It seems game after game we have to wonder if the Nuggets are going to bring their brains and hearts with them into their next performance. Well, for once the Nuggets are playing a team who may have bigger questions marks in those areas than they do.
The New Jersey Nets roll into the Pepsi Center tonight having gone from one game over .500 to six games under .500 in their last seven games. That is just a fancy way of saying they have lost seven straight games.
During their seven game catastrophe New Jersey has double digit losses to Boston, Portland, the Clippers in overtime (how can you lose by 13 in OT?), Phoenix and Sacramento.
I watched the second half of their game last night in Oakland against the Warriors and was impressed by their effort. Golden State went on a 22-0 run in the fourth quarter to take a 13 point lead with seven minutes left. You would think a team that had lost six in a row and is in the middle of a six game road trip who was just gave up a run like that would just collapse and check out. Heck, the Nuggets did in LA the other night.
The Nets did not check out and just play to get the clock to triple zeroes as quickly as possible, they fought back. In less than five minutes New Jersey implemented their own 15-2 run to tie the game. They even held a three point lead in the last two minutes. That showed me a lot of heart.
The question for me is, why then? How could they show no heart for four or five games and then after giving up a 22-0 run decide that they were going to come back? Will they be even more dejected and play with no heart tonight in Denver or are they going to be pissed they let the game last night slip away and come in here with a vengeance?
Apparently not everyone was impressed with the Nets’ heart last night as Dave D’Alessandro wrote a piece questioning Jason Kidd’ desire that apparently every blog is required to link to today (so here you go).
Off the court the Nets have been in nearly every trade rumor out there for the last year or so. They just gave a rickety Vince Carter a huge contract extension to start the season and he is virtually untradeable. That means since they cannot dump him, there is no reason to trade Kidd because they really cannot cut salary and rebuild. Not to mention that Vince would institute a new level of sulking that we have never before witnessed if they swapped Kidd for expiring contracts and draft picks.
This team is stuck. Kidd himself said that they were just a mediocre team a short time ago. If these guys can muster the same effort tonight as they did last night, I will be very impressed. I will also be very surprised. They know what is going on. They know that they are an average to poor team that really has no hope for improvement. That attitude manifests itself on the court. Right now, they do not believe in themselves and it shows. That just makes it all the more strange that they mustered such a strong effort when they were facing such a disappointing situation and that is why I do not know what to expect form them tonight.
On the Nuggets side they too are coming off of a game where they showed a lot of heart and played hard. They will again be without Melo, who may play on Sunday in Dallas, so they need Kenyon, Kleiza and Camby to step up again in his absence.
From a matchup standpoint look for AI to have a very good night. Monta Ellis was able to torch the Nets for 39 so what do you think AI could do?
On defense, I will be interested to see who AI guards. I would expect him to check Kidd as he is not the scoring threat that Carter is. Vince Carter is not the player he used to be, but is still a tough matchup and if he comes to play as he did last night Anthony Carter will have his hands full. AC will have to get physical with VC because, unlike Irwin Fletcher, we all know that VC does not like getting manhandled.
I would expect Kleiza to have problems with Richard Jefferson. Jefferson is a good shooter and is also a very good athlete who can get to the basket with ease. Kleiza will have to stick with him from the time he gets within 25 feet of the hoop, but it will not be easy as Jefferson has a significant quickness advantage. Hopefully the Lithuanian fans will be there again to raise his spirits.
New Jersey has been getting good production from Josh Boone and Sean Williams in the paint. Camby and Kenyon better be ready to battle against these young guns tonight who would love to make their mark against a veteran frontcourt like Denver’s. When Najera is in the game he will have to work extra hard to keep these guys off the glass as they both have a significant length advantage on him.
New Jersey also has a perimeter power forward in Boki Nachbar who will provide problems from outside for Camby and Martin. Nachbar is not fast, but he is crafty going to the basket and he is a surprisingly decent finisher for a goofy looking white guy.
Personally, I am excited to see if this is a game Coach George Karl thinks the Nuggets should go after. The Nets have lost seven in a row thus the law of averages dictate that they are due for a win. We would not want to force our players to face something as immutable and insurmountable as the law of averages. Maybe George might want to rein the guys in a little and save something for a game later in the season against Seattle or the Clippers when everyone is healthy and the intangibles are looking to be more in the Nuggets favor.