The Nuggets may have been careless with the ball, inaccurate with their shots and porous on defense while losing at Utah tonight, but they showed no fear and never gave up. This was a good loss.
Remember back in November when we broke down the difference between good, bad and unacceptable losses? Tonight's game falls squarely in the "good loss" column. No Chauncey Billups. No Carmelo Anthony. Playing the second of a back-to-back after a late night national TV game on the West Coast. Several key players get injured in the game. And playing perhaps the hottest team in the NBA. And yet the Nuggets had a shot to win this game until three or so minutes remaining in the final quarter.
There wasn't a Stiff on the Nuggets roster tonight, regardless of what the box score might tell you.
Yet again, the Nuggets are showing us fans why they're a serious contender for the 2010 NBA Championship. One night removed from clocking the Lakers in Los Angeles sans Melo, they almost pulled off a stunner sans their best player (Melo) and their MVP (Billups) against the red hot Jazz. If I'm a Jazz fan, I have to be a little concerned that a slimmed-down Nuggets squad plays my team with absolutely no fear whatsoever.
Watching the broadcast on Altitude, here are some things I noticed (and you probably did, too)...
...Kenyon Martin seems to be getting more and more confident with his offensive spin move to the basket. He just needs to stop shooting jumpers. If you were to vote for the Nuggets MVP, is there any question K-Mart would finish second?
...Ty Lawson not playing in the rookie game is borderline criminal. Ok, it is criminal. Now that he knows how to create space between himself and a defender when driving to the basket, Lawson just might be starting point guard material after all.
...the Nuggets were clearly gassed from last night. On a lot of Jazz possessions, the Nuggets were standing around and allowed too many offensive rebounds to be collected easily by Utah players who were also just standing around. Surprisingly, however, the two teams were basically even in total rebounds.
...Chris Andersen's new hairdo must stay. For the second game in a row sans-mohawk, Birdman is earning his salary extension and is showing flashes of the 2008-09 version of Birdman. He seems to have a pep in his step and is playing smarter around the rim.
...new injuries to Arron Afflalo and Nene are alarming. I'm not a religious person by any means, but I might need to pray for those guys to get healthy before Tuesday. I don't think Nuggets head coach George Karl needs any more challenges!
...Anthony Carter shot 2-for-8 but I thought he made some good contributions on the floor. I know everyone who reads this will disagree.
...J.R. Smith didn't shoot particularly well, but had another good game to continue his stretch of solid play since the "non suspension".
...as noted above, too many turnovers. When you're as underhanded as the Nuggets were tonight, you have to protect the ball.
To recap, the only thing this loss showed us is that the Nuggets fear no one in the NBA and can win on any given night. As long as they don't have to play the Sacramento Kings, of course.
Non-Stiff of the Night
-Andrei Kirilenko: AK47 must have read my game preview calling him out as a Stiff, because he played like anything but a Stiff tonight. With 22 points on 8-for-11 shooting and five steals, Kirilenko was one of several difference makers for the Jazz. In fact, in looking back at his recent games, I probably should have left him off my Jazz Stiffs list...but that would have ruined the fun of having all the Jazz players with a "K" in their name being called Stiffs!
Stiff of the Night
-Nuggets turnovers: The Nuggets turned the ball over 20 times, six more than their average.
Photo courtesy of AP: Steve C. Wilson