By beating the likely NBA champion Miami Heat on Friday night, the Nuggets showed the entire NBA that playing at the Pepsi Center is going to be no easy task this season.
First off, pardon my tardiness on this recap. I had a post-game commitment that ran late but wanted to be sure my fellow Stiffs could discuss last night's great game when waking up this morning. And as a I texted to my esteemed colleague Nate Timmons after the game, I may not write lengthy recaps but I always deliver W's for our Nuggets!
Unless you're (oddly) the New Orleans Hornets, the other 28 teams that currently comprise the National Basketball Association should be deathly afraid of playing in Denver this season. With the exception of that Hornets debacle on Monday, the Nuggets have scored at least 110 points per home game when having a full day off in advance and have home victory margins in those games of 17, 27, 8 (and it wasn't nearly that close) and 13.
But in spite of the Nuggets home prowess when given some rest, the would-be champion Heat ostensibly had all the makings of a solid road victory entering last night's contest. Yes, they were playing the fifth game of a road trip but c'mon ... they had had a full day off before the game, had presumably dropped the only two games in a row that they will drop all season and had their full complementary of players - minus Eddy Curry of course - and LeBron James was going to prove that he could come through in a clutch situation. He even Tweeted about it beforehand.
Well, "The King" never had the opportunity to showcase his crunch-time skills because our Nuggets erupted on his Heat with 31 fourth-quarter points and controlled the energy of the game even before Dwyane Wade went down with a nasty ankle sprain around the seven-minute mark in the final period. In fact, the Nuggets held the Heat to 81 points until the 8:49 mark in the fourth quarter.
Watching the game on television, it probably looked like the Nuggets won this game by finally breaking out of their three-point shooting funk (the Nuggets were red hot from behind the arc, making a shocking 48% of their three's on 25 attempts) and dishing out more assists (26 to 19) than their opponent. But having watched the game in person, I can tell you that the Heat were simply gassed. Including the ever fit James, who was settling for jump shots early and essentially went through the motions in the fourth quarter chucking long-range jumpers whenever he felt it was convenient to do so. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra knew it, too, hence why he yanked James for James Jones with two minutes left even though the Heat - in theory - were still within earshot of a competitive finish.
Maybe the Heat should just stick with beating up on their weak Eastern Conference sisters and avoid playing against Western Conference teams altogether.
But last night's victory was more about Denver's coming out party than Miami's third straight loss. With few exceptions, it seemed like many Nugget players had their "awakening" last night, including center Timofey Mozgov who finally looked energetic and comfortable and it showed with 12 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and previously unseen friskiness that we need from the Big Moz for the remainder of the season.
Also joining in on the awakening was backup shooting guard Rudy Fernandez, who is - at last - setting his feet and squaring his shoulders when he shoots and nailed half of this three-point attempts en route to 15 points off the bench.
And the Nuggets three main staples this season - Nene, Ty Lawson and Al Harrington - were absolute studs yet again on Friday night. I don't know how many of my fellow Stiffs have had the opportunity to see Nene play in person yet or not this season, but he looks terrific physically and it seems as though he hands have gotten better. Perhaps his veteran brain has finally caught up with his body as he just seems to know where that ball is bouncing and pounces on it.
(The only disappointing performance from the Nuggets side was Danilo Gallinari who still appears to get the yips on wide open layups.)
As a ticket-paying fan, it was nice to see a fair fight on Friday night. All too often I feel like the games I attend feature a team coming into Denver on a back-to-back, are missing a key player or both. At last, we got to witness an opposing team that was ready to play and simply couldn't handle the onslaught that has become the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center.
And the rest of the NBA got to witness it, too.
Non-Stiff of the Game
Ty Lawson: 9-11 shooting, nine assists, two steals, a +/- of +16. Are you kidding me?! Lawson is now averaging over 17 points, six assists and almost two steals per game while shooting 52% from the field and 84% from the charity stripe. When Nuggets coach George Karl told me a while back that Lawson has All-Star potential, I didn't believe him. I do now.
Stiff of the Game
Chris Bosh: While James at least attempted to keep the Heat engaged in the game, Bosh disappeared. Bosh missed over half his shots and got eaten alive by Nene. If Wade is indeed hurt badly, Bosh will need to step it up before the Heat lose their fourth-straight game.
The Nuggets have one more home game - vs. Utah on Sunday night - before hitting the road for four straight heading east (including at New York next Saturday and we'll be watching the game together at Jake's for our annual Stiffs Night Out). The Nuggets have proven that they can sweep teams off the floor at home, now let's see if that momentum can be carried on the road with them.