In the first half, the Nuggets and the Nets were both struggling offensively and were shooting the exact same lousy percentage from the field. However, the Nuggets were in cruise control at halftime by means of a 16-point lead due to getting to the free-throw line far more frequently and making more of their attempts. In fact, it was the only statistical shooting difference in the first numbing 24 minutes.
I digress, only because the Nuggets were winning, and will fast forward through one of the worst defensive third quarters I think the Nuggets have played maybe all year. After holding the Nets to a mere 31 points in the entire first half, the Nuggets returned from halftime lethargic and surrendered a 36-point third quarter to New Jersey. And to truly illustrate how bad of a defensive collapse it was, Denver was ahead by 22 points with less than five minute remaining in the third before flat lining while New Jersey went on a 22-6 run entering the fourth quarter.
Now we had a ball game. Or at least I thought.
The Nuggets snapped out their funk like a prize fighter wakes up from smelling salts and gave the Nets a knockout punch in the form of a 4:51 long, 12-0 run to get things started. At this point, the Nuggets were up 18 and the closest the New Jersey Nets could get was trimming Denver’s lead to five with 3:46 remaining before going scoreless for the rest of the game as the Nuggets closed things out with a another 10-0 run.
Excluding the final five minutes of the third quarter, this game was well managed by the Nuggets. They shared the ball, did exactly what I said to do in transition on the slower Nets, used great defensive pressure (15 steals), and didn’t turn the ball over much (just eight TO's). Allen Iverson led all scorers with 30 points, five assists, three steals, two rebounds, and only one turnover. And, for the second straight game without Carmelo, the Nuggets received two other twenty-point efforts by, guess who, Linas Kleiza and Kenyon Martin. Linas has picked a great time of the year to step up for the injury plagued Nuggets and chipped in his fourth 20-plus point performance in the last five games with 23 points, eleven rebounds, two steals, two assists, and a block in his second straight start. Similarly, Kenyon Martin made his second straight start since returning from a staph infection and gave the Nuggets his second straight 20-point performance in addition to seven rebounds, two blocks, and a steal.
The other two great efforts that have to be mentioned came from Eduardo Najera and Anthony Carter. “The Grout” finished tonight’s game with twelve points, nine rebounds, and a team-high five steals in 21 minutes of play. Altitude Sports and Entertainment also brought it to my attention that Eduardo has currently played the 3rd most minutes played by any player in the NBA coming off the bench. His starting teammate, Anthony Carter, also had another yeoman performance by quietly dishing out a team-high nine assists while not turning the ball over a single time, grabbing five boards, and scoring four points in 39 minutes at the helm.
And then there is Marcus Camby. To be quite honest with you, I know the All-Star game is in New Orleans. And I know that the Hornets' Tyson Chandler or Amare Stoudemire will probably get the nod over “The Captain”, but Marcus is truly having a better season up to this point than both and deserves to be named an All-Star. About the only knock anyone can put on Camby is his inconsistent scoring, but on a team with so much offensive firepower that shouldn’t be a deciding factor when evaluating his first half of the season overall. Tonight, Camby grabbed 14 rebounds, swatted four shots, and scored six points in just another quiet but pivotal role. Plus, Marcus eclipsed the 1000th block milestone with the Nuggets on his second of the aforementioned four rejections.
The Nugget are now 1 ½ games ahead of the Portland Trailblazers for first place in the Northwest Division with two fewer losses. Remember, Nuggets Nation, the loss column is what you want to keep an eye on in what is shaping up to be a pretty tight playoff race because wins can be made up, but once you lose, the number of losses can’t be changed.