The Nuggets were supposed to be sent off on their five-game road trip with a victory over the Utah Jazz. But tonight wasn't a real way to say bon voyage as the Nuggets lost to the hated Jazz 106-96, splitting the season series, thus far, at 1-1. And Denver failed to beat a team that was playing the second game of a back-to-back set. Could things get much worse?
Well, the four-game homestand did not go too well. The Nuggets finished 2-2 and are now embarking on a five-game road trip from Jan. 17th to Jan. 25th. It's hard to see a team get so pumped up to play an elite team like the Miami Heat and then come out against a division foe and play such a different game.
As you will see in this weird recap, I was able to score some nice seats to this game that will allow me to share a few, hopefully, unique points of view with you - the reader. Enjoy (or feel free to make fun of me for my awful photography skills, goofy face, and pictures in close seats ... I never sit close.)
About 30-minutes to tip-off, I ventured over to say hello to Vicki "The Sign Lady" and Russ. They had a great assortment of signs for the game and let me know that they are working on something special for Stiffs Night Out on January 21st. They have a great website over at MileHighFan.com that features some great photos and other Nuggets related info - go check it out. I wish I could attend as many games as they do! The sad part, we all agreed that the Nuggets would come out and win this game!
Nuggets strength-and-conditioning coach Steve Hess loosens up rookie Kenneth Faried. I guess I can run with, "the sad part" theme tonight. The sad part ... Faried is so buried on the bench that the only reason for him to stretch before the game is so he doesn't cramp up while sitting on the bench.
Remember in the movie Any Given Sunday when Al Pachino is too afraid to let his team throw the ball into the flat, and instead they run the same run play where L.L. Cool-J aka Julian Washington runs up the gut and fumbles the ball. The coach just couldn't trust his guys enough to know what was best ... reminds me of George Karl and his staff not trusting the Rookie enough to give him a sniff of minutes. I don't think you can learn your job by just sitting and mirroring people, at some point you must get hands on training! One day Faried will play and we'll all rejoice.
Yes, that's also Andre Miller with the giant rubber band getting loose. 'Dre doesn't need anyone to help him, ever.
I was pretty worried when this was how excited and energetic the Nuggets were while the starting lineups were being announced. These guys look about as comfortable with one another as a group of five strangers getting ready to play some pick-up hoops at the local YMCA. Are there even YMCA's around anymore? And how did they get the universal billing of recreation centers in references? I have questions and I don't have answers. Geez, even Rocky looks like a zombie.
This might be the best sports picture I've ever taken. That ref released the ball about 0.1 seconds later. I was actually tying to get the ball in the air ... I should have taken a "photo-journalism" course with my degree. The Nuggets started the usual suspects in Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Nene, and Timofey Mozgov. Again, the Jazz have replaced Derrick Favors in the starting lineup with Paul Millsap - that worked like gang-busters tonight as Millsap took advantage of Denver going very small in the second half on his way to a team-high 26 points. I do not think Millsap is anything special, and Nene did a great job on him early ... too bad Denver changed things up in the second half.
My first up close look at "Evil" George Karl this season. He was up off the bench quite a bit tonight, but he was also quite disgusted with his team's performance. After missed free-throws (there were plenty) and layups, Karl would often turn away and go sit down. A tough game to watch for any coach, or fan, or Mountain Lion.
Corey Brewer is sneaking his way into the lineup, or it just could be that he played 19 minutes due to Rudy Fernandez not being able to play in the second half with a strained right Achilles tendon. I listed the injury in the preview and wanted to monitor Rudy's minutes ... he looked good while on the floor, I don't recall seeing him aggravate the injury, but he was only able to go 9 minutes in this one.
Brewer did a nice job providing energy, but his offense wasn't working very well against Utah as he finished 2-6 from the floor and 3-4 from the foul line. The Nuggets, as a team, went 26-39 from the free throw line, leaving 13 points on the board and losing by 10 points. After one Afflalo miss, Chris Marlowe threw his hands over his head and I'm sure he said something witty on Altitude TV, right? Right?
Jazz rookie Alec Burks, who has apparently picked up Tyrone Corbin's complex system in Utah, played 18 minutes in the game and was a pain in the Nuggets' side by leading the bench with 10 points for the Jazz. I sure wish the Nuggets rookies could learn the team system. Burks must have had a total head start on the playbook and training camp period ... he didn't? All the teams started at the same time? Burks and other rookies are starting to play well? This must be a myth, rookies don't know how to play! Neither do 7-footers!
To start the second half, Mozgov went on a tear going 3-3 to open the quarter for the Nuggets. He had a nice dunk, hit a 17-foot jumper, and put home another jam. Mozgov is starting to use his body to block defenders when he's going up for jams and it's helping him not get his shots blocked and it'll perhaps start to earn him some And-1s in the future too. The Russian is learning and how is he being rewarded? Well, after making his third shot in a row at the 9:02 mark, he was pulled at the 6:31 mark and NEVER RETURNED TO THE GAME!
As reader InboundingLobPass pointed out in the game-thread: "Mozgov Plays 24 minutes we beat the Heat! Plays 18 minutes we lose to the Jazz!" This game turned in the fourth quarter when the Nuggets didn't play big and Millsap just ERUPTED like a damn volcano. The undersized power forward scored 16 of his 26 points in the final period, including 14 straight! Denver was at a much better advantage with Mozgov covering Jefferson and Nene on Millsap. The whole damn point to having Nene being able to play power forward, is to have him play POWER FORWARD! Al Harrington and Gallo are big guys for sure, but they are not great defenders against guys who thrive in the post. I guess experimenting with them guarding guys in the post is okay, but why isn't playing a rookie or young big (K2) an okay experiment too!?!? Somebody come bash my face in for me ... joking.
Late in the third quarter, Chris Andersen (who only played 9 minutes, but felt like 20) injured himself on a block attempt. He limped off the floor under his own power, grimaced a bit on the sidelines, but re-appeared minutes later in the fourth quarter. A bit of a scary injury for the Birdman and I'm glad he was okay. I'm still going to hope that Kosta Koufos and Kenneth Faried will get some minutes over Bird, but I don't want to see him get injured.
A Koufos sighting! I was excited to see how the Greek would stack up against Al Jefferson. The other "Big Al" eats smaller defenders alive as he has an array of post moves, but big guys can bother him. Mozgov did a nice job making Jefferson settle for jumpers (yes, he made some of them), but when Nene was on him he just was much more comfortable. K2 would only play the final 1:43 of the third quarter, then he was super-glued back to the bench.
The only other work Koufos got? Rocky brought a small kid out on the floor in the first half and the kid just couldn't get the ball near the basket. Rocky got Koufos to lift the kid to the rim and it still took the little guy three shots to put one home, but when he finally did ... the crowd rejoiced ... or I did ... maybe it was just me.
With the Jazz up just four points entering the fourth quarter, 77-73, it seemed like the perfect time for a high altitude rally. Utah had to be tired and Vicki's "We Believe In You" sign just seemed like perfect timing. But it wasn't to be. Millsap had his way with the Nuggets, like I said above, scoring 16 points in the quarter that included a stretch of 14 straight. You're going to let Millsap take over a game? The Nuggets had the answers to shutting Millsap down, but the stubbornness of Tony D'Amato aka Karl did the Nuggets in from the defensive standpoint.
The real stars of tonight's game ... the refs! I don't know how it felt on TV, but there were just too many damn fouls called in this game. Players were flopping (Devin Harris going into a flop before Lawson even made contact on a spin move, complaining (Raja Bell telling the ref with 3 seconds left that Nene was pushing the ball into him and the ref saying, "That's your last comment."), and just general sloppiness.
It was pretty cool being so close and getting to hear the sounds of the game and see the reactions of players that don't get caught on camera. Harrington was complaining after Michael Jordan aka Gordon Hayward (19 points) flew into him that Hayward led with his knee to Al's chest. When Harrington couldn't get sympathy from the ref near mid-court, he turned his attention to the ref under the basket. I enjoy the crap out of the little stuff and it was cool to see it up close.
This is probably the stillest shot of Corbin all night. This guy doesn't shut up! I have a feeling that he may get some results from his team for a few seasons, but eventually Corbin will lose the ears of his players and they will tune him out. During the third quarter some guy near me hollered for Corbin to "Calm it down." The coach actually went and sat on the bench after that ... but he was up again a few seconds later yelling, "PISTOL PISTOL," for the millionth time!
Speaking of little things ... I caught Julyan Stone and Koufos checking out the Kiss Cam! Nobody can deny the powers of the Kiss Cam! One day, I will be on the Kiss Cam ... mark my words!
Jordan Hamilton (street clothes) and DeMarre Carroll (street clothes, leather jacket) were both on the Nuggets bench. While Ham is just inactive, Carroll apparently has a hamstring injury. I'm not sure if either of them will ever see minutes for this Nuggets team, but if Fernandez is to miss time with his Achilles strain then one of these guys might actually suit up for a few games on the road trip.
Bon Voyage Nuggets! We'll see you back at the Pepsi Center five-games from now. Hopefully after a few big wins and after another successful Stiffs Night Out, this Saturday against the New York Knicks!
It'll be important to see how the Nuggets handle this road trip. Lawson, Gallo, Fernandez, and Birdman all got a little banged up on this home-stand. And now the Nuggets might set out without one of their leading bench scorers being able to contribute much. If Fernandez can't play in a few games then the scoring pop will be left to Miller and Harrington, but who will get Rody's minutes? Brewer filled in pretty well against the Jazz tonight, but this could open up some additional minutes for Mozgov or perhaps give Denver fans a better view of K2.
While the Nuggets might have experienced a failure to launch, there is no reason to expect the team to not deliver some big wins away from home, bon voyage indeed!
Nate_Timmons on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/Nate_Timmons