Regardless of who their competition is, the Nuggets should never lose at home to a team playing the second of a back-to-back. But to do so against an aging competitor with playoff seeding on the line, and finish with a near season-low in scoring to boot, is simply unacceptable.
Thanks to a collection of poor shot selection, lazy defense, lack of energy, over-fouling and suspect refereeing in the third quarter against the Spurs at Pepsi Center tonight, the formerly hot Nuggets just gave the Mavericks, Jazz and Suns something to smile about. As I'm writing this, the Mavericks (also playing a back-to-back) are crushing the lowly Kings by 20 points at Sacramento and, like their fellow Texas denizens from San Antonio and opposite of our Nuggets, appear to have plenty of energy.
Where did the energy go in Denver?
On a night when Kenyon Martin returned for the first time in 19 games and looked surprisingly fresh and sprightly, the rest of the Nuggets were anything but as the wounded and weary Spurs came to town and walked away with a walkover victory for the second time at Pepsi Center.
I'll grant that the refs did everything they could to disrupt the little rhythm the Nuggets might have had in the third quarter, but the Nuggets have to be better than and play above that. When the soon-to-be 36 year old Antonio McDyess is out-jumping, out-hopping and out-hustling the entire Nuggets front line, you know things are amiss. When Carmelo Anthony gets to the free throw line just once in a huge game when the opposition has no one to guard him, you know things are amiss. When Nene racks up more personal fouls than points, rebounds, assists and blocks combined, you know things are amiss. Did I mention that things are amiss?
The Spurs absolutely decimated the Nuggets tonight in two key areas: free throw attempts (14 more) and rebounds (17 more). And if you consider that Chauncey Billups accounted for a third of the Nuggets free throw attempts, the picture painted is even worse.
You don't need me to tell you that the Nuggets picked a most inopportune time to lay their biggest egg of the season, but I'll say it anyway: the Nuggets just laid their biggest egg of the season. There's no shame in losing to the Spurs - the Lakers, Cavaliers, Magic and Celtics all did recently. But there's great shame in losing to the Spurs in the manner in which the Nuggets did this Saturday night.
If George Karl were here, I already know what he'd be saying: "we didn't respect the game tonight." Not only didn't the Nuggets respect the game, but they made a mockery of it and it could very well cost them dearly come Tuesday night when the final playoff seedings are decided.
What a bunch of Stiffs.
Non-Stiff(s) of the Night
-Antonio McDyess and DeJuan Blair: I suppose it's fitting that a former Nugget and a should-have-been-a-Nugget killed the Nuggets tonight. The aging vet and wet-behind-the-ears rookie combined for seven offensive rebounds and 17 total rebounds. By comparison, the entire Nuggets roster pulled down just eight offensive rebounds.
Stiff(s) of the Night
-Carmelo Anthony and Nene: Melo can usually be counted on to man up for big games but was an absentee member of his team tonight. Melo had more turnovers and personal fouls than assists, rebounds, free throw attempts, steals and blocks combined. But his woeful night didn't end there. Rather than lead the Nuggets back late in the fourth quarter as he's done so many times before, Melo got himself ejected in the fourth quarter - a very poor sign of leadership at this stage in the season. Melo's teammate Nene, on the other hand, had an equally - if not altogether worse - performance. As noted above, Nene had more personal fouls than points, rebounds, assists and blocks combined while allowing Tim Duncan, McDyess and Blair to abuse him on the boards. This had to be Nene's worst performance of the season. Maybe he got to used to playing power forward beside Johan Petro?
Photo courtesy of AP: David Zalubowski