Box Score

Just last week it looked like the Nuggets were on the road to ruin.  In just a few games they are now off that road and find themselves on the path to the playoffs.  Tonight’s win vastly increases the chances of the Nuggets making the postseason.  Denver is now just a game behind the crumbling Mavericks and they own the head to head tiebreaker.  

If Denver can beat the Warriors on Saturday they will be in the eighth spot.  Then if Golden State beats Dallas on Sunday, Denver will be seventh and dare I say maybe we can start entertaining thoughts of trying to go after Utah for the Northwest Division crown.

However, in the first half it was difficult to envision such a scenario.  The Nuggets came out with their typical laissez faire approach to defense giving Dallas as many open shots as humanly possible.  Now usually if you give Jason Kidd, Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse open jumpers, you just might live to tell the tale.  None of those guys are great jump shooters, but tonight, they were all hitting their shots in the first half.  

The other issue on defense for the Nuggets was when Dallas did miss, Denver was unable to get the ball.  Out of 21 opportunities for offensive rebounds in the first half, Dallas was able to retain the ball on 12 of them.  I am not even sure how that is possible.  Erick Dampier was an immoveable object for the Nuggets, but Dallas made a concerted effort to corral offensive boards as five separate Mavs had at least one offensive carom in the first half.  

It all added up to a 39 point first quarter, a season high for Dallas, a 70 point first half and a boatload of confidence that this would be the night they would topple a winning team since the Kidd trade.  

Even though Dallas was up 70-60 at halftime it was clear that Dallas played about as well as they could and Denver had quite a bit left to offer.

Well, the second half was a little different.  Denver came out with more focus on defense, which would have been difficult not to do, and while it was not a particularly inspiring effort it was enough to pressure the Mavs into some mistakes.  Dallas actually had open looks on three or four possessions early in the third, but the hot shooting that carried them through the first half left them abruptly at half time.  You could see the Mavs start pressing a little on offense when they realized those shots that were finding the bottom of the net in the first half were no longer dropping.  The combination of poor shooting and increased effort by the Nuggets turned the tide rather quickly.  By the end of the third quarter the Nuggets defense looked like a steel curtain.

With Denver getting stops on D, limiting the Mavericks offensive rebounds (Dallas only had three offensive rebounds in the second half despite missing many more shots than in the first half) and getting out and running the floor they easily wrested control of the game from Dallas.  The disparity between the two teams in the second half was pretty startling.  Dallas only scored 35 points in the second half.  Denver had 34 in the third quarter alone and ended up posting 58 points for the half.

As exciting as it is to see the Nuggets getting so close to the playoffs it all paled in comparison to seeing Nene get back on the court for the first time since his surgery.  I have some doubts if Nene will be able to contribute anything of significance this season, but just seeing him back was a great moment.  

Congratulations to you Nene and may this be the start of great things to come.

Other Observations From Game 72:

  • J.R. Smith was pretty good yet again.  He hoisted up a couple of threes that were not great shots early, but once he started driving to the basket he found a good deal of success.  He ended the game with five assists and no turnovers.  He ended up only making one of five threes, but it was barely noticeable because he did so much other than shoot threes.
  • Denver intended on having Kenyon Martin guard Josh Howard all night, but they were pretty lackadaisical about who covered Howard in the first half as there were many possessions where almost every Nugget found himself guarding Howard.  The result was Josh put up 20 first half points.  In the third quarter, it was Kenyon who was on Howard almost exclusively and Martin did a good job.  When Kenyon first came in the league the Nets had him guarding perimeter oriented players somewhat frequently, but after the knee issues he has dealt with it seemed doubtful that he would be able to do that anymore.  Over the past couple of weeks Kenyon has done a great job of covering players in the second half that gave Denver trouble in the first.  He has hassled players from Tim Duncan to Carlos Delfino and now Josh Howard.  It is difficult to imagine this for Nugget fans, but Kenyon Martin is healthy and a big contributor to this team.
  • Does anyone else notice how much better an offensive player Marcus Camby is when he hangs round the rim or cuts through the lane instead of standing at the top of the circle lobbing bricks?  Allen Iverson, Melo and J.R. all hit Camby for easy buckets tonight because he has simply available by the rim.  
  • After cruising through the first half, Melo got it together in the second.  He had only one rebound and three assists at half time.  He ended up with ten rebounds and eight assists for the game.  He had his points in the first half, but the overall effort he put forth was really pathetic.  There was a Denver Post article today questioning if he could care enough about defense in order to be a team leader.  Either Melo did not see the article, or he wanted to prove that he did not need to care about defense for his team to win.  No matter what the truth is, he definitely was not too concerned if any Dallas player in his vicinity was shooting the ball.
  • I was actually impressed with some of Kidd’s defense on Iverson.  I guess he is not completely washed up as a defender, but as the game wears on, he wears down.
  • I think Chucky Atkins is officially out of the rotation.  He was only on the floor for the last 1:17.  I panned his signing from the day it was announced, but expected he would provide at least some help.  If he rides out the remainder of the season watching from the padded folding chairs, it will be very disappointing for the Nuggets.  However, his injury was a blessing in disguise as it allowed Anthony Carter and J.R. Smith to find themselves as NBA players.

If you do not visit Mavs Moneyball to see what Wes is saying about the game you are shortchanging yourself.  

Next up is Golden State and you can look forward to some interaction with perhaps the best NBA blog around, Golden State of Mind, for Saturday’s big game with the Warriors.