At the outset of this game it seemed like the Nuggets were struggling with the dreaded Shaw-laise that has plagued the team all year. Shooters weren't challenged, bad shots were jacked up, and interim head coach Melvin Hunt called a timeout when the Knicks jumped out to a 14-8 lead. The Nuggets responded with a 17-11 run to close the quarter and tied the first frame at 25.
After that first quarter, the game was never in doubt. The Nuggets closed the first half with a 15 point lead and led by 32 to begin the final frame. Like the Nuggets, the Knicks are very much a team in transition, having jettisoned Amar'e Stoudemire, shut down Carmelo Anthony, traded Iman Shumpert and fielding a lineup featuring Cole Aldrich, Lou Amundson and Jason Smith. A part of me sincerely hopes that the Knicks return to relevance - after next season, since we hold the rights to swap first round picks with them next year - because I've always enjoyed watching the immensely entertaining drama that seems to follow that franchise on and off the court. They're genuinely fun to watch a lot of the time. It'll be interesting to see what kind of pull Phil Jackson and James Dolan will have in free agency this coming offseason.
That said, it was great to see these Nuggets cruise in what became a laugher very early on, because the going is about to get extremely tough for this young team. Everyone except for the injured Bosnian Beast Jusuf Nurkic chipped in, and the youngsters got some good developmental minutes in extended garbage time. Melvin Hunt snapped his 2 game losing streak and the team gains some positive momentum to build on going forward.
What I Saw
- There seems to be so much more "togetherness" about this team now than there was earlier this season. Players are laughing again, smiling, encouraging eachother and bench-mobbing like I feel I haven't seen since before Gallo got hurt. It's a great sign for the future and I think Hunt has helped foster a positive environment for the youngsters.
- Wilson Chandler left with knee soreness. Uh oh. That doesn't bode well for the team's chances with upcoming games against the Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors. Let's hope Ill Will uses his discretion and doesn't rush back in what are likely going to be two solid thrashings from the league's best.
- Does J.J. Hickson have a clause in his contract that states he doesn't need to play defense? Can you imagine a frontcourt featuring J.J. Hickson and Andrea Bargnani?
- Will Barton should absolutely stick around after this year. With respect to Corey Brewer, Barton is a younger, faster and smarter version of C-Brew, and has shown flashes of brilliance on both ends of the floor. He's constantly pushing the pace and driving the ball into the paint, something this team desperately needs when Ty's motor isn't running at full speed.
- Danilo Gallinari went 3-5 from deep and ended up with 9 points and 2 rebounds on 3-7 shooting overall. While I'm encouraged that his range seems to be returning, I'd like to see Gallo take less outside shots and take the ball inside more. He is an amazing distributor when he wants to be - he had a fantastic behind-the-back dribble to a touch pass to J.J. Hickson for a dunk - but most of his creativity only shows when he's attacking off the dribble. Gallo is a triple threat from 24 feet in, he just needs to remember to keep pushing it inside.
- Despite the positive signs that Gary Harris has shown in other aspects of the game, his shot is still flatly horrible. He cannot make a jumper (down to just 27% shooting on the season) and seems lost out there. While he had a nice driving dunk through the lane late in garbage time, Harris has a long way to go if he wants to earn significant rotation minutes.
The Nuggets next five games are against the Hawks, Warriors, Pelicans, Grizzlies and Rockets. I'm hopeful that the team makes these games close and perhaps even surprises a team or two. However, make no mistake about it, Hunt and the Nuggets will be sorely tested for the rest of the year. Savor this win, because it might be some time before we see another.