Not that this loss can be blamed completely on the bench...
This was an odd game with a very weird feel to it. The Nuggets were never out of it all night, and they took leads with great effort from the starters and J.R. Smith in the second and beginning of the fourth quarters. Yet both times the bench came in they lost the leads the Nuggets built up. Denver lost lead of 11 points in the second quarter and a seven point lead in the fourth.
Ty Lawson. His lack of confidence is chief among the Nuggets bench struggles right now. He just seems to not trust his shot, and his drives to the basket have been quite pedestrian. As if he's thinking "oh god, please don't screw up," which as any driving instructor will tell you leads to accidents. In the fourth quarter sequence Lawson (with all bench players in the game) looked timid, and Derrick Rose drove on him at will (which, admittedly happens to a lot of players) and the Nuggets seven point lead was turned into a two point deficit. Not good.
Then there is what I consider to be coach George Karl's first poorly coached game of the season. He seemed to have no feel for the flow of the game. Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups sat for extended periods when leads were vanishing. Timeouts were not called to break long runs (such as the run the Bulls put on to end the first half) and, in a perplexing moment, sat Nene for almost the entire fourth quarter while Joakim Noah was eating the Nuggets remaining bigs alive (I'm looking at you Melvin Ely). Nene was having a great game stealing the ball, scoring in the first half, and rebounding. I understand he's coming off missing three games, but why sit him in that situation when you get him up off the bench with two minutes remaining? Made no sense tonight. Part of the blame falls on Karl.
(Edit: Nene explained in his post game comments that he was too hurt to go.)
Allowing Taj Gibson and Luol Deng to have good nights can be forgivable if that strategy wins you the game. It didn't. Deng finished with 17 points and Gibson with 16 of his own. Both were frequently wide open.
All that being said. The Nuggets still had a chance to tie the game at the end. Maybe that tells us how good this team really is on a night where they play like whitened feces. Arron Afflalo was allowed to take the potential game tying shot and it was too strong. There's good things to take from this exceedingly frustrating game in the meantime.
-Carmelo Anthony came through in spades in the third quarter. Pulling the Nuggets back to the lead almost by force of his will. These are the things that are irreplaceable with Melo. He finished with 32 points, 8 rebounds and 4 steals. This wasn't the best game he's played this year, but he certainly kept the Nuggets pulse beating when their offense couldn't do anything at the end of the third.
-Big round of applause for Nene in his first game back after the groin strain. He really was the Nuggets catalyst in the first quarter with his energy and aggressive play (yes....aggressive play). While he only finished with 8 points and 7 rebounds he certainly helped counterbalance Noah and was, for a time, dominating the post.
-J.R. Smith is making his second straight appearance in the stars section. While his stats weren't impressive he did play under control and finished with 10 points, 4 rebounds, and an assist. I like the evolution of J.R. the last couple games and I sincerely hope it continues for the remainder of the year.
Nuggets of Wisdom
While this was a tough loss to take, I think we need to keep things in perspective. While (as Andy pointed out to me via text) you ARE what your record indicates, I think we as Nuggets fans can take solace in the fact that this team might very well be 7-0 if not for breaks that went the other way. It happens. The Nuggets have been IN every single game this year and have not given one of those "we don't care" efforts we saw so much of last year. It's great to see a team that competes all the time. They face a very beatable Indiana Pacers team tomorrow and can can get ready to face the hated Lakers on Thursday.