 47 points, but did so on a mere 27 shots. Birdman actually outrebounded the entire Laker bench by himself 15-13.

If there is bad news, it has to be that despite Birdman’s aforementioned 15 boards and stout 12 rebound effort from Kenyon Martin L.A. pulled down 18 offensive boards and outrebounded Denver by 7.

The other aspect of the game that I found interesting was Nene was aggressive offensively against Bynum, which has not always been the case. In the past Nene has shied away from attacking bigger defenders such as Bynum, but he went right at him on a few occasions and had success. Now he just needs to pull down a few more rebounds to help reduce the Lakers’ offensive rebounding advantage.

The very next night Denver found themselves in Utah once again playing without Carmelo Anthony, but this time sans Chauncey Billups as well. Denver had already defeated Utah three times this season, the Jazz had been red hot and were sure to be highly motivated to dump the shorthanded Nuggets.

I do not have time to go into detail on that game, (Box Score, Highlights, Salt City Hoops, SLC Dunk) but I will say that I was thrilled with the effort and heart the Nuggets displayed. Playing without Melo and Chauncey and on the second night of a back to back (one of the late game in the Pacific time zone flying east that Greg Popovich thinks are unfair) and with Utah sitting at home for two days waiting for Denver to roll into town, the odds were not in the Nuggets’ favor.

Instead of folding after getting down 18 in the third quarter the Nuggets fought back and were within six points of the streaking Jazz with less than three minutes left.

Denver certainly lacked effort in some games earlier in the season, but they seem to have focused in on how important every game truly is. That bodes very well for the future even as Denver heads into possibly the toughest stretch of their regular season schedule.

In closing, I will say that most people, especially most guys young or old, fancy themselves as being tough. One thing I learned as a father is to never assume you could handle the pain someone else is experiencing. That point was struck home to me when my son was about 12 years old and foolishly decided sun tan lotion was unnecessary for someone who was in the sun as much as he was and returned from a trip to the lake with friends with skin that could easily be classified as well done. When it was time for bed, he was crying because his skin hurt so badly. My first reaction was to tell him to quit being such a baby until I stopped to put myself in his place. Maybe it was his own fault and maybe I would not be crying as he was had I scalded my exposed skin as badly as he did, but would I be able to lay down and fall asleep without uttering a single complaint? I had to figure as tough as I believed myself to be, a sunburn like that was certainly painful and while it was my job to make sure my son was not a sissy, it was not my job to dismiss his pain and label him a pansy.

I am sure you are wondering why I am telling you such a boring story. My point is I am really shocked that Carmelo Anthony has not played since spraining his ankle two weeks before the Utah game. Carmelo himself said the ankle was not as badly sprained as those he has suffered in the past. After seeing video of him working out before the game against the Lakers and knowing he has been practicing I started questioning both his toughness and how badly he wants to play. I do not take making accusations like that lightly, which is why I shared the sunburn story. Perhaps Carmleo’s ankle is much worse than any of us know, or have been led to believe. Perhaps working out is causing more pain than you or I could endure. We simply do not know. While an absence of this length is suspicious, it is not enough to lead me to proclaim Melo is a sissy or is more interested in making sure he can drop 30 points a night when he returns.

I have not seen evidence of Melo skipping out on playing when he was banged up in the past. In fact, if you recall he finished the game against the Indiana Pacers in which he broke his hand last season.

Do I want Carmelo to play? Absolutely. Is the fact he is missing games causing more harm than good? I think that question is up for debate. Maybe the Nuggets go 6-2 or 7-1 instead of 5-3 over the eight games he has missed. However, players like Kenyon Martin and Arron Afflalo have been forced to raise their game and now the team knows that those two are capable of answering the bell should the need arise. That is a good thing and had Melo only missed a game or two Kenyon might not have been such a force against San Antonio and Afflalo probably does not get the opportunity to hit the game winning shot against Sacramento.

The wins in Houston, San Antonio and Los Angeles without Carmelo were big wins for this team and I believe have helped build tremendous momentum for this team and helped them truly believe in what they can accomplish together.

Nuggets vs Jazz Chat

I will be taking part in the Daily Dime chat tonight so swing by and send in your comments or drop me a question or two.  Plus you can watch the game on ESPN 360 right here.

Denver Nuggets Win One, Lose One

Nuggets at Jazz Box Score | Highlights

Nuggets vs 76ers Box Score | Highlights

On Saturday before the Denver Nuggets played the Utah Jazz I called for a “herculean” effort that would allow for Denver to pull off an unsuspected, but overdue, road win without Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. They managed to do exactly that thanks to tremendous team play on both offense and defense that actually had the Jazz faithful booing their team in the second half.

Every Nugget player provided a boost. The bigs finally started playing the pick and roll as if they had to share in the responsibility to defend it and offensively the passing was tremendous which lead to a hoard of easy baskets.

Tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers they started out in the same fashion. The defense was moving with purpose and intensity while the offense was full of movement and pin point passing. Sadly, things fell apart in the second quarter and did not get any better in the third when the Nuggets looked to be out of gas.

I thought J.R. Smith eschewed the beautiful passing game the Nuggets were playing and tried going one on one far too much. I mentioned he was focusing too much on his own offense lately instead of using his ability to penetrate to earn easy looks for his teammates. In Utah and again tonight he did a very good job of driving and dishing. However, J.R.’s spirit of giving disappeared as the game wore on and J.R. took a few misguided shots and single handedly shifted the offense into neutral.

J.R. entered the game with 3:15 remaining in the first quarter and within five minutes of floor time had already collected three assists. J.R. played another 30 minutes and tallied not even one assist after that.

The other major issue was fatigue. It really looked like the Nuggets were worn out in the third quarter as they stopped playing the pick and roll aggressively on defense and the movement was nowhere near as crisp on offense.

I expected the Nuggets to build up the strength for one more run, the only question was would it come in time to make a difference in the outcome. Denver saw a return to their aggressive defense over the final eight minutes of the night, but Elton Brand hit a couple of really tough turnaround jumpers with the shot clock running down and Samuel Dalembert threw in a terrible banking perimeter shot on a third occasion. Shots like those were enough to keep Denver from clawing back for the win.

As happy as I was with the effort and execution in Utah I was equally disappointed in the loss to Philly. The Nuggets battled and were oh so close to what would have been a very nice win and I understand how deflating the loss of Birdman must have been, but this is a game they really still should have won.

After tonight’s games the Nuggets are only two games behind Dallas for the second spot in the West and I am sure the return of Carmelo and Chauncey will provide a big boost, but the Nuggets continue to give away games that they need in order to give themselves the best chance at repeating last season’s postseason exploits. The good news is Lawson is proving he is capable of picking up the slack when he has to and hopefully Denver is learning that passing and movement makes scoring much easier and that is something I hope Melo is noticing from the sidelines.

Additional Nuggets

  • As any of you who watched the game saw the Nuggets really killed themselves with turnovers and missed free throws. Kenyon had a decent offensive game continually making himself available for passes in the lane, but his free throw shooting was abysmal. He continues to shoot the ball from the wrong side of his head. Kenyon actually shoots his free throws with the ball starting in front of his left eye. I have said this before, but wherever you are right now try making a shooting motion with your right arm starting with your palm in front of your left eye and observe how your elbow sticks out like a chicken wing. Is he just unwilling to change or are the coaches afraid to make him change his sickening set up? Anyway, Denver missed 12 of their 29 free throws led by Kenyon’s 3-9 performance. Take away a couple of J.R.’s six turnovers and drop in a couple of Kenyon’s six misses from the charity stripe and we are looking at a completely different game. It was not just Kenyon though. Nene had a big miss with just over 30 seconds left that could have cut the Sixer lead to only one and Joey Graham missed both of his attempts.
  • How painful must it have been for Philly fans to watch Ty Lawson? With the seventeenth selection in the 2009 NBA Draft the Sixers drafted Jrue Holiday. One pick later the Timberwolves selected Lawson to trade to Denver. Maybe Holiday will turn out to be decent, but watching Lawson torment Philly every minute he was on the floor had to have left them wondering what could have been.
  • The worst portion of the game in my opinion was late in the third when both Lawson and Nene exited the game for their regularly scheduled rest. Nene and Lawson were the Nuggets two best offensive players against the 76ers and Denver predictably struggled to score with both on the bench. Nene came to the bench with 4:09 left in the third with Lawson following 38 seconds later. When Lawson departed Denver was up 74-73. When Lawson returned 11:11 mark of the fourth the Nuggets were down eight.
  • I have to talk about Lawson some more. I thought he looked tentative down the stretch in Sacramento just a week ago. After logging a few more minutes he looks like a cold blooded thriller. Not only has his ability and willingness to pass in a crowd improved, but he is learning how to lead, especially when to score and when to involve his teammates. His play at the end of both halves was exceptional. Scott Hastings pointed out during the broadcast that Ty checked the clock and noticed Denver could get a two for one at the end of the half and with Lou Williams laying off of him calmly drained a three. Then on the ensuing possession he once again very calmly dribbled the clock down did a little shimmy to freeze Williams and dropped in a 22 footer. At the end of the game, Ty attacked the rim off a pick and roll and made a very difficult running lay in, with Kersey, CO product Jason Smith all over him, to make it a one point game with 11 seconds left. Lawson already seems to always get the shot he wants. He will never be the defensive point guard that Chauncey was in his prime, although he can be very good on that end of the floor in my opinion, but he can absolutely be a better offensive player than Chauncey ever was.
  • I have to give Eddie Jordan some credit for the set he designed after Denver cut the lead down to two in the last minute. After the Nuggets continued to repeatedly stifle the high screen with Allen Iverson, he gave AI the ball up top again, but instead of another pick and roll, he brought Andre Igoudala to the weak side block off a delayed cut. He easily beat the unsuspecting the spot and Smith had no choice but to foul.
  • For those of you who were still withholding judgment, Malik Allen is not going to help the Nuggets. I know someone had to replace Chris Andersen, who left the game in the second quarter with an ankle sprain, but after a couple of minutes of Allen, why not try Renaldo Balkman or even Johan Petro. The way the Nuggets were passing the ball around the rim Balkman would have fit in very well with his ability to find openings around the baseline. Allen was only a -9 for the game, but in the 7:54 he played in the second half Denver was outscored 23-8. If Birdman is out for a prolonged period of time, I can only pray Allen is not the first big off the bench.
  • Also, Arron Afflalo played a very good game.  His effort was evident throughout the night and he hit two big jumpers in the final minutes and snagged an offensive rebound, missed, rebounded his miss and forced in a lay up with Dalembert fouling him from behind and Brand in his face.  I continue to enjoy watching him play.  He has struggled a little on defense a little over the past week or two, but his effort is ever present.

Featured Blogs: Philadunkia | Liberty Ballers | Sixers 4 Guidos

2009-10 Game 1: Denver Nuggets 114 – Utah Jazz 105

Box Score | Highlights | ESPN360 Replay

The worst thing a coach can do to a team is play the wrong players. Heading into the regular season many Nuggets fans were worried that old George Karl favorite Anthony Carter and apparent new George Karl favorite Joey Graham would take minutes away from more deserving players.

I have to insert the typical opening night disclaimer of how I know we cannot jump to conclusions after one game, but if Karl trusts Ty Lawson enough to put him out there in the fourth quarter of a tight game against a division rival – in his first career NBA game – I think we can look forward to much more Lawson this season. As far as Graham, who I believe does deserve minutes as a solid player who avoids mistakes, even without J.R. Smith available he was only on the floor for seven minutes.

As good as Lawson was, I was most impressed with Carmelo Anthony. Melo did everything you could ask for, he displayed all his offensive talents and played solid defense and hit the glass. With the ball Melo certainly was aggressive attacking the rim, but still took advantage of the times he had space to fire off a jumper. On top of his scoring, he also dished out five assists, three of which resulted in dunks.

Defensively Carmelo did a fine job. He stayed with Andrei Kirilenko and did a decent job of fighting through picks and as mentioned above he did a good job on the defensive glass.

I think Melo is poised for a career year and that is a big reason why I like the Nuggets’ chances to improve this season.

One of my concerns heading into the regular season was the relatively poor play by Chauncey Billups in the preseason. I had not seen how Billups typically performed in the preseason before so I knew it was possible that he might turn it on when the games started to count, but I was certainly concerned about his play. After a bit of a slow start he showed that there was no reason to be concerned. Chauncey was his typical self providing direction on the floor on offense, playing smart defense and hitting shots when the Nuggets needed him to.

The backcourt of Billups and Lawson was fun to watch. Chauncey is a deadly three point shooter and he received a few open looks thanks to Lawson’s ability to penetrate. Playing with Lawson also allows Billups to rest a bit on offense without carrying so much of a burden for making things run.

Surprisingly the backcourt pairing that triggered the Nuggets game clinching run in the fourth quarter was Lawson and Arron Afflalo. Anthony Carter struggled to guard Deron Williams because of Williams’ combination of size and speed and obviously Lawson did have issues trying to cover him. Afflalo was able to handle Deron’s size both in the paint and on the perimeter where Deron can use his strength to bump his defender off balance in order to drive to the rim. With Afflalo frustrating Williams and Boozer having a horrible shooting night the Jazz did not have enough offense to keep up with the scoring of Lawson, Billups and Anthony.

As a team, I thought Denver’s offense was a little too isolation heavy. Their movement away from the ball was inconsistent and easily defended. However, with players like Carmelo, Billups and Lawson able to drive and create offense for both themselves as well as their teammates the Nuggets offense was able to put up 91 points over the final three quarters.

Defensively the Nuggets had some tough assignments. Boozer is usually a handful in the paint and Okur is the kind of sweet shooting big the Nuggets can struggle with. Plus the Jazz run a grinding style of offense that will eat up disorganized defenses. Early on Denver struggled with covering the player who would set the cross screen for the big man on the weakside block. The Jazz were able to hit players with a quick pass while the defender stood with his back to the ball resulting in some easy baskets. Denver adjusted and the Jazz did not score on that play in the second half that I can recall. The Nuggets showed solid pick and roll defense, rotated relatively well (although they did give up a couple of wide open threes to Okur) and when the situation called for it, they scrambled very well after getting out of position.

Overall, you have to be pleased with the win. Afflalo definitely filled the role of Dahntay Jones, Lawson showed that the Nuggets have a tremendous new weapon. And I do not recall ever thinking to myself, the Nuggets could really use Linas Kleiza here. In the second quarter Denver had Lawson, Graham, Afflalo, Kenyon and Birdman on the floor at the same time and I was wondering where the offense would come from. They actually outscored the Jazz and erased a seven point first quarter deficit. The bench played very well and they look to be one of those groups whose production is greater than the sum of its parts.

Additional Game 1 Nuggets

  • Two of the Nuggets biggest issues heading into the season were rebounding and turnovers. The Nuggets outrebounded the bigger Jazz 42-39 and they only turned the ball over 13 times. Chauncey, AC, Lawson and Afflalo combined for only four turnovers in 99 minutes. That is incredible considering how turnover prone Carter is and the way Chauncey coughed the ball up in the preseason.
  • As the intensity picked up in the second half there were a handful of jump balls. I got a kick out of referee Bob Delaney struggling to clear space to throw the ball up. I do not remember seeing a ref get so physical in demanding his space like that before. On one occasion Kenyon backed out of the circle and just glared at Delaney.
  • My biggest concern for Lawson was his ability to get his shot off in the lane. I think he only had one shot blocked and he made a plethora of forays into the paint to score or get to the line. I could not be more impressed with his play, in once again, his first NBA game.
  • Sticking with Lawson, he had a very impressive drive in the second half where he started at the rim with his right hand from the left baseline. He picked up his dribble and made a crossover step without dribbling. The result was Lawson was able to get behind the defender, who was expecting him to continue to move into the middle of the floor, and he scored on an open layup at the rim. It was just a beautiful instinctive play. I do not remember ever seeing a player do that before.
  • The play of the night though was a steal and dunk by Carmelo. After nabbing a rebound Paul Milsap floated a pass, and I mean floated, to Deron Williams on the left side of the floor. Melo saw the sailing pass, jump in front of Williams and drove at Milsap. When he got to the lane Melo elevated and absolutely threw down on top of Milsap for the basket and the foul. Melo then let out a scream as he pounded his chest just to make sure the Jazz knew whose house they were in.
  • Any concern that the Nuggets would enter the season fat and happy after their conference finals appearance can be laid to rest. Melo, Kenyon, Nene and J.R. all look to be in very good shape. Kenyon rammed home a couple of impressive dunks of his own on the night.

Game Stats

Pace Factor: 96.6
Offensive Efficiency: 118.0
Defensive Efficiency: 108.7

Take this with you: The Nuggets have only started 2-0 once since 1987-88. Portland is very good, but they looked beatable at home against the Rockets Tuesday night. A win in Portland tomorrow would be a great start for Denver.

Denver Nuggets Drop Preseason Opener to Utah Jazz

The Denver Nuggets dropped their preseason opener to the Utah Jazz 103-87 (box score).

The number one thing I have to say about this game is why on earth could I not watch or listen to it? I can watch every Denver Broncos preseason game, but there is not even a radio feed of a game being played in an NBA arena. Stan Kroenke owns his own television network. I realize the Colorado Avalanche are playing and Altitude showed the Joe Sakic retirement ceremony, and rightfully so, but do you know what was on Altitude after the Sakic ceremony? The Miss Colorado pageant.

I am not asking Altitude to not show the Sakic ceremony or bypass an Avalanche game (which by the way was on Vs. not Altitude) for a Nuggets preseason game. I realize that football games are fewer and more precious, but I can watch a bunch of Colorado Rockies spring training games too. The NFL and MLB do not act like their preseason games are meaningless, why does the NBA?

I realize we get some nationally televised games as the regular season draws closer, but why does the NBA act like these games are truly meaningless? Give us some preseason coverage. I am not saying it has to be a live full production. I would be happy, nay, thrilled with a tape delayed telecast set up the 2008 Summer League with one camera and no announcers.

We need to see these games. I want to see the battle between Joey Graham and James White for what could be the final roster spot. I want to see how Johan Petro does against Kyrylo Fesenko. I want to see if the Nuggets starters were as bad as the stats make it look. I want to see how Arron Afflalo does…at both ends of the floor. I want to see how Chauncey looks one year older against an elite point guard. I want to see if Carmelo has worked on his left hand.

Having a preseason game at an NBA arena completely unavailable for consumption by anyone other than those in the stands is ridiculous.

All we have to look at from this game is the box score. I hate analyzing box scores, but that is all we have to go off of unless you want to draw conclusions from this generic AP story.

Looking at the box score the Nuggets starters were outscored by the Jazz. Were they that badly outplayed? Melo attempted three three pointers, maybe one was at the buzzer. Chauncey had four turnovers, was he picked clean or did he make a pass to a teammate who cut right as Chauncey threw him the pass? Did C.J. Miles light up Arron Afflalo? I have no idea, I did not get to see the game.

Looking at who played and who did not, Kenyon Martin was out resting a thigh bruise. J.R. Smith was not with the team and I have no idea why. (Update:  Chris Tomasson has reported J.R.’s absence was cleared in advance.) Ty Lawson played more than half as many minutes as Anthony Carter. James White played almost four times as many minutes as Joey Graham.

Looking at the actual stats, Renaldo Balkman, who George Karl has said may get to play some small forward, which in my opinion is his natural position, had an impressive line scoring ten points, 11 rebounds and compiling four assists. White was only credited with two shots, both threes of which he made one, but he took 14 free throws. I think one assumption we can safely draw from these numbers is that White was attacking the rim and running the floor. I seriously doubt he made it to the line that frequently by shooting jumpers.

Chauncey shot well, but as mentioned above turned the ball over four times and had a team worst -20.

Nene, who struggled with foul trouble last season, was whistled for five fouls in his 16:45 of playing time.

Carmelo was 4-8 on two point shots and attempted six free throws in his 20:27, but he shot and missed three threes.

Afflalo hit his only three point attempt and had the best plus/minus amongst starters with a -4, but he fouled out in just over 22 minutes.

The last point I will make is this was the first of what could possibly be many games officiated by replacement referees and there were 69 fouls called and 88 free throws attempted in the game. The average number of free throws attempted during the 2008-09 regular season in games the Nuggets played in was 57.5 and the season high was 86. Draw your own conclusions from those numbers.

By the way, did anyone see who won Miss Colorado? It was on Altitude.

Update: has video highlights.  There were cameras there.  Is it too much to ask that someone send the tape to Altitude and they put it on TV?  It does not even have to be next day air, just toss it in the mail so Altitude can air it.  I will even offer to pay the postage.

2008-09 Game 76: Denver Nuggets 114 – Utah Jazz 104

Box Score | Highlights

The Nuggets were able to pull out a big win in a game that never quite lived up to its billing due to a combination of poor shooting by the Jazz and a herky jerky flow.  The Jazz were playing hard, but they simply could not get anything going.  Their offense, with their talent and sound system, should be difficult to defend at home, on the road or in outer space, but it was as effective as a sponge dam. 

The Nuggets claimed that they would implement a plethora of defensive schemes to defend Deron Williams and the pick and roll and they lived up to their word.  They did everything from trapping to rotating a wall of defenders to switching and everything else in between.  For a team that has struggled to be on the same page together even under the best of circumstances Denver did a great job of working together and communicating to each other how they would defend each pick and roll sequence.

The key to Denver’s defense was their ability to keep Williams out of the lane, at least as much as can be expected.  That forced the Jazz to play a much more perimeter oriented game and they held the Jazz to only 38 points in the paint, one of their lowest totals of the season.  The Nuggets really did play solid team defense and even though they seemed to give up a few too many open perimeter shots, we need to remember that was the side effect of the overall plan.

I thought early on the Jazz were hurt by their inability to build up more than an 11 point lead in the first quarter.  Apart from a nice pick and roll between Melo and Kenyon and a drive by Kenyon to start the game the Nuggets were just abysmal on offense.  The Jazz were not much better though as they failed to capitalize on some easy shots around the rim that could have given them a 16 or 18 point lead.  The eleven point bulge they did established ended up being well within J.R. Smith’s striking range. 

Smith took his first shot with 1:24 left in the first quarter and Denver down 22-11.  Within the next 2:31 J.R. had dumped in 11 points, plus an assist, and the game was tied at 26.  What J.R. did for the Nuggets cannot be understated.  Without J.R.’s explosion who knows how long it takes for the Nuggets to get their act together on offense.  It was their 43 points over the final 13:24 of the first half that won the game and J.R. scored 21 of those points and assisted on another eight. 

The other key to the Nuggets offensive surge was Carmelo.  Melo entered the game playing as well on offense as he had in a long time, but he missed his first five shots.  From that point on he began attacking the rim and ended making nine of his final 20 attempts.  Even when he failed to finish a couple of drives in the third quarter he kept driving and it paid off.  Melo even had success driving past the Jazz’s attempts to double him.  Almost every time Melo caught the ball in the post Utah doubled him immediately.  On a couple of occasions Melo actually drove past the defender who was coming to double him.  He also continued his solid passing with his third straight game with at least four assists. 

The Jazz offense came alive in the second half, but it was not because the Nuggets let Williams run wild.  The supporting cast came to life led by C.J. Miles and his 12 points.  That is the risk you take when you focus so strongly on one player, but if a player like C.J. Miles beats you, such is life.

Down the stretch Williams tried to take the game over scoring 11 points in the final six minutes of the game, but it was too little too late.  I have no idea why Williams was not more aggressive before that.  Part of his passiveness was due to the Nuggets throwing a lot of bodies at him, but great players do not let themselves get taken out of the game like that.  Utah looked like a juggernaut in February as Williams was throwing up 30 point game after 30 point game.  Last night he only took 12 shots while Carlos Boozer took 23.

Nevertheless, it was a good win for Denver.  As inconsistent as they have been on defense over the past nine days the Nuggets have contained the two best point guards in the league (Paul in New Orleans and Williams last night) and shown a pretty good ability to guard the pick and roll.

Is it possible that the only obstacles standing in the Denver Nuggets’ way of finishing the regular season with the second seed in the Western Conference are the Clippers, Timberwolves, Thunder and Kings?  Should Denver do that they will force the Spurs or Rockets to finish the season with only one more loss in order to catch them.

Additional Game 76 Nuggets


  • Aside from a short stint early in the third when Chris Andersen had to come in earlier than usual due to Kenyon’s cartilage strain where he looked a little flat Birdman was all over the place blocking a career high eight shots and pulling down ten rebounds.  It is amazing how he feeds not only off of the crowd, but off of his own energy.  He revels in every block.
  • Kenyon left the game early in the third with a cartilage strain in the left side of his rib cage.  I did some quick googling of rib cartilage strains and the real danger is when the strain occurs at the end of the rib.  Kenyon was holding his side which hopefully means it is not as serious.  Still it is an injury that can take a while to heal.  Kenyon may want to play 35 minutes a game.  I think his body is trying to tell him to keep it down to 30.  Keep your fingers crossed that he will be fine for the playoffs.
  • As has been their wont lately the Nuggets really struggled on the defensive glass.  Over their previous five games the Nuggets’ defensive rebound percentage is a paltry 64.9%.  Flip that around and that means the opposition is collecting 35.1% of their missed shots.  To put that in perspective Golden State is the worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA with a defensive rebound percentage of 68.2%.  The Spurs lead the league by a pretty wide margin at 77.9%.  For the season the Nuggets are now in the bottom third of the league in defensive rebounding percentage.  That could be a problem.
  • Much has been made about the Jazz’s struggle on the road.  Watching them last night I do not think they ever believed they would come back and win the game.  They played hard and showed emotion, but never acted like they believed in themselves.
  • Anthony Carter deserves a lot of credit for hitting that running scoop shot at the end of the half.  It is not easy jumping from the free throw line and making a layup off the glass.  It is very difficult not to bounce the ball off the backboard with too much force. 
  • I usually do not read any game coverage before I write my recap so as not to have my opinions clouded by that of others.  I did check the Post and the Times article for any sign of news about Kenyon (Chris Tomasson has some info on Kenyon’s injury) and stumbled on an interesting quote from J.R. Smith.
  • “Tonight, (being in the zone) was different than any other time, because normally it’s catch-and-shoot, but tonight it was off-the-dribble 3s,” Smith said. “It was unbelievable. I was shocked with myself with some of the shots.”

  • After promising not to get whistled for another technical the rest of the season Melo was whistled for number 14.  Two more and he is suspended for one game.  I am not sure what the rules are as far as if he would be suspended for a playoff game should he be nailed with number 16 in the last game of the season.
  • Doesn’t it seem like Ronnie Brewer scores eight points in the first quarter every time the Jazz play the Nuggets?  Fortunately he seems to have a difficult time keeping that pace up.
  • The two teams combined for 86 free throw attempts which surpassed the previous season high for a Nuggets game of 85 when Denver played at Milwaukee.
  • Thanks to their 20 offensive rebounds and four fewer turnovers the Jazz attempted 18 more shots than Denver.  Combine that with the Nuggets’ win in Dallas where they were outshot from the line by 19 and the Nuggets are winning in some unconventional ways.
  • There has been a lot of anger spewed at this team over the past two or three seasons from George Karl to Melo to Allen Iverson, to J.R. and Kenyon.  With their win tonight this group of players has become the first Nuggets team to win 50 games in back to back seasons.   It is the franchise’s fifth 50 win season since joining the NBA in 1976-77.  It is also the first time in franchise history (ABA and NBA) that Denver has had six straight winning seasons. 
  • The way the Jazz are struggling on the road and with four more road games against Western Conference playoff teams it is entirely possible that if Denver can hold onto the second seed they would face the Mavs in the first round.
  • Denver did play a perfect game although I guess they played well enough in the green unis to keep them around another game.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  102.6 – The pace actually became faster in the second half which is rare.

Defensive Efficiency:  101.3 – Denver posted a 101.2 against the Knicks, but this defensive performance was much more stout.  The Jazz have a team field goal percentage for ht season of 47.5%.  The Nuggets held them to 36.6%. 

Offensive Efficiency:  111.1 – Right in line with their season average.

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