The Denver Nuggets got themselves in some early trouble against the Houston Rockets, allowing Chandler Parsons 12 of of his 20 points in the first quarter, and allowing 7 Rockets players to reach double-digit scoring by the end. Had you known beforehand the Nuggets would hold Dwight Howard, James Harden and Jeremy Lin to reasonable scoring limits (17 of Howard's 25 points came via the Hack-a-Howard strategy), you'd have had to like the Nuggets chances. But the the boys in blue came out dragging from the beginning, and rarely showed signs of resuscitation in the third quarter, cutting the Rockets 20+ point lead back to seven before the Rockets simply walked away with the game.
Effort was to be the primary issue for the Nuggets tonight, with only Kenneth Faried and Ty Lawson showing energy from beginning to end, and their lines showed it. Ty had a monster game, with 28 points and 17 assists. And aside from 5 turnovers , the only thing that kept Ty from a 25 assist game was the atrocious shooting by the rest of the squad. Faried only had 8 points, but he went for 10 boards, and was a presence in the paint, agitating Howard and the Rockets frontcourt throughout. J.J. Hickson and Wilson Chandler each went for 14, and Evan Fournier added 10 for the Nuggets. From there, the scoring dropped off.
As to the rest of the team, Darrell Arthur looked like he might have an effective night, getting six points on 60% shooting, but didn't see the floor much, and was not a focus of the offense in his limited floor time (Shaw must have seen something I didn't as Arthur was a -7 for the night). Timofey Mozgov had some exciting moments, including a monster jam on an in-traffic breakaway, but was largely neutralized by the Rockets' Donatas Motiejunas, who had almost as many points as letters in his name (12). Jordan Hamilton had eight points on 50% shooting from the floor, but was a sieve against Parsons and spent very little time on the floor. Randy Foye had eight points, but did so on 2-of-12 shooting, and you have to wonder how much longer Brian Shaw intends to wait for Foye to catch fire before he looks to other options. Between Foye, Hamilton, and Nate Robinson, the Nuggets "hot/streaky" scorers have been a vast disappointment to start the year. You only hope they don't take us back to days of J.R. Smith and each go off for 30 on a night that we already had the game put away. Quincy Miller even dropped a 3-pointer in his single minute on the floor, outpacing ZERO points from Andre Miller in 16 minutes. I can live with Miller's low scoring nights, but one assist and two turnovers? These are the nights Andre earns his detractors. The plus/minus for Foye, Hamilton, and Miller (-14, -10 and -8 respectively) were the biggest issues on a night full of them.
So... what was worth looking at tonight?
- Ty Lawson. Ty was everywhere on the floor tonight, and was consistently in attack mode. It's become apparent that Ty is taking his leadership role and possible All Star candidacy very seriously this year, and he's starting to assuage the doubters (me included) that he would ever step into this role for the team.
- Resilience. After multiple 20 point deficits, the Nuggets closed the lead to 7, 10, and 11 points during the peaks and valleys of the second half, and actually outscored the Rockets in both the 3rd and 4th quarters. There's good things to be taken from the fact that despite a huge deficit, playing poor ball, and on the second night of a back-to-back on the road, they still kept their heads and efforts in the game.
- Brian Shaw. His calm demeanor and ability to still light a fire under the team will serve them well when they see more pressure-packed situations down the road, and his honesty with the team, the media and himself (see "Hack-a-Howard below) are refreshing.
- Effort. We covered this, but the Nuggets aren't so young and naive to not know that they MUST come out on a night like tonight with an exceptional effort, as it's their best chance of getting the Rockets on their heels while they still look to find their chemistry. Giving up points to any red jersey within 3 feet of the basket (and allowing every red jersey easy entry to the same) is not going to get the job done, and the Nuggets dug an early hole from which they could not climb out.
- Foye/Robinson/Hamilton. Discussed above, but these are the guys which the Nuggets are pinning their scoring hopes on. Not that the rest of the team cannot score, but those guys were brought in strictly for that reason, where the others have ways to help the team tangentially. Foye puts forth a lot of defensive effort, but it's not his forte, and the lack of points from this trio could spell the difference between a low playoff seed and the observatory deck.
- Hack-a-Howard. Not that I don't see the elegance of the strategy, and teams have used it to effect in the past. But, in the midst of Hack-a-Howard, the Nuggets gave up a rebound on a second FT shot, and also allowed Jeremy Lin to leak so far down the floor that they gave up a three point play on his layup trying to hack Dwight. No one was to blame for Dwight getting a rhythm at the line but the Nuggets, and it was nice to hear Shaw say he hated the strategy and they deserved what they got for using it. Plus, it's just crappy basketball to watch.
- All Star calls. The Nuggets do not have a perceived All Star on the roster just yet, and they will consistently find themselves on the short end of the stick in those 50/50 calls against teams with star power. In the first quarter, the Nuggets covered Harden brilliantly and completely down the lane, with him losing the ball out of bounds off his own leg. But the refs had stars in their eyes, and the ball stayed with the Rockets. The beginning of a long night of such calls. The Nuggets only possible hope of combatting that is to give an effort which outpaces their opponent.
Bottom line, the Nuggets earned the result they got tonight, and had few positives to hang their hat on. Things don't get any easier upcoming, with an in-conference trip to Oklahoma City and the Thunder on Monday night. The pundits will call it an easy win for the Thunder, but I'll be far more interested in the Nuggets pride and demeanor throughout the game. With the changes they're trying to undertake, no one should be hanging their head just yet. Let's hope Monday night brings better news (and maybe even a W). What did you see, Nuggets Nation?