"In the pits you go no lower, the next stop is underground" - For Your Life, Led Zeppelin
Little did Robert Plant know that 36 years after he wrote that lyric for Led Zeppelin he would be describing a must win game for the Denver Nuggets when they play the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis tonight. It's time to lay the cards on the table and play like it's your last game on earth.
Denver: 15-12 (8-5 on the road)
Streak: Lost 5
Indiana: 17-9 (7-2 at home)
Streak: Lost 2
Denver: Timofey Mozgov (left ankle sprain) and Danilo Gallinari (left ankle sprain) are both out. Corey Brewer (personal reasons) is a game day decision.
Indiana: George Hill (chip fracture) is out. Jeff Foster (back) is day to day
Season Series: 0-0
Opposition's Take: Indy Cornrows
The Indiana Pacers are a good team.
Other than that, I'm not terribly sure what to write about these guys. Honestly. Am I supposed to praise them for their "team" play? Should I point out that they have sharpshooting Danny Granger? Should I mention they have David West ... he of the fade away jumper and permanent scowl? Should I point out that Tyler Hansbrough has been relegated to bench duty, and still has the most angular shoulders in the league? I think I may point out that Darren Collison is a point guard very much in the mold of Ty Lawson. I will also point out that Roy Hibbert is turning himself in to quite a serviceable NBA center.
Truth be told, the Nuggets and Pacers are built in a "team" fashion. I'm not sure it was intentional in either case. Obviously Larry Bird had a vision about how to put a team on the floor, and it involved some mocking (quite memorably by my fellow Stiffs writer Andrew Feinstein). Masai Ujiri has gone about it in a different way, but it obviously is to the same desire. No one above team. I have some quibbles with the notion that a team with "stars" won't play as a team. That seems to be as fallacious a notion as saying no one on either the Pacers or the Nuggets can't "become" a star. However - it is what it is.
Beyond the rundown of the roster, the Pacers are quite good at home (aside from two perplexing losses to the Orlando Magic) and the Nuggets must remember forever the second quarter of last year's game in Indianapolis where the Pacerts hit 22 of 23 shots. Never again Nuggets, never again.
I'll eschew my usual Nuggets of wisdom and go on a rant. I could see the confidence of this team take a hit in the Clippers game at home on Sunday, January 29th when there were some odd plays drawn up at the end of the game featuring Al Harrington. Away from the now injured Danilo Gallinari who was driving to the hoop and drawing fouls up untill the final three minutes. Then the following game the team's confidence took a further hit when, in Memphis while playing the Grizzlies ... the Nuggets lost a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter. Gallo was cold all game (1-10), and was taken out midway through the third quarter never to return. Meanwhile Andre Miller missed a shot at the end of regulation, and the Nuggets failed to execute - again - a final shot for a cold Rudy Fernandez in overtime (who sat all of the fourth quarter by the way).
The next night a rested Nuggets club began their back-to-back-to-back in style by beating the Clippers like a rented mule. Good start right? The very next night against the Lakers, close game, no Gallo ... final shot for big Al (who shot a three when the Nuggets needed two). This, in my opinon, sealed the Nuggets spiral and sent them down the path they are in now. I'm not blaming George Karl for these losses. I am, however, saying that he has inadvertently cut the team off at the knees by building up a player like Gallo who for all intents and purposes is the Nuggets best player and then showing a complete lack of confidence in him at the end of games. It's contradictory and you can't tell me a team doesn't sense that. It kills the confidence of young players when you passively indicate that you want someone to be "the man" and then you only insert your "trust guys" at the end ... and they fail consistently. I'm not saying Gallo will be the be-all and end-all, but I AM saying that the team knows that he is their best player.
There's a pack mentality to team sports. Players will instinctively follow the best player on the team. You can tell this Nuggets team trusts Gallo, and combined with the close game losses and now his own ankle injury (which came while he was torturing the Houston Rockets with aggressive drives to the basket) you get a rudderless team that lacks a certain amount of swagger. A certain swagger they had when they started 14-5. It's gone now. Combine this with Timofey Mozgov going down. Moz, while by no means spectacular, was a presence in the paint in his limited time on the floor. This also was extremely beneficial to the Nuggets' defense.
Solution. Acknowledge that Gallo is your "guy" on the team. Then say, without him each and every player needs to step up and play as if it's their last game ever. There's really no other way to put it, this is a MUST win. You can't hope for Wilson Chandler to come along an save the day. That's a dubious claim at best, and quite frankly if Wilson Chandler is you savior - your season is probably down the drain anyway. Ill Will is a good player, but not a season saving type of player.
Also, the Pacers have been struggling a bit. They lost last night to the Memphis Grizzlies (also, it is their fourth game in five nights). Hopefully the Nuggets can take advantage of this and break out of this horrible slump they are in. In the last game against the Golden State Warriors, Arron Afflalo remembered that he is a part of this team and scored 26 points. This needs to continue. Nene Hilario needs to remind himself that beast mode Nene is better than passive/scared Nene. Ty Lawson needs to drive the lane and draw contact. Stacking the lane only works if you don't drive the ball. Nuggets need to play more Kenneth Faried right now. They NEED his energy. This will eventually pay off down the road.
All in all, as I said, the Nuggets need to play every game that Gallo is out like a one game elimination. Enough of this pseudo-tired passive-defense playing squad we have seen the last four games. Play like every game means it. It will be THAT much better when Gallo returns.
Twitter: @jmorton78 https://twitter.com/#!/jmorton78