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Redefining "Nuggets Basketball"?...

Nuggets/Hornets Game 1 Recap...

(Photos courtesy of Denver Stiffs reader "Mordecai")

I learned a lot of things tonight. First and foremost, I learned that NBA Commissioner David Stern doesn't like to do a stop and chat. With about a minute left in tonight's amazing blowout win over the New Orleans Hornets, the Commish, alongside his wife, came trotting right in front of me. So I extended a hand to thank him for all that he's done for the NBA, he said "thanks" without making eye contact and just kept moving. Oh, well.

Secondly, and more importantly, I learned that we might be in the middle of redefining what "Nuggets Basketball" means. If there's one thing the Nuggets have been known for since their infancy in the ABA it's high flying, free wheeling, no structured offense. That's what we remember when we look back fondly at those old Larry Brown and Doug Moe teams, the most successful Nuggets teams ever. And even the George Karl Era has been renowned for its potent offense over the years, certainly not defense.

Even though Chauncey Billups shot a remarkable 8-9 from the three-point line en route to 36 points while J.R. Smith dropped in 19 off the bench (including a ghastly 0-7 shooting night from behind the arc), this game was all about defense. Maybe I'm saying this because this was the Nuggets first home playoff game in 21 years and everything is magnified. Or maybe it's because I was sitting a little closer than usual. But given the stakes and the atmosphere, I thought the Nuggets played the most comprehensive defensive game that I've ever seen in 33 years of following this franchise.

You wouldn't know it from his own stat line, but Kenyon Martin was as good tonight as he's ever been in a Nuggets uniform (there's a reason why David West's stat line reads 4-16 shooting). Not only did K-Mart shut down West completely, but made sure the Hornets thought twice before making their way into the paint with an assortment of hard fouls.

And K-Mart's teammates were up to the defensive task, as well. For each of Chris "Birdman" Andersen's four blocked shots, he might have altered two more. Meanwhile, Dahntay Jones and Anthony Carter tirelessly chased Chris Paul all night and harrassed him into four big turnovers, a bad shooting night and a lot of whining to the refs. Throw in solid defensive performances from Nene, Carmelo Anthony, Billups and even Linas Kleiza, and you see why the Hornets made only 37.2% of their shots and were out-rebounded 49-35.

And as if we needed further proof that it will be the Nuggets defense that carries them through this postseason; had you told me Carmelo Anthony would have one of his worst home playoff performances to date and yet the Nuggets would still win by 29 points, I'd have checked you into a mental instituion. Had Melo mustered even a halfway decent offensive night while staying out of foul trouble and not turning the ball over repeatedly, the Nuggets might have won by 40.

Lets not get too far ahead of ourselves, though because that 29-point differential doesn't carry over into Game 2. And while Nuggets coach George Karl should be commended for getting the Nuggets to focus on this game, he'll have to do it all over again on Wednesday night.

But for now, all of Nuggets Nation can take a deep breath and enjoy this team's best home playoff win in 15 years. As my friend who accompanied me to the game said before the final buzzer went off: "This is the most fun I've had at a Nuggets game since Robert Pack dunked on Shawn Kemp."

I'll second that.

Nuggets/Hornets Game 1 Preview...

And in the eighth and final playoff game of the weekend, our Nuggets finally get to play basketball again.

For those of you who watched yesterday's playoff games, yesterday taught us that these lower seeds in the Western Conference are lower seeds in number only, but not in reality. The Rockets smoked the Trail Blazers in Portland last night just hours after the Mavericks took down the Spurs in San Antonio. And whether we want to admit it or not, the Hornets could do the same thing to the Nuggets tonight.

But a loss to the Hornets will not happen if Carmelo Anthony punishes their interior defense. Melo averaged a mere 7.1 free throw attempts per game this season, his lowest output since his rookie year. And yet in games in which Melo attempted at least eight free throws, the Nuggets were 23-7. In games in which Melo attempted at least 10 free throws (what his playoff average should be for a player of his calibre), the Nuggets were 15-3. Throw in the fact that the Hornets finished 26th in blocked shots, starting center Tyson Chandler is battling injuries and his understudies are Hilton Armstrong and Melvin Ely, and the Nuggets have no excuse not to get Melo to the line at least 10 times tonight.

There's not much more to say at this point other than repeating what we covered in the Denver Stiffs' Playoff Preview (and I have to get my day organized to get down to the stadium!).

Speaking of the game, who's going? I'll be at Brooklyn's around 4:30 hanging out during 104.3 The Fan's pre-game show (I might get interviewed, too). Then for the game I'll be sitting in Section 122, Row 1. I know it's not easy getting around the stadium with the ushers and such, but come by before tip-off and say hi if you can. I'll be wearing a blue, 1970's Nuggets ABA T-shirt and I'm 6'5" and skinny, so I'm hard to miss. Oh, and I'll have a few Bring Back Birdman petitions with me that I plan on handing to a Nuggets executive before the game starts.

More than ever...