Tonight the Nuggets played another ugly game. Get used to it. This is no longer the run ‘em out of the gym and leave ‘em gasping for oxygen Denver Nuggets.
If you do not like it well you can blame me, because I asked for it.
I called on the Nuggets to shift from a run and gun score board melting style to a more deliberate defensive oriented system that relies on stops and efficient offense. They just have to work on the efficient offense aspect of the equation. They still played at a relatively fast pace, but not anywhere near the pace they played with at home last season.
Sticking with the ugly theme, the Nuggets are 3-3. It is difficult to get excited over 3-3. They have yet to beat an upper echelon team, but they have only had one chance and they played the Lakers tough. They really have not won a game they shouldn’t have (you could argue the Clipper game falls under that category, but they never should have fallen behind like they did in the first place). The schedule does get tougher and greater challenges are ahead, but keep these numbers in mind. Carmelo is shooting 40.0%. In his first two games as a Nugget Chauncey Billups is shooting 23.3%. J.R. Smith is shooting 35.8% and Linas Kleiza is shooting 32.7%.
Those four players have yet to play their best basketball and there will be plenty of games ahead where all of them will be clicking. On those nights they will be able to defeat any team in the league. The good news is with their newfound commitment to defense they will be able to pull out games like tonight where the free throws are not falling, the shots are not falling and they seem incapable of taking care of the basketball. As commenter snafu noted at the end of the game thread last year’s edition of the Nuggets might not have pulled this game out.
On the other hand the victory margin would have been much larger if it were not for some red hot shooting by the rookie sensation sweeping the nation known as O.J. Mayo in the first half. Tonight Mayo showed why he has been scouted since he started growing hair in manly places (and by manly places I do not mean the Caesar’s Palace sports book or the barber shop if you get my drift). Due to my desire to be an investigatory journalist…(sorry, I just got distracted watching Zoolander clips on Youtube)…I went back to see if Mayo bagged all those shots by being a complete stud or because of defensive breakdowns by the Nuggets.
Mayo’s first three was not a result of horrible defense, nor did he score it even though he was being harassed. Melo was a little slow rotating over to O.J., but he was about an arm’s length away when Mayo took the shot.
Mayo’s second three was in transition. Mike Conley basically did a dribble handoff to O.J. and no one was in position to step out and challenge him. Dahntay Jones was on Mayo, but covered Conley and pointed for someone to guard Mayo. That is pretty bad defense. Mayo’s third shot came on the exact same scenario only on the other side of the floor. Chauncey was too far back to really challenge the shot. Chalk that one up to some more weak defense.
His third three pointer came on a simple inbounds play where he tossed the ball inbounds stepped in and took a handoff while the while Darrell Arthur shielded off Melo and Kleiza. Not good defense. His next shot also came off of an inbounds play, this time on the baseline. He came off a screen and J.R. was far enough behind he could not challenge the shot and no one stepped out to help.
His next bucket came off a drive from the top of the three point line where he drove right and spun and shot a turnaround over Anthony Carter. AC was right in his face, just a good shot by a hot player.
Mayo ended up with 20 first quarter points and most of it was off of some lackadaisical perimeter and transition defense. However, if a team is going to drill perimeter shots in transition all night long you call them the 2004-2006 Phoenix Suns and take your beating like a man. You may have noticed that Mayo only scored 11 more points in the last three quarters. That reduction in output was caused by a more stringent effort on defense by the Nuggets and the law of averages. After his red hot first quarter his defender was always close enough to deny the shot, which obviously is the best way to keep a guy from up and shooting a jumper.
After trailing by one at half time the Nuggets forced the Grizzlies as a whole into some horrendous shooting in the second half. Memphis missed 23 of 32 second half shot attempts. They still were ready to help off of whoever they were covering, but they showed better anticipation on their rotations. They were typically able to force the Grizzlies into the shot they wanted them to take instead of the shot the Grizzlies wanted to take. Mayo never got to catch and shoot like he did in the first half. He had to put the ball on the floor to get his shot. As far as that little drop off play that Conley burned the Nuggets on a couple of times in the first half, Chauncey put the stop to that in the third quarter as he jumped the shooter instead of sticking with Conley or fading back into the lane.
Other Observations from Game Six:
- Nene had another great game. So far no one has been able to handle his strength and quickness in the paint. He has started hitting the jumper and even made a turnaround tonight. He has the ability and mechanics to score out to 15 or 16 feet and once he starts hitting that shot consistently he will be nearly unguardable. Throw in a turnaround jumper and we have a perennial all-star on our hands. Nene also finished the game with 18 points on only ten shots (he made eight of them). He also pulled 12 boards and played a huge role in the Grizzlies only collecting five offensive rebounds despite missing 44 shots.
- You read that right. The Grizzlies only had five offensive boards.
- A quick health, or lack of it, update. Kenyon sat out tonight’s game due to the sore wrist that was bothering him against Dallas. Linas Kleiza filled Martin’s spot in the starting lineup. Chris Andersen fractured a rib trying to take a charge and will miss some time. Steven Hunter is slated to have another knee surgery this week and will miss two months. That means Cheikh Samb will fill the role of first big man ignored on the bench.
- With Kenyon possibly missing a couple more games and Birdman having to sit out a few himself, Renaldo Balkman will play an even larger role. He played almost 25 and a half minutes tonight and was very good. He has not had many minutes to show what he can do, but he almost always leaves us wanting more. After a slow start in the first half he really came on. Offensively he has a knack for finding open space near the rim where he scores most of his points. He works his way in the lane for offensive boards and runs the floor very well. Add in his defensive intelligence, desire and ability and he will be a key player for Denver. The Nuggets will miss Martin’s bulk and Andersen’s length while they are out. The Nuggets play Charlotte next and Balkman should be fine going against Gerald Wallace, but next comes Cleveland (a little more troublesome with Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao) and then Boston. I do not want to see the Nuggets play Boston with Blakman and Kleiza being responsible for checking Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe. Please come back before next Friday Kenyon!
- The NBA is asking for trouble having Violet Palmer and Bennett Salvtore on the same crew. They may want to make sure they do not officiate together, just for their own safety. George Karl was so incensed over a terrible Violet Palmer blocking call on Nene that he threw a cup of water into the first row of the stands. Although the worst call of the night may have been a charging call on Melo by John Goble.
- The Nuggets were bound to miss a few more free throws than they did against the Mavericks, but Melo remained hot from the stripe. He followed up his 14-14 effort from Friday with a 10-10 night. Going back to the Golden State game he has made 26 straight. I guess if that sentence ends up jinxing him I can consider myself a member of the “media.”
- Marc Gasol reminds me more of a dour Jack Black than his brother Pau.
- Most of us scoffed, myself included, when Karl gave the quote following the sweep by the Lakers in the playoffs that he was going to coach “his way” this season, but so far we have seen a different version of the Nuggets and a different George Karl.
- I am sure most of us remember the stat about how the Nuggets almost never lost when Iverson ended up with double digit assists. Well, start keeping track of that stat with Chauncey because he ended the game with ten helpers and the Nuggets are now a perfect 1-0 when Billups ends the game in double digits in assists.
- Coming back from a commercial break Altitude showed a slow motion shot of an amply endowed Nugget dancer leaving little to the imagination as far as how her upper body might move during certain activities better reserved for a more discrete environment. Chris Marlowe, the Nuggets television play by play announcer, gave a little nervous chuckle under his breath before welcoming the viewers back by saying, “A festive atmosphere here at the Pepsi Center…” Yes, festive indeed.
- J.R. Smith is struggling with his shot. He did a good job attacking the rim in the last couple of games, but the Grizzlies did a good job of pinching his driving lanes. Dahntay Jones played fine and Smith was only on the floor for just over 14 minutes and he only attempted four shots. That was only the fourth time since he joined the Nuggets in the summer of 2005 that he played as many as 14 minutes and took four or fewer shots and three of those instances occurred during the 2005-06 season. After the way he stroked it in the preseason it is disappointing to see him struggling in the regular season, but he will get it going and it will be fun to watch.
Razzle Dazzle Game Stats
I started keeping track of certain stats on my own a couple of games ago and I figured what is the purpose of doing that if it is not to share them with you all thus the advent of a new game stats section to dazzle you.
The pace factor against the Grizzlies was 104.7 raising the Nuggets pace factor for the season to a league leading 98.5, which is 4.7 lower than last season.
The Nuggets defensive efficiency for tonight’s game was a stellar 85.9 lowering their defensive efficiency rating for the season to 101.6 safely in the top ten.
Offensively the Nuggets posted an offensive efficiency rating of 95.5. That is basically not good and it drops their offensive efficiency for the year to 101.9, which is higher than 95.5, but is still not good.
Make sure you take time to head on over to the superlative Grizzlies blog 3 Shades of Blue to check out their thoughts on the game.