A text from my good friend after Wednesday night's embarrassing loss to the Cavaliers hits the nail on the head. Truer words haven't been spoken about this season's incarnation of the Denver Nuggets. After winning 4 hard-fought games, 3 against winning record Western conference playoff teams (and a scrappy Sacramento Kings squad), the Nuggets laid an egg...against the Cavaliers?
Denver: 22-18 (11-9 at home)
Streak: Lost 1
New Orleans: 9-30 (5-14 on the road)
Streak: Lost 3
Denver: Rudy Fernandez (lower back strain) is doubtful. Timofey Mozgov (left ankle sprain) is day-to-day. Kosta Koufos (knee tendinitis) is day-to-day.
New Orleans: Gustavo Ayon is day-to-day (sore left foot). Eric Gordon is out indefinitely (arthroscopic knee surgery). Carl Landry is out (sprained left knee). Emeka Okafor is out indefinitely (sore left knee). Jason Smith is out indefinitely (concussion).
Season Series: 1-1
Opposition's Take: At The Hive
After the blockbuster trade which sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, and Al-Farouq Aminu, the New Orleans Hornets have struggled mightily this season. Both Gordon and Kaman have suffered injuries preventing them from becoming regular rotation players and the Big Easy Bugs have been unable to find many answers in their absence.
While trade rumors have swirled around Chris Kaman all season, the only rumors around his sharp shooting compatriot Eric Gordon have been about whether he will be able to play at all. Although it appeared that earlier in the season the Hornets were shopping Chris Kaman, the organization decided to hold on to him - at least for the present. The NBA is 6 days away from the trade deadline, and it is possible that a team with a need for a big body in the paint may look to scoop Chris Kaman up. The Nuggets have one more game against the Hornets this season and the look of the team might still change.
Way back on January 6th, the Nuggets handled the Hornets in Louisiana, riding a healthy Danilo Gallinari to a 96-88 victory (though the game definitely appeared in doubt in the early going). Then, in a consistently frustrating pattern this season, the Nuggets then went on to play a listless game at home against the Hornets 3 days later and lost 94-81, with Carl Landry's 21 points leading the way.
The Nuggets must do a better job of protecting their home court. They have already dropped 9 games at home, more than they did in 41 games last season. For some additional perspective, 9 home losses is more than the Nuggets have lost at home since the 2006-2007 season. Perhaps it is the condensed schedule, perhaps it is due to the new roster additions (and subtractions), but for whatever reason, Denver cannot seem to get themselves on track at the Pepsi Center. Of the 9 losses at home, 4 were to the Hornets, Jazz, Golden State, and Cavaliers, all below-.500 teams. Home losses against teams the Nuggets should beat are going to cost this team playoff positioning, and may have already cost them a shot at home court advantage in the first round.
As always, to win, the Nuggets must look to run and run early - while protecting the ball. In Wednesday's loss to the Cavaliers, the Nuggets turned the ball over 17 times, 7 from Ty Lawson alone. Playing at a fast pace is important to the Nuggets' gameplan of scoring easy baskets in transition, but a fast pace means nothing if you are constantly turning the ball over. Getting Chris Kaman to expend energy on the defensive end guarding Gallinari and Nene will minimize him as a threat in the post, and so the Nuggets must make a constant threat to work the ball into the low post instead of remaining perimeter - particularly with Okafor and Landry out with injuries. The Nuggets must also look out for the dynamic former Laker Trevor Ariza and Jarrett Jack. Hopefully, the Nuggets recent pattern of giving a player on the opposing team a career night can be stopped here.
SCOUTING THE HORNETS
Jarrett Jack - In 2012, Jack is averaging a career-high in points (14.5), assists (6.1), and rebounds (3.9). Jack is a crafty player and has the speed to keep up with Ty Lawson. Ty must be careful to not let himself be taken out of his rhythm by the pesky Jack.
Chris Kaman - Has a team-leading nine double-doubles on the season, including 6 in his last 7 games.
Jason Smith - The 7'0" Colorado State product is averaging just 8 points on 47% shooting in 21 minutes per game. How can one shoot less than 50% from the field when you're that tall?
Solomon Jones - Somehow, he's even worse than Jason Smith, shooting 39% from the field and collecting just under 3 rebounds per game - as a center. Yeesh.
Nuggets and Notes: