George Karl tinkered with his lineups tonight and everything seemed to work. In the first game of "his team," Nuggets starting point guard Ty Lawson led the way with 27 points and the Nuggets never looked back with a 115-93 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
It's always important to get off to a quick start against a team playing the second night of a back-to-back. The first offensive play of the season for Denver was Timofey Mozgov winning the tipoff, Ty Lawson bringing the ball across halfcourt, passing to Nene at the three point line, a back-cut down the baseline by Danilo Gallinari, a perfect bounce pass from Nene, and a two handed slam by Gallo over Dirk Nowitzki ... 2-0 Nuggets. That play just summed up what we saw with the Nuggets last season and what it looks like we'll get this season as well - unselfish and pretty team basketball. The Nuggets not only started hot, but they continued to pound the Mavs all night. One of the finest first halves in Nuggets recent history.
At the break the Nuggets were 24-47 from the field, 57.4%, had 12 fast-break points, out-rebounded the Mavs 26-15 (Denver had 6 offensive boards to 1 for Dallas), were 7-13 from downtown, 8-8 from the free throw line, 12 assists, 7 steals, 3 blocks, just 4 turnovers, and caused 9 Dallas turnovers. Those stats added up to a 69-42 halftime lead and essentially meant game over for the Mavs.
As expected, Denver started Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Gallo, Nene, and Mozgov. The first guy off the bench for the Nuggets was Andre Miller, who checked into the game with 5:47 left in the first quarter. Al Harrington checked in at the 4:20 mark for Mozgov and we saw Nene play plenty of the five-spot in the first half. Miller, 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists, looks like the same Miller we knew and loved during his first tour in Denver. He's gritty, he's nearly automatic around the paint, and he has extremely good court vision. Add to that 'Dre was 2-2 on the night from downtown! His three-point shot was one of the ugliest shots in the league during his first stint in Denver, and it actually looks like he's been working on it over the years ... not too shabby.
Harrington, 18 points and 5 rebounds, looked pretty good coming off the bench. He's trimmed up, moving well, and shot lights out against Dallas ... well, he started very hot hitting four of his first five shots (2-2 from deep) before finishing 7-13 on the night (2-5 from deep). This is the Harrington I thought the Nuggets were getting last season. Perhaps his injuries played more of a role that anyone thought. If this is the Big Al we see this season, look out.
Teams will need to look out for Denver's depth as well. The Mavs looked lost, slow, and like a team that has lost what once made them special. Lamar Odom was a threat with the Lakers because they had such a nice inside game that his ability to stretch the floor was a unique weapon in Los Angeles. On a Mavs team that is again strictly a perimeter team, Odom's talents seem wasted and their change of pace man J.J. Barea is no longer around to carve teams up inside, what will the champs do? The Heat and Nuggets exposed Dallas' age and inability to play at a break neck pace.
Lawson did whatever he wanted tonight. His long-range shot was working, 3-6 from downtown. He could get inside whenever he needed to and his mid-range game looked new and improved. He finished the night 10-15 from the floor to go along with 4 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals. Chris Marlowe mentioned during the opening quarter that Miller has been pushing Lawson in practice and I dare say that the Nuggets again have one of the best point guard combinations in the league.
The depth of this Nuggets squad is just unreal. Mozgov, Afflalo, and Nene failed to score in the first quarter, yet the team was up 32-23. Gallo looked good when he was going to the rim and he has his lift back. The Italian finished the game just 4-10 from the field (1-5 from deep, 6-6 from the charity stripe) for 15 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. His unselfish play was very apparent after a Harrington steal where Gallo was all alone for an easy dunk, but passed the ball back to Big Al for the easy slam. It's good to see those rewarding plays and shows this team is enjoying playing together.
It's hard to even try to keep up with all the players on this squad. Also coming off the bench for Denver was Chris Andersen and as I will call him from now on "Dirty-Bird" with his new trucker look, Rudy Fernandez, and Corey Brewer. The trio combined for 17 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 steals. Fernandez played a sneaky 30 minutes. I guess it did feel like he was on the floor a lot and it would appear that Karl enjoys using his new Spanish weapon.
Speaking of foreign players, how about Mozgov's 14 minutes? Seems to me that Moz is the new Dahntay Jones - meaning that Moz may be starting the first and third, but he's not playing much in the second or fourth quarters. Moz hustles and finished 0-1 from the floor (1-2 from the foul line) with 3 rebounds and just 1 foul. I was hoping we'd see more of Mozgov and he wasn't in foul trouble, but I think we all know that Karl likes to play smaller lineups with more speed. As Moz earns the trust of his coach, he'll see his playing time rise.
There just wasn't much that went wrong for Denver tonight. They finished the half on a 22-1 run and never were in trouble of losing the lead. It was a very impressive road win and one that should not be discredited because Dallas was on the second of a back-to-back. In these next 65 games we will see some wild stuff and these games are going to keep coming and coming. Teams will have to learn how to find the energy to play night after night and it looks like the Nuggets are deep enough to do some major damage this season.
Stiff of the Night: Lamar Odom. He played 33 minutes and shot just 1-10 from the field, including 0-5 from downtown. The former 6th Man of the Year has been ejected from one game and stunk up the other. Maybe the Lakers got out at the right time?
Non-Stiff of the Night: Ty Lawson. A great performance from Lawson. His 27 point effort is something we could be seeing a lot this season as Lawson is poised for a breakout year.
Views you can use:
- Denver was 10-20 from downtown before finished the night 10-27 from three-point land.
- Nene finished the night 4-8 from the field (8 points) with 7 rebounds. Sort of a rough night for the newly inked power forward slash center, but it was great to see such a towering Nuggets lineup of Gallo, 6'10'', Nene, 6'10'', and Moz, 7'1''.
- Karl just couldn't help himself by sitting his height in favor of this lineup in the fourth quarter: Lawson, 5'10'', Afflalo, 6'5'', Fernandez, 6'6'', Brewer, 6'9'' (188 pounds), and Dirty Birdman, 6'11''.
- Kosta Koufos saw just 3 garbage time minutes, while DeMarre Carroll and Kenneth Faried both recorded DNP-Coach's Decisions.
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