With Kenneth Faried and Randy Foye benched for nearly the entire fourth quarter, Shaw relied upon the bench once again to provide a punch for this team, and again the Nuggets bench delivered. Jordan Hamilton and Nate Robinson provided enormous contributions off the bench after the starters sputtered early. The Nuggets also outrebounded the 76ers 52-38 behind 10 boards from J.J. Hickson and 7 from Timofey Mozgov, giving the Nuggets a huge advantage on the glass on both ends of the floor.
Tonight was a weird game. The Nuggets again struggled early and weren't able to find an offensive rhythm for nearly the entire contest. They were clearly missing the creative dynamo that Ty Lawson has become, as much of the offense was predicated on one-on-one basketball, with a number of ugly attempts coming from all over the floor - including a three point attempt from Kenneth Faried of all players - and the Nuggets struggling to create good looks for themselves. Somehow, the Nuggets buckled down and managed to secure the victory, despite relatively poor play all around.
After seeing his minutes cut more and more, then getting a DNP-CD against the Boston Celtics last night, Shaw decided to insert Evan Fournier in alongside Nate Robinson with the second unit. Fournier once again struggled, not hitting rim on a 3 point attempt late in the third quarter, and despite playing good defense still appears to have several months of rust to chip off his game. As much as I like the young Frenchman, he's got to play better with the team before Shaw is going to trust him. He's played relatively solid on defense, but his offense seems to have deserted him to this point. He cannot seem to get his outside shot to fall, and is unable to create once he's in the painted area. While its understandable for Fournier to struggle with his shot in limited playing time, at this point, Shaw must make some tough decisions about how much time Fournier should see on the court.
In a game where both teams were clearly gassed from playing the night before, J.J. Hickson managed to put himself in an awful category all his own. Seeing Hickson completely lost on defense is nothing new, but it looked like he barely cared tonight. The 76ers made layup after layup tonight as Hickson never seemed to put a body on anyone. At one point in the second quarter, he gave up an easy layup off a missed free throw because he completely missed the player he should have boxed out. When Hickson isn't dunking or rebounding the ball fiercely for this team, he's virtually worthless, as he can't seem to make a free throw (57% on the season) or play any semblance of defense. His effort on the defensive end wavers between completely disinterested and noncomittal. While he managed to contribute a double double with 12 points and 10 rebounds with a solid effort in the second half, Shaw has started to recognize Hickson's deficiencies on defense and gave significant time to Anthony Randolph in Hickson's stead. For what it's worth, Randolph filled in 15 stalwart minutes, playing solid defense, rebounding the ball, and not turning the ball over. At this point, I would like Shaw to move Hickson to the bench, start Mozgov at the C, and sub in Hickson for Faried with the second unit. Hickson is simply too much of a liability on the defensive end to be worth playing more than 15 mpg or so. When Danilo Gallinari returns, I expect Hickson to be moved to the bench with Randy Foye.
Meanwhile, Kenneth Faried also continues to struggle. Since his "thigh contusion" against the Knicks on the 29th, he hasn't looked much like the same energetic Manimal we've come to know and love. While you still see his motor going at 110%, he doesn't seem to have as much elevation and his cuts to the rim seem dull and slow. I'm one of Faried's biggest boosters, but even I can recognize when he's been off and sub-par over the previous few games, even with his double double at Toronto. After the Washington game on Monday, the Nuggets will get three straight games of rest before their next game versus the Utah Jazz in the Pepsi Center. Some nights off should do Faried and the ailing Ty Lawson good as they attempt to get right.
Tonight, though, the player of the game was Jordan Hamilton. With the Nuggets barely treading water with putting the ball in the hoop, he had a trio of enormous three pointers late in the fourth to extend the Nuggets lead to 11, which helped put the game out of reach against the 76ers. After years of residing in George Karl's doghouse, it's very refreshing to see Hamilton fill a critical role as a bench scorer for the Nuggets while contributing with rebounds and average-but-not-great defense.
With the way the Nuggets played through the first 3 1/2 quarters, it was easy to write this off as the third straight loss on a season-long road trip. Yet with another huge contribution from J-Ham, the Nuggets somehow managed to find a way to improve their record to 3-2 on this road trip. Their final game before returning to Denver will be at the Washington Wizards on Monday Night.
Opposition's Take: Liberty Ballers