The Birdman was the word

The old proverb warns: Never look a gift horse in the mouth. My take? The Denver Nuggets got a great look at Gregg Popovich’s molars last night.

The Nuggets ended the Spurs four game win streak and won the season series against San Antonio 2-1. This could prove to be a great tiebreaker for the Nuggets in the playoffs or it could prove to mean nothing.

The arrogance Popovich showed last night in not using either Tim Duncan or Tony Parker (Ginobili was apparently hurt) was a slap in the face to the Nuggets. Pop basically said two things last night:

  1. The Spurs wont need the tiebreaker with Denver come season’s end.

  2. The Spurs are not afraid of losing homecourt in a playoff series.

I can’t say that I totally disagree with Pop. The Spurs have beaten the Nuggets twice recently in the playoffs (both series went 4-1 for S.A.). So, I’m sure the Spurs don’t fear having to break homecourt at Pepsi Center if it came down to it. But the key for Denver could be if this giveaway game matched the Spurs up with the Lakers in the playoffs. Going to LA LA land before the Western Conference Finals seems almost like a death wish.

I will thank Pop for the win, but the Nuggets nearly blew a 17-point lead en route to their 104-96 win over the Spurs other starters and bench. The non-Big 3 Spurs scored 23 points combined versus the Golden State Warriors on February 2, but played with a lot of energy early and a lot of heart late.

Roger Mason scored 26 points to lead the way for the Spurs. This Mason kid is legit. He showed last night that he could handle an increased scoring load by more than doubling his season scoring average of 11.9 ppg. Could he carry this Spurs team if say Manu missed extended time? I don’t think so, but he’s an above average role player with a sweet stroke from the outside.

Another guy who impressed me last night was the rookie from IUPUI George Hill. The kid only goes 6’2’’ and 180 pounds, but he plays bigger than that. He’s got long arms and broad shoulders that seemed to allow him to get to the rim and shield his shots enough versus bigger defenders. He was only 4-14 last night for 9 points, but you can tell that he loves to play an up-tempo style that utilizes his speed. He’d be a major weapon on a team that didn’t rely heavily on the half-court set.

The Spurs used nine different players last night and rookie Malik Hairston along with scoring his career high of 12 points seemed to relish the role of being Melo’s pest.

Melo led the Nuggets with 35 points on 10-17 shooting and outshot the entire Spurs team at the free throw line going 14-15 to the Spurs 9-14 combined.

Denver struggled early before an 8-1 run at the 3:49 mark capped by an Anthony Carter layup gave Denver the lead back 20-19. The Nuggets closed the quarter in dramatic fashion. Chris Anderson blocked two consecutive shots, the first on Mason’s layup attempt and on the next possession Hill blew by Anderson down the left side of the lane and the Birdman rejected his layup attempt as well. The Birdman has said he likes to let guys think they got by him so that he can swat their shot from behind. He did exactly that on two consecutive Spur possessions and preserved Denver’s 31-25 lead.

Birdman wasn’t done either. To open the second quarter Anderson scored 6 of Denver’s first 8 points and two of his patented monster dunks electrified the home crowd and the Nuggets’ bench. Bird checked out of the game at the 7:08 mark of the second quarter to a standing ovation and a 39-25 Nuggets lead. He has played a major role for Denver being the first big man off the bench. I was happy that the Nuggets resigned him in the offseason, but there is nobody out there that could have told us he’d be having this big of an impact on the team. He is the 4th leading shot blocker

in the NBA and he only averages 18 minutes a game. Anderson finished the night with 11 points and 4 blocks – huge performance once again.

Scary moment in the second quarter happened when Chauncey Billups drove in for an easy layup over Jacque Vaughn and came down awkwardly on his ankle. Billups tried limping a bit down court and came back into the game after a Nuggets timeout, but eventually had to leave the game at the half and didn’t return. Reports from the Denver tell us X-rays were negative and Billups is listed as day-to-day. Not having Billups the rest of the way proved ugly.

Denver coughed up a 17 point lead and the Spurs were down 80-78 before Melo returned to the floor and the Nuggets were able to muster a 9-0 run capped by a JR Smith three-pointer (1-10 shooting on the night) that forced the Spurs to call a timeout.

Denver was able to get the win, but it wasn’t a good one. I can only come up with one good excuse for Denver. Melo said postgame that they were game planning for the Big 3 and indicated that the team was a little thrown off by all of them sitting out. So, getting amped to play a big game and then putting it on cruise control got the Nuggets into trouble.

The Nuggets got big games from Melo, Birdman, Nene, Anthony Carter, and Linas Kleiza. Kleiza found his stroke from downtown (3-6 from three range), but also managed to mix things up by getting to the rim on a couple of occasions. I would still like to see Linas get it in his head that he can drive to the rim whenever he needs and make that a bigger part of his game.

I am probably one of the bigger critics of AC’s, but I have to give the guy his due. He has really been distributing the ball well recently and had a team high 9 assists last night. AC also is trying to go old school Nuggets basketball circa Andre Miller by incorporating the lobs back into the mix. I think he was 1-2 last night on his lob attempts.

It may have been ugly, but it was a win. Denver can sort of skirt the ugliness last night without having Kenyon Martin in the lineup (strep throat) and Billups missing the second half – but still … yuck. Denver is now 32-16 overall and will be heading out on a season long eight game road trip starting tonight in Oklahoma City.

Views you can use:

  • Anthony Carter has 33 assists in his last 5 games – almost 2 more per game than his season average of 4.9

  • Chauncey Billups has 12 assists in his last 5 games – he averages 6.4 apg on the season
  • The Nuggets continued their poor three-point shooting by going 5-16 from downtown, which is good for 31.3% – the Nuggets as a team shoot 36.8%