The Nuggets sit in ninth place in the Western Conference as we head into the All-Star break. For the uninitiated, that means that after 52 games, they are out of the playoffs.
To be fair, they are tied with Golden State and Houston for seventh, but the Nuggets lose the second tiebreaker to both of those teams (head to head record is the first tie breaker, conference record is the second) and thus sit in ninth place.
Also, to be fair, last night Denver walked into a difficult situation. They had played OT the night before, the other team’s best player had just been called out by the coach and they were playing in a town where they had not won since 1992.
Keep in mind though kids, life is not fair.
The Nuggets downfall was due more to their inability to defend the perimeter players of Orlando than any kind of Orlando curse or bad luck.
In fact, to George Karl’s credit, he recognized that they could not keep Camby in the game because of the way he was killing them on D. He could not guard Howard, because of his slight build, and he could not guard Rashard Lewis or Hedo Turkoglu either, because of their height, shooting ability and quickness.
Camby sat for the final 7:30 because of the way Orlando was exploiting him play after play.
Offensively, Carmelo was playing very well. He scored nine points during a six minute stretch of the third quarter to get the Nuggets a short lived lead. What I liked about how he was doing it was he was working in the paint, going to the hoop and working for short midrange, not long range, jumpers.
What happened after that? AI happened. He missed back to back shots in a 22 second span at the beginning of the third quarter and did not shoot again until just over three minutes were left in the period after which he missed two more shots.
AI was clearly off, ne was not only missing his jumpers, but he was missing his layups as well. The Nuggets looked their best during the six minute stretch Melo was taking over and AI was not shooting. I am not saying AI should not shoot. Obviously, the Nuggets need him to shoot. But if he is having one of those 5-20 nights (he was 5-16 last night), he needs to realize that and work on setting his teammates up.
Also, I am not trying to pick on AI, this advice is for any basketball player, not just him. There are plenty of games where Melo does not have it going and he puts up a 7-24 performance. They both need to recognize that and make sure every shot they take is a quality one on those bad nights.
J.R. Smith was tremendous again. He takes such bad looking shots, but when he has it going, I just cannot blame him. Smith took nine threes, and probably seven of them were bad shots, but he made four and really kept the Nuggets in the game for a short time in the middle of the second half.
Heading into the break, the Nuggets must realize that there is a legitimate chance at missing the playoffs. I think in the past week or two that reality has hit them. They have played with better effort since the game at Portland, but they need to ramp it up even more. This is probably the most talented team the Nuggets have had in almost 30 years. To miss the playoffs, or even get knocked out without much of a fight in the first round, would be more than devastating.
The quicker the Nuggets realize that, the sooner they will begin climbing back up the standings.
Other Observations From Game 52:
- One player who has tanked since the Portland game is Anthony Carter. I started the season down on Anthony Carter. I did not think he ran the offense very well and believed in the bad shooter tag he was saddled with. He won me over after the first ten or 15 games or so, but his play over the previous two weeks has been a major disappointment. Over his previous six games he is shooting 27%, including 0-14 from three point range. (Why are 34% of his shots coming from behind the arc? Not including the last six games fewer than one out of every five of his shots were from downtown.) AC is now 32. He has never played more than 23.5 minutes a game, and that was in his rookie season. He has not played more than 18.6 minutes a game since 2002. Right now he is playing over 30 minutes a game. I have to believe that he is wearing down. I have scoffed at the notion that the Nuggets are really being hurt by the absence of Chucky Atkins, but they are missing that third point guard who can play 15 -20 minutes a game, which is a role I can handle Atkins filling. If Carter cannot bounce back, I might have to move myself into the We Want Sam Cassell club, which is a club I do not want to join.
- Kenyon Martin has his "shot" back and is consistently hitting from 16-18 feet. He is capable of hitting that shot and I have no problem with him taking it from time to time. He has been very good getting his shot off in the paint. He is strong and quick and may not have much of a post game, but he is very good at facing other power forwards, or centers, up and driving by them. If Kenyon can play at this level for the rest of the year, the Nuggets will not miss Nene so much.
- Speaking of Nene, I am not expecting him back this season. The lack of updates on his condition and the fact that this was a serious issue tells me that not only will he not come back, but he should not come back until he is fully healthy both physically and mentally.
- I was going to get on the Nuggets for missing so many free throws in the third quarter, but looking at their totals, they shot their season average. As painful as it was to watch them miss free throw after free throw in the third, to show how merciful I can be, I will not get on the Nuggets for shooting 76% from the line.
- Last night’s game might not have been so close if Hedo Turkoglu had not been in foul trouble. He had 18 points in only 25 minutes and somehow managed to have worse hair than Dorrell Wright who proves he is an average player by styling his hair like a bell curve.
- By the way, in case you missed it, Dwight Howard played well. I thought he might end up with 30 boards the way he came out in the first few minutes of the game.
Check out Orlando fan Ben Q Rock’s recap on Third Quarter Collapse to see what a well done blog looks like.