The Nuggets are doing just fine. Repeat that to yourselves, Nuggets fans.

The Nuggets do not have to blow out teams every night to see they’re playing much better of late. Despite being last in the league (still) at shooting free throws – and they missed a gruesome 14 in last night’s nailbiter against the Orlando Magic – the Nuggets are 7th in points per game, 3rd in rebounds per game, and third in assists per game. While the Nuggets are still a mediocre to sub par team defensively, as they play more home games, their defense is beginning to normalize somewhat. Of the last 10 games, the Nuggets have held 4 opponents to 90 points or less and 7 to 100 points or less. This year, the Nuggets are just 5th in the NBA in pace, the slowest the team’s played in years. Clearly, the Nuggets are at least attempting to slow the game down somewhat from the frenetic pace the franchise has consistently maintained. With a number of upcoming home games, the Nuggets should begin to see their defensive numbers climb a bit.

Yet while I hate to harp on a team that's been on a roll lately, the Nuggets must demand better free throw shooting of themselves. For a team that scores the vast majority of its points in the paint, if they were just a few percentage points from the stripe better, they might have one of the best point differentials in the NBA. For every ten free throws attempted, the Nuggets leave four points at the line. Meanwhile, Northwest rival Oklahoma City hits 8 out of every ten – and are in first place in the Western Conference. No coincidence. As great as it was to watch Kenneth Faried nearly put up a 20-20 game last night, his ugly 59% from the line will continue to hurt the Nuggets in close games.

Daily Links

Mark Cuban fined $50,000 for Tweeting about officials – Ball Don't Lie – Ball Don't Lie's Eric Freeman explores the repercussions of the outspoken Cuban's fine. While Cuban has never been one to mask his displeasure with the NBA and its officials, a fine of $50,000 is an enormous sum for the words "Im sorry NBA fans. Ive tried for 13 yrs to fix the officiating in this league and I have failed miserably. Any Suggestions ? I need help". Personally, I tend to take Eric's (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) side – if the NBA is going to start issuing fines of this magnitude, they need to start setting some guidelines for the value of the fines themselves.

The Dark Matter of Defense – Hardwood Paroxysm – A very interesting examination of some of the hidden aspects of defense in the NBA, including Dwight Howard’s recent good-bad block that set up Danilo Gallinari’s dagger 3 in the Lakers‘ recent home loss to the Nuggets. Alluding to the invisible nature of “dark matter” in the universe (theorized, currently imperceptible matter that must exist to give the universe enough mass to conform with our currently known laws of physics) Steve McPherson goes in depth explaining how defense is more than the numbers behind the player and the team, with some startling conclusions that even arise from our own perceptions of defense – like the fact that Steve Novak, of all people, is actually an underrated defender (!) because of how other players perceive his defense:

Unraveling another thread in the complicated game of basketball defense, Henry Abbott found that Steve Novak had surprisingly good defensive ratings according to Synergy Sports. One of Abbott's interesting conclusions after watching the video was that average players were being goaded into taking more difficult shots because of their perception of Novak as a bad defender. The result was often poorer shooting numbers for those players, and good grades for Novak as a defender.

Very interesting read.

Kenneth Faried puts up 19 points and 19 rebounds as Nuggets rally to beat Magic – ESPN – I have to give some extra props to Kenneth Faried for his performance against the Magic last night. With the Nuggets looking flat and disinterested for much of the game, Kenneth Faried’s relentless energy and hustle allowed the Nuggets to get back into the game when they looked on the verge of rolling over for another home loss. He had an incredible play with two missed putbacks after two missed Andre Iguodala free thows, scrambling on the floor for the ball and managing to call timeout to preserve an extra possession, which the Nuggets converted into a Ty Lawson layup. Just one point and one rebound away from a 20-20, Faried himself was surprised at his excellent play, uttering a very audible expletive during his postgame interview when informed of his statline by Blake Olsen. Faried seems to be over his recent illness and is back to showing the contagious energy so vital to the success of this Nuggets team.

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