The Nuggets are falling into their rightful place in the playoff chase in the Western Conference. They are as of now sitting in ninth place a game and a half behind Golden State and two and a half games behind Utah in the division.
The story of the game tonight was very simple. Houston is a team full of jumpshooters with some size in the paint. Their ball movement allowed them to get open jumpers all night long and players like Luis Scola and Karl Landry were able to do just enough damage in the paint to keep Denver honest.
On the other end of the floor, Denver did not have any jump shooters that scared Houston as Iverson was very off tonight. Anthony Carter hit a few shots early on and J.R. Smith got hot for a couple of minutes at the end of the third quarter. That allowed them to sag off on screens and plug up the paint.
That made things very difficult for Melo who tried to work his way into the paint and work the midrange game early on and then slowly had to move further and further out towards the perimeter in order to get shots off.
Houston outplayed the Nuggets at almost every position. On a night when Iverson was very ordinary, Tracy McGrady was special. Melo worked hard, but could not match the production of Shane Battier who killed the Nuggets again with five threes. Anthony Carter hit some jumpers as he stepped inside the three point line and actually shot midrange jumpers like he did earlier in the season, but Alston left him in the dust.
Moving down the line Kenyon Martin played well, but not as well as Scola. Camby had more points and rebounds than Mutumbo, but at no point during the game did I think he had more of an impact that Dikembe did.
The Nuggets had a good night from J.R. and Eduardo Najera brought a lot of effort and heart off the bench, but they were matched by Karl Landry and Luther Head. Add in another no show from Kleiza and I do not think you could point to one are of this game where the Nuggets clearly outplayed the Rockets.
The scary thing is this was a game where Denver played with a lot of effort and clearly wanted to win, but they were found desperately wanting.
I do not want to be the voice of doom and gloom, but that is exactly what this is going to sound like.
At this point in the season what do the Nuggets have to hold on to? They cannot count on AI and Melo being red hot every night. They cannot count on running solid teams off the floor. They cannot count on playing lockdown defense. They cannot count on hitting their open shots. They cannot count on getting anything out of their bench. They cannot even count on themselves to play hard from game to game.
What can this team count on from night to night in order to win games? They are slowly fading out of this race and the road is about to get much more difficult.
They may very well end up in the playoffs, they have as much talent as anyone. If they do make it, all I am saying is they have yet to show us how this team will pull that off.
At the beginning of the season I was writing about how shocking it was that the team I have been cheering on for over twenty years was considered a championship contender for the first time I can remember.
Now, just four months later, I am just hoping they can make the playoffs. The truly sad thing is we are not even talking about getting out of the first round anymore.
Other Observations From Game 59:
- I thought J.R. played very well. He ran the point again tonight for the first time in quite a while and once again he did just fine. When J.R. plays point guard he plays much more focused and under control. I think it is unfortunate he has not played there more this season.
- I mentioned in my preview how Shane Battier guarding Carmelo did not really concern me even though Battier has a good reputation as a defender. What Houston did though was Battier was able to stay close enough to Melo to body him up. When Melo would try to elevate he could not because of Battier and when the help defense came, which is what happens in a team defense concept, it was much easier to challenge or block the shot.
To see what it is like to cheer for a team that has won fifteen in a row check out The Dream Shake.