72275_phoenix_suns_v_denver_nuggets_medium_mediumSo much for the walkover predicted here earlier. And while the Nuggets were able to pull out a victory tonight, trouble is afoot…

"Championship caliber" teams, as the Nuggets are purporting to be, don't find themselves down 13 at halftime to a team that's a) old, b) played the night before, or c) played a tough game the night before.  And yet the Nuggets managed to dig themselves a 13-point deficit to a team that was all three of those things.

Thankfully, the Nuggets played like a championship caliber team…at least for the one half that really mattered.  The Nuggets took off on a remarkable 18-2 run in the second stanza, bringing the game to an even 77 points apiece to set up a thrilling fourth quarter in which the Nuggets defense finally resembled the D we fell in love with last season.

Kenyon Martin – our defensive “quarterback” as Nate aptly describes him – proved yet again how valuable he is to the Nuggets and how scarily bad we are without him. Broken pinky finger or not, K-Mart must stay on the floor.

But while the ticket holders got their money's worth tonight thanks to a highly entertaining contest, the broader Nuggets Nation must be concerned with the Nuggets lack of focus in first halves this season.  They've been able to escape with victories at home (sans the Minnesota debacle), but these lackadaisical first halves are biting them in the ass on the road.  Some fans like to say that a W is a W, but tonight felt like more of an escape than a confidence-building victory.

Some observations from the not-so-cheap-seats…

Carmelo Anthony‘s transition defense in the first half was atrocious. As my friend Keith whom I was with aptly pointed out, when Melo missed shots in the first half he bitched at the refs rather than getting back to cover his man…leaving Jared Dudley wide open for a pair of easy three’s.

…having just watched Steve Nash play in person for the first time ever, I’m a bigger fan than I was entering the game. The guy is absolutely incredible and no Nugget could guard him (except Nene on the very last Suns‘ drive of the game…phew!). Nash is also an exceptionally good actor when it comes to drawing fouls.

…Chris "Birdman" Andersen's timing is way off.  When he retrieves the ball on offense he's a step slow, allowing defenses to collapse on him quickly.  And on defense, he's too jump-happy.  It's clear that opposing teams have scouted him out thoroughly and he's not surprising anyone this season.

…the NBA's "disciplinarian tsar" Stu Jackson was in attendance.  I was tempted to thank him for ruining USA Basketball from 2002 through 2004, but thought better of it and stayed in my seat.

Stiff of the Night (a new feature in my game recaps!)…

…Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. With two seconds remaining, the Suns down two and Melo on his way to the line for two potential seal-the-deal free throws, Gentry decides that’s the time to erupt on the referees and get himself thrown out for the (correct) non-foul call on Nene when Nash drove to the rack on the prior possession. Had Melo missed one of those two free throws (very likely), the Suns would have had time to make a game-tying three if they corralled the rebound.

Non-Stiff of the Night…

…(tie) between K-Mart’s fourth quarter defense and Chauncey Billups‘ stellar play in the third quarter. K-Mart’s block on Nash near the end of the game may have been the best/signature play of the night.

Photo courtesy of NBAE/Getty Images: Garrett Ellwood