You can't have it both ways in the NBA: give up a ton of points to your opponent and shoot under 45% simultaneously and expect to win a road game.
At that's basically what happened to our Denver Nuggets in Phoenix on Friday night when they gave up a season-high 114 points to a Suns team predicted by many (make that most) to be the Western Conference's worst team this season.
Maybe we should have seen this one coming given that this same rebuilding Phoenix Suns team defeated our Denver Nuggets handily - in Denver - during the pre-season just a few weeks ago. Or maybe, as I've told everyone who wants to listen since the 2013-14 NBA season began, the Nuggets needed an extra month of training camp and pre-season play. Because it's clear to me that while this Nuggets team has great potential, other teams will be feasting on them while they figure out how to put that potential together into one cohesive unit.
Sadly, pre-season optimists (like myself) were counting on games like at-Phoenix, home against Portland and at-Sacramento as early season confidence builders. Instead, these losses could be the difference between making the playoffs and missing the post-season altogether.
Tonight the Nuggets made the Morris brothers (Markieff and Marcus) look like draft steals rather than draft busts. They made would-be Stiff Miles Plumlee look like the most athletic big man on the floor. They let Eric Bledsoe waltz through the lane late in the fourth quarter with ease. And they got out-rebounded - by 11 - by an average rebounding team.
On a positive note, the Nuggets showed tremendous signs of life during a frenetic third quarter which saw them post 40 points on the Suns and erase a 64-47 halftime lead (which begs another question - how the hell did this Suns team score 64 points in a half?!) and go up by 10 with two minutes to in the quarter ... only to have that 10-point lead erased by quarter's end. The driving force behind said effort was the Nuggets star point guard Ty Lawson, who really seems to be coming into his own as the team's de facto leader. But Lawson isn't an elite enough point guard to carry his team to victories on his own, he can only keep the Nuggets reasonably competitive on any given night.
Joining Lawson on the "played great!" card tonight were Jordan Hamilton and Anthony Randolph, and I couldn't be happier for these two one-time bench dwellers. Hamilton, who seemed to be perpetually in former head coach George Karl's doghouse, has rewarded current head coach Brian Shaw's trust as a starting small forward for two games in a row. And whether Hamilton is a part of the Nuggets long term future or not, at least he is being showcased for decent trade value.
Randolph - who has been woefully inconsistent throughout his NBA career - showcased a repertoire of skills unseen by the rangy power forward until tonight, including a three-point shot and a pair of terrific steals. But if Nuggets fans are counting on Randolph to emerge among the team's logjam at power forward, we're in for a really long season.
Most unfortunately, Game Five of the 2013-14 Nuggets season seemed to create more questions than answers. Given that the Nuggets desperately needed a shot of energy late in this game, I'd like to know ...
... why was center JaVale McGee yanked after just 12 minutes of playing time? He wasn't in foul trouble (he would have been eventually but wasn't through those 12 minutes).
... ditto for starting power forward Kenneth Faried. Was The Manimal that flat out of the gate?
... ditto for Timofey Mozgov.
... in just 7 minutes of playing time, the diminutive Nate Robinson connected on 2 of his 3 field goal attempts, had 1 assist and 1 steal ... and never played again. Were there lingering issues between Robinson and Coach Shaw that were carried over from the Hawks game on Thursday night?
... what did Evan Fournier do wrong in 7 minutes of playing other than go 2-2 from the field, including 1-1 from three-point range and an awesome down-the-lane slam dunk?
You get the idea. So many questions. So much head scratching in Nuggets Nation right now. And our Nuggets seem further and further away from figuring this thing out.
Non-Stiff of the Game
-The Morris Brothers: Twins Markieff and Marcus combined for 39 points, 18 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals and the Nuggets had no answers for them. Even though they are devoid of true "big men", the Suns bigs (in addition to the Morris brothers, Miles Plumlee and to some degree Channing Frye) embarrassed the Nuggets front line.
Stiff of the Game
-JaVale McGee: 1-4 from the field. 3 rebounds. 2 turnovers. No blocks. Another crummy performance from the Nuggets' starting center despite having (theoretically) weak competition in the post. What's going to happen to McGee when he goes up against Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol, etc?
A lot of us assumed the Nuggets would struggle out of the gate, especially with the injuries to Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari that have decimated the Nuggets at small forward. But the Nuggets are struggling above and beyond what was assumed, and - as evident by 5,000 or so empty seats at Pepsi Center last night (vs. Hawks) - the fans are concerned. Very concerned.