Some times a team just has your number.
While the Denver Nuggets have looked like a completely rejuvenated team since interim head coach Melvin Hunt took over earlier this month, they have yet to figure out the Houston Rockets. The Rockets, who beat the Nuggets in Denver just two weeks ago, ran out to an early lead and never looked back. The Nuggets made a push to start the 4th quarter, going on an 11-2 run which cut the lead down to 92-84 with just over 8 minutes to go in the game. Rockets coach Kevin McHale inserted James Harden back into the game and the Rockets immediately went on a 7-1 run, effectively putting the game out of reach.
The Nuggets showed a lot of heart throughout the game, making several runs despite continually finding themselves down double digits. Wilson Chandler and Randy Foye each poured in 23 points and Kenneth Faried recorded a 19 point, 12 rebound double-double. Foye got hot in the 3rd quarter hitting three-threes in a row. Unfortunately, the night belonged to Harden who finished with a career high 50 points, 22 of which came at the free throw line. Just look at his shot chart. Not exactly what you picture for a 50 point game.
The worst of the worst
The biggest stylistic difference between coach Hunt and former coach Brian Shaw is that Hunt allows, even encourages, his team to play loose on offense. All players are given a green light with the trust that they will look for high percentage shots and share the basketball. That philosophy has worked wonderfully for the most part as nearly all of the Nuggets players have shown a huge boost in confidence and the team has played with a new sense of pride and joy. The downside is that on occasion that loose style can become a bit chaotic. When too many possessions end with ill-advised shots or sloppy decision making, the rhythm of the game gets sucked right out of the offense.
That has happened several times during this two-week run but tonight it was basically 48 minutes of rhythmless basketball. Credit much of that to the Rockets. They are pretty well designed to take advantage of teams like Denver, converting missed shots into fast break opportunities. The free-flowing offense is the right style for our personnel, but tonight was a reminder that the team still has some room to improve in terms of efficiency.
Despite struggling to find a rhythm on offense, the Nuggets still played hard. Games like tonight's would have turned into a 30+ point loss under Shaw and the team would have showed a complete lack of pride. Tonight, the Nuggets battled through lots and lots of adversity and forced the home team to fight all the way down to the wire. The Nuggets never really threatened the outcome, but they weren't going to let the Rockets win without earning it. That is the type of effort Nuggets fans can hang their hat on. In the Melvin Hunt era, the Nuggets have won some games and lost some games, but they have always battled.