After four blowouts the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Hornets finally gave us a close game this Thanksgiving. Unfortunately for Nugget fans it was New Orleans who hit the shots down the stretch and walked away with the victory.
There is no shame in losing to the Hornets, who I believe are one of the top four teams in the league, but the way the Nuggets lost was agonizing. I was not sure I would be able to compose myself in order to write about it, but my mood was salvaged by some painful eliminations on the always entertaining Most Extreme Challenge on SpikeTV. MXC is one of those shows like Beavis and Butthead where you never set out to watch, but once you stumble upon it you set the clicker down and enjoy the ride.
What I most wanted to see from Denver tonight, other than a win, was the return of their solid defense. Well, the posted a horrible defensive efficiency rating and they went through stretches where they looked atrocious on defense, but there were also times where they really locked in and played some great defense.
During the fourth quarter the Nuggets did a great job of helping and rotating. Unfortunately the Nuggets had a breakdown with the game tied and about twenty seconds left when Paul came off a high screen and Kenyon Martin left James Posey to collapse and help on Paul even though Nene did a great job of stopping his drive off the screen. Paul kicked out to a wide open Posey and he did what the Hornets signed him to do. Hit clutch threes. Ideally Melo would have seen Kenyon helping and rotated up to cover Posey, but in a situation like that when you are covering a good three point shooter out high you need to rely on the defenders along the baseline to stop the penetration.
I did not think the Posey shot was the key sequence in the game though. With the Nuggets up three and two minutes left they played great defense and forced Chris Paul into a 34 foot three point shot, which he made. On the next possession Carmelo deflected the ball and appeared to have a fast break. As his teammates started running up the floor for the fast break the ball somehow bounced back to Rasul Butler. There were three Nuggets already running up the floor and as a result Peja Stojakovic was all alone and he drilled a three to put the Hornets up three. The Nuggets had played two great possessions of defense and the result was a 6-0 run by the Hornets. Devastating.
On top of that Kenyon Martin was called for a technical for kicking the scorer’s table and Peja made the free throw to put the Hornets up four. I realize players are not supposed to hit the basket supports or other objects around the court, but in that situation the refs have to swallow their whistle. As a matter of fact I was also called for a technical after Peja’s three by my wife who was attempting to sleep and apparently did not appreciate me kicking the clothes basket and bouncing it off of our entertainment center. I too believe I was unfairly targeted. If she did not want me to kick it she should not have left it there.
The Nuggets are clearly not playing to their potential. Again they suffered from a lack of offensive discipline as they had many different possessions where they settled for the first jumpshot that presented itself. They can be such a good offensive team when they are patient.
Defensively they still had several stretches where they completely lost focus the worst of which was the beginning of the second half where the Hornets scored 12 points in the first three and a half minutes of the third quarter. The Nuggets turned things around and followed that with a six and a half minute stretch in the third quarter where New Orleans only scored three points.
The last nine minutes of the game was the Chris Paul show and he proved why he is an MVP candidate as he dropped in 13 points. His ability to both score and find open teammates puts so much pressure on the defense. The Nuggets handled it reasonably well and they gave themselves a chance to win a game against a top team even though they had several stretches of poor play on both ends of the floor.
If you are looking for some good news to come out of this game look no further than the return of the explosive J.R. Smith. J.R. finally had that breakout game we have all been expecting as he dropped in five threes and had several impressive drives in the second half. It is frustrating that the Nuggets wasted his big game, but if he can build on tonight’s performance the Nuggets will be much better off.
Other Observations from Game 16:
- I was disappointed in the play George Karl drew up after Posey’s three. I understand the desire to use J.R. as a decoy, but Chauncey was 0-3 from downtown and J.R. was 4-8. You owe him, as well as the rst of the team, a chance to get a shot off. Set a high screen for him and if he can get open, great. If he is doubled or if the Hornets switch they had plenty of time to work the ball around to someone else. Also, I do not understand why coaches require players to come off a screen running towards half court and forcing them to turn and shoot a three. That is such a difficult shot to make with your momentum carrying you away from the rim. Chauncey got a good look, but it was a tough shot and he was not shooting the ball well as it was.
- For the second game in his last three Melo shot over 50% from the field as he made eight of 13 shots. He has been doing a good job of attacking the rim and not settling for the jumper. He only had two assists, but a good part of the blame for that lies with his teammates who are not cutting when he has the ball on the wing.
- Chris Andersen returned and provided some great energy in the first half. If it was not for Smith and Andersen in the first quarter there is no telling how far behind the Nuggets would have been at the end of the first quarter. He also provided depth as Nene was in foul trouble in the first half again.
- Even though Nene was in some foul trouble there is no excuse for him only getting four shots in a game where New Orleans was missing Tyson Chandler. I think that is just another sign of the Nuggets lack of patience on offense.
- Denver may not have won, but they competed very well against a good team on the second night of a back to back. They will have to do better though if they are going to close this month out on a high note as they have a road game in Minnesota on Saturday and a big home game against the Rockets on Sunday.
Razzle Dazzle Game Stats
The pace factor was a sluggish 87.9.
I mentioned earlier the Nuggets had a terrible defensive efficiency rating. They had their second worst rating of the season at 119.4. When you consider how well they played in the middle of the third quarter and most of the fourth it shows how horrid they were the rest of the game.
The Nuggets offensive efficiency rating was a strong 114.9, but much of that was due to J.R.’s huge game. They really were not good in the half court and when they had 60 points Doug Collins reported that 20 of those points were off of fast breaks.
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