The Nuggets concluded their seven-game road trip with another loss to the Western Conference's worst team. These two losses could come back to haunt us at month's end.
Don't think for a second that the Nuggets lost at New Orleans to the lowly Hornets because of an errant inbounds play with two seconds remaining. As unbelievably stupid as that play was (a cross-court pass? really?!), the Nuggets were lucky to be down only two points at that juncture to begin with. Because for the second time in four meetings, the Hornets outplayed our Nuggets for much of the game and should have won more handily.
Nevermind that prior to tonight's contest, the Hornets had mustered a mere five home victories. Five! And making this loss even more embarrassing is the fact that the Hornets were without starting point guard Jarrett Jack, without starting center Emeka Okafor and were bringing back rusty players such as Eric Gordon (who had played twice all season before tonight), Trevor Ariza (who has missed the previous four games) and Carl Landry (who had missed two straight games and 23 straight games prior to that due to injuries).
Somehow, someway the Nuggets made the mixed-bag-of-players Hornets look like a fine-tuned machine.
Yet again, Nuggets head coach George Karl elected to play most of the fourth quarter with an undersized lineup (although he lost one of them in Andre Miller early in the fourth due to a flagrant foul that led to an ejection). While the Hornets played big with Chris Kaman, Jason Smith, the rangy Ariza and Landry, Karl opted to go small with Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton. The strategy didn't work in two ways: not only didn't the Nuggets get any easy, at-the-rim buckets (evident by the 42% shooting overall on the night and the 41-32 rebound disadvantage) but the small lineup wasn't able to guard the three-point line nor shoot a three-pointer themselves ... a continuing problem for the 2011-12 Denver Nuggets.
I can't remember a Nuggets loss where the opposition had such a balanced attack. All five Hornets starters - plus Landry - finished the game in double figures with only the super rusty Gordon shooting worse than 50% from the field. Miraculously (and I mean that in a bad way), the Nuggets allowed a team that shoots 44.7% from the field nightly to make 52% of their field goals and 50% of their three-pointers. The Nuggets also ceded 27 free-throw attempts to the Hornets and Gordon - despite missing virtually the entire season - had the instincts to draw a crucial shooting foul on Afflalo with two seconds remaining while the seasoned Afflalo fell for the fake. Hook, line and sinker.
It's beyond frustrating to be a Nuggets fan right now.
With just 12 games remaining in this lockout-shortened season, it's clear that the Nuggets leaders-by-committee approach isn't working. While in theory they may have three or four players who "could" take over a game, in reality they have none. While in theory they have many interchangeable parts that can compete with any opponent on any night, in reality they almost have too many combinations for Karl to tinker with ... meaning no rotation consistency or cohesiveness whatsoever. These issues could be as much on Masai Ujiri (for continually shaking up the roster and bringing in younger and younger players) and the training staff (how many nagging injuries have Nuggets players sustained this season?) as on Karl himself.
But regardless of who is to blame, the Nuggets insistence on pissing away winnable games could cost them a playoff seed, and their poor performance against the Hornets on Wednesday night doesn't bode well for their immediate future.
Non-Stiff of the Game
-Chris Kaman: The Hornets center played like he was in a contract year. Oh, wait ... he is in a contract year! With just a few games to go before he gets handsomely overpaid by a stupid NBA owner, Kaman put up 14 points, 10 rebounds and season-high 5 blocks against the Nuggets. Of course, it helps when opposing centers JaVale McGee, Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov hardly play.
Stiff of the Game
-Corey Brewer: Nate's Stiff List nominee for this week, Brewer missed all seven of his field goal attempts, had a +/- of -18 and threw away the inbounds pass at game's end. Oh, and he made sure that two of his seven attempts were three-pointers ... a shot Brewer should cease taking altogether.
The Jazz and Suns are getting closer and closer in the Nuggets' rear-view mirror. Should the Nuggets miss the post-season for the first time in nine years, their two losses against the Hornets might be the ones they wish they had back the most.