The Utah Jazz have drawn up the blueprint on how to beat the Denver Nuggets and they once again executed it taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. The depleted Jazz are now just one win away from eliminating the Nuggets from the first round of the 2010 playoffs ... can you feel it?
Through four games in this series the one clear thing ... the Utah Jazz are kicking the Nuggets' asses. They say the better team often wins a seven game series and the Utah Jazz are a better team than the Denver Nuggets. You know things are bad when Scott Hastings is glowing about the opposition in the games closing minutes as Utah won tonight's game 117-106.
You can argue until you are powder blue in the face about which team has more talent, but clearly the better team is the Jazz. Let us count the ways ...
1. ) Coaching: It all starts right here. The Jazz in Game 1 played more of the Utah Jazz style we are used to ... setting up designed plays on offense via their point guard that take a little time to develop and looking for the open shooter. Well, after losing Game 1 the Jazz changed their style. My buddy Rich says the Jazz adopted the Phoenix Suns offense against Denver, meaning they are getting quick offensive possessions. While I was telling him that Deron Williams is just utilizing what lots of point guards do in small stretches versus Denver ... get out in transition and attack the basket. Kudos to Jerry Sloan for exploiting Denver in many ways and putting his team in the best position to win every game.
For Denver ... well, without George Karl the Nuggets are obviously lost. Again, if I'm Karl I laugh at the measly one-year extension that Denver tendered to him and he previously signed. Karl never should have signed that deal because if he was a free agent after this season he could hold out for a King's Ransom from Silent Stan Kroenke as acting coach Adrian Dantley has made Karl look vital.
Dantley couldn't figure out that Ty Lawson is an asset, had no clue when or how to motivate his team as Denver got basically worse in every game this series and Dantley was hopeless getting the officials to adjust to his team's style or getting his team to adjust to the refs style (not totally sure how that bullshit works and I'm not sure why the Nuggets can't figure out how not to foul and complain when they don't get calls they want).
2.) Competing: Where is Denver's competitive fire? In Games 3 and 4 the Nuggets were resigned to letting the Jazz kick their ass. I know that if I'm getting smoked on the basketball court I'm going to fight with all I have to get back into the game. The Jazz have developed a swagger and certain cockiness as the series has progress that they will impose their will on the Nuggets and it happened again tonight right when Denver held a lead ... with the score 18-13 Denver the Jazz stole momentum and went on a 18-7 run to close the first quarter and never looked back. The Nuggets on the flipside have turned into a lifeless bunch that let the Jazz make predictable runs and let themselves get run down, run over and run right out of Utah.
Last season we saw Denver develop the swagger and the cockiness winning teams have, but this post-season we have not seen the same body language and chemistry from the Nuggets that we did last season. The Jazz seem to enjoy playing together and I don't think these Nuggets do. This just isn't the same team from even earlier this season. Tonight the Jazz just jumped out to 10 and 20 point leads without Denver even really flinching ... as if they are as resigned as I am to their losing ways.
In the fourth quarter tonight the Nuggets were down 86-71. The Nuggets put up a bit of a fight, but they had to have everything go absolutely perfect to overcome that 15 point deficit. You have to care for a full 48 minutes and the Nuggets did not.
3.) Defense: Can you name the Jazz's best shot blocker? Neither can I and you know why ... BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE A SINGLE SHOT BLOCKER! The Nuggets have had to work for most of their shots in this series and they had to work hard for open shots tonight, but even when they got good looks tonight they didn't convert (blah!).
The Nuggets did a poor job tonight of getting to the rim, not traveling once they got there or committing some other violation. On the flip side ... I think I could take the rock coast-to-coast on the Nuggets. We heard the Lakers were too big for the Nuggets ... so what are the Jazz? Too small for the Nuggets? Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap, CJ Miles and even Wesley Matthews looked like the bizarro world science project love childs of Wilt Chamberlain and Moses Malone tonight and throughout the series. None of those players listed are taller than 6'8'' (I don't care what Boozer and Millsap are listed at). The Nuggets let the Jazz turn the game and the series into a damn layup line for anyone willing to attack the rim. So the Lakers bigs are too big and the Jazz "bigs" have more desire.
I remember last season when teams drove on the Nuggets, the team sent a message with some hard fouls that the paint was Denver's territory and if they dared to enter they'd pay the price. In this series, I wouldn't be concerned at all to have my buddy let his 2-year-old daughter stand in the paint during a play ... the only concern, a Jazz foot landing on her after yet another lay in.
Not sure whether to put this under coaching or defense, but how many points could Deron Williams score if he just went coast-to-coast on every possession ... 100, 200? Where is the adjustment to Williams' transition bullrush? I got pretty sick of watching it, but either the coaching staff is clueless on how to stop it or the players just refuse to use any type of hustle in transition ... maybe it's a combo of both. As I've mentioned before ... Russell Westbrook kills Denver in transition, but he doesn't stay consistent ... Williams has stolen that page out of Westbrook's book and it's KILLING the Nuggets.
4.) Offense: This sort of ties into the above point, but Denver's shooting tonight was just awful. Denver found success when they drove the lane, but they just didn't do enough of what was needed to win the game. Passing on the road continues to be taboo for the Nuggets and if you are asking why Denver draws so many offensive fouls it's because they refuse to share the damn ball and too many dribbles leaves you exposed to charges and costly turnovers.
Carmelo Anthony put up 19 first half points and looked like the only guy who cared about playing hard and actually winning in the first half, but his one-man show was just not enough. Ty Lawson played a bulk of early fourth quarter minutes and showed once again he is very effective, but until he develops a deadly outside shot his game is a touch limited. Lawson 's defender often sags off on him and if he can start dropping shots in their face then his game will grow by leaps and bounds a la Tony Parker.
The Jazz are just too much and have Denver's number.
As tonight's game came down the streatch the Nuggets were able to cut the lead to 98-90 and they drew a touch of hope, but again with such a poor during the game ... having to overcome your mistakes is just too much. Also, Utah just need a bad possession here or there and again their huge lead would be safe. A K-Mart missed put-back dunk and a Billups foul on Williams allowed what could have become a 6-point game or less to quicly turn back into a double-digit lead.
Where do the Nuggets go from here? Last season when the Lakers turned the series around the Nuggets came home to Denver and got their asses handed to them on their home floor and the series was over. What can we expect from the Nuggets down 1-3? I said in the preview that this game would show us Denver's heart. I don't see much heart from this team and I don't see much desire or any sense of urgency to win.
I'm not expecting a miracle comeback from the Nuggets and it's looking like my 5 game series prediction could very well come true, but unfortunately I picked the wrong team to come out and dominate this series.
Photo courtesy of AP Photos