I am really trying to remain calm and collected about this season. After all I have told myself that I am not going to get to excited until I see how these guys do through the end of November. An 8-4 start is nothing new for the Nuggets as they have accomplished that each of the previous two seasons and we all know how those campaigns ended. There are still 70 games left to play so many conclusions we could draw now could very well end up proven false by the end of the season.
That being said, this season’s 8-4 start feels completely different from their previous two 8-4 starts. The Nuggets are winning with defense, they are winning on the road, they are winning on the second night of back to backs and I think I can get used to this.
As far as the game goes, I thought Denver missed quite a few chances to extend their lead in the first half. They had shots rim out, they missed free throws, they threw the ball away (Melo did so on back to back plays) and they gave up a few second chance points, but even with quite a few mistakes and rough breaks, they were still able to take a ten point halftime lead.
In the third quarter they were finally able to take complete control of the game. The Nuggets defense was superlative and they started making some shots on offense. When you play good defense, you do not need to be on fire all game long to win. The Nuggets basically played three quarters of great defense and all it took to blow the game open was about three minutes at the end of the third quarter where they got hot offensively.
If there is something I am a little worried about it is their tendency to let up in the fourth quarter. They really let up in the fourth quarter for the second straight night. In both the Spurs and Bucks games they let their opponent gnaw the lead down in the fourth quarter. The one thing that seems to be lacking at this point in the season is a killer instinct. Right now the Nuggets are content to win by ten instead of having the mindset that we may be up 20, but let’s see if we can win by 30. You can get away with a mindset like that against the shorthanded Bucks and even more shorthanded Spurs, but that lackadaisical attitude will come back to bite them at some point if they do not change their approach in those situations. Look at what the Blazers did tonight against the Chicago Bulls. They were up 88 to 57 at the end of the third and continued to drop the hammer as they ended up winning by 42.
Part of my issue here is the Nuggets have not accomplished anything yet and I am still looking for proof that they are as good as I hope they are. Ultimately, it really does not matter if they won this game by ten, 15 or 50. They will be judged based on how they handle the top teams in the league, but I sure would like to see them beat someone by 42.
Now the Nuggets can turn their attention to the Los Angeles Lakers and their showdown Friday night at the Staples Center. Last season they had no chance to beat the Lakers. I am not sure how much things have changed with this version of the Nuggets. All I know is last year I had absolutely zero expectation that the Nuggets could beat the Lakers. This year, I am cautiously optimistic.
Other Observations from Game 12
- J.R. Smith has transformed himself once again. Last season he became the explosive scorer that we all hoped he could become. This year it is easy to be disappointed in his scoring, but even though he is not putting up points like last season, he is truly part of the offense. Over the last few games he has become a player who makes sure the ball keeps moving. Either he passes to an open teammate or attacks the paint. He is always looking to pass. Maybe he is not going to put up 20 points a game like I expected, but he is actually a much more dangerous player as he makes the offense more effective. Add that on to his immeasurable defensive improvement and he has been a huge contributor off the bench. What is really exciting is at some point his shots will start falling. He will not end the season shooting 38% from the floor and 28% from downtown.
- Melo has also played a much more effective half court style this season. He is much more willing to share the ball and has made teams pay for doubling him on a consistent basis. I expect him to average well over four assists a game this season.
- George Karl did not mess around in the fourth quarter tonight like he did against Milwaukee. The bench got off to an awful start in the fourth quarter and he instantly sent some starters back in. In fact there were still starters on the floor with less than two minutes left.
- One big reason why the Nuggets were able to extend their lead in the third quarter was Kenyon Martin’s defense on Tim Duncan. I thought the fact that Kenyon only had one foul at halftime allowed him to play very physical and aggressive against Duncan. With Nene around I did not think Kenyon would spend much time on Timmy, but the way Kenyon played him, there was no need to put Nene on Duncan.
- Nene had a really nice game. I thought he could have had a better one, but the Nuggets just do not try hard enough to get him the ball in the post. He had Matt Bonner guarding him for much of the second half and rarely got the ball in the post. Nene did have a great sequence where he blocked a jump hook by Duncan and then posted him up and drew a foul on a great spin move in the post. I doubt Duncan does not look forward to playing the Nuggets when Nene and Kenyon are both healthy.
- The Nuggets offense is getting better, but there is still much room for improvement. They are much better in the half court under Chauncey than they were with AI, but they still tend to play a lot of one on one and they go through long stretches where they stand around. The good news is they have posted good to great offensive efficiency numbers in four of their last five games. With Billups getting in the lane and drilling long balls, Melo a threat to score from the three point line and in, Nene strong enough to post up whoever guards him and quick enough to blow by them too and Kenyon shooting his improved jumper and his ability to spin into the lane with his little push shot there is no reason these guys should not be as good offensively as they are defensively.
- When I first started talking about slowing the game down much of the feedback was along the lines of the fast breaking style is too much fun to abandon. My counter to that was that winning is what is truly fun to watch. Well, so far the Nuggets are playing slower, but I have yet to hear anyone lamenting the lack of run and gun basketball.
- I think it is safe to say that Chauncey is feeling more comfortable. His first three games with the Nuggets he shot 11 of 42, which is 26%. Over his last five games he has shot 31 of 64 just a hair shy of 50% including 12 of 25 from three point range, also a hair shy of 50%.
- At some point we are going to see Chauncey, Melo and J.R. all on at the same time and that is going to be fun to watch.
- Renaldo Balkman played tonight, but he did not seem like his usual spunky self due to a bum ankle. It was really important for the Nuggets that he be available for this game considering the Birdman is out until at least the end of the month. Let’s all give a laurel and hearty handshake to Balkman.
- Watching Cheikh Samb play makes me long for the days of Mark Blount. I think his nickname should be Sushi because he is as raw as it gets in the NBA.
- I wish I could say I felt sorry for the Spurs having to play without Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, but I am a small petty man and I am kind of enjoying it. Even so, the Spurs are hovering around .500 and before all is said and done they will be a team to be reckoned with.
Razzle Dazzle Game Stats
The pace factor for tonight’s game was 89.4. It was the sixth straight game they have had a pace factor of less than 100. On the season their pace is down to 94.3.
Defensively for the sixth time in 12 games the Nuggets held their opponent to less than 40% from the floor. Their defensive efficiency rating for the game was an impressive 90.6 dropping their season average to 101.3.
Offensively the Nuggets had a solid game with an offensive efficiency rating of 101.8 which will pull their average for the season down to 104.2.
If you want to know how life is like for a team struggling to survive without two of their three best players check out Pounding the Rock to get their reaction to the game.