Doggone it they are doing it to me again.
They are trying to make me believe.
The Nuggets are for all intents and purposes in a place I did not believe I would see them in this season. They are seventh place in the west. The standings have them eighth, but Dallas is hemorrhaging (that’s how you spell hemorrhage? No wonder it takes seven years to become a doctor) and Denver holds the head to head tie breaker with both the Mavs and at least temporarily with Golden State.
Denver is in this position because of their last six quarters of basketball. They clobbered Dallas in the second half and then took it to Golden State nearly from start to finish.
Saturday night’s Nuggets/Warriors tilt was as fun to watch as we all expected. I thought the Nuggets played a very good four quarters of basketball and avoided that stretch of mindless ball that has hampered them. They did allow Golden State to get a brief lead in the third thanks to an overindulgence of jumpers and a disappearance of the running game, but they quickly righted the ship and reclaimed the lead for the remainder of the game.
The fact that this game was even close in the second half was testament to how good the Warriors are. They know that no matter how far they are down, they are never out of the game because they can catch fire and explode back into contention.
Denver jumped on the Warriors from the start as the movement and passing they exhibited in the first quarter was as good as I have seen from these guys all year. No one was standing around and the ball was always getting passed to the open cutter or runner on the fast break. It was spectacular to watch. Denver scored 38, but they were only up six as Golden State proved to be difficult to subdue on offense.
In the first quarter it was Melo who set the standard by sharing the ball every chance he had recording five first quarter assists. Melo is a great passer and he needs to realize that he will be a much better player scoring 22 or 23 points a game with seven or eight assists than scoring 28 or 30 with three or four assists. His passing encourages the guys like Martin, Najera and Camby to cut to the rim and get easy passes. They will miss a couple and he may not get an assists off of every pass, but it will make the offense run so much better.
Denver kept up the offensive pressure almost all game long and was never seriously threatened in the fourth.
As I type this Utah has lost to Minnesota and Denver is now jus two and a half games behind the Jazz in the division. It will be a tall order to catch Utah and Denver will have to win the remaining game between the two teams in Salt Lake City, which would seem to be a pipe dream they way they were demolished there previously, but I did not think they had much of a shot at catching Golden State and they did that by the end of March.
OK, Nuggets, you are sucking me back in. Do not make me regret it.
Other Observations From Game 73:
- I think J.R. Smith is just always convinced he is on fire. He came out and shot three or four quick threes and missed all of them. At that point, he started driving and scoring or dishing off which is how he earned his 20 points and career high tying seven assists. Apart from going 1-9 on threes and turning the ball over a couple of times in the second quarter on careless passes he played very well. He ended up shooting 6-7 on two point shots and they were not all layups. He has developed a very nice pull up game to coincide with his dribble drive and long range talents and he capitalized on some pull up jumpers from 20 feet. The improvement he has exhibited in the last couple of months is very exciting. Denver, or anyone else, has to be a little concerned about giving him a big deal this offseason, but at least he is developing and he has finally given Karl no choice but to play him.
- Kenyon Martin played the role of bruising bully of the paint that is the weakness of this Warrior team. They just do not have anyone who can handle a big power forward on the block. That is why they do not want to see Utah again in the playoffs. Martin ended up with a 30-11 double-double and for the most part took very smart and aggressive shots. His development, along with that of J.R., over the second half of the season has been huge for the Nuggets.
- One area the Nuggets really struggled in was shooting the three. They were all clearly off, but for some reason they kept chucking it up there. The way they were running and moving to open up the paint, there is no excuse for taking 24 long bombs (they made a paltry five). Iverson took five for some inexplicable reason and that is part of what contributed to his 4-20 shooting night. In a game where points in the lane and on the break were as abundant as the hairless pores on George Karl’s dome it was surprising that AI was not more effective. He was simply too content to take jumpers as 13 of his heaves were away from the basket.
Next up is a home and home with the resurgent Phoenix Suns. Amare Stoudemire is still on fire and Shaq is starting to fit in with five double-doubles in his last seven games. Behind those two beasts Phoenix has won nine of eleven so Denver cannot rest on their laurels. I thought a laurel was one of those flowery things they hung around race horses’ necks. Why would you want to rest on one of those? Especially if it is made of roses.
Golden State of Mind is again a great resource for additional insight into Saturday’s clash.