Unable to take advantage of Andrew Bynum's absence from the Philadelphia 76ers lineup, the Denver Nuggets opened their 2012-13 season in uninspiring fashion, losing to the center-less 76ers 84-75 on Halloween night.
Given that the (supposedly, allegedly) high-scoring Nuggets mustered just 75 points in their season opener, some Halloween-themed adjectives immediately come to mind: ghastly, terrifying, haunting, eerie ... any more?
Several of the Nuggets "big negatives" from lost games during their previous season seemed to carryover into tonight's contest ...
... an injured Danilo Gallinari
... a squirrely rotation due to Gallo's absence
... too many minutes for Andre Miller
... Miller playing shooting guard (even though the Nuggets have three capable shooting guards)
... less than 20 minutes for Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee (I'm so glad the Nuggets invested handsomely in Hakeem Olajuwon's camp for these guys)
... too many missed three-pointers and the Nuggets still can't shoot straight from the outside
... an almost bail-out from a rookie (in this case, Evan Fournier who played 10 inspiring minutes)
Wasn't a full training camp supposed to remedy these issues?
No one said that opening the 2012-13 NBA season with three straight road games would be easy, but the NBA gods delivered the Nuggets a gift (or as I said on my appearance with Sandy Clough on FM104.3 The Fan this morning, "a good omen") with Bynum's injury. But rather than take advantage of this good fortune, the Nuggets squandered it. Instead of making the 76ers pay inside with aggressive drive-and-dish inside basketball, the Nuggets tried to ... well, I'm not exactly sure what the Nuggets tried to do.
Nuggets head coach George Karl, probably sensing early that this game was getting away from him, went with his "trust" players of too much Andre Miller and too much Corey Brewer. You have to believe Karl would have flown in Al Harrington for the second half if he had the option to do so.
Desperate to find a lineup that worked, Karl actually put in Fournier late in the fourth quarter and the French rookie almost single-handily turned the game around. This was reminiscent of games last season when Faried and Jordan Hamilton would give the Nuggets a spark during desperado time. But while it should be encouraging to Nuggets fans to see that Fournier is (probably) worth the first round draft trust the Nuggets have bestowed upon him, we all know this wasn't Karl's game plan.
But as my colleague Jeff Morton pointed out to me on the phone tonight while watching the game himself, the Nuggets seem to really miss Gallo. It's as if the Nuggets game plan based on Gallo being on the floor, and when he's not it throws their entire rotation into a funk. But given Gallo's history of injuries, shouldn't the Nuggets have a Plan B for when Gallo isn't on the floor? I see Gallo playing 70 games max this season, just a hunch.
In fairness to Karl and his Nuggets players, neither team could shoot straight and it's probably related to opening night jitters. The 76ers connected on less shots (35.3%) than Denver did (37.5%), but more than made up for it by getting to the free throw line for 21 attempts compared to the Nuggets paltry 11 tries. The 76ers made 12 more free throws than the Nuggets did - that's almost the scoring difference right there.
And 20 Nuggets turnovers compared to 19 Nuggets assists will assure a loss to anyone.
But since it's just opening night, let's not harp on the negatives too much. There were some positives to glean from this game. First things first, the 20 year old Fournier's debut performance was huge. He played more confidently than the second year Hamilton and clearly has a better stroke than Brewer (who had no problem attempting 6 cringe-worthy three-pointers). Secondly, Faried and McGee seemed to make the most of the few minutes granted to them, combining for 14 rebounds, 3 blocks and being active around the rim. Thirdly, Kosta Koufos played within his game, missed just one shot and grabbed 9 boards. And finally, when the newly re-signed Ty Lawson finally got his shit together in the fourth quarter the Nuggets almost had a full comeback on their hands. Proving once again that the Nuggets will go as Lawson goes.
As Bill Hanzlik pointed out in the Altitude TV post-game show, the Nuggets' offense had looked sluggish in their last few pre-season games and their struggles to find any rhythm offensively right now seems to have continued into the regular season. Now the Nuggets need to right their offensive ship Friday against an Orlando team expected to be dreadful.
Non-Stiff of the Game
-Spencer Hawes: I shouldn't have called out Hawes as a Stiff in my game preview, because he ate the Nuggets alive with 16 points (including 2-3 from three point range), 12 rebounds, 2 steals and 5 blocks.
Stiff of the Game
-Wilson Chandler: I hate to call out Chandler as he recovers from a hip injury, but he looked overweight and sluggish en route to a mere 5 points on 2-8 shooting for a +/- of -7 in 20 minutes of play. The Nuggets need Chandler to get into better shape soon if he's to be a producer off the Nuggets bench this season.
Not the start Nuggets fans - and those who predicted that the Nuggets could finish as high as first in the Western Conference - had hoped for to open the 2012-13 NBA season. But just like we shouldn't read too much into the Lakers' opening night home loss to a depleted Mavericks team, we probably shouldn't read too much into the Nuggets' disappointing opening night road loss.
Remember to attend this Saturday's STIFFS NIGHT OUT at Jake's Food & Spirits, located at 3800 Walnut Street, Denver, CO 80205. We will be gathering at 5:00pm to watch the Nuggets take on the Heat in Miami. We will play Nuggets trivia to win tickets to the Nuggets/Heat game and the Nuggets/Warriors game. We will also be giving away a signed basketball by JaVale McGee and new uniform Nuggets T-shirts! And all trivia proceeds will go to Denver Hooperz, a non-profit program that brings basketball to at-risk youths in the Denver area.