It was great to see the Nuggets leaders step up on the road while missing their leading scorer in Danilo Gallinari. We got Ty Lawson scoring 30, Andre Iguodala with a near
triple quadruple double (29-8-7-5) and solid, mostly excellent defense. I suspect know most Nuggets fans began hyperventilating when the Blazers took the lead late in the third quarter and scrapped mightily through the fourth, but the Nuggets showed some commendable poise against a team that's dominated them recently in their house. Although the Grizzlies seem to have forgotten how to lose since trading away Rudy Gay - winning 8 in a row - the Nuggets have maintained striking distance at just 2 1/2 games back.
While Damian Lillard and a clearly gimpy Wes Matthews hit some incredible shots, their play simply couldn't overcome superlative games from their counterparts in both Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala. Lawson scored 30 points on an efficient 12-22 shooting, racked up 6 assists and chipped in two steals. For his part, Iguodala scored 29 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, and recorded 5 steals, though this bursting LeBron-esque line is marred somewhat by 5 turns.
Throughout the first half and all the way through to when Wilson Chandler picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter, the Nuggets were eviscerating the Blazers. They were playing tough, rotating defense, spiking the ball into transition baskets and picking off Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum with ease. Every time the Blazers turned the ball over heading to the Nuggets basket, the Nuggets turned it right into a dunk or layup within seconds.
The Nuggets ended up with 22 fast break points and 16 steals, executing for the easy buckets they're becoming so well known for. The Blazers ended up fumbling the ball away 19 times in the course of the game,
One thing that caught my eye was how well Anthony Randolph and Javale McGee played off one another. Randolph has played well in his limited minutes lately, and the combination of Randolph and McGee gives the Nuggets freakish length (if not girth) in the frontcourt. They're scoring efficiently, playing relatively good defense and are definitely capable of forcing some truly ugly shots from their opponents.
I'd like to continue to see McGee and Randolph on-court together, as I suspect with more minutes they'll start to prove how effective they can be against teams taking it into the paint. McGee was limited tonight due to foul trouble, but continues to play better and better lately (how about those two-handed rebounds!)
It was concern to see the Nuggets give up 32 points (and the lead) in the third quarter, despite their repeated emphasis on playing better defense throughout the game on the road. Those 16 steals were offset by 15 turnovers of their own, with 5 from Andre Iguodala and 4 from Andre Miller.
I can mostly forgive Andre Iguodala for his turnovers when he was being asked to handle the ball this much in Gallo's absence, but Miller's turnovers were egregious. Several times he simply passed the ball directly to Lillard or into another Blazer player's hands in the first half, leading to momentum-killing dunks. While I've mostly come to accept that Andre Miller will always be a defensive liability from here out, it's frustrating to see him continue to turn the ball over so frequently. Still, he dished out 10 assists of his own, and kept the Nuggets in the game with a critical bucket late under the hoop.
Another poor shooting night from three (3-14 is still better than 0-22) and 13 missed free throws (18-31) weren't enough to derail the relentless energy of this team, but their issues from the line will come back to haunt them in games like this. We've already seen several games throughout the year the Nuggets may have won were they better from the line, and the coaching staff must preach discipline when these free points are proffered up.
This team lives in the paint and thus at the line, and the line has been unforgiving to the Nuggets this year. Two missed free throws opened the door for the Blazers late, but LaMarcus Aldridge shortarmed a normally money turnaround jumper. If the Nuggets continue to put their fates in the hands of lady luck and leave these 2 and 3 point openings for good teams with excellent shooters, they're setting a worrying precedent heading into the playoffs.
The Nuggets will now rest up for a big game against the Thunder at home on Friday (8:30 MST), which will also be nationally televised on ESPN. If the Nuggets can put up two straight Ws against the Blazers at home and the 2nd-seeded Thunder, it will go a long way towards giving this young team confidence going into the final stretch run.
Opposition's take: Blazers Edge
|San Antonio Spurs||59||45-14||.763|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||57||42-15||.737|
|Los Angeles Clippers||59||41-18||.695|
|Golden State Warriors||58||33-25||.569|
|Los Angeles Lakers||58||28-30||.483|
|Portland Trail Blazers||57||26-31||.456|
|New Orleans Hornets||59||20-39||.339|