2008 Preseason Game 1: Denver Nuggets vs Minnesota Timberwolves

 

Game Info

The Denver Nuggets opened up their 2008 preseason schedule tonight at the Pepsi Center against the Minnesota Timberwolves.  They were without Carmelo Anthony due to a bruised finger, but that is something they will have to get used to as he will  miss the first two games of the regular season due to suspension.

The game was not on television nor was it on the radio.  To prove my dedication to all of you I actually spent my own money to attend the game along with my wife, daughter, nephew and sister in law.  (As the guy in the video for Yankee Rose by David Lee Roth says I like to keep two women around at all times.  That way if there is any conversation, I don’t have to be involved in it.

We will all get to see the Nuggets tomorrow night as they play in the great outdoor game of 2008 against the Suns so my observations will only be relevant until everyone sees them play tomorrow night.  That means here is a quick and dirty review of what I witnessed first hand tonight during the Nuggets 118-95 drubbing of the Timberwolves unfiltered and as I scribbled everything down on my little notepad.  Well, actually they are somewhat filtered for your protection.

 

  • ·         Nuggets fans were treated to quite a slam dunk extravaganza by The Birdman and J.R. Smith in the pregame layup line.  The best of which was a dunk by Chris Andersen, sporting a sweet mohawk by the way, as he came in from the right side, passed the ball between his legs and dunked on the left side of the rim with his left hand.
  • ·         Nene, in his first game as the Nuggets starting center, played a very solid game.  He showed the ability to face up and drive both right and left and did a good job of finishing at the rim.  He rebounded well and was solid on defense against Al Jefferson.  He did get a little lost during his rotations, but that was a common theme.  Offensively, he allowed himself to get pushed out beyond the block by Jefferson and as a result mostly faced up when he received the ball in the post.  Even though he did not do much traditional scoring on the block, he still was a massive upgrade over Camby.  With Nene and Kenyon setting solid screens the Nuggets pick and roll game will be much improved this season.  In fact there were a couple of occasions where they ran a successful high screen and roll with Kenyon and Nene.  Kinda weird, but strangely effective.
  • ·         The Nuggets newfound defensive focus seemed eerily similar to last season’s defensive focus.  Early on there seemed to be a lack of communication on pick and rolls and it was not a rare occurrence where Timberwolf players were left open after a missed rotation.  The starters did do better in the second half and the second unit was much better, but we will get to them later.
  • ·         The Nuggets look to be attempting to implement a man defense with zone principles like the Celtics did last season.  That means they bring an extra defender over to the ball side while the weak side zones up to cover the other three offensive players in case there is a rotation.  I do not think the Nuggets played any straight up zone tonight.
  • ·         I was excited to see Kevin Love play and he had a pretty average game.  Whether he was guarding Nene or Kenyon Martin they both would face him up and drive.  Love ended up in first quarter foul trouble attempting to guard the Nugget big man duo.
  • ·         We may have seen a bit of insight into what George Karl is thinking from a rotation standpoint.  Things were thrown off a bit thanks to Melo’s absence and I assume the minutes that went to Ruben Patterson would be absorbed by Linas Kleiza who started in Carmelo’s stead.  J.R. Smith was the first sub and he entered the game for Anthony Carter and played in the backcourt with Allen Iverson.  Andersen was the first big off the bench replacing Martin and Steven Hunter replaced Nene soon after although Hunter did not play in the first half.  Juwan Howard, Renaldo Balkman and Patterson both played a few minutes in both halves.  The first point guard off the bench was Shush Parker and he also made an appearance in each half.  Players who only received garbage time minutes were Mateen Cleaves, Nick Fazekas and James Mays.  I would think the way minutes were handed out things are not looking good for Cleaves, Fazekas and Mays, although I doubt anyone expected either of those three to make the team.
  • ·         J.R. Smith ended the game with only a 6-16 performance, but he really played well.  In my opinion he only forced one shot, he continued to display his improved midrange game hitting a couple of pull up jumpers.  He played under control looking to set up teammates (he made a really nice entry pass in traffic to Kenyon in the post).   Defensively he did have flashes of disinterest, but for the most part, he made an effort.  He still needs to work on his positioning and he tends to give up on plays too early after he is beaten.  He did give up a four point play, hitting Blake Ahearn with a cross body block after he let go of the ball.  It was a poor mental decision, but I liked the effort.  He can learn the mental side of playing defense, but without that effort it will not matter what he knows.
  • ·         Surprisingly enough, the Nuggets defense did not collapse in the absence of Marcus Camby.  All of the bigs did a better job of hedging out on pick and rolls than Nugget fans are used to seeing.  I already mentioned that they struggled early on with their recovery rotations though.  I trust they will clean that up though.  Andersen did a good job hedging, but tended to leave the ball handler a little too early in an attempt to get back to his man.
  • ·         Smush Parker entered the game and made two poor decisions right off the bat.  After that he seemed to settle down and he played a solid game.  He has the potential to be a very good defender with his 6’ 4” frame, long arms and quickness.  If Atkins did not have a guaranteed contract I would swap him out for Parker right now as the third point guard (behind Carter and AI).
  • ·         Speaking of Parker’s defense, I really liked the defensive energy the second unit of Parker, Smith, Dahntay Jones, Andersen, Balkman and Hunter displayed.  Karl had spoken of his desire to do more trapping and pressure defense and it was those guys who he chose to implement those strategies with.  They are all quick, have good size and can guard more than one position.  They created a lot of havoc on the floor and they were able to get some easy baskets off of turnovers.  Andersen did a very good job on the boards.  He was strong boxing out, crashing the glass and chasing down longer caroms as proven by his nine boards (editor's note:  his nine rebounds somehow became 11 in the box score after this post was published) in under 18 minutes.  Karl stuck Jones Randy Foye to provide some full court pressure and he had his moments in that role.  Birdman tried to block everything in sight which resulted in a couple of legit blocks, a couple after the whistle and a plethora of instances where he was shot faked out of position.  There was not much offense on the floor as J.R. was forced to carry the load of scoring and setting everyone else up on his own.  I would expect to see Karl keep another starter who can score or Kleiza on the court so that the offense is not completely reliant on J.R. in the future.
  • ·         One of the reasons I wanted to see this game was to assess whether or not Juwan Howard could contribute in more ways than in the locker room.  Howard played well on both ends of the floor and I see no reason why he cannot make the team as a guy who can play ten minutes off the bench and provide some injury insurance for the front line.  Howard moved well on defense and did as well as could be expected when he was guarding Jefferson.  He did not provide much of a boost on offense, but he kept the ball moving and did not take anything off the table.  However, Howard’s biggest contribution was I his leadership.  There were a couple of occasions where he called his teammates on the floor together to discuss what was going on.  That was a pleasant surprise.  I think there is room on the regular season roster for Howard.   
  • ·         Anthony Carter had some success last season shooting from 19 to 20 feet instead of moving out behind the three point line.  As the season moved on he abandoned the long two point shot and began taking more threes and as a result was less successful.  Tonight he was back to shooting that 20 footer and he looked good doing it.  Hopefully, he will not try to do too much and will set up in that area instead of behind the three point line when he is waiting for a reversal.
  • ·         Renaldo Balkman was brilliant.  He has amazing defensive instincts which allow him to make steal after steal while not taking unnecessary risks and leaving his teammates to play four on five.  I would love to see Balkman play 20 minutes off the bench at the three and four.
  • ·         A little note for Timberwolf fans in case any are reading this.  Randy Foye looked really good.  He never forced anything, but proved he could get in the lane and finish.  We already knew he could shoot and I expect a nice offensive season from him.
  • ·         Staying with the T-Wolves I would love to see some of the battles in Timberwolves practice between Rafael Araujo and David Harrison.  Talk about unintentional comedy.
  • ·         By the way, Nene is definitely in shape.
  • ·         Mike Miller played sparingly, but he looked a little beefy.
  • ·         One play that caught my eye was the Timberwolves threw the ball away as the shot clock was winding down.  The ball was rolling towards the sideline down on the other end of the court.  The Nuggets could have let it just roll out of bounds, but AI busted his hump down the floor to try to save the ball and trigger a fast break.  Unfortunately, the shot clock expired a fraction of a second before AI picked the ball up and passed it ahead, but I appreciated the effort nonetheless.
  • ·         Patterson was definitely watching the Nugget Dancers more than anyone else.  Note to Nugget dancers:   Do not accept any child care positions in the Patterson household.  It does not matter how much he offers to pay you.

One more thing.  The Nuggets scored 118 points.  Melo obviously had zero points and AI only had five.  Sure it was preseason and it may say more about the Wolves defense than anything else, but that is not something you would expect to see.

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