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Inching back in the right direction... (Nuggets/Jazz recap)

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75473_utah_jazz_v_denver_nuggets_medium_mediumAfter losing six of eight, our Nuggets have reversed course and have (seemingly quietly) won five of six, topped off by tonight's victory over the rival Jazz.  And if not for a buzzer-beating shot by the Kings Tyreke Evans last weekend, we'd be looking at a six-game winning streak right now.

I suppose the headline for tonight's game recap could be "Defense Optional", but I believe Nate (or maybe it was me?) have already used that one in the past.  Of course, when it comes to our Nuggets, playing defense is often optional.

Just when I thought my prediction of an easy Nuggets victory over the Jazz (since the Jazz were playing the second of a back-to-back) was going to come to fruition, the Jazz stuck around and battled back admirably.  I suppose it's not surprising that a Jerry Sloan-coached team refused to quit, until a few timely Nuggets shots and quality possessions in the final minutes ultimately did Utah in.  But while the naysayers may look at the Nuggets porous defense as cause for alarm, I'll go to bed tonight happy with those five victories in six games.

The View from the Not-So-Cheap-Seats...

...the Nuggets opened the game by shooting at the Jazz's (i.e. opponent's) basket, something I've never seen before at Pepsi Center (and noticeable to me because my seats are directly across from the opposing team's bench).  For the uninitiated as to why this is a big deal, visiting coaches get to pick which side of the floor their team shoots at first and almost universally, NBA coaches want to coach their defense in the second half, not offense.  And yet Sloan mixed it up.  I asked a source at the game why, and was told that Sloan likes to mix things up to mess with his opponent's rhythm.

...the Nuggets closed the first three quarters poorly.  Make that horribly.  In the final two minutes of the first three quarters combined (six total minutes of game time), the Jazz out-scored the Nuggets 27-4

...midway through the fourth quarter, Carmelo Anthony started grimacing, pointing towards his right knee and touching it in-between plays, and limped a bit...on the defensive end.  Curiously, on the offensive end of the floor Melo didn't appear to have any problems with that knee whatsoever.  As Bill Simmons would say, "I'm just sayin'..."

...George Karl - and the fans, too, I suspect - has lost confidence in J.R. Smith, and perhaps with good reason.  J.R.'s continued erratic shooting (4-12 tonight, 2-6 from three-point range) landed him on the bench for the final 5:09 of the game.  Karl correctly inserted Chauncey Billups for J.R. and played Billups alongside rookie Ty Lawson for the remainder of the game.  Thankfully, Billups was once a hybrid guard and can step into the two-guard slot.

...as we've been saying for years upon his arrival, Melo is unstoppable when he drives hard to the rack.

...Billups picked up a technical while sitting on the bench.  At first I thought it was Karl, but then I remembered that Karl rarely picks up technical fouls!

...Sloan benched Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko early in the second half, and instead went with a two-power forward lineup of Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap, each of whom fought hard under the Jazz's basket.  If you're keeping score at home, that's $25.4 million worth of salary benched for much of the second half.

...Chris Andersen was scored with two blocks, but should have had three.  His amazing block on Millsap in the fourth quarterly was erroneously called a foul.  But hey, Bennett Salvatore was one of the referees, so what do you expect?

...the Nuggets are now 3-0 against the Jazz this season and 21-2 when leading after three quarters.  For the second season in a row, the Nuggets are great closers.

...most importantly, Rocky made his behind-the-back, half-court shot during the fourth quarter.

Non-Stiffs of the Night

-Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups: We could throw in Nene, Kenyon Martin and Lawson here, too, but Melo and Billups combined for 66 points.  More importantly, the Nuggets dynamic duo combined for 31 free throw attempts, more than the Jazz's team total of 27.  I know readers here are getting sick of me bringing it up, but big time NBA games are won by getting to the free throw line...especially when your stars are doing it.

Stiff of the Night

-J.R. Smith: I don't want to use grandiose statements like "J.R. has lost his way", but...well...has J.R. lost his way?!  What does it say about your game when a rookie point guard plays out the final five minutes of a division rivalry game while you ride the pine?  I guess that's what happens when you've had just one 50% shooting night in 11 games. 

Opposition's Take: SLC Dunk

Photo Courtesy of NBAE/Getty Images: Garrett W. Ellwood