I didn't get to watch this game until 5:00 a.m. (this morning). Jeff, Andy, and I attended the Westword Web Awards and Denver Stiffs was named "Best Sports Blog" - a big shout out to you the reader in Westword's write-up.
Anyhow, I received a few texts, while at the event, in reference to the Nuggets game and was excited to go home and watch it. The DVR can be a blessing and a curse. I love fast forwarding through commercials and even free throws (at least the Heat's), but when you get texts that don't indicate a winner or loser and only say things like, "What a game!" you're often left to wonder just what that means.
Well, I found out early this morning what, "What a game!" meant. It meant the Nuggets made a furious fourth quarter run (27-19), but came up short and lost to the Heat 98-93. The Nuggets were held under 25 points in each of the first three quarters and the Heat scored over 25 points in each of the first three quarters.
Hopefully this Nuggets' season is a little bit like tonight's game. Slow start, but a furious finish. But hopefully the Nuggets don't come up short at the end of the season! The Western Conference is as competitive as I've seen it in years. I believe it's more competitive this season than it was during the 2003-04 season when the Nuggets slipped into the post-season with a 43-39 record. The worst team out West is the Kings and they hold a 2-6 record with some very talented players. I don't see any teams where you can pencil in wins out West and that is a scary thing. These Nuggets are going to have to bring it on a nightly basis. Which they have not been doing, thus far.
The Nuggets were only 13-19 from the foul line last night. The big plus for Denver over the years has been an advantage at the foul line in attempted shots. No longer are the Nuggets getting 25 free throw attempts, or more, per game. I've seen a trend this year among the refs to "let 'em play" more-and-more in many NBA contests (thanks League Pass!). I like this. It isn't good for the Nuggets' offensive plans, but shooting free throws also hasn't been a strong point for Denver.
Currently the Nuggets are DEAD LAST in free throw shooting percentage at 64.7 percent. When George Karl was asked about free throw shooting recently, he just looked up at the ceiling in frustration. The easiest points in basketball haven't proved to be so this year. I even remember a comment on Stiffs saying we shouldn't call them "free" anymore.
I hate seeing special games ruined and Kenneth Faried's special game was ruined last night. He put up 16 points and 20 rebounds. He had 11 offensive boards, some off his own misses as he shot just 5-16 from the floor. Getting 16 points off 16 shots isn't very efficient, but when you consider he was cleaning up some of his own misses - it's a little easier to handle. Faried was also 6-10 from the foul line, not bad for him. You could see some of his frustration on not being able to convert some And-1 plays and I think we'll see him improve in that area. He wants to get those And-1 opportunities and hopefully we'll see more of them.
I'm still quite concerned with many Nuggets players leaving their feet on passing attempts. This problem has been more pronounced with this team this season. Andre Iguodala (3 turnovers), Ty Lawson (2 turnovers), and Danilo Gallinari (1 turnover) have been leaving their feet on passes too much. That's a big no-no at any level and it is hurting the Nuggets on the offensive end. Not bad from Lawson and Gallo in the turnover department last night, but Iguodala still has been having turnover issues. It's hard to pick on the play-makers too much, but a few fundamental fixes and we should see the turnover numbers decline - only 13 total last night (not horrific).
The Heat were incredible from downtown last night shooting 13-27 from deep. The Nuggets allowed some open looks early and it seems like once a shooter gets his shot going, they stay hot as the game wears on. Teams also seem to have great shooting nights against the Nuggets at times too, like the Suns. We can call some of it luck, but allowing open looks early and letting guys heat up needs to be addressed.
Karl has shown a short leash with some players past-and-present when they don't have it going on the offensive end. Like we saw with Gallo against the Warriors, scorers can suddenly snap out of it. Lawson's offensive effort last night in the scoring department as a rough one. He turned in 0 points on 0-7 shooting in 36 minutes. He again had a good night in the assist department as he led the team with 8 dimes, but he has to snap out of his offensive funk -- hopefully soon! We're not seeing Lawson run as much this year and when he is on the run some decision making issues and lack of aggression have been hurting him. We're still early into this season and I believe in Lawson, but he must bounce back.
Corey Brewer didn't have "it" last night and had a rough shooting effort going 1-8 from the field. I was happy to see Karl finally turn to Jordan Hamilton for some scoring pop. Hamilton went 0-1 in the first quarter, 3-7 in the second quarter, 1-3 in the third, and 0-0 in the fourth (his only shot attempt was erased on a travel call). Hamilton does look to score when he touches the ball and that's good-and-bad. Good when he is hot and bad when, at times, a better basketball play is required. He will get more comfortable with more minutes, but will he see the time? You could see some defensive lapses by Hamilton as well that led to some Miami makes, but that can be said for everyone on the team. With Wilson Chandler still trying to return to form and Brewer being streaky, I'd like to see Ham get more burn.
A lot of good burn by Andre Miller and McGee last night. Miller played 26 minutes and JaVale 21 minutes. They combined to go 16-21 from the floor for 18 points for McGee and 19 for Miller. They combined for the first 13 points in the fourth quarter and McGee was dominating. With 7:39 left in the game McGee was subbed out for Gallo and never returned. McGee was an offensive bright spot as he helped bring the Nuggets back and was taken out when he was heating up and Denver was down just four points at 83-79. I would have liked to see Karl ride his hot hand there ... he typically does that with other guys, but McGee didn't get that chance.
Denver still hung in there at the end, but they just didn't make the plays they needed to. Another tough loss at the hands of the Heat, who swept the season series (2-0). There were again good takeaways from this game, but dropping to 4-5 isn't a lot of fun.