November 27, 2007. Nuggets down three with two seconds left. J.R. Smith steps to the line with three free throws to tie the game. He made the first one. Smith makes the second one. The third free throw...no good. Nuggets lose a home game to Indiana by two.
Tonight J.R. found himself in the same predicament, but it was not quite as exciting as J.R. missed the second free throw this time. At least it gave the Nuggets the chance to go for the miss on the third free throw. Kenyon made a great move to jump inside Antonio McDyess on the shot, but his tip attempt barely bounced out.
I was expecting a truly herculean effort by the Nuggets tonight and they did play hard, but they did not play with that extra level of urgency that we have seen out of them from time to time. I guess George Karl was sick so he decided in order to keep Adrian Dantley from making him look bad that this was not a game that they should go after.
The Nuggets have proven that if you make them work to get the ball inside they will take the easy way out and chuck up jumper after jumper. Tonight Detroit frustrated the Nuggets closing off the paint and playing their typical brand of good team defense. The Nuggets obliged by taking a large number of outside shots and as a result they only shot 36% for the game.
The Nuggets do play hard on defense frequently, but their problem is they do not play as a team on defense. They never seem to have a cohesive concept of how to defend. One trip down Camby or Martin would stick right with the screener and allow Hamilton to come off free and clear. Other possessions Martin would chase Hamilton and then recover back to his man after the guard caught up to Rip. Then the next time down they would switch the screen.
The Nuggets either did not know what they were doing and were just flying by the seat of their pants or they were changing up their strategy way too frequently.
I understand you cannot play the same defense every time down the floor or the other team will figure you out and start to pick you apart. The key is whatever strategy you attempt to employ it must be executed by the entire team. Players off the ball must be ready to react and help instantaneously. The Nuggets do not have the singleness of mind and purpose to be a good defensive team. They may be able to lock down the Timberwolves, Nets or other horrendous offensive teams simply by ratcheting up the pressure, but when they play a top quality offensive team that can execute their plan under pressure Denver is in trouble.
The Nuggets are now in the midst of their third three game losing streak of the season and at the same time they are on the verge of their first truly difficult stretch on the schedule. They are now in sole possession of ninth place in the conference for the first time in weeks. If the Nuggets are not careful they will find themselves three or four games out of the playoffs two weeks from now with only a few games left to make up the difference.
Other Observations From Game 56:
- I mentioned that AI and Melo were 17-37 in both of the last two games, well I wish they had shot that well tonight as they combined to shoot 15-39. Once again they were very good from the free throw line combining to shoot 18-20 although both of their misses came in the last minute.
- J.R. Smith’s shot selection is getting worse by the game. I have written that I am OK with him getting a little chuck happy when he is on fire, but he is starting to throw up bad threes all the time now. He needs to get back to driving the lane and looking to drive and dish. I was a little surprised that the Pistons did not try to take advantage of him more on defense when he was guarding Hamilton. Had the Pistons run their Reggie Miller offense for Rip when J.R. was on him it would have resulted in a plethora of open shots for Hamilton. Of course, he did OK getting open looks against AI too.
- I love the Denny’s "fake breakfast" ad campaign.
- I did not think the crowd seemed particularly into the game, but it is not always easy to tell on television.
- Camby has not hit his rebounding average for five straight games. The game before the All-Star break he was manhandled by Dwight Howard. Last game in Milwaukee he was terrible in the second half as he was manhandled by Andrew Bogut. I can see getting embarrassed by Dwight Howard, Bogut, not so much. Camby is still averaging double digit boards during those five games, but when the difference between winning and losing are a couple of possessions every rebound is important and he is not putting in the work to have those huge rebounding nights.
- Kleiza made three good drives to the rim tonight, but apart from that did not have a memorable game. He either has a badly sprained ankle or he has not recovered mentally from some of his teammates openly wishing the team would trade him.
- Remember the days when Anthony Carter would get a short outlet pass and fire the ball up the floor for an easy basket? Well, if you cannot remember those plays, do not feel bad because he has not done it in a while. In fact, Carter has not led the team in assists for almost a month. And here comes another in fact for you. In fact Carter led the Nuggets in assists ten out of 15 games in January before not doing so even once in February. He is averaging less than five assists over that stretch. However, he is doing his best to make up for his lack of passing by shooting 33.8% from the field, including 12.5% from three point range, so far in February. If Carter cannot get it together even I will be praying for the return of Chucky Atkins. What? Chucky shot 22.8% in his nine games this season? Dang. OK, maybe no matter how bad it gets with Carter I won’t get to the point of praying for Atkins.
I could write more, but this team does not deserve it right now.