Two weeks ago, debate raged through Nuggets nation around the strategy and integrity in which the team should approach its current season. For some, each victory represented progress for a young team and its first year coach. For others, those victories meant 2014 lottery favorites Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Marcus Smart slipping through the franchise's fingers.
Now, a win-win solution has emerged in which all Nuggets fans can root for their current team without worry about their lottery status. The answer? Root for their old team to lose!
The two dynamics converged at Pepsi Center on Saturday night. Denver, which owns New York's 2014 1st round pick (provided it's better than its own), downed the Knicks 97-95. Led by Carmelo Anthony, who was given the Kobe treatment by the Denver faithful each time he touched the ball, ex-Nuggets J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, and Raymond Felton dropped their 8th straight game, falling to 3-12 on the season. The hometown Nuggets improved their season high winning streak to five games and are now three games above .500 for the first time this season.
Denver continued its trend of strong first quarters with solid play on both ends of the floor. Andre Miller received a "member's bounce" on a last second three pointer, giving the Nuggets a 30-20 lead after one and improving Miller's three-point percentage on the year to 77%.
The Knickerbockers tightened things up in the 2nd as the majority of the Nuggets bench struggled to regain its effectiveness from the past couple of games. The exception from the bunch was Nate Robinson, whose 10 points in the frame accounted for just less than half of the team's overall tally. Overall, Denver's effort was good enough for a 51-45 lead at the midpoint.
The third quarter pace was slower than a Black Friday line at Best Buy. A late flurry of free throws from Ty Lawson stretched the lead to eight after three quarters of play.
Both offenses continued to slog through most of the 4th quarter. A couple of Tim Hardaway Jr. three pointers narrowed the score and a pair of Andrea Bargnani free throws cut the lead to two points with just over four minutes to play. Needing a response, ex-Knick Wilson Chandler came up with the shot of the night, splashing a three from the left wing and extending the Nuggets lead to five. The jumper kick-started an 8-0 run, capped off by three of Randy Foye's season high 17th point of the night.
Foye's lasting impact came on the defensive end of the floor. As Denver failed to close the game out from the line, New York received a chance to tie in the closing seconds. Defending Anthony, Foye stood his ground and forced the game tying jumper into an airball and a Nuggets victory.
Tonight's win boosts the team's winning percentage to 60% (something last year's 57 win team was unable to accomplish) in its first 15 games. Lawson turned in another strong performance with a team high 22 points and 8 assists.
The surging Nuggets now embark upon a six game whirlwind tour of the Great Lakes (Cleveland and Toronto) and Eastern Seaboard (Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Washington, Boston). In the longest road trip of his short head coaching career, it'll be interesting to see how Brian Shaw's squad responds (George Karl used to start these trips by predicting how many games he expected the team to lose). For now, Denver can revel in a victory that improves its record in the near-term and improves its draft hopes in the long term.
Stats to Ponder:
- After a 1-4 start, the Nuggets are 8-2 in their last 10 games
- The Knicks shot 6-22 from downtown (27%) while the Nuggets shot 9-24 (37%)
- Kenneth Faried left the game in the 3rd quarter with a "thigh contusion" and did not return
- Denver has two technical fouls on the year, both courtesy of Nate Robinson
- The Nuggets never trailed on the evening
- The Knicks are the least efficient offensive team in the league, with an average of 1.08 points per shot
- Carmelo Anthony scored 27 points to lead all scorers, but failed to register an assist