What looked like another testy game between the Denver Nuggets and the Minnesota Timberwolves turned into a relatively easy win for Denver as they put the hammer down early in the third quarter and put it on cruise control from there on. It was the Nuggets seventh straight win against the Timberwolves and third in a row at teh Target Center.
Things seemed bleak as Minnesota, playing the back end of consecutive games after they won on a Mike Miller buzzer beater the previous night in Oklahoma City, jumped out to a 9-0 lead to start the game. Chauncey Billups brought the Nuggets back almost singlehandedly after that scoring the next eight points of the game himself. The teams seesawed back and forth for most of the rest of the first half until the Nuggets scored six straight at the end of the half to lead 60-54 after 24 minutes.
The third quarter started much like the first as the Wolves scored nine points in the first three minutes of action, but the Nuggets defense, and offense, would take over from that as Denver outscored Minnesota 21-7 the rest of the way. How did they manage to finally build a lead and hold it against the scrappy TWolves? Defensively they came out looking much more prepared and organized in the second half. Their soft double, where a second defender moved into near proximity without actually doubling, on Al Jefferson was effective and everyone was ready to rotate even before Jefferson kicked the ball out. It was a big difference from the first half where Minnesota had open look after open look both inside and out in the first half.
On offense Denver was able to get out on the break and score some easy baskets, but more importantly in the half court they were moving and passing the ball which earned them some easy shots.
The Nuggets have another chance to prove their status as a quasi-contender with a home game against the Houston Rockets tomorrow night. If the Nuggets win that one they will be guaranteed at least a tie for first place in the Northwest Division as we turn the calendar to December. If Portland loses on the road against the Pistons Denver could be all alone in first. I do not think any of us expected to be able to say that before the season started.
Other Observations from Game 17:
- I had planned on warning those of you who had not yet seen the Timberwolves new floor, but I forgot. I hope it did not cause any seizures or any other acute medial conditions.
- I did not do the research, but the Nuggets only committed eleven fouls all game long. No one had more than two fouls.
- Much to my dismay Chucky Atkins played quite a bit. Karl gave him J.R.’s minutes in the second half after J.R. played seven lackadaisical minutes in the first half. Atkins did end up with five assists, but four of those were simple passes to a jump shooter.
- For the first time this season Carmelo had fewer than two assists. He actually had zero. I saw one pass he made to Nene where he should have been credited with one as Nene received the pass turned and made the shot, but the fact Melo set a season low in assists was not a fluke. The combination of Melo being aggressive offensively, his teammates not doing a particularly good job of cutting to the basket and Minnesota doing a good job of helping in the lane when they did resulted in just one of those nights where Melo took what the defense gave him.
- It will be interesting to find out if J.R. is in the doghouse again playing only seven minutes in the very next game after his breakout performance against the Hornets. J.R. has shown some maturity over the previous few months, but if George Karl starts jerking him around, I am not sure how well Smith will handle it.
- As he did against the Bucks, Karl pulled the starters very early in the fourth and almost opened the door for a big comeback. I realize it is good to rest the starters as much as possible on the first night of back to back games, but I am afraid that sitting the starters too early might come back to bite him sometime this season.
Razzle Dazzle Game Stats
The pace factor for the game tonight was pretty much in tune with the pace the Nuggets average pace this season at 94.7.
Denver’s defensive efficiency ended up being a decent 102.4, which was slightly below their season rating of 103.8. Minnesota had a scoring explosion of 21 points over the last six minutes of the game pushing that number higher than it really should have been.
The Nuggets posted another solid offensive efficiency rating of 111.9. It was their seventh straight game and ninth out of their last ten games with an offensive efficiency rating over 100. For the season they have an offensive efficiency rating of 106.1, which is pushing them towards the top half of the league.
Check out Canis Hoopus for some perspective from the other side of the fence.