Friday, January 26, 2007

Nuggets vs. Jazz Preview

(Boulder-CO) The last time these two teams met the Nuggets were a badly depleted squad. They didn’t have Marcus Camby due to the hand injury, Carmelo and J.R. were still suspended, and the Nuggets had not yet traded Earl Boykins for Steve Blake. Utah won that match up by twelve points, but oh what a difference 20 days makes! This time around the Nuggets will be a full-strength and I expect a much better showing by Denver.

For starters, the Jazz have come back down to Earth after their red-hot start to the season. In their last ten games the Jazz are an honest 5-5 and are coming off a loss to the, smirk, Memphis Grizzlies. They do still have a four game lead over the Nuggets in the divisional standings, but tonight poses an opportunity for Denver to gain some ground.

In their first match-up, Deron Williams exploded on the defense of Earl Boykins for 28 points and 12 assists, but don’t think that a similar performance is in stock against the defense of Steve Blake or Allen Iverson. It’s just not going to happen, and I feel that Williams will be held around his averages of 16 points and nine assists.
Another front to be aware of is the defensive presence that was missed when Marcus Camby wasn’t available for the first meeting. Okur, despite having a great season, and Boozer will have a different time getting all those bunnies that killed the Nuggets last time with one of the league’s best one-on-one defenders/shot blockers/rebounders back in action.

I have two points of emphasis tonight that if accomplished will end up resulting in a victory for the Denver Nuggets. Reggie Evans and Nene are going to have to play great defense against Carlos Boozer. Carlos can hit the medium range jumper with consistency and likes to crash the boards from the weak side on both the offensive and defensive glass. The Nuggets defender that guards Boozer is going to have to make sure to contest that outside jumper while not giving up baseline drives and also make a point to put a body on Boozer regardless of proximity to the basket to keep him of the glass. He lives off offensive rebounds for easy buckets and will become frustrated if he isn’t grabbing boards as easily as he is accustomed to.

My second point is movement without the ball. I noticed against the Sonics that the Nuggets still have a tendency to get caught watching when AI or ‘Melo start to work on their man. If, and when, Carmelo gets the ball in the low post it is imperitive for the weak side to screen away and cause commotion because it frees up passing lanes for ‘Melo to survey and causes confusion on rotations. This results in the double-team being harder to pull off for the Jazz and makes it easier for Denver to capitalize when they do. Both Iverson and Anthony are proficient enough passers to find the open man if their offensive attempt isn’t there and I would like to see both men finish with more than five assists for the game.

This is far more than just a divisional match-up for the Nuggets. This game serves as a measuring stick for how the Nuggets are progressing against some of the real contenders in the stacked Western Conference. Wins over Memphis and Seattle were nice, but as the season enters the second half it is really how the Nuggets do against teams that are playoff bound that provide a glimpse as to what is to come. Denver can extend their five-game win streak if they take care of the points of emphasis that I have illustrated. I’m expecting a great game. Go Nuggets!


Stumbleweed said...

Yeah, I think rebounding will be the key in this game -- specifically keeping Boozer from getting them, and getting some easy second chance points on our end with Reggie/Nene. We're definitely a better scoring team, and if we get those extra posessions, I think we'll come out on top.

My pick for a big game tonight is JR -- I think he'll continue his hot shooting and will have some open looks against the somewhat slow-footed Jazz. They'll be trying to cover Melo and AI and he'll likely be the one left open (since he mostly hovers between half court and the arc). He's currently 2nd in makes from deep and 4th in attempts -- he's outpacing Ray Allen in the three department, so I can safely say that he's doing his job. When he starts moving without the ball instead of just waiting for it to come to him and improves his shot selection, watch out!

I like our matchups inside also -- I think Marcus is more than capable of essentially eliminating Okur from the game (especially inside), which would be huge. Boozer can hit the 15-footer, but if we can keep Nene/Reggie/Camby bodying him and harassing him, I don't think he'll be able to score that efficiently, especially if we give a good rebounding effort on both ends.

I've been loving the big lineup with Marcus and Nene -- I think that Nene's pushing Reggie out of the starting spot soon because of the way he finishes at the basket and his size. I don't think he should get starter's minutes really, but a JR-like 25-30 min/game would be awesome and probably wouldn't be too much for his knee (especially if his diet helps him shed some weight).

But I really think he and Marcus will be our keys to any real success this year against the better teams in the West. They all have good inside presences who can play the low post (some less than others, i.e. Phoenix), and we didn't really have that with Nene out because Marcus is mostly a finesse guy. To be able to win some of the inevitable 87-84 games that we'll end up in against teams like San Antonio and Houston, we need that low post presence for easy points. We're suck a streaky team, we really need a guy that can get some easy points in the paint to keep us afloat when jumpers aren't falling and a good defensive team is denying easy lanes to the basket. Go Nuggs!

Stumbleweed said...

DAmmit. I can't believe we lost that game. I hate refs so much. No calls like crazy -- Boozer and Harpring were just beating guys up and nothing was getting called. That call that went against Nene totally changed the game and ultimately screwed us. We didn't play the defense we needed to, and some key misses from the stripe didn't help our cause. We should've had that one. Two guys with 30+? MY pre-game JR prediction went totally flat -- where were his looks? He made the only shots he took (one three), but he got into foul trouble and didn't get any looks after that. Bummer.

I'm going to the game tomorrow, so hopefully it goes a little better. Melo and AI played amazing basketball tonight, but I know all the media wonks are going to be proclaiming the death of the Melo-AI experiment... Let it all roll off, because these guys are going to be dynamite for the rest of the season. We can't let this loss get us down -- we need to win the next two games against the Jazz and get revenge for these losses.

I need some ref voodoo dolls. Someone get on that for me.