With no Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson exiting with a knee sprain early in the first quarter, the Denver Nuggets' role players had to step up more so than usual. Randy Foye, Evan Fournier, and Timofey Mozgov answered the call, but no one could match Al Jefferson's game high 35 points. Big Al lead the Charlotte Bobcats to a 101-98 victory.
With JJ Hickson and Kenneth Faried responsible for defending opponent's big men, the expectation is to sacrifice a fair amount of points to the opposing low post men. Allowing Jefferson 35 points is unacceptable, especially when Hickson and Faried provide next to nothing on offense to counter. Hickson and Faried combined 6-19 from the field and neither grabbed more than 6 rebounds. In a game where leadership was needed, none could be found from the starting front court. It almost didn't matter. Mozgov played the role of Grinch, his heart growing three sizes, finishing with 15 points and 14 rebounds.
The Nugget of the night was Randy Foye. Entering tonight, Denver was the only team in the league without a player scoring 30 or more points in one game. Foye finished with 33 points. Fournier added 19 points, too. Wilson Chandler was unable to connect tonight, with the exception of a huge four point play in the final minutes of the game, and his lack of offensive production was missed.
The biggest stat of the game was free throw attempts. Charlotte shot 30-42 while Denver went 11-13. Anytime the Nuggets shoot over 80% from the charity stripe I get excited. Without the driving ability of Lawson or Robinson, or the craftiness of Andre Miller, the Nuggets were unable to get to the line. Charlotte managed to look really good by timing challenges justright and look really bad by not challenging at all (See Fournier's dunk on Al Jefferson). Both situations led to minimal free throw opportunities. Denver couldn't help themselves from fouling. This was especially frustrating late in the game when the Nuggs were over the limit and handed Charlotte two free throws after fouling on the floor.
The Denver Nuggets looked lifeless on both ends of the court during the first quarter. They shot 33.3% and allowed Charlotte to shoot nearly 48%. Six of Denver's eleven turnovers were in the first quarter. It wasn't until midway through the second quarter when assistant coach Melvin Hunt gave the team an earful regarding their effort that the team started to charge back. Denver trailed by one point at halftime after being down by as many as fourteen.
The second half was neck and neck to the end. Denver didn't have the talent to score when they could have pulled away and they didn't have the discipline to get stops on defense when they were needed. Charlotte is well coached. They are better than their record and it has nothing to do with the talent on the floor.
I believe in Coach Brian Shaw. I believe in our star, Ty Lawson. I believe in the promise our young players like Mozgov and Fournier have shown. I have serious doubts regarding our "top three" front court players. If you cannot play defense, you have to be able to drop 30 like Jefferson or David Lee. The entire team has been inconsistent, from their star, Lawson, down to each of their role players. It is up to Coach Shaw to pull the best out of his players night in and night out. Are you convinced these are the growing pains of a team poised to make a leap next season, or is this a team destined to flounder and/or sink to the bottom of the league over the next few seasons?