Last night, the Denver Nuggets took on the Houston Rockets - a team that has now lost 8 of their previous 9 (lost to Denver 105-95). Their one win among that group was a rally against the Charlotte Bobcats.
Now before you read any further, you may be asking what does this have to do with anything? Well, one thing which stood out about last night was how fantastic the Nuggets defense played. If it wasn't for a late barrage of three-pointers in garbage time, the Nuggets would have held the Rockets well below 90 points. A number very typical of a team such as the Chicago Bulls.
The question is what is the difference? Why is this Nuggets team so much better than the Nuggets team of 2011-12? Is it just the addition of Andre Igoudala and the return of Wilson Chandler? Or is it something more?
Assistant coach Chad Iske was in charge of scouting the Rockets for last night's game, and I believe he saw something which the previous eight opponents did as well. The Nuggets last night used some loading defense in their half court sets against the Rockets. The loading defense is used heavily by Celtics coach Doc Rivers and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibadeau.
Here is how it works. The court is essentially split in half horizontally. The side of the court with the ball is known as the "strong side". The other half is known as the "weak side". The principle of the loading of "load" defense is to place an extra defender on the strong side of the court. This crowds up the offensive player's ability to drive the ball and it allows easier trapping, doubling, and help defense ... etc.
Here is a visual example of the nuggets playing loading defense against a fictional team of "voldemorts" As you can see there are three Nuggets defenders on the strong side despite only two offensive players being on that side. That makes it difficult on the offensive player (or James Harden last night) to use their isolation ability.
The key to attacking this style of defense is also the second part of the defense. The team on offense must move the ball to the weak side where there is an extra man advantage. The defensive team (Nuggets here) must be disciplined and "move on a string" to recover back over to the new "strong side" by moving two defenders over. The team on defense must also be ready to attack the passing lanes as the ball is moved from strong to weak side. The Bulls are perfectly disciplined and one of the best teams I've seen execute this.
There is one added bonus to this type of defense. A team with one "star" or player who likes to use isolation offense ends up passing the ball to the weak side and gets less touches. One of the best defenses against a "star" player is to take the ball out of his hands. Last night, Harden had 7 turnovers (count them, 7 turnovers!) by moving the ball from strong side to weak side where it was picked off by the thieving Nuggets watching the passing lanes.
I'm curious to see if we will see more and more of this defense from the Nuggets, as other teams around the league also are catching on and using it.
Any comments or question?