Never a dull moment at the Pepsi Center this season. After almost succumbing to a hail of Steve Nash and Shannon Brown three pointers late in the third and fourth quarters, the Nuggets ride a hot Andre Miller and Arron Afflalo to their 16th home win of the season.
Andre Miller had a truly herculean effort tonight. In the fourth quarter, with the Nuggets struggling to remember how to put the brown round thing in the orange circle, 'Dre scored 13 of his 15 points (including a huge 3) and put the team on his back. As he said in the postgame interview, "these next four games will make or break the season". Truthfully, I don't see a game on the rest of the schedule that isn't make or break if the Nuggets hope to make the playoffs.
Surprisingly, the Nuggets actually managed to hold a team below 75% from the 3 point line, as the Suns shot just 8 of 22, with 5 of those 8 makes coming from Nash and Brown. Truth be told, it could have been much worse. The same problems with defensive rotations on the perimeter and on pick and rolls that have plagued the Nuggets all season reared their ugly head again tonight. During one possesion with 1:50 to play, with Karl's favorite ultra-tinyball lineup of Ty Lawson/Dre/Afflalo/Kenneth Faried and Al Harrington on the floor, Marcin Gortat set a high screen on Afflalo for Nash. Rather than stay with Gortat, Harrington instead leaves him on the switch to close out ineffectively on Nash's 3 - with Afflalo. The result? An offensive rebound for Gortat, and the Nuggets very nearly could have been down 3 had Channing Frye not missed his jumper. Gross.
Once again, Chris Andersen saw no playing time. Once again, the Nuggets were outrebounded by a smaller team - badly - 54-41. Chris has been very effective in his limited minutes on the floor this season, and we know that Karl does pay attention to stats like PER in evaluating playing time. So where's the Birdman, Karl? With JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos largely ineffective tonight, the Nuggets could have used Bird's bothers. Timofey Mozgov again recorded a DNP-CD, and one is beginning to wonder how deep the Karl doghouse goes.
If this last half of the season is an extended job interview for JaVale McGee, he's started it off by shaking hands with Karl and then promptly vomiting all over his desk. I'm fairly horrified to see that McGee is as raw or even more so than Mozgov. In his 20 minutes, he scored 7 points, grabbed just 2 rebounds and committed four exceedingly dumb fouls for a stinky -17.
- Corey Brewer again failed to make a shot (0-4), did not grab a rebound, fouled 3 times and turned the ball over once. It's hard to see justifying any minutes for Corey once Gallinari and Chandler are healthy.
- Ty Lawson shot a very poor 1-8 from the field, though he did hand out 8 assists. On again, off again Ty was off again tonight and virtually invisible on the floor. I wish he'd stop the disappearing act, and make this his team. Right now it looks a lot more like Afflalo's.
- Jordan Hamilton played admirably in his first game as an NBA starter tonight, going 5-for-9 from the field for 11 points, collecting 5 boards and 2 assists with no turnovers. If he can play like that every night, he's going to be an excellent backup for Afflalo and deserves all of Brewer's minutes.
Nuggets of the Night:
Andre Miller: 33 Min, 4-12, 15 points (1-2 3p), 7 AST, 7 REB, 1 TO (-6)
I've been harsh on Andre this season, I admit it. I was pretty excited that we managed to swap Raymond Felton for him, convinced that he was a steal for the Nuggets. I've been very disappointed in his at-times contentious attitude over starting and his general lazy defense. But he can and does take over games for this Nuggets squad, and without his monster fourth quarter, the Nuggets lose another game at home. He deserves full credit for playing through a separated shoulder, lest we forget, and at the very least dug deep to not send the Pepsi Center crowd home disappointed on a Friday night.
Arron Afflalo: 42 Min, 11-19, 30 points (5-9 3p) 5 REB, 3 AST, 0 TO (+11)
Afflalo continues to improve as the season wears on. He's playing efficiently, within his role, and his jumpers are starting to become very reliable. Early on, he was clearly out of shape and not nearly ready for this ultra-compressed season. He's finally starting to become the scorer that we have caught glimpses of the last two years, and I really do think that Afflalo might be turning the corner into a star player. His high minutes concern me, but Karl can't afford to not ride Afflalo with the dearth of scoring options right now.
Kenneth Faried: 29 Min, 4-10, 12 points, 8 REB, 1 BLK, 0 TO (+4)
Manimal continues to get better. I still have to remind myself sometimes - Kenneth Faried is just a rookie. Think about that for a minute. Faried, Lawson, Afflalo and Gallinari are the core of this team for the next few years to come, and I can't help but be excited about that group. He played average defense and continues to struggle with his rotations, but that will come with time.
- If I could only be as excited about our centers as I am about Faried. McGee and Mozgov have both been major disappointments. Mozgov can't catch a basketball, and McGee can't seem to avoid doing dumb things with one. Birdman is clearly on the way out if not already, and even if he isn't he's not seeing the floor. So we're pinning our playoff hopes on...a clearly still injured Kosta Koufos and a flogged Al Harrington playing center? Yeesh.
- The Nuggets now have a half game lead on Houston, and are - effectively - two games behind Dallas for the 6th seed (Dallas owns the tiebreaker over the Nuggets). How does everyone feel about playing the Lakers instead of the Spurs or the Thunder?
- Tomorrow night the Nuggets play the first of an away/home split with the Warriors, two games they absolutely should win. I'm confident that by Monday evening the Nuggets will have a three game win streak going into their final 8 games of the season.