With the New York Knicks nipping at the heels of the Atlanta Hawks for the 8th playoff spot in the East - and a Nuggets lottery pick hanging in the balance - it's hard to get too mad at the results of this one. The team went down 16-3 early and seemed on the verge of giving up, but they fought back and showed a lot of heart despite the end result.
Ultimately, this game can be summed up in one stat: 0-12. Ty Lawson didn't make a shot and it was clear that he was off all night. He was hesitant to drive into the paint and letting Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder blow by him on the regular. Lawson did dish out 11 assists and hauled in 9 rebounds, but as the team's top scorer he has to pour in points in order for this team to have a real shot at winning.
For their part, the Hawks played solidly. Unsurprisingly, Paul Millsap lead the way with 24 points on 6-17 shooting against Denver's defensively-challenged frontcourt. Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague took turns carving the Nuggets up inside or raining 3s from deep (4-4 for Korver on the evening) and the Nuggets simply didn't have a lot of answers for them. Center Pero Antic also had some huge shots for the Hawks, including a fadeaway 20 foot jumper that ultimately gave the Hawks the lead for good.
The Nuggets had a huge rebound advantage over the Hawks (54-38), but their 20 turnovers - including 8 combined between Timofey Mozgov and Wilson Chandler - gave the Hawks too many opportunities to capitalize on. The Hawks also managed to drop 14 shots from beyond the arc, +18 over the Nuggets 8 made three pointers. For a team 5th in the league in 3 point defense this year, watching the Hawks score 42 points from outside was a clearly symptom of tired legs struggling to close out on the perimeter.
Brian Shaw acknowledged that near the end of the game he made a mental error in not inserting another big during Teague's final two free throw attempts, allowing Antic to collect the offensive rebound and seal the victory for the Hawks. I like seeing Shaw own up to his mistakes and point out where he could do better, an encouraging sign of growth from the young head coach.
This was another "good loss" for this team, both in the sense that it helps keeps some distance between the Knicks and the Eastern Conference playoffs and in that the Nuggets played very hard to try and scrap out a win. They easily could have given another no-effort performance after going down 16-3 in the first quarter and as many as 21 at one point, but they fought the rest of the game after the first quarter, even taking the lead in the fourth. They simply couldn't overcome Ty's ghostly performance and the Hawks barrage from outside.
Kenneth Faried is playing on another level right now. After dropping 24 and 10 on the Miami Heat the night before, Faried put up 24 and 7 on 9-13 shooting against the Hawks and one of the better frontcourts in the league (well, at least when Horford is healthy). His renewed energy and effort is a joy to watch right now. His offense seems revitalized as he gains confidence and new looks on the inside and his defensive mistakes are diminishing, though still there. The Manimal recently stated that he's "an All-Star", and he's backed up his words with some excellent play of late. It will be interesting to see how this late-season surge influences the Nuggets contract negotiations with Faried in the coming year.
J.J. Hickson also had a relatively solid game with an 11 point and 10 rebound effort, and seems much more comfortable in his role coming off the bench. Kudos to Shaw for finally recognizing that Hickson's value can be maximized when he's not asked to guard starters and can instead give a much more solid effort against bench players and in the right position on the court. I've been pretty hard on J.J. in the recent past, but I definitely feel he's been more relaxed and played with a better flow since his move to the bench.
Lumps of Coal
Despite some flashes of promise, Timofey Mozgov has been mostly disappointing to me as the starting center for this team. The one thing the Nuggets need Timofey to provide is consistency, and the only thing Mozgov seems to be consistent at lately is turning the ball over (4 tonight) or missing easy layups near the rim. Moz also seems to be sluggishly slow-footed of late, and seems incapable of providing the interior toughness the Nuggets need from the center spot. It's troubling to think that the Nuggets are again in a position where neither of their centers may be starting caliber, though some long-term hope may be on the horizon in Joffrey Lauvergne.
Lawson's 0-12 night was not as awful as it looks in light of his 11 assists and 9 rebounds, but with Randy Foye also struggling, the Nuggets simply cannot afford to have their starting backcourt combine for 2-18 shooting and 10 points. Lawson was hesitant all night, and I kept asking myself if Ty's ankle was bothering him after tweaking it on an early play. As good as he has been for this team lately, 0-12 is not acceptable from Ty for this team to expect to win.
Also, I counted 3 airballs from Evan Fournier this game, who also needs to work on his consistency. He looked completely out of it most of the game, and let some ticky-tack fouls take away what little momentum he managed to create for himself.
The Nuggets went 2-3 on their 5-game long road trip, and will return to take on the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night in the Pepsi Center (8:30 PM MST, ESPN).