First off, pardon my tardy blogging and this brief recap. I've been out of town all weekend and was able to watch yesterday's thriller in its entirety, but haven't had time to recap it until now. I agree with Denver Stiffs reader "My3Cents" that the missed free throws may have done the Nuggets in at the end (I mean, even Chauncey Billups missed two!).
But I also believe that Carmelo Anthony missed a golden opportunity to be a Nuggets playoff hero for the first time in his career. With just seconds left in the game, Melo (as he should) drove aggressively towards the basket. But rather than pull up for a short jumper or take the ball all the way to the rack, and thus putting the onus on the refs to make a tough call if necessary, he shovel passed the ball to Kenyon Martin and it was deflected by the Hornets' (and the NBA's only "kiwi") Sean Marks. Luckily the ball came back to Melo and he almost had the game-winning basket on a quick turnaround jumper. But with seconds left in a big playoff game, Melo needs to shoot the ball, not shovel pass it to anyone...especially K-Mart who can't be counted on at the free throw line in what most assuredly would have been a foul situation.
That being said, while this loss was tough to take, I liked the Nuggets effort in crawling back into this game and still believe they're winning this series in five games. The Nuggets are clearly superior to the Hornets and seem to know it, too. We just need the Nuggets to sink a few more free throws in Game 4 and if the game is close, Melo needs to embrace the moment and make the big shot. He's done it countless times in the regular season, now it's time to see it in the postseason.
Nuggets/Hornets Game 3 Preview...
I don't have hard data handy, but it seems to me that when a team loses a seven-game series in five games - as I believe the Hornets will - they often win Game 3 on their home floor. Nuggets fans are familiar with this, as we saw the Nuggets win Game 3 against the Timberwolves and the Clippers at the Pepsi Center in 2004 and 2006, respectively. We even saw this last night when the Jazz beat the Lakers in Game 3 at Utah.
Why does this happen? It's pretty obvious. The home team, being down 2-0, has two games worth of "what not to do" film to improve off of, they get energized by their home crowd and the team up 2-0 doesn't make major adjustments, figuring what they've been doing has worked so far.
My hunch is that the same thing will happen to the Nuggets in New Orleans on Saturday, but it doesn't have to be this way. If the Nuggets can somehow maintain their defensive intensity and physical play, combined with getting Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith to the free throw line (trust me, those long jumpers won't fall with the same regularity in the opposing team's gym) as often as possible, a sweep could be ours.
There is, of course, the New Orleans X-factor. As in, will the Nuggets treat this as a "business trip" (as LeBron James is calling the Cavaliers visit to Detroit this weekend) or will they pull a Josh Howard circa 2008 and be out partying in the Big Easy before or between games? In theory, the Nuggets players have the entire summer to party and should just treat their visit to New Orleans as if they're in Oklahoma City...especially with Saturday's tipoff being a matinee.