Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Game 50: Nuggets @ Wizards

(Denver-CO) The Denver Nuggets have a golden opportunity tonight to extend their current winning streak to four games for the third time this season against the woeful Wizards. Washington is tied with the Clippers for the league’s worst team, record-wise, at 10-39 and have lost seven of their last eight games with their only win coming against -guess who - the Clippers!

This game is a bit of a homecoming for Carmelo Anthony. ‘Melo, who was born in Redhook, Brooklyn, New York, moved to nearby Baltimore when he was eight years old. And if prior games against the Wizards are any indication of what we should expect tonight it should be an awesome game for Anthony.

Carmelo scored his career-high of 49 points against the Wizards back on February 8th, 2008 and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if part of the fuel for that performance came from Andray Blatche shooting his mouth off saying that he is the best thing to ever come out of Syracuse. Furthermore, ‘Melo is averaging 39.3 points and shooting 64.5 percent (49-for-76) in his last three meetings with Washington.

The Wizards, despite their inability to win this season and the seemingly endless recovery of Gilbert Arenas, are not without star power. Caron Butler is one of only two players (the other being LeBron James) averaging at least 20 points, six rebounds and four assists per game. The Wizards also have jack-of-all-trades forward, Antawn Jamison. The former College Player of the Year winner out of the University of North Carolina has poured in five consecutive double-doubles while averaging 22.8 points and 11.8 rebounds during that stretch. Antawn leads the Wizards in both scoring and rebounding while hoisting the second most three-point attempts per game on the team.

But enough about Washington!

The Nuggets are going to evaluate Chauncey Billups and Kenyon Martin before the game, but it wouldn’t be a shock to me if Billups sits. The Wizards are just not a team he needs to rush coming back for, but Kenyon’s presence would be a plus for the Nuggets against the big front line of Washington. The beefy Darius Songaila and seven-foot tandem of JaVale McGee and Oleksiy Pecherov are going to be a load for Big Brazil and the Birdman to handle without K-Mart. Notice how I purposely left out talented from the adjectives I used to describe them…

With all that laid out, this is another game the Nuggets should win handedly so that probably means it will come down to the final few possessions. It’s almost like the Nuggets have been playing with their opponents of lesser caliber as of late, and that’s ok if you’re winning, but in the long run it’s a very bad habit to get into. In tonight’s game, I would like to see Denver put an old fashioned ass kickin’ on the Wizards of which afterwards we can see Sonny Weems get some playing time.

Go Nuggets!

Carmelo Steals Oklahoma's Thunder - Again!

(Denver-CO)) This game against the Thunder was like a bad roller coaster of which you throw up after getting off of only to find $50 bucks in the trash can when your done. The roller coaster was how bad the Nuggets played in the first half. Throwing up was Denver being behind by 17 points in the second quarter and allowing 70 points in the first half. Finding the $50 bucks was the Nuggets winning this game on Carmelo's 10th career-winning field goal, his second this season against the Thunder, and a career-high eleven assists while Denver orchestrated its second largest comeback win of the season without Chauncey Billups and Kenyon Martin in the line-up!

It pains me to do so, but I'm taking off the gloves and really going to tell you flat out what I went through in the first half at work tonight (yes, I have a job where not only is the game on, but I'm sitting there watching it with an ex-Nugget and media types alike). Now that you've been formally warned here it goes... Dahntay Jones fumbled the ball over and over again in the first quarter. The rock slipped out of his hands on a dunk attempt, he lost it on the dribble, and on defense he couldn't put a steal in his pocket if it were a silver dollar. Offensively, Carmelo Anthony acted like he had never seen a double-team before. The double would come and instead of either splitting early with the dribble or giving it up to the open man, Carmelo would ball fake his way into making either a bad pass or getting the ball stolen. However, once Carmelo accelerated his action with the ball it was poetry in motion as he would either score at the rack himself, get fouled and go the free-throw line, or find Nene for dunks. In fact, 'Melo fed Nene four assists in the first quarter, including one dime for perhaps the scummiest disregard for another player's family when Big Brazil rocked the rim so hard that Joe Smith actually ended up on his can from the sheer force the ball was thrown down with.

But things went to hell in a hand basket quickly in the second quarter after the Thunder trailed by just one at the end of the first. Oklahoma City went on a 16-5 run giving them a, 47-42, lead with 7:10 remaining because the Nuggets went absolutely narcissistic offesnively and stopped playing any kind of defense recognizable to even a junior high basketball team. Denver's transition defense was rediculous. On three separate occasions I counted Kevin Durant, Earl Watson, and Russell Westbrook stroll down the length of the court before flipping in routine lay-up as the Nuggets were scattering like roaches with a spotlight turned on. The Thunder outscored the Nuggets 20-2 in fastbreak points in the second quarter and after the Nuggets missed 18 of their first 22 shot attempts Denver found themselves down by eleven, 70-59, after allowing 39 points to be scored by the Thunder in the second quarter alone.

I was still feeling slightly nauseous after the first 24 minutes of basketball, but I will admit that an energized, and perhaps ashamed, group of Nuggets took the floor in the second half. And after a tongue-lashing that I'm sure would have made a group of Marines blush was dished out by George Karl at halftime, the Nuggets slowly but surely erased the Thunder's lead by playing with, and for, one another defensively. The Oklahoma City lead was cut to seven with less than eight minutes to go in the third. Then it started to dwindle as the Denver defense picked up. The Nuggets trimmed it to six with under six, four with under five, three with under three, and then down to just one, 86-85, with two minutes to play before a minor relapse left them down by five at the end of the third quarter.

The Nuggets had fought all the way back after playing what I strongly believe was their worst 24 minutes of basketball so far this season. The third quarter was a true testament to the Nuggets' resiliency and tendency to play to the level of their competition while also having the new trait of taking control of their own destiny before it's too late in games that shouldn't become losses.

Once the fourth quarter started I knew the Nuggets weren't going to lose this game. Denver cut the lead to one again, 98-97, with 9:25 remaining in regulation after consecutive jumpers from J.R. Smith. The Thunder surged again, but J.R. still had a trick up his sleeve with the game tied at 102 apiece. The Prodigy jumped into the passing lane and intercepted an errant pass by Jeff Green. Earl Watson had no choice but to foul Smith or allow him to bring down the house with one of his gravity-disrespecting dunks and J.R. was awarded a clear path foul which meant two shots and the ball for Denver. Smith missed the first, but made the second and on the Nuggets' ensuing possession J.R. drained a three-pointer to boost Denver into a four-point lead!

The Nuggets then lost, regained, and lost the lead again all within the last two minutes after Kevin Durant put OKC in the lead, 113-112, with 17 second remaining. Then in a moment of deja vu, the Nuggets called timeout and drew up a play for Carmelo Anthony to potentially win the game in dramatic fashion. Remember, Kevin Durant hit a huge three the last time these two teams met to give the Thunder a two-point lead with five seconds remaining before Carmelo stole his thunder with a three of his own to win the game for the Nuggets. This time around, Durant and 'Melo exchanged lay-ups with the same results. 'Melo burned some clock before going to work first driving the left side before turning back into the paint and making an impossible shot over Jeff Green and Durant for his tenth game winner of his young career!

It was the $50 bucks sitting right next to the pile of vomit this game was otherwise.

It was about as ugly of a win as there possible could be, but a memory those of us who watched will never forget. The Nuggets came back from down 17 points in this one to steal a win from the more deserving team for the second time this year. Carmelo scored a game-high 32 points and handed out a new career-high eleven assists. His was the only double-double of the game for Denver, but without J.R. Smith's 22 points, including a perfect 4-4 from the land of plenty, this win doesn't materialize. Nene did add 20 points and eight rebounds, but the true story was how Carmelo and Smith brought this team back from the grave in the second half. Both men were spectacular in different ways at different times with the result being pure magic.

Go Nuggets!

Game 49: Nuggets @ Thunder

(Denver-CO) There is only one thing you need to know about the 11-37 Oklahoma City Thunder - They’re better than their overall record indicates. But, I didn’t have to tell you that because the last time the Nuggets played the Thunder it took Carmelo Anthony hitting a game-winning three from the left corner with under a second remaining for Denver to prevail.

Plus, they have an old friend coaching the team. Former Assistant Coach to George Karl, Scott Brooks, has the Thunder rolling over their last 14 games. In that aforementioned stretch, OKC has been a .500 team (7-7) with solid wins over the Utah Jazz (I snicker as I type that) and the Detroit Pistons. The Thunder are led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Second-year player Kevin Durant is living up to his second overall draft position by averaging 32.2 points per game in his last five games, including a 46-point, 15-rebound performance against the Clippers just over a week ago, with a season averages of 25 points and 6.6 rebounds. Durant continues to improve with every month and there's really no slowing him down. By season's end it would not be the least bit surprising if he starts putting up double-doubles on a regular basis. His rookie sidekick, Russell Westbrook, is fresh off scoring a team-high 34 points in the Thunder’s most recent loss to the Kings, but is adjusting nicely to the NBA game with an average line of 15 points, five rebounds, and 4.4 assists, and 1.4 steals per game.

The other main scorer the Nuggets have to keep an eye on is Jeff Green. Green, also a second-year player, is the Thunder’s second leading scorer behind Durant with an average of 16.6 points per game and he’s not afraid to hit the boards as his 6.5 rebounding clip indicates. Green scored 25 points and hit a career-high five treys in last Wednesday's win against Memphis.

With all that said, and credit given to OKC for stepping up their game to the NBA level since starting the season 4-30, this is a game the Nuggets MUST win. It’s just unbecoming of a team on the cusp of being considered an elite team in the Western Conference to drop a game like this at this point in the season. However, Chauncey Billups and Kenyon Martin are both game-time decision and if they don’t play the Nuggets are going to need a much more disciplined showing than last night’s slide-by win over the “resting” Spurs. Denver turned the ball over 17 times and only handed out 18 assists on 34 made baskets against the Spurs and were very scattered in the last five minutes of regulation. Granted, the Thunder are far more prone to getting up and down the court in what should be more of an offensive minded style of play, but nevertheless if Denver plays as sloppy as they did last night the result of tonight’s game could be less than favorable for the Nuggets Nation.

Go Nuggets!

Resting Parker and Duncan, Spurs Lose to Nuggets

(Denver-CO) What is it with teams resting their star players against the Nuggets? First Phoenix rests that old run-down diesel once known as Shaq and lose and tonight Gregg Popovich rests Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili (who may or may not have been legitimately injured), and Tim Duncan! Wow, talk about disrespect, do they not realize that Denver is only two games behind them overall in the Western Conference standings?

With San Antonio starting the game without it’s presumed starting five the Nuggets decided to change things up as well. George Karl, finally, started J.R. Smith without giving even the announcers a word of the decision before game time. And in another surprise, Renaldo Balkman started for Kenyon Martin who sat ill.

The first quarter of play was a little bit helter skelter for the Nuggets. Without their stars, I think the Nuggets may have taken the reserves a bit too lightly as evident by an early six-point lead, 18-12, for the Spurs just six minutes into the game. George Karl quickly had seen enough and called a timeout to rally the troops. He inserted Anthony Carter for Chauncey Billups and Chris Andersen for Renaldo Balkman and the rest of the Nuggets instantly responded to the personnel changes. Denver went on a 19-7 run over the duration of the first quarter on the back of Carmelo Anthony’s 14 points in the first twelve minutes. And had it not been for the Birdman rising to the challenge defensively on back-to-back rejections after two terrible decisions by Linas Kleiza and a failed alley-oop pass by Anthony Carter the Nuggets’ lead might have been slimmer than, 31-25, entering the second quarter.

The energy Bird brought on the defensive end carried over to the offensive end as he scored six of the Nuggets’ first eight points in the second quarter with the other deuce coming by way of a circus-reverse by Linas Kleiza. The Nuggets had opened up a 14-point lead, 39-25, with ten minutes to play in the half, but yet still Popovich rested his big three. Denver maintained a double-digit lead throughout the rest of the second quarter, but there was a scary moment when Chauncey Billups came up a touch lame after converting a nice double-clutch lay-in with under three minutes to play. Chauncey would remain in the game with a slightly tweaked ankle and the Nuggets would remain in the lead entering intermission, 56-44.

Carmelo Anthony was the only player in the first half to reach double-digit points with a game-high 20 points and game-high tying six rebounds. Carmelo’s impact was unassuming in the first half mainly due to taking a backseat to Chris Andersen’s performance off the bench. The Birdman was absolutely fabulous in nine minutes of burn finishing the half with nine points, four big blocked shots, and three rebounds. Anthony Carter also deserves mention because when he and the Birdman came in the game early in the first quarter there was a noticeable perk in the Denver’s intensity defensively and continuity offensively. AC handed out a game-high five assists and scored six points in the first half. Overall, the Nugget bench outscored the Spur bench 20-12, but it pains me to say that Linas Kleiza didn’t have his best half of the season. LK did score five points and grabbed five rebounds, but his attitude, body language, and shot selection were all horrid. On one occasion, he turnover the ball over at half court and proceeded to pout when he could have been busting his tail back on D to prevent an easy score. Linas also threw up a questionable behind-the-head, lay-up attempt and air mailed in a three before getting hit with a technical foul after wrestling the ball away from Carmelo Anthony and lost it going back up. Maybe he was fouled on the put back maybe he wasn’t, but to get hit with a technical foul with under ten seconds remaining and your team ahead by 13 points is just not warranted.

The first three minutes of the second half made me want to puke. Four Denver turnovers in the first three minutes let the Spurs back into the game, 60-51, which cut the Nuggets’ lead to under ten for the first time since early in the second quarter. Perhaps once again the Nuggets came out and took the Spur reserves too lightly, but one star in this game wasn’t taking the night off. Carmelo scored six of the Nuggets’ first eight points of the second half, but bad news was handed down when it was reported Chauncey Billups was done for the night with the bum ankle. X-rays were negative for any breaks, but with Mr. Big Shot sidelined the Nuggets were going to have to tighten up collectively to pick up his slack.

And pick up they did. Denver opened up it’s largest lead of the game, 70-53, on Carmelo Anthony’s finger roll in transition before Roger Mason hit a big three followed by five straight points by Malik Hairston which cut the Nugget lead back down to 13 with under three minutes to play in the third quarter. The Nuggets only scored 22 points in the third and led by just ten going into the fourth because they fell in love with the jumper on offense. They stopped taking the ball to the basket and didn’t put any fouls on the Spurs and as a result only shot two free-throws in the quarter. Thankfully, Carmelo Anthony put the team on his back with ten third-quarter points to head into the fourth with 30 points.

There was still no sign of Tim Duncan or Tony Parker to start the fourth, but an unforced turnover by Anthony Carter and yet another missed jump shot to start the quarter off offensively brought the Spurs within six, 78-72, with eleven minutes to play. The Nuggets were playing right into the San Antonio trap of committing unforced turnovers and true to form the Spurs made Denver pay. Another AC turnover in transition led to Fabricio Oberto scoring a bunny to whittle Denver’s lead to four with 9:37 remaining and the atmosphere became nerve-raking in the Pepsi Center. Jacque Vaughn’s jumper from the right baseline cut Denver’s lead to two with under nine minutes to play and the Nuggets were flat-lining. Denver scored only three points, all on free-throws, in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter before Linas Kleiza hit a critical three from the right corner to extend the Nuggets’ lead back to six before LK hit a pair of free-throws to push it to eight. The Nuggets may have saved this game with back-to-back defensively stops capped off by J.R. Smith draining a long three from the right wing to give Denver an eleven-point lead, 89-78, with just over seven minutes to play, but credit the San Antonio Spurs’ reserves starters for making this a game after being down by as many as 17 in the third quarter. Linas Kleiza hit his third three of the game to give Denver its second eleven-point lead of the fourth quarter and it was evident Gregg Popovich had made a mistake resting Tony Parker and Tim Duncan as the spurs eventually lost the game, 104-96. If Parker and Duncan play with Billups going down and Kenyon a scratch due to strep throat San Antonio probably wins this game which is why with four days of rest before their next game I still don't understand at least inserting either or both San Antonio All-Stars and trying to steal this win on the road...

However, I will acknowledge that the Nuggets played very undisciplined in the final five minutes of this game. Not getting the ball beyond half court within eight seconds is inexcusable, not pulling the ball out when the game is in hand and running down the clock is just plain stupid, and forcing bad passes - on the fast break nonetheless - when the game is in hand is moronic. Denver was lucky their poor decisions didn’t cost them this win.

Carmelo Anthony scored a game-high 35 points and bagged nine rebounds. Nene added a double-double of 17 points and eleven rebounds, but it was the bench that picked up the slack left by Kenyon Martin sitting ill and Chauncey not playing in the second half due to a slight ankle sprain. Led by Linas Kleiza’s 13 points, the Denver bench was huge with Carter , the Bird, and Dahntay Jones combining for 36 points.

Up next for the Nuggets are two very winnable road games against the Thunder tomorrow night and the Wizards on Friday. Tomorrow’s game kicks off Denver’s longest road trip of the season, eight games, broken up by the All-Star break.

Put the rest of the league on notice: Don’t sleep on Denver!

Go Nuggets!

Game 48: Spurs @ Nuggets

(Denver-CO) After starting this season riddled with injuries, the San Antonio Spurs have returned to their old form of fundamentally sound basketball resulting in the W’s getting stacked. Since a 5-5 start in their first ten games, the Spurs are 28-9 since that mediocre point of the season and now hold a solid grip on second place in the Western Conference by two games over the Nuggets. Denver was able to defeat the Spurs in the first meeting between these two teams, but San Antonio made short work of the Nuggets in round two.

If there is any immediate advantage for the Nuggets in tonight’s game it will be that San Antonio is in the midst of their annual rodeo road trip where the Spurs play eight consecutive games away from the Alamo City. Last night, the Spurs needed a tremendous 18-6 run late in the fourth quarter to force overtime against the Golden State Warriors before emerging victorious for their eighth win in nine games. Hopefully, this means the Spurs will be tired physically and emotional sapped after the overtime thriller against the Warriors, but I’m not counting on it. The Spurs are chalked full of veterans that know how to regroup after such outings.

With that being said, to beat the Spurs, you can’t beat yourself.

The Nuggets will need a very efficient overall performance to beat the Spurs. That means the unforced miscues have to be kept to an absolute minimum and that leaves me a little nervous when considering how Denver likes to play. The Nuggets have committed the fourth most turnovers in the NBA this season while the Spurs have committed the second fewest. San Antonio also allows the fewest offensive rebounds per game and play at such a snail’s pace that if you waste precious possessions offensively with turnovers and bad shots you’ll find yourself wondering “what if” as the Spurs suffocate any and all chance for a win from the very air you breathe.

San Antonio has managed to win 33 games this season with the offensive trident of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu “The Flopper” Ginobili. Both Parker and Duncan are averaging just a shade over 20 points per game while Manu is third on the team in scoring with an average of 15.3 ppg. You might be thinking to yourself, “Well, the Nuggets should be able to outscore the Spurs any given night of the week”, but the truth be told on how the Spurs win games is in the pace at which they play. As a team, they average 97.4 points per game, but that decent output offensively in combination with an instinctual way of capitalizing on their opposition’s misfortunes before clamping down defensively where they allow 94 points per game is a recipe for victory long patented by Coach Gregg Popovich. And within that recipe are a few spices only discernible to the acute NBA palette. For instance, the Spurs allow the fewest opposing free-throws per game in the NBA. This could be because Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have still yet to ever commit a foul in an NBA game. But, in all honesty, this could be a pivotal aspect of this match-up because the Nuggets are still shooting the most (31.2) and making the most (23.6) free-throws league-wide.

The marquee match-up in tonight’s game will be Nene vs. Tim Duncan in the post. We’ve seen how well Nene can hold his own offensively against the Big Fundamental, but it’s defensively where Big Brazil has his work cut out for him. Duncan definitely got the better of Nene in San Antonio’s win over the Nuggets on December 4th with a stat line of 21 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, and five blocks, but in the last six games the artist formerly known as Hilario has been pouring it on. During that stretch, Nene has averaged 17.8 points on 68.9 percent shooting and 9.6 rebounds over his last six games, including a 10-for-11 shooting performance against the Bobcats and a 12-12 performance against the Jazz.

For the Nuggets, this game is a great test before they too hit the road for eight straight games away from Pepsi Center. On the immediate horizon are the putrid Thunder and the even worse Wizards to get the long odyssey on its way, but for Denver to really have a good feeling before packing their bags they have to take care of business tonight because immediately following those two nearly sure wins are a slew of very tough games.

Go Nuggets!

Taking Care of Business

(Denver-CO) The Denver Nuggets ate the Bobcats up like catnip with a combination of solid defense, fundamental offense, and a great energy from their bench. The almost boring win was a perfect example of a team punching in and taking care of work early against an overmatched opponent.

You’ve got to love the first Nugget possession offensively. Chauncey immediately recognized that Okafur can not guard Nene and entered the ball into Big Brazil. The result was an easy spinning lay-up and on the next possession Nene got it again with similar results. ‘Melo then scored points five and six for Denver with his first jumper since the fifth of January. The Nuggets then extended their lead to nine, 14-5, off a sly behind the back pass from Chauncey Billups to Nene for a thunderous slam and Carmelo Anthony going to work in the post for another easy deuce. But in all honesty, the Charlotte Bobcats looked terribly discombobulated committing six turnovers in the first eleven possessions to start the game.

The chip on the shoulder that I’ve been talking Carmelo coming back with surfaced when Anthony put a tricky dribble on Adam Morrison, faking the crossover left, and driving right to the rack for the hoop and the harm to extend Denver’s lead to twelve points, 17-5, midway through the first quarter. However, the score did tighten despite the ‘Cats turning the ball over eight times in the first eight minutes and the first quarter ended with the Nuggets leading, 24-19. One thing that I really missed in the first quarter was the absence of J.R. Smith’s energy. After Chauncey Billups missed two open three-pointers the feeling in the Pepsi Center was as flat as a two-liter of cola left out over night with the cap off and I think J.R. sitting on the bench had something to do with it.

Seemingly on cue, J.R. Smith got the second quarter started with an aggressive drive to the rim on which he was fouled on and went to line to redeem his two free-throws. The Birdman then began to make his presence on the defensive end felt with his second rejection of the night and a great challenge that altered a sure lay-up make before spreading his wings on a great feed from Anthony Carter for a two-handed flush. After taking flight for his first dunk of the game on the previous possession, the Bird caught an alley-oop off an inbounds play before soaring again on the defensive end with his third completely dominating block of the game.

The Nuggets extended their lead to 15 points with under a minute to play after the Bird snared his fourth block of the half and Kenyon Martin brought the house down with a backboard shaking jam. Denver held that margin going into the half, 57-42, led by a trio of Nuggets offensively. Nene was a perfect 7-7 from the field with a team-high 14 points while Carmelo scored ten points in his first 14 minutes of action. Linas Kleiza added another dozen off the bench as the Nuggets were a smoking hot 20-36 from the field in the first half. Denver handed out 17 assists on their 20 makes and everyone was getting into the act. Anthony Carter was the top distributor with four dimes in the first half as seven different Nuggets handed out an assist. Defensively, the Nuggets were actively controlling the point of attack and limited the Bobcats to just 36% shooting at the break while forcing ten Charlotte turnovers. I also liked the discretion Denver was displaying when applying defensive pressure after committing just twelve fouls and only allowing the ‘Cats ten free-throw attempts in the first half.

The third quarter was solid on all fronts and the Nuggets held their 15-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter. Denver was like a boa constrictor slowly tightening their grip on the game as the fourth quarter went on and by the 9:24 mark were up by 20 points, 94-74. For the remainder of this game the Bobcats acted content to just lose quietly. Usually when the Nuggets are handing out an old fashioned ass paddling I have a lot more to report, but this game seemed to drag on and on. Partially because the effort by the Bobcats was deplorable and at a certain point I think Coach Larry Brown tuned out with the game out of hand and partially because the Nuggets were winning with fundamental defense and simple offense. Denver out shot the Bobcats from the field 54-45% while forcing 18 Charlotte turnovers and handing out 28 assists.

It was a rudimentary, 110-99, win with five scorers reaching double figures. Nene led the charge with 22 points, twelve rebounds, three assists, and two steals while Carmelo scored 19 points and handed out five assists in 29 minutes in his first game back. Mr. Big Shot had a quiet night offensively making just 3-9 shot attempts for twelve points. It was also the first time in his last 30 games that Chauncey Billups didn’t make at least one three-point attempt. Linas Kleiza’s 21 points on 7-11 shooting was tremendous off the bench. As a whole, the Nuggets' bench collectively outscored the Bobcat bench 43-32.

Up next for the Nuggets is a home look at the San Antonio Spurs before Denver hits the road for a season-long, eight-game road trip up and down the east coast.

Go Nuggets!

Game 47: Bobcats @ Nuggets

(Denver-CO) Tonight, the Nuggets look to get back on track after dropping the second game of a back-to-back to the Hornets on Wednesday night. Their potential victim, the Charlotte Bobcats, who are fresh off a big victory over the Lakers earlier this week, but will be without Gerald Wallace and D.J. Augustin. Charlotte is also playing their third game in four nights and lost its last game to the Trailblazers after scoring only 74 points. However, the Nuggets will be returning to full strength tonight after Carmelo Anthony got the green light from team physicians yesterday after missing ten games with a broken bone in his hand.

The 'Cats will be hard pressed to find a way to make up for Gerald Wallace's absence. Wallace was injured on a collision with L.A.'s Andrew Bynum which looked like a dirty play to me. You be the judge...

Tests revealed that Wallace suffered a partially collapsed lung and fractured rib. Wallace's lung has been restored to full capacity but he'll remain hospitalized over the next 48 hours for observation. In the meantime, Charlotte has to find a way to compensate for losing its leading scorer and best defender, second leading rebounder, and top thief. D.J. Augustin will also be a scratch tonight due to an abdominal strain and missing his 12.1 points and 4.1 assists compounds the problems facing the Bobcats.

The Nuggets will have to figure out how Carmelo fits back in with the rest of his team who have stepped up over the last three weeks tremendously in his absence and that's a problem I'm sure George Karl is delighted to deal with. Adding Carmelo to a team that was able to fare 6-4 over the ten games he missed while playing eight teams over .500 can only help and with 'Melo being snubbed for the All-Star Game be sure to watch for an extra chip on his shoulder tonight.

I'm so excited to see how this team looks after weathering a very tough schedule without their superstar. Denver is currently the fourth overall team in the Western Conference picture trailing the Lakers, Spurs, and Hornets, but would have the third seed if the postseason started today due to being first place by a game and a half over Portland in the Northwest Division.

Go Nuggets!

Congratulations Chauncey!

(Denver-CO) Chauncey Billups has been names an All-Star reserve for the Western Conference! Mr. Big Shot is averaging a career-best 18.8 ppg (including 19.0 ppg with Denver), 6.5 apg and 1.45 spg through 44 games this season. He is shooting .387 (89-230) from three-point range and .903 (262-290) from the free-throw line (seventh-best in the NBA). The Denver Nuggets are 29-13 since starting the year 1-3 before trading for the Denver native on November 3rd, 2008. Congratulations, Chauncey!

Go Nuggets!

'Melo Not an All-Star Not All Bad

(Denver-CO) It's official. Carmelo Anthony was overlooked by the coaches of the Western Conference and will not be an All-Star this year.

My take?

So what!

These exhibition games are more important to the fans than the players themselves anyways and the snubbing is going to light a fire underneath him of the likes of which we've never seen. You watch just watch as Carmelo Antony takes this as a slap in the face and sticks it to every Western Conference coach the Nuggets face when he returns. I'll even goes as far as saying this is actually a good thing for the Nuggets in the long run. Follow me here... it gives 'Melo a full week to work himself back into shape right after he returns from the broken bone in his hand (hopefully tomorrow night against the Bobcats) and another week for him to stew for a bit longer after he gets his first taste.

The results are going to favorable because Carmelo Anthony takes a lot of pride in his image. From his sneaker line with the Jordan brand to his reality show, "Carmelo's Way", it's pretty clear this is the case and to not be considered one of the top 12 players in the league, hands down regardless of injury, after he played a major role in the USA bringing home the Olympic gold medal from Beijing this summer is going to make him want to prove himself even more...

Thank you, coaches of the Western Conference. Carmelo and crew will be seeing you soon!

That. Was. Gross.

(Denver-CO) The Denver Nuggets just didn’t have their “A” game tonight in The Big Easy. In fact, nothing came easy as the swarming Hornets used a combination of solid defense and eleven different offensive scorers to down the Nuggets, 94-81, in a game where the Nuggets couldn’t throw a seashell in the ocean offensively.

Ugh, the first quarter was an absolute abomination. I don’t know if Denver was tired from the trip or the game itself in Memphis, but the Nuggets looked sluggish as all get out as they scored a mere 19 points in the first quarter on 8-18 from the field including a woeful 1-5 from downtown. Adding insult to how lackadaisical the Nuggets looked offensively was their lack of a rebounding effort as they were only able to clear six rebounds total in the first quarter. And it wasn’t like the Hornets were playing great basketball. New Orleans turned the ball over eight times in the first quarter and thankfully the Nuggets were able to capitalize to the tune of ten of their first 19 points on said miscues.

Trailing, 20-19, after one, Denver regrouped offensively in the second quarter with the help of some easy buckets, but still could not hit the broad side of a barn from long range as they missed another four out of five attempts from the land of plenty bringing their grand total from three for the half to a sickening 2-10. However, this game was still well within a winnable margin at the half as the Nuggets were down by just two, 46-44. Even after Kenyon Martin was hit with a technical foul when Chris Paul bought himself a whistle by grabbing Kenyon’s arm trying to break the full court pressure of Denver with five seconds left in the half I still thought the Nuggets would be able to regroup and get this win on the road. It was a good technical. It sent a message that the Nuggets weren’t going to be spectators while Paul’s antics stole the show.

The Nuggets gained their first lead of the second half, 59-58, with under five minutes remaining in the third quarter, but it was short-lived. The Hornets quickly regained the lead and held it until the ten minute mark of the fourth quarter when J.R. Smith’s floater gave the Nuggets back the lead, 70-68. What came next was complete déjà vu from last night only this time it was the Nuggets who completely flat-lined and surrendered to the Hornets. Denver went scoreless over the next 4:50 as New Orleans went on a 14-0 run that sealed the Nuggets' fate.

Denver's 82 points scored is a season-low game total and the box score reflects the kind of game that needs to just be forgotten. About the only bright spot I can point to is the play of Kenyon Martin. K-Mart finished with 22 points, six rebounds, and two blocked shots on 10-12 shooting and was one of only two Nuggets (Nene being the other) to shoot over 50% from the field. J.R. Smith scored 20 points, cleared six rebounds, and handed out five assists, but was an inefficient 7-17 from the field and looked off-beat from his usual self from downtown finishing just 2-7 from long range.

Peja Stojakovic tied a season-high mark of 26 points and Chris Paul recorded his 29th double-double of the season with 12 points and ten assists. All eleven Hornets who saw the floor scored; even former Nugget and all-around stiff, Ryan Bowen. And as a whole the Denver reserves were outscored 46-13 by the subs of New Orleans.

As I said in my recap from last night’s win against the Grizzlies, Denver didn’t take care of the ball tonight and their 19 turnovers and it really turned around and bit them. Those 19 turnovers resulted in 23 points for the Hornets and kept the Nuggets from establishing any kind of continuity offensively. Every time Denver would seemingly be mounting some momentum an unforced turnover would occur and completely pull the chair out form under them.

Overall, this was a hard game to watch, and one that should be forgotten.

Game 46: Nuggets @ Hornets

(Denver-CO) The only thing the Nuggets Nation needs to know about tonight's game with the Hornets is Chris Paul. I'm not gay, not there's anything wrong with it, but I do have a serious man-crush on CP3! If the Nuggets can contain Paul from having a triple or quadruple double (don't laugh, he missed it by three steals two nights ago) their chances of winning go up exponentially with fellow Hornets All-Star, David West sidelined with back spasms.

But allow me to gush about Paul for a second. Even without West in the line-up and the balky ankle of Tyson Chandler, CP3 has taken this team and put them on his back for five wins in their last six games. He is easily the best point guard in the league today, perhaps should have won the MVP last year over Mr. Bryant, and is well on his way to having one of the best seasons by a point guard since the days of, dare I say... Magic Johnson. He can beat you with his offense, he can beat you with his defense, or he can beat you by setting up others on his team on offense. As he goes, so do the Hornets. And, if he gets his motor running hot he can be an unstoppable force much like LeBron, Kobe, or our local superstar Carmelo Anthony.

Dahntay Jones will probably get the starting assignment of trying to slow Paul down, but it's going to take a conscious team effort to keep him from slicing through the Denver D like a hot comb on nappy-ass hair (credit Outkast for the analogy). Look for Anthony Carter to come in early in an attempt to match up with CP3 after Jones gets into early foul trouble.

Other than my obvious obsession with Chris Paul, I do feel the Nuggets walk away tonight with the W because the Hornets are so shorthanded without West and Chandler. With that being said, Denver can ill-afford to lose track of "Dont' Call, I'll" Peja Stojakovic around the three-point line after he hit six big bombs against the Sixers in the Hornets' last win and an average of 3.6 makes over his last five games.

Go Nuggets!

Nuggets D-Claw the Grizzlies

(Denver-CO) The Denver Nuggets can feel good about blowing out the Grizzlies, 100-85, just not for too long. The Grizzlies basically folded down the stretch after closing the Nuggets’ lead down to four in the fourth quarter before all but giving the Nuggets their 30th victory of the season. However, tomorrow night the Nuggets will need a better effort to continue their winning ways against the Hornets.

I really liked the Nuggets intensity on the defensive end in the first five minutes of the first quarter. Dahntay Jones came up with a nice steal on the perimeter and took the cookies from Rudy Gay coast-to-coast for an easy deuce. That play set the tone for a great quarter overall defensively despite the offense getting out to a very slow start and the Nuggets trailing, 25-24, after one. J.R. Smith, although he was whistle for a loose ball foul, deserves a lot of credit defensively. I thought he really played smart, and under control basketball despite O.J. Mayo scoring twelve points in the first quarter to J.R.’s eleven. And what made the quarter a “moral victory” for me was how the Nuggets came back from down eight, 20-12, after fighting some bad calls and bad bounces of the ball to finish the quarter out on a 12-5 run heading into the second quarter.

Once the second got underway, the Nuggets really struggled breaking the Memphis full court pressure turning the ball over three times in the first two minutes. The easy points off those turnovers turned into a seven point lead, 31-24, for the Grizzlies before Chauncey gave a disheveled Nuggets offense a calming three to get the Nuggets on the scoreboard after starting the second quarter scoreless through the first two minutes. Nene then sustained the Nuggets with six straight points before Denver took control of this game with a 20-point flurry that included Chauncey Billups scoring his 12,000th point as a pro to close out the half up by nine, 54-45. J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza led the offensive charge for the Nuggets at the break with 15 and eleven points, respectively, and Kenyon Martin and Chauncey Billups each added eight more. One area the Nuggets could easily improve on in the second half were all the turnovers that were more or less avoidable with just more cautious basketball. Denver turned the ball over eleven times in the first half, but luckily the Nuggets escaped unscathed as the Grizzlies were only able to capitalize on said miscues for eight points.

As for the Grizzlies, they might as well have gone into hibernation in the second quarter. After putting up 25 in the first, Memphis could only muster 20 points in the second while shooting a tepid 33% from the field for the half. O.J Mayo didn’t score in the second quarter after hitting for a dozen in the first and had it not been for Darius Miles scoring all ten of the Grizzlies first ten points in the second things could have been much worse for the Memphis at halftime.

Nene picked up his fourth foul with nine minutes to play in the third and was banished to the bench for the remainder of the quarter, but his feathered friend, The Birdman, came in a did a great job in extended minutes. He didn’t allow Marc Gasol to get to a favorable position on the low block, played disciplined defense not buying any of Gasol’s head fakes, and sealed off well when the ball went on rim. With that being said, the quarter would belong to Chauncey Billups on the offensive end. Mr. Big Shot scored the Nuggets’ first 14 points of the second half before Chris Andersen’s free-throw make broke what was a one-man show that when on for the better part of eight minutes. The Birdman’s free-throw ballooned the Nuggets’ lead to 16 points, 69-53, with four minutes remaining before the Nuggets went scoreless on their next four possessions and connected on just 1-6 of their shot attempts to close out the quarter. This funky stretch of discombobulated offense where everyone just stood around flat-footed allowed the Grizzlies to close out the half on a 15-6 run which left the door cracked for the Grizzlies entering the fourth quarter down by just seven, 75-68.

The fourth quarter started the same way as third as Chauncey Billups connected on his fourth three-pointer of the game. Nene then found Andersen on a nifty bounce pass in the paint that gave the Bird enough room to spread his wings for a slam to give the Nuggets a nine-point lead with ten minutes to play. Back-to-back heady defensively plays by Anthony Carter kept the Nuggets ahead by nine before Hakim Warrik tightened the score back down to six with the hoop and the harm on the next Memphis possession. Kyle Lowry’s short jumper cut things to four with under seven minutes, but Kenyon’s Martin’s steal which led to Linas Kleiza getting flagrantly fouled by Lowry gave the Nuggets two free-throws and the ball. The Nuggets extended their lead back to six after LK made good on both free-throws, but an offensive foul called on J.R. Smith for a hook on the baseline left me a bit unsatisfied. Thankfully, Kenyon Martin went to a fundamentally sound, left-handed hook on the next offensive possession to put the Nuggets back into the lead by eight and then Denver was on top by ten after Nene’s jumper from the right baseline with under six minutes left in regulation.

The Denver lead had been earned during this defining stretch on the defensive end of the floor. The Nuggets continued to block shots, a fantastic steal by J.R. Smith on one possession in particular sticks out, and the team rotating very efficiently as they held the Grizzlies scoreless for more than five minutes after Kyle Lowry’s jumper that cut their lead to four led to an eventual 15-point Denver blowout, 100-85. Chauncey Billups scoring 16 points in the third quarter paced him to a team-high 29 points. Mr. Big Shot was also a perfect 9-9 from the charity stripe and filled up the stat sheet with four rebounds, four steals, three assists, and two blocked shots. J.R. Smith also played a superb all-around game scoring 20 points, nabbing five boards, and two assists, blocks, and steals.

Linas Kleiza continued his scoring surge since ‘Melo went down with 16 points tonight and seven rebounds while Kenyon Martin’s double-double of twelve points and ten rebounds rounded out a great overall game by all the Nugget bigs. Chris Andersen blocked five shots while the Nuggets collectively swatted 15 shots in total.

27 turnovers were a real Achilles heal for the Nuggets in this good-bad-ugly win and the Nuggets will definitely not be as fortunate to over come that number of miscues tomorrow night against the Hornets. It is very rare to be -13 in assists to turnovers overall and still win a game in today’s NBA. And for those of you keeping track, the Nuggets are now 17-2 when Chauncey Billups scores 20 or more points and improve to 29-12 since Joe Dumars made my dreams come true!

Go Nuggets

The Lighter Side of 'Melo

(Denver-CO) There's nothing groundbreaking here, but nevertheless it's worth a watch because it's 'Melo being 'Melo! Enjoy.

Go Nuggets!

Game 45: Nuggets @ Grizzlies

(Denver-CO) I have teamed up with Josh from 3 Shades of Blue today to preview tonight's game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Be sure to head over there to read my answers to Josh's questions and don't let the boss catch you reading his answers to mine! A big thanks to Josh from our Bloguin sister site, 3 Shades of Blue, for the interview.

ND: What's the nastiest thing you've ever seen Rudy Gay do?

3 Shades: I'm assuming that you mean on the basketball court, so I'll leave that one locker room story out of this -- LOL. I'd probably have to go with this.

He's had more impressive dunks on breakaways and alley-oops, but for straight up nasty, that one takes the cake in my opinion. It's highlighted by the fact that Dikembe Mutombo comes over to help, but just becomes part of the posterization of Luis Scola.

ND: What's been the biggest problem this year for the Grizzlies?

3 Shades: Youth and the inexperience and inconsistency that goes with that. When you're looking at a team where the most experienced regular rotation player is Quinton Ross who is in his 5th year in the league, but comes off the bench, you know you are young. At the beginning of the season they started 3 rookies (O.J. Mayo, Darrell Arthur, Marc Gasol), a 2nd year PG (Mike Conley) and a 3rd year SF (Rudy Gay), with a 3rd year PG (Kyle Lowry), a 5th year SG/SF (Ross), a 4th year PF (Hakim Warrick) and Darko Milicic (in his 6th year, but really just completed his 3rd year) coming off the bench. Adding 27-year old Darius Miles actually increased the average age of this team! Obviously, playing time will cure that ill, as well as developing some much-needed team chemistry.

ND: O.J. Mayo: Future of the franchise or Future fizzle?

3 Shades: Definitely future of the franchise. I was as hard on Mayo as anyone prior to the draft and even after we acquired him on draft night. But he has proven me wrong in a big way. Even though he has hit the rookie wall, he still plays with an intensity and maturity that belies his age. Although he doesn't possess the athleticism or skills of Kobe Bryant, he has the same killer instinct and a relentless desire to win. It looks like it actually causes him pain when he isn't playing well.

ND: Same question, only this time for Marc Gasol.

3 Shades: I think that Marc is definitely part of the future, although he fills a much different role than Mayo does. Gasol is a rugged interior player that does a ton of dirty work. He's a coach's dream in that regard. He doesn't whine about his touches or minutes, but you can tell that he is a fiery competitor who will do absolutely anything to win.

ND: What about Lionel Hollins gives you an optimistic outlook for this team in the future? Any predictions for his first game as Head Coach?

3 Shades: Coach Hollins is very familiar with the Grizzlies organization, having been an assistant coach going back to their days in Vancouver, so that is obviously helpful, given that his transition won't be nearly as difficult as it could have been by joining the team in midseason. The one thing that truly gives me some sense of optimism in his hiring is something he said at the press conference on Sunday:

"I want to see if Mike Conley is a basketball player on a high level. I understand the pressure of being a high pick, of being the first guard picked. I was the #6 pick. But I want to see what he can do. I'm going to give him a lot of freedom, but I'm also going to push him."

The one thing that I do believe that Marc Iavaroni mishandled during his tenure as head coach was the point guard play, specifically where it concerned Mike Conley. I attribute the team's dead last ranking in assists to his ineffective offensive scheme this year. I'm anxious to see what Conley is capable of if he is given 30+ minutes per night and doesn't have to constantly look over his shoulder after an unsuccessful play to see if he's being yanked. Young players need to have confidence shown in them so that they can develop their game. That is especially true of point guards.

I don't expect that you'll see all that much difference in Hollins first game as the head coach than you saw in Johnny Davis' two games as interim coach. He simply hasn't had enough time to implement any "new" strategies or gameplans, so I expect that the offense will be a little more free-flowing, but that the casual observer won't see much of a difference at all. I realize that doesn't sound all that encouraging for a team that has lost 17 of their last 19 games, but that is the reality of the situation. He's had 2 days to work with the team, not an entire training camp. Things will change slowly, but they will change. You can count on that. I know that everyone in Memphis surely is.

Once again, thanks to Josh for the great content and as always...

Go Nuggets!

Utah Trumped Hard by Nuggets

(Denver-CO) Tonight, we toast the Denver Nuggets dominating the Utah Jazz, 117-97. Nothing makes me happier than sending the Utah Jazz back to Utah on a two-game slide as they slide a full game back in the divisional chase!

In the first few minutes the Nuggets allowed the Jazz four of their first six points on uncontested lay-ups as a result of defensive breakdowns. The Nuggets then buckled down defensively over the next five minutes and opened up a 20-11 lead after Nene stole an outlet pass before being rewarded on sneaky shuttle pass from J.R. Smith. The Prodigy scored 13 of the Nuggets’ first 25 points and handed out two assists to Nene. A lot of credit needs to be given to the Jazz though for fighting back and getting the game to within four, 27-23, before the Nuggets surged again in the final four minutes of the first quarter finishing with the lead, 35-26. The Nuggets shot a blistering 56% from the field in the first quarter and made eight of their ten free-throw attempts.

Once the second quarter started we saw the reinsertion of J.R. Smith and his hot hand. J.R. opened up with three-pointer that made the Nuggets 7-9 from the field to start the quarter as they opened up a 15-point lead, 45-27, with 8:22 remaining. Once again the Jazz cut the Nuggets’ down to ten on three separate occasions during the quarter, but on each of the ensuing possessions the Nuggets were able to answer with buckets, including a banked-in three by Linas Kleiza. LK hit two three's in the second with the second preserving a nine-point lead heading into halftime, 60-51. J.R. led all scorers at the half with 16 points and three assists while Anthony Carter provided a tremendous, although quiet, six assists for the Nuggets. Linas Kleiza added eleven points and a team-high five rebounds and Nene chipped in ten points on 5-5 shooting.

What I really liked about the first half was the Nuggets defense. Denver held the Jazz to just 41 % (17-41) from the field and cashed in for seven points on Utah’s ten turnovers. The Nuggets were also doing a tremendous job limiting their miscues committing just four turnovers in the first half.

To say that the Nuggets absolutely demolished the Jazz in the first half of the third quarter would be an understatement of epic proportions. Up by 20, 80-60, with 6:30 remaining, Denver was firing on all cylinders immediately as the half got underway. Chauncey Billup drained a three to get things going right out of the gate and then drew a foul and cashed three free-throws on a cagey move on C.J. Miles before J.R. Smith provided the bookends on yet another assist to the Big Brazilian with a pair of three’s.

But once again, I have to give the Jazz a lot of credit for rallying back and trimming the Denver lead to just thirteen, 83-70, with under four minutes to play in the third quarter. Although much of this lead was given back by the Nuggets missing six of their first ten free-throws and 10-19 attempts in the quarter, the Jazz comeback was short-lived after the Nuggets extended their lead back to 14 points, 91-77, entering the fourth quarter. Chauncey Billups scored ten points in the third despite still shooting a dreadful 3-11 from the field thanks to making the Jazz pay from the free-throw line where he was 7-8 for the quarter and 10-12 overall after three quarters.

The Nuggets extended their lead to 22 points with six minutes and change remaining in regulation after Nene tied Bobby Jones’ franchise record set in 1978 for most field goals made without a miss (12-12). The field goal also tied Nene’s career-high point total of 28 points set against the Sacramento Kings back in 2004. George Karl pulled Nene and the rest of his starting crew shortly thereafter as the win was cemented. Denver eventually won, 117-97, much to my delight and the dismay of our good friends over at True Blue Jazz. By the way, be sure to head over there after reading here and jab the ribs of CB Jack, Hammy, Booner, Scrumtrulescent, and Pick-N-Roll.

Three starters scored 20+ points led by Nene’s aforementioned career-high tying 28 points and nine rebounds. Big Brazil also finished with four steals. Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith each added 22 points with the Prodigy handing out six assists and Mr. Big Shot blocking two shots. Linas Kleiza was a huge shot in the arm off the bench finishing with 18 points and eight rebounds and Anthony Carter also deserves mention for his team-high nine assists despite a horrid night shooting the basketball 1-9 from the field. Anytime the Nuggets beat the Jazz it's special, but Coach George Karl reached a nice milestone notching his 200th win with the Nuggets to sweeten this win just a little bit more.

Up next for the Nuggets is taste of southern cookin’ as they have a back-to-back double dip on the road starting with Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday followed by the New Orleans Hornets the next night. The Nuggets are now 29-15 overall and still hold a 4 1/2 game lead over the Jazz and a 2 1/2 game lead over the Blazers for first place in the Northwest Division. Denver is 28-12 after their 1-3 start to the season and 5-3 without Carmelo Anthony in the line-up. The win also improves Denver's record when holding their opposition to under 100 points to 15-2.

God bless you, Chauncey. God bless you.

Go Nuggets!

Game 44: Jazz @ Nuggets

(Denver-CO) One of four of my favorite nights in Denver’s NBA regular season is here! Tonight, the Nuggets play host to the Utah Jazz; the most hated, least “jazz-y”, and always hyper-antagonistic team in the NBA. The Jazz were able to defeat the Nuggets on opening night, but this time around the Nuggets are a different team thanks largely in part to Chauncy Billups.

It’s no secret my dislike for the Jazz runs deep. Perhaps it’s because they have ruled the Northwest Division over the last three years and their recent run of success has incubated a fair amount of jealousy in me or because Matt Harpring is such a complete tool box that he even comes with his own tape measure. Either way, I’ve always rooted against the Jazz regardless of opponent. Period. However, I do have to say with the utmost respect that the gentlemen over at True Blue Jazz are some of my favorite bloggers.

One thing we know about tonight’s game is that it will be hard fought. My disapproval of Utah aside, it’s no secret that these two teams don’t like each other and when that kind of ill-feeling is between two opponents all the records, rankings, and stats go right out the window. One thing we do know about tonight’s game is both teams will be without at least one All-Star. Utah’s Carlos Boozer is still on the sidelines for at least two more weeks following knee surgery earlier this month and Denver’s Carmelo Anthony is not set to return to the Nuggets’ line-up until the end of the month after breaking a bone in his hand.

Without Carmelo, the Nuggets have been able to sustain their grip on the Northwest Divisional lead by winning four out the seven games he has missed largely in part to a home-heavy schedule in January despite a majority of the teams visiting Pepsi Center being over .500 in the W/L column. The Nuggets are 17-6 at home this year and currently lead the Jazz, who are in third place behind the Blazers, by three and a half games.

Utah has also been a very tough team to beat at home as their 17-5 record indicates, but they’ve had trouble stacking W’s on the road. The Jazz are just 8-14 on the road this year and have lost seven of their last eight games.

In tonight’s game there are some fantastic match-ups. At the point, youth meets experience when Chauncey Billups and Deron Williams battle at the point. Nearly carbon copies of each other physically, whatever advantage in speed Williams holds over Chauncey at this point in their careers is negated by Billups’ experience leading the perennial postseason powerhouse Pistons (try saying that five times fast) year-in and year-out over the better part of the new millennium. At shooting guard, the Nuggets will without doubt start offensive genius J.R. Smith due to Dahntay Jones still aching from a dislocated shoulder suffered in warm-ups against the Kings. The offensive minded Smith will match-up against defensive minded Ronnie Brewer in what should be a great look at two very different approaches to the game. Brewer is extremely long and will give J.R. trouble trying to get the rim, but if J.R.’s stroke is sweet like honeydew melon there won’t be much Ronnie can do. Moving right down the line, Andrei Kirilenko is listed as questionable and if he doesn’t play that moves C.J. Miles into the starting role to face Linas Kleiza at the small forward position. Both men fly under the radar on their respective teams due to rosters chocked full of star power, but both could be pivotal in tonight’s outcome. Proof for Denver Nuggets’ fans surely being the memory LK scoring a career-high 41 points against the Jazz last season in one of only two wins for Denver in their last twelve meetings against Utah.

But wait, we’re not done looking at how these two teams stack up.

At the power forward and center positions there is an interesting situation brewing. Typically, the Nuggets put power forward Kenyon Martin on their opponent’s best low post scorer. Tonight, that will be Jazz center, Mehmet Okur. Okur is a sharp shooting big man that will surely test the coverage of Kenyon around the three-point line. On the other side of the ball, Denver center Nene will almost surely be seeing a lot of the big body of Jazz power, forward Paul Milsap. Nene possesses superior footwork over Milsap in the low blocks, but Milsap is going to be a handful for Nene, and the rest of the Nuggets’ front line, as he is averaging 24 points and 14 rebounds over his last three games.

I can’t wait for this one to get underway! Denver should be well-rested after four days off while Utah should be tired after traveling and taking it on the chin last night against the Cavaliers, 102-97. Advantage - Denver.

Go Nuggets!

Both Teams Played Hard Interview

(Boulder-CO) A couple of weeks back I had a back-and-forth with a confused, and rather new, fan of the Denver Nuggets. His name is Jared Wade and he runs Both Teams Played Hard. After letting him know that he wasn't alone within the confusion, as most of us in the Nuggets Nation are all little bit bewildered from time to time, we talked shop on a few topics.

He also brought in Andrew Feinstein of Denver Stiffs to help him understand the Nuggets more. The similarities between Andrew's and my thoughts on the Nuggets are striking while the differences make me want to have a beer with him sometime and watch a game.

It's a good read, give it a look.

Nuggets Bust the Kings on Their Crown

(Boulder-CO) This game didn’t get off to a good start for the Nuggets. News came just minutes before tip that Renaldo Balkman would be jettisoned into the starting line-up due to Dahntay Jones suffering a separated shoulder resulting from a collision in pregame warm-ups.

It was a short-lived bad omen.

The first five minutes of the game offensively for the Nuggets were hard for me to watch. J.R. Smith tried to get too fancy with an unnecessary behind the back pass that caught Renaldo Balkman off guard. Compounding the turnover was how there was no reason for J.R. to even throw the pass because he had a clear lane to the basket for an easy lay-up. The play made George Karl bury his face in his hands for the first of many times in the quarter. Kenyon Martin made a bad decision shortly thereafter trying to hit Chauncey Billups with a backdoor bounce pass that had no chance to get through as the Nuggets opened up with three out of their first seven offensive possessions resulting in turnovers.

Thank God the Kings caught a touch of the buzzard’s luck in the second half of the first quarter. Sacramento turning the ball over on four consecutive trips down the floor after Bobby Jackson was whistled for an offensive foul with under three minutes to play were just what this doctor ordered. The Nuggets may have been down by a lot more than just eight points entering the second quarter after the kind of horrible funk they started this game with. And when you consider Denver turned the ball over five times, committed fouls, not once, but twice on long range shot attempts including a 30-foot buzzer beater by Francisco Garcia that could have easily turned into a four-play, and how Denver was 0-5 from downtown things could have been a lot worse.

I’ve seen more resistance from strapless prom dresses than the Nuggets showed in the first quarter and to say the Denver defense in the first was soft would be a gross understatement. Sacramento shot 73% from the field connecting on 11-15 of their attempts and eight of their eleven made buckets came with an assist.

The Nuggets tightened their belt on the defensive end and thankfully held the Kings to just 2-8 shooting in the first four minutes of the second quarter. And once the shots stopped falling for Sacramento, the Nuggets were able to saddle up the horses and run the break to regain the lead, 37-36, on a great pass from J.R. Smith to Anthony Carter for an easy lay-up in transition. Two made free-throws made by Linas Kleiza extended the lead to three, then a soaring tip-slam by the Birdman, and Linas Kleiza taking advantage of a huge size discrepancy on Kevin Martin for an easy bucket in the post led to three consecutive scoring trips down the floor and a five-point lead for Denver as they started to build some palpable momentum. The Nuggets continued to limit the Kings to one shot on the defensive end and after J.R. Smith climbed the stairway to basketball heaven for a scintillating two-handed stuff and LK muscled his way to another transition lay-up Denver was out in front by ten, 52-42, on the back of a 29-11 run spanning the first ten minutes of the second quarter.

The decision to defend, rebound, and run in the second quarter completely changed the complexion of this game for the Nuggets. Denver’s 34 second-quarter points were a direct result of holding the Kings to just 6-28 shooting after their red-hot start in the first quarter and numerous crisp, long outlet passes which led to easy transition scores as the Nuggets were able to score 18 points in the second quarter alone on the fast break. Linas Kleiza benefited more from this than any other Nugget. LK scored eleven of his 13 points at the half in the second quarter with eight of those coming on the fast break. J.R. Smith’s 15 points at the break were a game-high and four of his five rebounds came in the second quarter in the aforementioned effort to limit the Kings to one shot-and-out on the defensive end. Chris Andersen also deserves mention for blocking three shots and altering numerous others in 13 minutes of burn in the first half. The Birdman also finished the half with six points, two rebounds, and a steal.

Additionally, the Nuggets made 16-20 free-throws in the second quarter and 21-27 total in the first half as they led, 57-47, at the break.

The third quarter couldn’t have been scripted any better for the Nuggets. If there was one area in the first half that really left the Nuggets Nation pining for more it was the goose egg from downtown Denver posted on their first five attempts. Chauncey Billups started to correct that by cashing two treys within 90 seconds of each other as the Nuggets jumped all over Kings with a 17-4 run which opened up an 23-point lead to start the second half after Kenyon Martin did his part with a three from the right corner.

Following Denver opening up their biggest lead of the game, the Kings tightened the score back up with a 14-4 run of which cut the Nuggets’ lead to 13 with four minutes and change remaining in the third. I knew at this point in the game the Nuggets were going to do one of two things: A) Denver was either going to cinch things back-up on defense and win this game easily or B) play as if the game was already won and allow the Kings back into this game entering the fourth quarter.

Fortunately for my blood pressure, Denver’s choice was outcome “A”. The Nuggets carried a 19-point lead into the fourth after shooting a blistering 77% from the field (13-17) in the third quarter. Finally, Denver didn’t disappear in the third and it was largely in part to Chauncey Billups’ cool head and steady shooting hand. Mr. Big Shot scored 16 of Denver’s 37 points in the third while handing out three assists.

With the game cemented, everyone started to get into the act, and the box score, for the Nuggets. Anthony Carter and Chris Andersen hooked up on an alley-oop early in the fourth that the Birdman threw down reverse, and on Brad Miller, to open up a 26-point lead, 105-79. It was as if the piñata I eluded to in tonight’s pregame had been split open and the Nuggets were all scraping to get their share of the candy.

The Denver final stat sheet is bloated from the eventual, 118-99, laugher. Linas Kleiza led all Nugget scorers with 27 points on 11-17 shooting. Anthony Carter led all Nugget passers with ten assists. Chauncey Billups scored 16 of his 22 points in the third quarter, handed out eight assists, and made 10-11 free-throw attempts. Nene recorded his second straight and third double-double performance in the last four games with 13 points and twelve rebounds and J.R. Smith may have had the best overall game for the Nuggets with 19 points, seven rebounds, six rebounds, and four steals.

The rest of the box score is complete domination by the Nuggets as only former Nugget, Bobby Jackson, finished with a positive +/- for the Kings.

Up next for the Nuggets are four days of rest before the division rival, and hated, Utah Jazz come to town on Sunday. This four-day break is the longest stretch between games this season other than the All-Star break.

Go Nuggets!

Dahntay Jones Injured in Warm-Ups

(Boulder-CO) Just announced before the game: Dahntay Jones suffered a 1st degree separated shoulder in pregame warm-ups. Renaldo Balkman will start in his place against the Kings.

Go Nuggets!

Game 43: Kings @ Nuggets

(Boulder-CO) I’m going to stray from my usual statistical analysis and lay it all right down on the line in regards to tonight’s Kings/Nuggets game. First off, the Nuggets should be pissed about letting the Houston game slip their grasps. Call aside, Denver still had every chance given to them to win that ball game. Forget about being tired, the Nuggets need to get even tonight.

The second aspect about tonight’s game to be aware of is if the Nuggets play four quarters of basketball. Since the Detroit loss, the Nuggets have scored their fewest amount of points per quarter in the third and it has really come back to bite them in their last three losses. There is no excuse for this. Coming out after halftime players should have their second wind, made their adjustments on both ends of the floor, and be ready to play. Enough of the third quarter collapse!

The final point I want to make about tonight’s game is scoring. It’s been over two weeks since the Nuggets put on a good ol’ fashioned ass kicking. The last one was against the Pacers on January fifth, and that feel-good win has a black cloud hanging over it because ‘Melo’s hand was broken in the process.

And with the way the Kings play defense…. They’re a perfect candidate to be the Nuggets’ next victim.

Sacramento allows the second most points per game in the NBA at over 107 ppg. It would be really good for the Nuggets to beat the Kings offensively like children with a piñata until the sweet candy of win falls over the Pepsi Center floor. Trust me, they need it - the Nuggets have only one victory in their last five games when scoring over 100+ points and it came in overtime against the Suns.

Go Nuggets!

Will the Nuggs be Better with a Post-Hiatus 'Melo?

(Boulder-CO) I won't spoil the read for everybody, but Don from With Malice has put together a piece all Nuggets fans should read.

Go Nuggets!

Controversial Call Costs Nuggets in Houston

(Boulder-CO) The Denver Nuggets let a golden opportunity to beat the Rockets slip right through their fingers. What’s even worse about this, 115-113, loss is how the officiating played a role in it.

The first half was a defensive struggle for both teams. The Rockets' first quarter and first half point totals were season highs while the points they allowed Denver in the first quarter and first half overall were season highs for a Houston opponent. Denver was paced at the half by Kenyon Martin with 18 points on 7-11 from the field, Chauncey Billups handing out eight dimes, and Nene scoring 14 points and grabbing seven rebounds. I felt the Nuggets did a great job attacking the goal early and was a little bit surprised by the restraint of Yao Ming not taking the bait - hook, line, and sinker - and falling into early foul trouble. Ming scored 12 points in the first half, but it was Rafer Alston’s 18 points and five assists that kept Houston from falling behind by more than just three points at the break, 68-65, after the Nuggets shot 65% from the field on all those lay-ups.

The second half was much more defensive minded by both teams. However, in a trend that is becoming all too familiar for Nuggets fans, Denver looked terrible in the third quarter offensively despite the improved Houston defense. In the last five consecutive games, the Nuggets have recorded their fewest amount of points scored quarterly in the third quarter and in two of those contests it can be argued that it may have cost the Nuggets the game. Against the Rockets, the Nugget offense went to sleep as they scored just 19 points to find themselves down by three entering the fourth quarter.

Once the fourth quarter started I feel that the game was over officiated and it really cost the Nuggets down the stretch on one call in particular.

J.R. Smith jumpstarted the Nuggets in the fourth with back-to-back three’s and a short jumper to bring the game tied at 95 apiece. Another trey by Smith with just under seven minutes to play gave the Nuggets a, 103-101, lead of which they would nurse for the next two minutes before having to play catch-up and battle an official in the final minute.

Down by one, with under 20 seconds on the clock, and possession of the ball, the Nuggets went into their offensive set. Linas Kleiza drove the lane and dished. The pass came way before Chuck Hayes was in position to even take a charge, and LK even tried to avoid the crowding Hayes after he moved into Kleiza’s path of momentum. On any other play, this is a no-call because Kleiza had already taken a step out of the way of Hayes. But, Bennett Salvatore bought Chuck’s theatrical performance and called a charge on Kleiza wiping a three-point play off the board for the Nuggets with just seven seconds remaining in regulation.

Dahntay Jones committed the quick foul on Aaron Brooks, a 91% free-throw shooter, and Brooks missed the front end of two free-throws to give the Nuggets one more chance to win or tie the game. Denver advanced the ball with a timeout and during the 20 seconds George Karl had to draw up a strategy he came up with a gem that will surely be copied by coaches around the world. Kenyon Martin inbounded the ball to Chauncey Billups and it was quickly entered to Nene in the post. Kenyon then went to up high to set a screen for Billups, but slipped back door and received a beautiful pass from Nene. Kenyon was on his way to the rack to dunk the ball and tie the game when Brent Barry fouled him as ball rattled in and out. The hoop and the harm wasn’t meant to be, but Kenyon still had a chance to tie the game from the charity stripe. Unfortunately, Martin missed the front end and was then forced to try and miss the second hoping the Nuggets could get a tip. J.R. mistimed what would have been a spectacular dunk-tip after Martin clanged his second attempt off the backboard and rim, and after the ball was wrestled away from Nene by Yao the Nuggets were forced to take the loss.

That call by Salvatore was bull. Not only because of the context it was called (so late in the game and under such circumstances), but because he flat out bought into what was nothing more than a cheesy flop by Hayes. Kleiza clearly didn’t just bowl right into him and he was in the act of passing from a controlled drive to the hoop to boot! LK wasn’t in the air, he was in control, and he was passing. Three things that should all be considered when not making that call in addition to it being in the final seconds of the game when the players, and not acting, should decide the final outcome.

C’est la vie!

The Nuggets can look back on Salvatore’s call or Kenyon not making his free-throws, but the bottom line is they really lost this game in the third quarter when they decided to coast through what is usually the most important stretch of the game. Only shooting three free-throws in the third quarter is a direct reflection of what kind of offense the Nuggets played and it comes as no surprise that Denver was 8-19 from the field, including 0-3 from long distance.

Yao Ming led all scorers with 31 points, but the Nuggets did a great job keeping him off the boards as the 7’6” big man finished with just three rebounds. Former Nugget Von Wafer and street ball legend Rafer Alston each added 18 points with Skip finishing with a team-high eleven assists. Chauncey Billups recorded his seventh double-double of 13 points and twelve assists, but was a dreadful 3-12 shooting. Nene also recorded a double-double, his eleventh on the year, with 23 points and twelve rebounds. J.R. Smith rebounded nicely after two deplorable outings shooting the ball to score a team-high 24 points on 9-14 shooting, including 5-7 from downtown, in a team-high 41 minutes as a starter.

The Nuggets need to forget about this game because the Kings are coming to Denver tomorrow night and they will be looking for revenge after losing, 118-85, the last time these two teams met in Sacramento. Denver now only holds a two-game lead over the Portland Trailblazers who play later tonight. If Portland wins, they will be just a game and half behind the Nuggets for first place in the Northwest Division.

Game 42: Nuggets @ Rockets

(Boulder-CO) In a rare afternoon game, we celebrate Martin Luther King Day with the Denver Nuggets taking on the Houston Rockets. The Nuggets are fresh off their longest home stand of the year of which they fared 5-2 overall despite losing Carmelo to a broken hand that is going to keep the All-Star sidelined until at least the end of January. The Rockets started off the new year on the wrong foot losing their first three games in 2009, but have since rebounded nicely winning four out of their last five contests.

The Rockets have always had a giant liability on their roster by the name of Tracy McGrady. Whether it’s his testy back that has a history chocked full of spasms or his more recent chronically sore knee, the Rockets are playing without him again. Houston will also be without Ron Artest today due to a balky ankle that he injured in the Rockets’ loss to the Lakers last week. The two combined, when healthy, are averaging over 30 points for the Rockets and in their absence Houston has been starting former Nugget, Von Wafer, and Shane Battier.

Battier is coming off a foot injury himself and has slowly been working himself back into the fold, but Wafer has been everything the Rockets have needed in McGrady’s absence and that Nuggets wanted him to be. Wafer is averaging 16.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, and two rebounds over his last five games, including a 23-point outburst against the Lakers in the aforementioned loss.

So, now that Houston’s injury report is handled, we’ve got to take a look at Yao Ming. The Rockets’ center is having another All-Star caliber year and is taking the load dumped on him by his teammates’ injuries and running with it. In his last outing, Ming set a new Rockets’ franchise record by hitting all twelve of his field goal attempts and grabbed eight rebounds finishing with 26 points. Yao also scored 19 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and handed out five assists during the Rockets' 105-100 loss to the Lakers in just 32 minutes of playing time. The first time these teams met, Yao struggled, if you can say that, with a double-double of 18 points and eleven rebounds on just 5-12 from the field. The Nuggets won that game at home, 104-94. But, in the second meeting with the Nuggets this year, Yao really hurt Denver with 32 points and seven rebounds as the Rockets won that contest, 108-96, in Houston. So, for the Nuggets to win today it is paramount of the Denver bigs that they slow down Houston’s primary offensive weapon. They can do this a number of ways: First is by foul trouble from taking the ball right at Yao early. The Nuggets can also immediately double team him when he gets the ball and force him to rely on his teammates offensively or another way is to get this game going at a breakneck pace and have Ming lost in transition. Either way, anyway, the Nuggets key to success today is to keep Ming from taking over the game offensively for the Rockets as he is their only player that can single handedly carry Houston to victory.

Go Nuggets!

How Good are These Nuggets?

(Boulder-CO) The Nuggets’ 27-14 mark is the third-best record at the midpoint of the season in the team’s 33-year NBA history. The 1976-77 Nuggets were 29-12 and the 1977-78 team went 28-13, but how does this team stack up to those from the past?

Here are the rosters from the two teams that were just a slight bit better in the W/L column and how those teams did in the post season. You be the judge and leave your thoughts in the comments section.

1976-77 (50-32) Head Coach: Larry Brown

Roster: Byron Beck, Gus Gerard, George Irvine, Dan Issel, Bobby Jones, Ted McClain, Paul Silas, Fatty Taylor, David Thompson, Monte Towe, Marvin Webster, Chuck Williams.

This team lost to the Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference Semi's in six games (2-4). *Portland eventually won the NBA Championship that year.

1977-78 (48-34) Head Coach: Larry Brown

Roster: Byron Beck, Mack Calvin, Jacky Dorsey, Bo Ellis, Dan Issel, Bobby Jones, Tom LaGarde, Jim Price, Anthony Roberts, Robert Smith, Brian Taylor, David Thompson, Bobby Wilkerson.

This team won the Western Conference Semi's against the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games (4-3), but were eliminated in the Western Conference Finals by Seattle in six games (2-4).

Go Nuggets!

Hocus Pocus - Nuggets lose to Magic

(Boulder-CO) This game was like a bad episode of the Twilight Zone. In the early goings you didn’t really understand what was going on and towards the end you were disinterested in the outcome. That’s exactly how I would describe the Nuggets as they conceded, 106-88, to the Magic who continue to terrorize their opponents on the road where they are now 17-5.

The Nuggets shooting really struggled early as they connected on just 1-7 from the field to start the game. Then the big men decided to squabble. Nene and Dwight Howard decided to mix it up landing Nene his second and Howard his first on a double-foul that brought the Birdman off the bench with 8:04 remaining in the first. The Birdman then put two fouls on Dwight Howard prompting Superman to say the magic word to referee Mark Ayotte to get hit with a technical foul on his way to pine. The rest of the quarter was one you can chalk up to pure luck as Nuggets really didn’t play very well. Denver shot just 7-20 from the field, including 0-3 from downtown, and just 9-14 from the charity stripe. Starters Nene, J.R. Smith, and Chauncey Billups, were a combined 0-7 and Dahntay Jones didn’t attempt a shot in just six minutes due to picking up two quick fouls. However, thank goodness for the bench because Linas Kleiza (8), Chris Andersen (1), and Anthony Carter (4) were a combined 4-6 from the field as the Nuggets should have felt pretty lucky to be trailing the Magic by just three, 26-23, after the first twelve minutes of play.

In the second quarter the Nuggets Nation got reacquainted with an old friend. Renaldo Balkman saw his first playing time since he played two minutes on January 5th against the Pacers and he didn’t waste anytime making his presence known with a two-handed flush and the corkscrew dismount for an old school three-point play. Balkman’s dunk tied the game at 28 and his made free-throw gave the Nuggets their first lead. The rest of the quarter was a tug of war back and forth with eleven lead changes and 13 ties in total at the half after Nene and Howard each picked up their third fouls on back-to-back possessions. But the Nuggets former 20th overall pick in the 2004 draft, Jameer Nelson, played superb basketball and kept the Denver comeback from turning into much a lead as the half ended with the Nuggets up by the slimmest of margin, 48-47.

How the Nuggets were in the lead was an anomaly all in itself. Denver shot just 14-41 from the field in the first half, including a shoddy 2-7 from three. The Nuggets also had eleven turnovers, but surprisingly were out rebounding the Magic 27-18, but somehow, some way, Denver was actually in the lead despite playing one of their poorer halves of basketball.

Jameer Nelson scored 21 points in the half to lead all scorers and Linas Kleiza paced the Nuggets with 14 points off the bench. For the stat heads, not a single Nugget starter had a positive +/- (to be fair, Kenyon Martin was even, but J.R. Smith, Dahntay Jones, and Nene were each -6), while all Nuggets reserves were in the black.

Once the second half got underway the Magic pulled the three-point rabbit out of their hat and started to put the Nuggets away. Through two quarters, the Magic had only made 4-13 attempts from long range. In third quarter alone Orlando cashed in on four long distance bombs and none were as demoralizing than Hedo Turkoglu’s 30-foot turnaround to close out the third quarter with the Magic up by nine, 79-70.

The Nuggets offense in the second half looked awfully tired. Jumper after jumper, the Nuggets just couldn’t get any continuity going, there was a real lack of movement off the ball, and eventually as a team Denver just fizzled out in the fourth quarter. Part of the problems started with Denver not being able to crank up their fast break like they did in the first half. In fact, the Nuggets only scored three points in transition in the second half while being outscored 59-40 in total. The Magic’s long distance barrage didn’t stop in the fourth quarter either. The fourth opened up with Rashard Lewis and Courtney Lee hitting back-to-back triples and Hedo Turkglu pu the nail in the coffin with another late as the Magic hit seven three’s in the second half and eleven in the game.

This loss was just bizarre from the opening tip. There was the first half that the Nuggets somehow managed to be leading by one at intermission despite it being one of the ugliest 24-minute stretches this season. Then the 40-point effort in the second half from Denver didn’t provide much resistance as the Magic repeatedly tickled the twine from the land of plenty. And then there’s this puzzling twist: The Magic bench only scored two points. That’s right, Anthony Johnson scored the only bucket off the bench while all five starters scored in double figures led by Hedo Turkoglu’s 31 points.

Linas Kleiza was a bright spot scoring a new season-high 26 points. Other nuggets of note were Johan Petro and Sonny Weems both making their Nuggets debut with 3:31 to play. Weems scored his first NBA bucket with 2:15 remaining and finished with four points. Johan Petro also recorded his first deuce as a Nugget by tipping in his own miss, but the Nuggets conceded, 106-88, without as much as peep while being outscored 27-18 in the fourth quarter.

Here’s another statistical outlier: J.R. Smith was -22 +/- in his 36 minutes on the floor. Ouch!

So, Denver concludes their longest home stand of the year 5-2 overall and lost Carmelo Anthony in the process. However, their 27-14 record at the midway point of the season is a sweet surprise for all of us in the Nuggets Nation. On the horizon for Denver is a stretch of the season that is going to either prove this team to be either a true contender or well disguised pretender. 15 of Denver’s next 23 games are on the road including an eight-game Eastern Conference road trip. Up next the Rockets in Houston on Monday in a rare afternoon game.

Go Nuggets!

Game 41: Magic @ Nuggets

(Boulder-CO) Tonight the Nuggets face a tremendous challenge. The 32-8 Orlando Magic are in town after beating the Lakers last night, 109-103, to extend their current win streak to six games. And if you haven’t been paying attention to the rest of the league lately, the Magic have knocked off both of the other two division leading teams in the Western Conference during that streak with a, 105-98, defeat of the Spurs just under a week ago while posting the NBA’s best road record of 16-5.

The Magic are also the NBA’s only team with both 32 wins and only eight losses.

The Nuggets aren’t anybody’s chump either. They own a 27-13 record, and win or lose tonight, they’ve already have solidified themselves as one of the best Nugget teams in franchise history with that W/L record. That mark is the third-best record at the midpoint of the season in the team’s 33-year NBA history. The 1976-77 Nuggets were 29-12 and the 1977-78 team went 28-13.

But tonight we are going to see just how good this team is -- even without their All-Star forward, Carmelo Anthony. Denver is 5-1 so far in this seven-game home stand, with their only loss being to the Pistons who for some reason ALWAYS beat the Nuggets, and are 3-1 since losing Anthony.

When you think of the Orlando Magic, obviously, Dwight Howard is the first thing that comes to anyone’s mind. Howard is leading the NBA in rebounding (13.9 rpg) and blocked shots (3.2 bpg) while also leading Magic in scoring (20.3 ppg). But, most people don’t realize that the Magic are also the Eastern Conference’s leading three-point shooting team connecting on 40.2% of their attempts from the land of plenty and that has nothing to do with Howard.

The men behind this complimentary inside-outside attack which leads the NBA in three’s made per game (10.5) are Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, and Hedo Turkoglu. Rashard Lewis is attempting an average of seven long distance bombs per game and is making 42% of his attempts. Nelson, while shooting the fewest attempts of their three-headed three-point attack at just over four attempts a game, is connecting on the highest percentage of the trio at 45.9% while Hedo brings up the rear in efficiency from behind the line at 35%. Regardless, the Magic as a whole are putting up over 25 three’s per game and are making over 40% as a team combined.

Luckily for Denver, Chauncey Billups has stepped up his game since Carmelo has been on the IL. The King of Park Hill has boosted his output from his season scoring average of 18.7 points to 24.8 points per game over his last five outings of which he’s been battling flu-like symptoms.

And he’s not alone.

Nene and Kenyon Martin have picked up some of Carmelo’s slack too. Nene has seen a bump in his offensive output with an average of 16.8 points per game over his last five games in comparison to his season average of 14.9 while Kenyon has had a similar increase over the same stretch of games with an average of 16.4 in comparison to his 13 ppg average on the year.

For the Nuggets to win tonight’s test against the Magic I truly believe their focus needs to be on the defensive end, and more specifically, the three-point line. The Nuggets are in the bottom third of the NBA when it comes to makes allowed from long distance and if they don’t make an adjustment tonight they could very well get the lights in the Pepsi Center shot out. This Magic team is a trident of great distance shooters and they have a couple of role players who can hurt the Nuggets from deep as well. In congruence to this, long shots mean long rebounds so the Nuggets need to show fundamentally sound rebounding technique when the Magic start to bomb away so they can clean the defensive glass and get out and run their fast break. I will be keeping a very close eye on both the rebounding battle and the fast break points because they will be critical aspects for the Nuggets to win if they’re to win this game.

Dwight Howard may have a 20/20 night tonight on the undersized Denver frontline, but it will be in vain if Denver rebounds as a unit and shares the ball on the break for somewhere in the neighborhood of 25+ assists.

Go Nuggets!