Perhaps J.R. Smith read my 10 Greatest Moments post and felt left out ... his performance tonight will not soon be forgotten, 10-17 from three-point land and 41 points on the night to lead all scorers, just four points shy of his career high. But most importantly ... he led the Nuggets to a win over an impressive team.
The Hawks came into Denver with a 9-2 record over their last 11 games. Like I mentioned in my preview the Hawks played last night in Minnesota and coming to Denver is never an easy place to play, especially on the second night of a back-to-back. But the Nuggets took care of business on the offensive and defensive ends and never gave the Hawks much hope of being able to win tonight.
I'm going to make a suggestion after witnessing this impressive Nuggets performance ... hire a hypnotist Mr. Kroenke. Honestly, if Denver was duped into thinking they were playing the, Hawks, Blazers or other playoff caliber teams they've beaten this season maybe they'd come with this kind of effort every night. You can't watch a game like tonight's win and do anything but cringe when you think back to some of the losses this season. The team that played at home at Pepsi Center tonight can play with and beat anyone ... perhaps with a hypnotist lies Denver's hope for a championship this season.
The Nuggets earned their 20th win of the season, improved to 13-1 at home and 6-0 at home versus Eastern Conference teams. Let's look at some individual performances from tonight's 124-104 demolition of Atlanta.
J.R. Smith: Scores 41 points and 30 of them from beyond the arc. Smith started the game 4-4 from three-point land, was 6-8 from deep at one point during the third quarter, 10-14 to give Denver a 118-97 lead and finished 10-17 after forcing some shots to try to break the NBA record of 12 three-pointers or match his own record of 11 makes set last season against the. Swish has now scored 40+ points four times in his career, but didn't get to his career mark of 45 points (4-13-09 vs. the Kings) because he missed too many free throws! As good as J.R. was going to the basket and shooting from long range he was as unimpressive from the charity stripe, going just 1-6. Perhaps to offer another suggestion ... do what Nick Van Exel did and step back a foot and see if that helps the long bomber. Smith like the Nuggets could use some more impressive performances like tonight's game. Oh and J.R. outscored the Hawks bench by himself 41-36.
Carmelo Anthony: Melo had a great stat line tonight and one of his better games this season. 24 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists and 1 block. Melo's 7 assists matched his season high from Nov. 21 against Chicago and Melo was doing an excellent job swinging the ball and finding cutters (especially Nene). Any time Melo does the little things in a game I love it. On one possession Mike Bibby had an easy layup, but Melo was hustling on defense and came out of nowhere to challege the shot ... while he didn't get the block he made Bibby alter the shot enough that he missed badly allowing Bird to toss a court length lob to J.R. for an easy jam on the other end, 4 point swing and momentum killer -- big point swings are one of the best sequences in basketball. We all know Melo can fill up the scoring column, but when he plays unselfish basketball the Nuggets are at their best.
Ty Lawson: 1-1 as a starter now. Lawson bounced back from the Memphis game to lead the Nuggets team tonight and got himself going offensively. I thought Ty looked a little hesitant at the beginning of the game and right when I metioned something to my buddy about it, Lawson took the ball coast-to-coast for a layup and that changed his whole evening. Lawson finished the game with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists, basically replacing Billups' numbers on the night. The Hawks couldn't keep Lawsome out of the lane and the rookie finished around the rim and even got a couple offensive boards and put backs. One of Lawson's finer games of the season.
Kenyon Martin: Finished with a very quiet 14 points and 8 rebounds. K-Mart was very efficient tonight going 7-8 from the field and hitting the 8,000 point mark for his career as noted by Altitude TV. Martin held Josh Smith to 5-11 shooting and although he scored 17 points he just wasn't the factor he was when the two teams met in Atlanta. Credit K-Mart's defense tonight and his hot shooting from the field ... I didn't even remember his miss!
Nene: The Big Fella finished with 15 points (6-11) and 8 rebounds. The two plays that stick out ... Nene's missed dunk (jumped too soon after a pump fake) and his monster slam after Melo found him cutting to the hoop just after Anthony Carter drew the attention of Al Horford and Smith for just a split second on a backdoor cut. Nene even started the game aggressive with a pretty reverse layup. The knock on Nene has been his lack of rebounding throughout his career and while he still may not be Dwight Howard on the boards I think he is vastly improved on the boards. Horford didn't have the length to bother Nene and the Brazilian thrived in the paint tonight.
Arron Afflalo: he didn't score in double figures that I was hoping (8 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block), but he did hit a three and was aggressive attacking his defender and still taking shots when he needed to. I swear when Melo found him on the elbow one time you could hear #15 scream for Double-A to "shoot it", but I could be wrong. Afflalo's mini-slump may not be completely over, but there were definitely signs that he is close to completely coming out of it. I wonder if Afflalo's fairly mechanical looking shot lends him to slumps more than guys who are just natural shooters. Shooters don't really think about their stroke and Afflalo seems sort of like a golfer who may think he needs to tweak his stroke if it's not working for him. I don't know the guy or how he thinks, but he just sort of seems like he might obsess about his stroke when he gets in a funk ... something I can't see J.R. or Melo caring about, but again I'm just guessing.
Chris Andersen: Bird failed to get on the scoreboard tonight, but he had a few nice boards and the Pepsi Center crowd loves the Bird. Tonight wasn't really any of the bench guys' night with J.R. shooting the way he was.
Anthony Carter: I have to say that I'm a fan of the beard he has going right now. What I was wondering though ... why the black shoes with the white uniforms? And another question from my buddy Dubs, "Why didn't he put black socks on?" A.C. went with the classic old man at the rec look of white socks with black shoes ... not a crowd pleaser. As for his performace on the floor ... A.C. I thought was pretty good tonight. Carter only scored two points, but he had a couple steals, 3 rebounds and 7 assists. This was a game from AAAAACCCeeee that Nuggets fans can live with. Sure he's not going to score a lot anymore (1-5 from the field), but he has to shoot the ball when he's open and I thought did a nice job of realizing his shot was not working and just focusing on getting his teammates going.
This was a great win and one that the team sorely needed after dropped two out on the road. Perhaps the hypnotist can also convince the team that every game is being played at the Pepsi Center as well. The Hawks are definitely going to make some noise in the playoffs this season and the Nuggets earned a nice win over a very good team tonight. Again if this team can find the hunger to play with consistency night in night out then they will make a run at home court advantage throughout the playoffs, but there is that word again -- consistency: J.R. Smith and the Nuggets must find it.
Stiff moment of the night:
Arron Afflalo and Maurice Evans get tied up under the hoop and Evans tumbles to the floor ... loose ball foul is called on Afflalo. Bibby comes in for Evans and on his way out of the game Evans intentionally knocks George Karl's cough drop container to the floor, spilling Karl's favorite sideline treats. I had to double check to make sure Afflalo was the one who had the foul called on him ... he was and Evans got himself a nice technical foul for the goofy outburst.
Photo courtesy of AP Photos