I think it is safe to put tonight’s victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in the nice win category. Whenever you are playing without your leading scorer, no matter how putrid he may have been playing, against a very good team it is a good win. The Nuggets did exactly what we all knew they needed to do. They got back to playing aggressive defense, even though they did have plenty of breakdowns, and they played very unselfishly on offense, especially in the first half.
The Nuggets defense was pretty good for most of the night and they even ramped it up to great for a couple of brief stretches. To me the biggest key was not switching every screen. Playing to fight through screens with the big man hedging is not only a more sound strategy, but it helps keep the players focused and active. The Nuggets clearly responded to the challenge. They still did switch a few times, especially in the second half on the weak side down screen which caused some problems, but overall it was a much better defensive performance.
Denver also did an amazing job on the boards. Portland leads the league in rebound percentage, a more telling stat than total rebounds because it eliminates pace from the equation, but Denver outrebounded them by 11. In fact, J.R., Kenyon and Nene all had as many defensive rebounds, 23, as Portland did as a team.
Without Carmelo Denver relied much more on offensive movement and passing to get good shots. As was pointed out in the preview Portland allows a lot of penetration and Denver did a great job attacking the rim which was evident in their 39 free throw attempts. I also liked the fact that they attempted a season low 11 three pointers. Without Melo it would have been easy for J.R. and Chauncey to take the easy way out and try to win the game by making a bunch of threes. Chauncey did take a couple of bad threes, but overall Denver worked to get good shots for most of the night.
We have ragged on Linas Kleiza quite a bit this year and George Karl has said that LK is a slow starter. He has indeed played pretty well lately and tonight he was an asset at both ends of the floor. He is currently experiencing one of his hot streaks and I hope he can keep it going at least until we get a fully healthy Carmelo back. How scorching was Kleiza tonight? He took the ball to the basket twice on left handed drives, which tied his career high for a season. Both times he earned a trip to the free throw line.
I did not realize it until tonight, but that Brandon Roy is a nice guy. When he found out that Carmelo Anthony was going to miss the game tonight, apparently he decided to take the night off just like Melo did. Maybe I am giving him too much credit though. The other time he scored eight points in a game this season Portland won by 38. Maybe he was just trying to recreate some of that magic.
All kidding aside Roy was simply a victim of the law of averages. As blazing hot as he was the other night scoring a career high 52 points it was just his turn to have a rough outing in order for nature to smooth out his averages.
These two teams play again tomorrow night and it will mark the end of the Nuggets six games in nine nights stretch. Another victory without Melo would have to force us to consider it a success even though we all hoped for something better than a split of those six games. A loss will make the six game stretch a disappointment and Denver better be prepared to play better than they did tonight because you know Brandon Roy will.
Other Observations from Game 28:
- Even without Carmelo Anthony playing George Karl still could not manage to find any minutes for Renaldo Balkman. This entire situation is getting out of hand. I am beginning to wonder if Karl found out that Balkman sodomized Cobe in Vegas during the summer league. I honestly cannot think of a more rational explanation.
- Chucky Atkins made an appearance and took the minutes I expected to go to Balkman and honestly, he did a pretty good job. He worked hard on defense and was not a liability on that end of the floor. Offensively he ran the offense and was very vocal about getting what he wanted. I was also impressed that he did not take a shot in over eight minutes of floor time. I do not know if Karl wants to start giving him some minutes or if he was getting some run in an attempt to raise his trade value, but he definitely outplayed Anthony Carter. If Atkins can simply come in and run the offense the way he did it will give Karl another option other than Carter on those nights where AC is in turnover mode.
- I thought J.R. played a very good game. He forced a couple of drives, but that is better than forcing a couple 28 footers. He was active and just played an all around solid game. He may not be scoring at the rate he did last season, but I think I like this version of J.R. better. He is rebounding, defending as well as he can and really letting the game come to him.
- Kenyon Martin made me a little nuts a few times tonight. There were several occasions where he was caught guarding one of the Blazers three point shooters and he laid off playing against the drive. Fortunately for the Nuggets he was only burned a couple of times. I do not understand why big men play so far off of guards who can hit threes. If they get beat off the drive, they have help. On the other hand, they have no help when they are playing eight feet off and he launches a three.
- I thought Dahntay Jones did a solid job guarding Brandon Roy. Roy loves to drive down one side of the lane and throw a shot fake. Even if the defender does not leave his feet Roy typically gets him leaning to one side or another and that is all the space he needs to get off what for him is a high percentage shot. The key to stopping that play is balance and strength. If you can stay balanced and absorb a little bump that Roy will give the defender can stay centered and prevent Roy from gaining the advantage he is seeking with the shot fake. Jones did as good a job as anyone in defending that tactic.
- Karl put Nene in the game with 11:45 left to play and I wondered if Nene could finish out the game or if he would need another blow. Nene did indeed play the rest of the game, but I thought he looked a little gassed by the end of the game.
- I am pretty sure I have seen much more video of Travis Outlaw than Kenyon Martin has, but Kenyon caught on to his game pretty quickly. Outlaw is a very good fourth quarter player and all he does is spot up from the corner and shoot pull up jumpers. After hitting a pull up jumper from the free throw line against Kenyon, Kenyon got in his face and forced him to back up and when Outlaw went up for the shot Kenyon was so tight that he had to flip a pass backwards to Roy in the corner who missed the three which pretty much ended the game.
- The Nuggets now have their eighth win of the season in slow paced games in which they have held the opposition to 90 points or less.
Razzle Dazzle Game Stats
The pace factor falls in the category of cement galoshes at a very slow 86.9. Once again the Nuggets have proven they can win playing at a slow pace.
The Nuggets defensive efficiency was 102.4 which may seem average, but when you consider the Trail Blazers entered the game with an offensive efficiency of 114.0 that is a very impressive performance. The Nuggets also held Portland to 41.8% shooting.
Offensively the Nuggets did just fine without Carmelo as they did slightly better than their average with a 111.6.