For the second game in a row, the diminutive Denver Nuggets put forth a hard-fought, gutty effort. Except this time, their efforts were rewarded with a victory.
Facing an ugly back-to-back weekend and another team that's bigger than his, Nuggets head coach George Karl made a few gambles entering Friday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers...and they paid off. First, Karl (I'm guessing here) elected to rest Nene for a second-straight game rather than rush the Nuggets lone center back. And second, Karl started journeyman Melvin Ely, a tall but super thin option at power forward.
Karl must have calculated that the Nuggets could beat the Clippers while being severely short-handed in order to have a fighting chance against a rested Dallas Mavericks team on Saturday night in Big D. His calculation proved correct when the game ended with a 111-104 Nuggets victory, an ending that was never really in doubt for much of the fourth quarter.
Granted, the Clippers are now a 1-5 basketball team. But to think that the Nuggets can win games when two-fifths of their starting lineup are Melvin Ely and Shelden Williams is a testament to how good this team can be when all the horses are in the barn, so to speak. And I hate to pick on Ely and Williams, both of whom played hard for each of their 30-minute performances, but there's a reason why these guys are on one-year, essentially minimum contracts.
Regardless of who starts and who finishes games for the Nuggets, it's clear that this team is willing to play hard and do the dirty work to win games while not allowing size to be an excuse. This is a team worth rooting for.
The view from the not-so-cheap-seats...
...I got into Pepsi Center early and got to see Chris Andersen warming up. The Birdman was shooting jump shots and doing some light drills. Maybe he's coming back in December after all?
...attendance was listed at 15,559 but there's no way that's possible. At least a third of the Pepsi Center seats were empty and I was able to slide down to the end of my row (more towards the center of the court) for a better view for the entire second half. I think the 8:30 starts - which really mean 8:45 - turn a lot of Denver fans away. Denver simply isn't a late-night city.
...I was glad to see Nene in a suit before tipoff. Better to save the big fella for Dallas tomorrow night...assuming he can play.
...since this was a weekend game, the male cheerleaders were back. This is a complete waste of money.
...I must confess that I cringed when I saw Melvin Ely starting instead of Gary Forbes (who had a curious DNP-CD after a yeoman's effort against Dallas on Wednesday) but kudos to Ely for playing hard.
...Blake Griffin is much more muscular than I realized. He's huge. But there's no way the guy is 6'10" as listed. He's more like 6'7" and change. Regardless, Griffin is already an imposing physical force and had his way with Ely and Williams all night on both ends of the floor. Griffin also has a surprisingly soft shooting touch from outside. As soon as Griffin's game matures, we're looking at the NBA's next great power forward.
...I'm convinced that Renaldo Balkman has become the Nuggets version of Rade Butcher from the movie Hoosiers. Remember when coach Norman Dale (played brilliantly by Gene Hackman) elects to play four-on-five rather than bring Rade back into a game after everyone else has fouled out? I guarantee Karl would do the same thing had the Nuggets roster been depleted by foul trouble on Friday night. For Balkman to get zero minutes when the Nuggets are as thin as ever on the front line says it all.
...I may have witnessed the best sequence of Carmelo Anthony's career early in the first quarter when Melo zipped that amazing pass to Ely for an easy layup followed immediately by a Melo steal on the other end and drive to the basket. I would name Friday's game Melo's "assist game" with Wednesday's game being his "rebounding game." If Melo continues to contribute in all aspects of the game as he has been, the prospect of losing him becomes even more depressing.
...new assistant coach Melvin Hunt (lots of Melvins around here!) was seated in the front row two seats down from Karl tonight, with longtime assistant Chad Iske moving to the back bench. As I've written before, Hunt is a fantastic assistant and don't be surprised if he becomes the Nuggets #1 assistant over Adrian Dantley eventually.
...Al Harrington is getting into game shape and the results are speaking for themselves. He looks better and better with each game.
...speaking of getting into shape, Chris Kaman looks terrific physically. The Clippers center has lost probably 15 pounds and I've never seen him more agile. Unfortunately for Kaman and the Clips, he couldn't make a shot on Friday night.
...Williams may have trouble corralling rebounds and can't make a layup to save his life, but he's automatic with the mid-range jump shot from the side of the basket.
...it was good to see former Nugget Robert Pack on the Clippers bench as one of head coach Vinny Del Negro's assistants. If Del Negro's players keep quitting on him as they did tonight, maybe Pack will be a head coach sooner than later.
...I sound like a broken record, but it's remarkable how improved Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson's games are this season. Both routinely missed easy buckets last season and yet this season, when driving to the basket they've become exceptional finishers.
...J.R. Smith doesn't look comfortable and is borderline lost out there...his amazing first-half dunk notwithstanding.
Non-Stiff of the Game
-Carmelo Anthony: When I saw the lineup the Nuggets trotted out, I said to my seat-mate that Melo needs to go for 50 in order for the Nuggets to win. Instead, Melo opted for an all-around game, paced himself and let the game come to him, resulting in a 30 points, five rebounds and six assists performance.
Stiff of the Game
-Chris Kaman: As mentioned above, Kaman looks great physically but had an awful night basketball-wise. 5-18 shooting and just eight rebounds (only one offensive) against an undersized team starting journeymen on the front line is unacceptable for a player of Kaman's ability.
Given Ely's performance, Nene's rest and Melo's ability to pace himself, the Nuggets now have a fighting chance to win in Dallas on Saturday night. I look forward to watching the game with our fellow Stiffs during our second annual "STIFFS NIGHT OUT"!