Jerry Schemmel, the Nuggets superlative radio announcer and all around amazing person, put something we all have noticed into words on the radio yesterday. He said something along the lines of Denver typically feels out their opponent early in the game in order to determine how hard they have to play that night.
Last night’s game in Memphis was a perfect example of that. Denver came out playing hard and jumped out to an early lead. They realized that they could put Memphis away whenever they wanted and relaxed for the rest of the first half. They then turned it on in the second half by running and clamping down on defense resulting in an abrupt lead change about four minutes into the third quarter and Denver never looked back.
It would be easy to get mad at the Nuggets for their first half performance and they were complacent after building their early lead, but Memphis did play pretty well during that stretch. Despite the lackluster first half, I was impressed that Denver was able to muster as much energy as they did in the second half of their fifth road game in seven nights.
Denver is now but a half a game behind Golden State, who lost a heart breaker at home against the Lakers last night, and a game and a half behind Dallas for seventh. Guess who the Nuggets play in their next two games? Dallas and Golden State and both games are at home. If the Nuggets can win both they will be in the eighth spot, a half a game behind Dallas for seventh, but they will also hold the tie breaker over Dallas for winning the season series 2-1.
If the Nuggets can somehow sneak into seventh place and end up facing someone like New Orleans or Houston, they just might have a shot at the second round. Of course, seventh place may just mean a meeting with the Lakers, Spurs or Suns so I am not getting my hopes up yet.
Other Observations From Game 71:
- When facing a zone in the first half the Nuggets went into chuck mode taking perimeter shot after perimeter shot. The best ways to beat a zone are to beat it before it sets up (running), penetration (making the zone collapse and lose its integrity) and quick passing (getting the defenders out of position to open holes). Denver tends to try a fourth option which is miss an endless barrage of perimeter jumpers. It is possible to shoot a team out of a zone although that is a phenomenon mostly for high school and college ball and it requires that you not just shoot long range shots, but make a good portion of them. In the second half, Denver sliced, diced and yes even shot the Grizzlies zone to death. Denver has had trouble with zones this season, but as they hone their focus now that the games get more and more important perhaps they will employ some of the more effective strategies instead of the chuck and retreat approach to zone busting.
- Marcus Camby had another nice game where he grabbed 15 boards and only shot five times. Hopefully he will keep that streak going.
- The Fed Ex Forum (do you think Jerry West had a hand in picking the name for the new arena?) was quiet enough that you could hear the coaches yelling at the players. One thing I noticed was that the Grizzlies players do not seem to really listen for Mark Iavaroni's voice. He has to yell things repeatedly before someone notices he is talking. It is probably not a good sign for a coach if his players are not interested enough in what he has to say to the point his voice does not get their attention.
- J.R. Smith was amazing in the second half again as he scored 27 points in just 21 minutes for the game. After most Nuggets fans wanting J.R. run out of town on a rocket, the question about how much the Nuggets might have to pay to keep him is starting to be considered. I think Denver might have to pay a little over the mid level to keep him in town, but would that be too much for a team that will undoubtedly be looking to cut salary next season?
- Atkins was a non factor and he has not made a good case why he should see an increase in his minutes anytime soon. Looking back at the games Chucky has played in his minutes have not been dependent on how much J.R. or Anthony Carter play, but how much AI plays. J.R. and Carter’s minutes can fluctuate between 35 and 50, but in games where they play less minutes, Atkins plays very few minutes as well. The only games Atkins has received much time has been blowouts when AI only plays about 30 minutes.
- AI and J.R. combined to shoot 21 threes. I am not sure that is a good thing.
- Kleiza had been playing better lately, but last night’s sixteen minute, three turnover game with zero rebounds, assists, steals or blocks and 3-9 shooting was not a step in the right direction.
Head on over to 3 Shades of Blue for some excellent post game coverage from some die hard Memphis fans.