The Nuggets have adopted a nickname throughout the blogosphere as "The Thuggets." Some folks will try to argue that the Nuggets have cleaned up their image. Whether it be Melo shaving off his stereotyped cornrows or the trading of Allen Iverson to Detroit (who gets banned from casinos?) ... some Nuggets fans will tell you that the team no longer has that bad boy mentality.
But this post-season the more I hear "the Thuggets" thrown around, the more I like it. For me it shows that teams are perhaps a bit uneasy when they face off against Kenyon Martin and Company.
What's wrong with playing a more physical brand of basketball? It is sort of passé in the NBA these days, what with all the rules basically banning defenders from breathing on offensive players. Call me early-1990s old school if you want to, but I like not giving guys open layups without sending them to the floor or bodying a guy when it's necessary. Don't get me wrong, I'm not rooting for the Nuggets to injure the opposition or to result to just hacking guys all the time, but there is nothing wrong with letting your opponent know things wont be easy if they try to come inside.
What Denver must do to win tonight:
Sticking with the Billups inspired 7 key points ...
Stay active on offense. As mentioned over At the Hive the Hornets did a great job of denying Billups the ball throughout game three. Whether it be after the ball went into the post or at the end of Game 3 when J.R. Smith was trying to get the ball to Billups ... the Hornets are trying to cut off the Nuggets' head by denying Billups the ball and creating a stagnant Denver offense.
As I mentioned in the recap of Game 3, Denver must move the ball to have success. Denver had 25 and 26 assists in games one and two, but just 19 in game three. The Nuggets play better when they are moving the ball quickly and must get back to that tonight. Standing and waiting will result in a return to Jump Shot City ... a place none of us fans want them to visit.
Use your jab! Again, as I mentioned yesterday with my boxing analogy, the Nuggets must attack the rim like a boxing using the jab. In boxing ... everything a fighter does is typically set up through the jab ... and for the Nuggets, their offense really opens up when they are attacking the rim.
In the 4th Quarter of game three the Nuggets refusal to attack the rim was never more evident than the opening four minutes. Six of Denver's first seven shots were taken from outside 18 feet and the Nuggets only made one of those six outside shots. The two-point loss was cemented right there.
Tonight, no matter how Denver feels the refs are calling things, the Nuggets must attack the rim throughout the game. This will set up their outside shooting and should give them the edge is drawing fouls.
Nene has to stay out of foul trouble. In games one and two Nene committed 2 fouls in 33 minutes and 3 fouls in 30 minutes. But in game three Nene fouled out in 33 minutes. Chris Marlowe of Altitude TV kept commenting that Nene was not getting his money's worth with his fouls ... meaning he was committing dumb fouls either away from the ball or with his man not being an immediate threat to score.
Tonight I expect to see Sean Marks in the game at least as much as Tyson Chandler as Marks' hustle and mobility proved to be a bit of an issue for the Nuggets. Nene has been Denver's most reliable rebounder averaging 10 boards per game in the series, so his presence on the floor is crucial.
I would also say that we should expect a big offensive game from Nene if Marks is in the game, but Nene is averaging just 7.3 ppg against the Bugs and if any of you know what is wrong with Nene (fatigue or frustration) then please email me and I'll do my best to get in contact with coach Karl and solve this problem. While Marks is not nearly as talented as a healthy Chandler, Nene has been struggling against a hobbled Chandler so I don't expect him to find sudden success now ... though what do I know? Nothing ... that's what. Nene could drop 25 points tonight and I wouldn't bat an eye.
J.R. Smith needs to become versatile again. After shooting 0-7 from distance in game one, J.R. is 7-14 from three-point land in his last two games. My gripe though is that J.R. is not utilizing his all around game enough.
J.R.'s percentage of taking three-pointers is rising in each game and it should be falling in my opinion. In game one 38% of his field goals came from distance, 45% in game two, and 64% in game three.
Rasual Butler is a fine defender and a long 6'7'' ... he's been matched up on J.R. quite a bit and the Hornets have done a fine job clogging the lane when J.R. drives the ball. I'm assuming that out of some frustration and out of trying a bit too much to hit the big shot that J.R. is regressing just slightly to being that long bomber of old. It would be nice to see him remember his success this season came from all over the court and even feeding the ball inside. Smith is no longer a one-dimensional player and I'd like to him showcase all his skills tonight.
Melo must attack Peja. Carmelo has a great looking jumper and he loves to fall in love with it. I think we can all relate to taking the easy shot when working for the harder one could prove difficult. Time and again Melo has been raising up for the easy and often open jump shot. No doubt the Hornets want Melo to take the lower percentage jumper and he's playing right into their hands. Is there one person reading this that thinks Melo wouldn't have great success attacking whoever is defending him? Case closed ... attack your defender Melo.
West must remain North of the hoop. David West didn't score as many points in game three (19) as he did in game two (21), but he was much more of a factor Saturday afternoon. West found success by not fading away, but by challenging Denver's bigs inside. West is not a world beater inside, I think he missed roughly 72 layups last game, but by getting into the paint with more aggression West got to the foul line (5-8) more than he did in the first two games combined (7-7.) Kenyon Martin and whoever else Denver matches up on West cannot allow him to get the entry pass around the lower circle ... West has the advantage every time when he's able to get that low.
Don't switch the pick-and-rolls. The Nuggets allowed for mismatches galore in game three when they switched on screens at a fantastic rate. Denver guards, most noticeably Billups and AC found themselves too often matched against West in the post.
With the switches off screens Denver bigs found themselves in awkward positions as well, one-on-one with Chris Paul ... just about as bad as having to go number two in your girlfriend's studio apartment ... never going to end well.
The Nuggets must get back to fighting through and sometimes trapping Paul when the screens come, like they did to start this series. For some reason the Nuggets decided to switch on screens and it may have cost them the game.
I have no idea what to expect tonight. Part of me is confident that the Nuggets will come out and play a great game and another part of me is nervous that the Hornets gained much needed confidence with their win. I know the crowd will be fired up and my hope is that Carmelo will look into the stands and see all the yellow t-shirts and assume he's just playing in Denver in front of Melo's Yellows.