Brandon Roy and a ghost from Nuggets of Christmases past - Steve Blake - haunted the Nuggets into defeat at Portland tonight. Bah! Humbug!
Mental note: trying to pay full attention to a Nuggets game from the comfort of a very comfortable couch at the end of a long week and after drinking lots of wine and eating lots of turkey is not advisable. Just as the Nuggets were (barely) fending off Trail Blazer three-point shots all night, I was fending off my eye lids from repeatedly shutting during this game. To keep up with the action, I had to constantly rewind my DVR to see what I had just missed...typically the Nuggets being several steps slow to closeout Blazer three-point attempts. As my partner-in-crime Nate Timmons so aptly put it in a text to me during the fourth quarter: "rotary phones rotate better than Denver's defense." I couldn't have put it better myself.
For the record, the Nuggets are now 1.5-5.5 without Chauncey Billups or Kenyon Martin starting. What's most unfortunate about this latest sans-Chauncey loss is that with the exception of a shoddy defensive effort to close out the first half, the Nuggets actually played quite well in the first 41 minutes of this game (remember, it was all tied at 85). But when the second half began and #25 was starting at point guard instead of #1, you just knew the Nuggets were in trouble. And now, what seemed like an easy division title for Denver with the Blazers decimated by injuries over the past few weeks has turned into a one-game lead for our Nuggets. This will be yet another dogfight between Denver and Portland until the very end of the season for the Northwest Division crowd. Oh, joy.
The aforementioned Roy did what Brandon Roy does; takeover games. (I suppose it's a bit easier when Anthony Carter, Arron Afflalo and J.R. Smith are "guarding" you.) In tonight's edition of Roy's Greatest Hits, he lit up our Nuggets for 41 points and finished with a career high 16 made field goals and a plus/minus of +14. Two of the mostly deadly Roy makes came around the seven and six-minute marks when he nailed two huge three-pointers. But we could expect a big game from Roy at home, on Christmas and on national TV. Unexpectedly, the Nuggets also got torched by former Nugget Steve Blake. We could call Blake Santa's Little Helper tonight whose three three-pointers in the final four minutes ultimately sank the Nuggets for good.
In spite of another great offensive game from Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets remain rudderless without Billups and it's alarming. As these losses without Billups pile up, they all but sink Melo's chances of winning the MVP. After all, if Melo was truly the MVP of the entire league, wouldn't the Nuggets be beating short-handed teams like Portland - even on the road? Let's hope Billups recovers soon so we don't have to keep asking that question.
One of our readers here called me a Grinch the other day based on my Christmas Wish List column. In hindsight, the wish list simply wasn't long enough. I should have wished for better transition defense, better perimeter defense and a better and more focused effort from the Nuggets on the road. Instead, all I got for Christmas was a fifth-straight road loss from our Nuggets against a team that doesn't even have a true center on its roster.
Bah! Humbug! indeed...
Stiff of the Night
-Nene: Against a team with no centers (well, they have centers but they're in the infirmary right now), Nene mustered just nine points and three rebounds and couldn't stay out of foul trouble. Nene's plus/minus was -19 by the end of the game. As ESPN/ABC's Mark Jackson would say: "C'mon big fella, you're better than that!"
Non-Stiff of the Night
-Brandon Roy: What more can be said about Roy, one of the few players who belongs on my "Alpha Dog" list? Just two days removed from missing a game due to a sore shoulder, Roy unloaded on our Nuggets and had a great all-around game with 41 points (including two dagger three-pointers mid-way through the fourth), six rebounds and four assists. Beyond the numbers, he had the Nuggets perimeter defenders confused and a step behind him all night. If Roy keeps playing like this, he might give Melo some serious competition for MVP of the Northwest Division by season's end.
Opposition's Take: Blazers Edge
Photo Courtesy of AP Photos: Don Ryan