PHOENIX, Ariz - Defense wins championships. The Seattle Seahawks advanced to the Super Bowl behind, perhaps, the best defense in the NFL. But what about the Denver Broncos? Well, they held the New England Patriots to just 16 points. One could say defense won out for both conferences today in the NFL. Playing defense has been an uphill battle for the Nuggets this season and one that was lost in Phoenix.
"Once again our defense failed us," said Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw. "We gave up 117 points ... for the fourth consecutive game ... and it happened from their starters through their guys they came off the bench with. Matter of fact, the guys that came off the bench played so well, they never had to come back to their starters."
Denver had issues covering Channing Frye out on the perimeter as the big man went 5-7 from three point land on his way to a season best 30 points (only three points away from his career high). Neither Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson, or Timofey Mozgov found success on Frye.
"We weren't getting the kind of activity that we need to get [from Kenneth Faried], you know I'm not going to pin it all on him," said Shaw. "Anthony Randolph came in and gave us some productivity on the offensive end. I thought [he] was more attentive to their three point shooters. We started out the game and let Channing Frye get off, that happened to be who Kenneth was guarding. This was our third time playing this team this season and we should be able to identity the guys on their team that do damage from the three point line. [Frye] was one of our points of emphasis going into the game and I didn't think that, from the start, that we gave him the kind of attention that we needed. So, I needed to try to go in a different direction and once Anthony got in and got going, I just rode with him."
And many of Frye's looks were set up by penetrating guards. Goran Dragic sliced up the Nuggets defense in pick-and-rolls and in transition. He finished the night with 15 points and 6 assists on 6-11 shooting. Denver is still trying to figure out the best way to defend the pick-and-roll. Early in the season the power forwards hedged hard and the centers stayed back on the screens. Lately, the Nuggets have been blitzing hard or hedging on all pick-and-rolls with their big men and it's having mixed results. Along with Dragic, Leandro Barbosa and Ish Smith took turns carving up the Denver defense with drives.
"There's no defense, we're scoring enough points to win [but]," said Ty Lawson. "It's execution and then offensive rebounds. When we do execute they get offensive rebounds, kick-outs, second shots, but we have to pay attention to detail. Coach is putting us in the right position, but we just got to figure it out."
When the drives weren't working or the shots didn't fall, the Suns cleaned up with 14 offensive boards as Lawson indicated. The Suns also won the second chance scoring battle 21-9, another issues Lawson hit on. In fact, the speedy point guard thinks practice should be filled with defensive work.
"We have to have more pride," said Lawson. "I'm pretty sure we're going to need two days full of defense [at practice], I don't think we should even pick up a ball right now. It's out of hand, it's terrible how we play defense out here."
It was terrible indeed. The Nugget have now lost two in a row and have some issues popping up with their rotation again. Shaw played Faried 12 minutes tonight and Randolph suddenly appears to be working his way back into Shaw's plans. Perhaps the return of Darrell Arthur will end Randolph's playing time, but that nine-man rotation is looking shaky at the moment.
Randolph played well, he was 6-9 from the floor for 19 points (2-4 from deep and 5-6 from the foul line). Many of his looks came from the perimeter where he has struggled throughout his short career. Randolph looked fine tonight, but when his shot isn't falling his game suffers, but it was okay to see him at power forward tonight.
Chandler erupted for 11 points in the third quarter, but he had an off night from deep going just 3-12 from the outside. He got going with a layup in the third and then hit three bombs in a row, but might need to stay aggressive as his outside shooting has been taking over lately. That's not a bad thing as he's taking good shots, but his confidence seems to rise when he's mixing up his offensive moves.
Fournier and Lawson provided some scoring pop and Hickson hit the boards, but until the defense improves ... the Nuggets are in trouble.
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