Tuesday, January 30, 2007

This Could be Rock-Bottom

(Boulder-CO) I don’t know about anyone else out there, but I would have to assume that this is, or is pretty damn close to, rock-bottom for the Denver Nuggets. The problem isn’t Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony sharing the ball, but rather the rest of these guys stepping up and playing like the dynamic duo isn’t there. Remember how hard the role guys were playing before the AI trade and after Mardy Collins got his legs wobbled? I can just barely recall because as of late the majority of the Nuggets, with some exceptions, have been playing like a bunch of babies. As the spade hit a point where it would seemingly go no deeper, the Nuggets lost to arguably one of the weakest teams in the Charlotte Bobcats, 105-101.

I’m letting Carmelo and Allen off the hook as well as Marcus Camby and J.R. Smith. Although Smith had a deplorable 2-12 night that included 1-9 from three-point range, he has been playing better and his efforts have been there nearly every night. Carmelo had 25 points, six rebounds, five assists, and a block and Allen Iverson contributed 31 points, eight assists, four steals, three rebounds, and a block. These guys are getting it done almost as routinely as the sun rising and they are doing it in more than just the points column. Marcus Camby, even on one of his worst nights of recent, still had ten boards, six blocks, five assists, and three points. So, obviously the problem isn’t with the main weapons. The crux of this slump is with the guys that were stepping up, but now are just not getting it done.

Where it is just not happening is on the defensive end of the floor. Guys like Eduardo Najera, Nene, Reggie Evans, Linas, and Blake are not giving the Nuggets the kind of efforts that were being rendered just a few games ago. Nene’s offense is coming around, but his defense plain stinks. Same goes for Reggie Evans. Maybe making the move to the starting line-up has made Reggie forget what kind of player he is, but I would be lying to you if I said that Reggie has been bringing his lunch box and hard hat to work as of late. And remember the hustle of Eduardo Najera that seemed to be an endless well? Now that well has seemingly dried up into a puddle that seems to get dipped only once or twice a game. Defensive rotations sucks, so that leaves playing zone out, and the Nuggets are having a hard time playing in-your-jock defense against pretty much anybody man-to-man!

I have always believed that defensive agenda is a product of playing with a chip on your shoulder that whispers in your ear, “This fool isn’t going to score on me,” but if I had to guess what kind of chip is whispering in the Nuggets’ ears it would probably be in the realm of, “Don’t worry about rotating over and giving up a lay-up. We’ll just push the ball and get one back on the other end.” Such a defensive identity is plain fools gold and as a result the Nuggets have a lost three straight games and in their last ten, which includes a five-game win streak, are only 5-5.

Nuggets fans need to remember this point in the season because looming in the near future are two games back-to-back with the Portland Trailblazers, one away and then one at home, and the Nuggets are 22-20 at a real fork in their road. If they continue this kind of half-assed play they will most likely limp into the playoffs with the last seed and get bounced in four or five games just like last year. Dallas, Phoenix, or San Antonio will simply drill a team like the Nuggets unless they decide that this is not all they are capable of. There are 40 games left in the season at this point and I truly feel that the Nuggets need to start winning three out-of-every four of those games if they do not want to be talked about as a blundering basketball blooper all summer long!
The bottom line is this: If you want to win, start playing some &%$^#@* defense! Watch some film of the last two games and then do the exact opposite. I haven’t missed a Nuggets game in five years running, but if this team losses to the Trailblazers on Wednesday night… I just might have to take a night off. I will say this though; if this is rock bottom the only way to go is up. However, if it isn’t I may need to be alone for awhile…


Jason said...

I agree completely with your thoughts Nugg Doctor. I think this is rock bottom also. It is like the team just doesn't care anymore. I don't get it. You have everyone on the team talking championship, but they aren't going out and proving it. They lack the energy, the drive, and the focus necessary to be grouped with any of the elite teams in the league, or for that matter, any of the second tier contenders.

It makes me sick to watch selfish, unmotivated basketball, but that is what we have seen. And although Melo, AI, Camby, and Smith have been relatively decent of late, they are also not bringing it for a full 48 minutes. This team cannot simply rely on talent alone, no team can, and until they realize that they will continue to lose.

Anybody miss Andre Miller yet?? He was our motor, and I said from day one we would miss him more than anybody realizes. Great trade still, but I miss the guy.

Steve said...

You can't absolve Melo, AI, Camby and JR of guilt, and then blame the D. Defense is a 5 man proposition, and at least 3 of those guys, sometimes 4, are on the floor most of the game. If the problem is D (which it is), it's everyone's problem.

Stumbleweed said...

Good thought Jason. I'm missing Andre too -- motor is the perfect way to describe what he did for us. It seems like we're playing a lot slower since AI got here, which is counter-intuitive, given that AI is WAY faster at everything than Andre is... I think we used to go faster with Andre because he was a better passer and could make harder passes at speed in fast break traffic. I think AI (like Boykins) tends to run full-speed into the defense and then do the little circle under the basket thing -- that takes about 5-6 seconds off the clock... And as we know, we're a MUCH better team when we shoot in the first 8 seconds.

We have to work on giving AI/Blake good passing lanes on the break so they don't have to waste time. If we (everyone has to do it) can run full-speed and get those lanes, we'll be just fine against almost anyone. And of course, getting more turnovers to create fast breaks.

Though it seems like part of our problem is that we're looking for the turnover too much -- it's the easy way out on defense. Same reason that AI gets nice steal numbers but isn't considered a good defender -- it's essentially a cop-out. The mindset seems like, "Oh, we just need to try the swipe or double-team -- if we don't get it, we'll try again next time.. we've gotta get one eventually." It just leads to sloppy play, easy baskets for the opponent, and tons of missed assignments (as we've seen the last few games).

When we get the steals, it looks like we're playing great and it always makes for exciting plays. But against teams that run a solid halfcourt game or have a really good PG at the helm, that gambling is pretty much worthless. We got turnovers last night, but so did they, and we didn't play defense as well as they did -- so we lost by 4. You can't rely upon hot shooting and easy steals to win games because they simply don't happen all of the time. You can always play good man-to-man defense, but you don't always get those kinds of breaks (AI said something similar in the presser last night). We're rolling the dice with our whole gameplan, and right now, we're rolling nothing but snake eyes as far as defense goes.

I hope they can get it together. I want a starting line of AI, JR, Diawara/Melo (interchangeably playing 3/4), and Camby next game. I'm kinda torn between Kleiza and Yak right now -- we really need Diawara's defense, but he's not as physical as Kleiza on the offensive/rebounding end (which we also need at the 4, hence Reggie starting). I like this smaller lineup against most teams -- we might have to go with a different one (or at least play Nene/Reggie more against really big teams, but I think this unit would do the job the majority of the time. Yak came off the bench yesterday and got 7/1/1 in 4 minutes -- then he never got back in. Where's the reward for solid play?

Eddie had some nice plays last game, but as you said, he hasn't been nearly the kind of hustle guy that he's been for us in the past. Reggie seems to have hit a wall -- he rebounds like crazy but can't seem to get over the 10-point hump or play real inside defense. Nene is showing great explosion and promise on the offensive end, but honestly, an offensive PF is so far down on our list of needs right now, it's not even funny. And his knee isn't yet to the point of getting all those quick jumps and movements required for good inside defense. That's why I'm officially campaigning for Yak or Kleiza to start at the 3/4. 'Melo is effective in the low post and it would serve to spread the floor a little more to have a real danger hanging around that area more often. If we can get AI, JR, and Blake to hit their open threes, we'll be in business.

I dunno -- I feel like I'm grasping at straws here. Start the rookies, I say. What else is there to lose after taking home losses to multiple under .500 teams? I'm not at the point where I'm going to stop watching games, but it is pretty shitty to spend $25-30 to see them lose in person. Hopefully they get their stuff together and we can figure out some of these things before we piss away our playoff seed.

Another novel by your man Stumbleweed. Sorry about that, Doc.

Nugg Doctor said...

No problem stumbleweed. You have some very valid points. I just am at a loss as to what the answer is for this team. They have so much potential that it makes me sick to see them losing to these types of teams at home.


I am not absolving anyone, but maybe Camby, the other guys are getting it done in their respective games. We didn't acquire AI thinking that he was Walt Frazier. We knew what he was when we got him. Same goes for Carmelo. He is not Ron Artest, but his numbers indicate that he is grabbing boards, stealng balls, and dishing assists. It is everyone else that needs to up their D, along with these guys too, because the Nuggets look like shit. Our scorers are going to score. Everyone else needs to find a way to contribute is I guess ultimately the point I'm trying to make. You can't tell me that if you gave Yakhouba Diawara Eduardo's 21 minutes that he wouldn't have grabbed five boards and five points when he had seven points and a rebound in four minutes!

Thanks for reading,

The Nugg Doctor

Stumbleweed said...

That's what I'm on about -- Kleiza and Yak seem to put up decent offensive numbers whenever they get some minutes (Yak less so, but he plays the best on-ball defense on our team which we NEED right now more than ever). Now that our real scorers are back, we just relegated those guys to the less than 10 minutes/game that they're getting now without really looking at what they can provide for us with the returning players back in the lineup. It's almost like we just dismissed them outright because they're the youngest guys (experience-wise) on the team. We forget quickly that the best game we played all year (IMO -- but maybe the OT Rockets game beats it) was the Wizards game we basically won with our bench guys playing great team ball.

If you look at the box score for that game, Yak played 40 minutes, held Gilbert to 23 on 10/30 shooting, and got him into foul trouble (Gil finished with 5). That's exactly the kind of thing we need to happen -- why was Yak on the bench when Vince Carter was destroying us? Why wasn't he playing when Ray Allen lit us up for 44? We HAVE to stop other team's stars to have a chance, and Yak is the only guy who has shown he can do that against some of the game's top scorers. Why did we put Steve Blake on Vince Carter, one of the most athletic and well-rounded players in the NBA? It makes absolutely no sense. Steve guards PGs, NOT Vince Carter. We didn't trade Earl for Artest here, we traded for a distributor -- I don't know why the coaching staff thinks Steve should be put on the other team's best player.

Having our scorers back makes guys like Kleiza and Yak MORE valuable, not less -- per minute, they should be getting better numbers with Melo, JR, and AI all there. How can you not get open looks when all those guys are on the floor (hence my suggested starters)? All of them pass well, and Melo and AI are constantly doubled... whoever plays at least 25 minutes at PF should get a nightly double-double with the guys we have around them. The problem that we've been having is that Reggie and Najera can't seem to finish when they get open, no matter how many rebound-layups they get.

But yeah, I'm kind of at a loss as well. I hope the coaching staff gives the other guys a chance, because our chemistry and cohesiveness as a team (especially on defense) is obviously pretty bad right now. We probably just need to try all the combos until we find an actual starting lineup (meaning that everyone gets starters minutes, not this Blake/JR starting and ending with 25 crap) and then run with it. You can't have cohesiveness as a team if you don't know who's going to be there when you have the ball. Reggie in the starting lineup hasn't seemed to work so far, so we need to try something else.

Changing lineups constantly is a nice idea in theory (to give the defense a bunch of different looks, etc.), but you need chemistry and experience before you can change things up that much -- otherwise you don't have any solid ground to go back to if/when it doesn't work. That's where we're at right now -- we have all the pieces, but they're not working together (even though they appear to just looking at the box scores), and there's no consistency in our performances. It's just as bad as having injuries or suspensions -- uncertainty kills teams. And I think a lot of that uncertainty stems from the inconsistency in our starting lineup/minute share.


Here's hoping that we don't lay another egg in Portland. On the bright side, our road prowess bodes well for us playing 4 out of 7 games on the road in the playoffs (as it seems will be the case). Not saying we really have a chance against one of the top 4 teams, but we would have a better chance than if we were at home, which is pretty sad...

RD said...

Get back to what worked early on before the suspension and the trade of Dre. The line up should be Melo, Eduardo, JR, Camby, and in Miller's place..AI. That's your best five statistically. Most won't accept Eduardo as a starter now but that is the line up that had the most success. Then you brin in the guys like Blake(who in my opinion hasn't proven anything yet). his career numbers stink compared to what JR has produced for this team so far. I think Melo, Camby and JR were a force before the addition of AI and with the four of them on the floor and an Eduardo from earlier on, this team will have success.