After two very lackluster performances in Los Angeles, the Nuggets head home to the (un)friendly confines of the Pepsi Center - where they were just 20-13 on the season - to try and even the series with the Lakers tonight.
Here is an approximate picture of the hole the Nuggets now find themselves in. In a seven game series, the team that wins the first two moves on to the next round 94% of the time. Moreover, if the Nuggets are somehow able to stretch the series to six or seven games by holding serve at the Pepsi Center, they’ll guarantee themselves a date with Metta World Peace in Game 7.
Of more concern than World Peace’s imminent return to the Lakers is the sudden disappearance of Danilo Gallinari and Arron Afflalo. In the first two games against the Lakers, Gallinari and Afflalo have combined to shoot 19 of 55, or just 35% from the floor. If the second and third highest scoring players on the team can’t even crack 40%, the Nuggets won’t beat the Charlotte Bobcats, much less the Lakers.
So what’s gone wrong?
Although the Nuggets are playing against a veteran team full of playoff experience and future Hall-of-Famers, I believe that much of the Nuggets’ woes can be attributed to the fact that there are few players on the Nuggets who truly know what they should be doing on the floor when they’re inserted in yet another wacky George Karl lineup.
It comes as no surprise to me that the two players who’ve had very consistent roles throughout the regular season - Kenneth Faried (rebounding) and Corey Brewer (energy) - have been the most consistent players so far in this series, other than some rookie mistakes by the Manimal. When you combine players who look suddenly indecisive about what they should be doing with a coach who refuses to game plan for half court sets, it is a recipe for disaster.
Should Danilo be a spot up shooter or a wing slasher? Should Afflalo focus on nailing the deep ball and scoring or expend more energy on the defensive end? Should Ty Lawson look for his own shot or set up his teammates more?
One might ask, "well, why can’t these players excel in more than one role?" I would respond that, on a team without a conventional "superstar", knowing exactly what one’s primary role on the floor is even more important on a team with depth like the Nuggets have. If Afflalo’s looking to score all the time, he’s not playing his best defense. If Andre Miller’s taking contested jumpers he’s not distributing the ball. Part of this is on the players to understand what they are best at and what they should be doing, and part of it is on Karl for making sure that every player is aware of their responsibilities.
Despite the pervasive doom-and-gloom at being down 0-2, this series isn’t over until the Lakers win four of seven. The Nuggets still have a shot in this series, but they have to show a better commitment to playing with intensity and focus. From here until the offseason, every game is a must-win.
Nuggets of Note:
- Chris "Birdman" Andersen has not seen a whit of playing time yet. Fun fact: Including the playoffs, the Nuggets have won 3 out of the last 5 games against the Lakers when the Bird has played. Free Birdman, Karl! In all seriousness, Bird has the size and length to bother Pau Gasol - if not the girth to bother Andrew Bynum - and absolutely should be seeing playing time over the ineffective Kosta Koufos. At least Bird can hit a jumper and not fumble the ball away on the pick and roll.
- Denver was able to limit the damage by Bynum and Gasol in Game 2, but a nuclear Kobe Bryant irradiated the Nuggets. Brewer and Afflalo especially must do a better job defending Kobe.
- What was with that awful full-court press Karl employed that led to a wide-open dunk for Andrew Bynum? Why did Karl decide to go full court press so early in the game, and then never employ it again?
- IF you believe in superstition (as some of our readers appear to) ... the Nuggets have won every game where I've done the preview this season (Hornets vs. Nuggets, Hawks vs. Nuggets, Suns vs. Nuggets, Nuggets at Thunder) for a perfect 4-0 "BeefySwats" record. Knock on wood, salt over shoulder, here's hoping the pattern holds true.