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Stiffs Mailbag: Attacking the zone, Jerami Grant, and Game 4 expectations

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Answering Twitter questions from Stiffs readers

NBA PLAYOFFS “u2013 DENVER NUGGETS VS LOS ANGELES LAKERS Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The introduction to this column rarely serves a purpose, so that’s why I get right into the questions. Here we go:


Good friend of the program and King of Thornton Jeff Morton dropped in the comments of my questions tweet, so I had to give him a big shout out. Denver Stiffs misses you.

As for the meme, it’s about as spot on as a meme can be when thinking about who the Nuggets are and have been. It’s also hilarious, just like the Nuggets. “Call an ambulance...but not for me” is Denver’s motto when they go down two games in a series. They look like they are down, but they are never out. They always seem to have tricks up their sleeves, maybe even a Joker here or there.

Very few times do the Nuggets not bounce back from adversity, but it’s a big deal whenever they come back. For a team that has been on the brink of elimination several times, they sure do love doing the impossible. All of a sudden, tables turn and the Nuggets are in the driver’s seat.

Let’s see if they can keep that up.


I said this on the Chick N Nuggets podcast with Jena and Gordon that should be out at some point today. The two things I would do against the zone are as follows:

  1. Play Michael Porter Jr. over Paul Millsap. The Lakers aren’t going to go to a zone with two gargantuan bigs in the game but rather just one big, most likely Anthony Davis. In these situations, the Nuggets have to attack the gaps of the zone and be comfortable shooting contested shots. They could use an additional knockdown three-point shooter out there, and Porter is the guy that checks all of those boxes. Millsap has struggled finishing through contact, and the Nuggets have to make every possession count against a zone defense look.
  2. Get Nikola Jokic the ball at the nail and space the floor. That’s the middle of the free throw line for those that don’t know. Jokic is the most dangerous player in the NBA against a zone, but in Game 3, the Nuggets struggled to get him the ball against the mismatch and didn’t space the floor when he did get it. Most of the time when Jokic gets the ball there, he’s guarded by a point guard or shooting guard like Rajon Rondo or Alex Caruso. He has to be comfortable making a quick move against those guys before help comes.

I don’t think Denver figured much of anything out. The Lakers got back into the game because of turnovers generated by the zone, but any time they go to that look, they play with fire because of Denver’s shooting mismatch potential with their personnel.

To be perfectly clear though, the Nuggets will be ready for the zone in Game 4. That’s what’s great about the playoffs is that after seeing such a blatant issue in Game 3, Denver can walk through the problem and clean things up before the next contest.

Again, get Porter out there to either be in the short corner or on the wing, get the ball to Jokic in the middle of the zone, and run/cut/screen off of his playmaking to try and generate open looks. If no opportunities come, Jokic has to be comfortable posting up Rondo, Caruso, or whoever meets him at the free throw line. He should be okay.


I have long been on the Jerami Grant bandwagon, and Game 3 was just another example of how valuable a player can be while not putting up excellent box score numbers. This time though, Grant added 26 points to the quality defense, spacing, and versatility he generally brings, and it’s what won the Nuggets the game.

There are very few players in the NBA capable of doing what Grant does, and even if he’s not the best at any of them, being the Jack-of-all-trades as a lot of positional value for what the Nuggets and the NBA are trying to accomplish now and going forward. How many players can go from competently guarding Donovan Mitchell to Anthony Davis? How many can spend heavy amounts of time on Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James and not be completely embarrassed? How many of those same players can also hit threes and slash to the rim athletically?

The list is really small. The only players in the NBA to match his points, steals, and blocks per 100 possessions while shooting over 38% from three-point range were Jayson Tatum, Jaren Jackson Jr., Michael Porter Jr., and Christian Wood. All four of those players are going to be paid a bunch of money either this offseason or next, and it’s fair to say Grant deserves a pay day after what we’ve seen.

Whatever contract he gets will be less than what a star generally makes, but he’s an elite role player, and that has value that’s difficult to put a price tag on.


I was a little bit surprised that PJ Dozier didn’t get into the game given that Gary Harris struggled to make a positive impact once again. Harris’ troubles finishing through contact at the rim have plagued him all series, and the more frequently he passes up open or poorly contested jumpers, the more he does the defense a favor while he’s out there.

However, Michael Malone found a formula that worked and stuck with it, which is all anyone can ask of the head coach in the Western Conference Finals. Every game takes on a life of its own, and given the way Denver’s bench excelled in the first half, especially Monte Morris, I’m unsurprised Malone stuck with that group in the second half. Morris earned his minutes there, and while he didn’t make a major impact in the fourth quarter, the second quarter was what won Denver the game.

Malone having the confidence to go to different lineups in different spots is incredibly important. Becoming too rigid can be the death of teams, and Denver is fortunate to have a deep enough bench that they can go to Dozier without any repercussions and expect good things to happen. If the Nuggets do go back to Dozier, I wouldn’t be surprised. He proved he had something to offer in Game 2, and that probably won’t be the last time he steps on the floor in this series.


First and foremost, I would expect Dwight Howard to start for JaVale McGee in Game 4. That lineup adjustment has been trending that way all series, and it felt like the Lakers were playing with fire trotting JaVale out there. I expect Howard to be the player guarding Jokic at the outset to try and tire out Jokic later in the game. We will see if it works.

I think LeBron James probably comes out and has a great game. It’s hard to be much better than he was in Game 3, but LeBron has proven to have another gear, and whether the Lakers say it or not, I think they have a healthy respect/fear of what the Nuggets can do late in a series. They will try to take Game 4 and kill Denver’s hopes of coming back, though this is probably the wrong team to say their hopes will be killed.

I’m going to go out on a limb here though: I think the Nuggets win Game 4. LeBron and AD had good scoring games in Game 3, but there wasn’t a lot of production from the supporting cast. KCP had 12 points. Kuzma had 11. Unless that changes, and I don’t think it will change massively, then the Lakers will need about 70 to 75 points from LeBron and AD to win it. Could they do it? Of course they can, but I don’t think they get quite that high. Maybe 65 or so.

That margin will make a big difference.