Thursday, November 13, 2008

Game 8: Nuggets @ Cavaliers

(Boulder-CO) The shorthanded Nuggets will face their first of two extremely difficult, back-to-back tests of this season when they take on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight and the defending champion Boston Celtics tomorrow. And as if the order wasn't tall enough, the Denver Nuggets suited only nine players against the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday night and will once again have a thin frontcourt due to Chris Andersen (rib), Steven Hunter (knee), and Kenyon Martin (wrist) all doubtful for tonight's game. Oh, and don't forget that Cleveland is a perfect 4-0 so far this season at home!
Since LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were forever joined in the 2003 draft it has been Carmelo who has enjoyed the most head-to-head success while James has experienced more success overall. Since James and Anthony entered the league, Denver has won five straight and eight of the first 10 meetings with Cleveland, including two wins last season by an average of 26.0 points, but that's not the only story line between two players with ties on either team. Of the three Brazilian players currently in the NBA, Denver's Nene and Cleveland's Anderson Varejao are also critical components to their respective clubs. For the Nuggets, Nene comes into tonight's game as Denver's third leading scorer with an average of 15.6 ppg which includes the NBA's best shooting percentage of 67.2%. Big Brazil has also scored 10+ points in six of his first seven appearances this season, marking the first time in his career that he has done so. For the Cavs, Varejao is averaging 8.8 ppg off of the bench while also shooting a blistering 65.1% from the field.
As I mentioned before, the Nuggets are extremely thin right now in the frontcourt. The injuries to Nugget big men has left Denver playing Carmelo Anthony and Renaldo Balkman at the power forward position when Linas Kleiza, J.R. Smith, Dahntay Jones, or Anthony Carter play in any combination with Chauncey Billups. And to this point, it hasn't been a blatant deficiency for Denver, but that might speak more to the teams that the Nuggets have faced up to this point. However, tonight against the Cavaliers it may be a different story. Cleveland, including the super-human LeBron James, has a very big and talented crew of big men. The Cavaliers use the 7'4" Zydrunas Ilgauskas and the bruising Ben Wallace in tandem as starters and then shuttle the 6'11" Varejao in and out as needed. Furthermore, Cleveland plays at a very grinding style of halfcourt basketball which could also stymie the smaller, quicker Nuggets.
The winner of tonight's game is going to be the team that dictates the style of play. The Cleveland Cavaliers, with their size and lack of overall team speed, are going to want to play halfcourt offense while not allowing the Nuggets to start their fast break. On the other hand, Denver will want to push the pace and score as many points as possible in an attempt to run the Cavs ragged. And to do this, Denver will need to rebound the basketball. I have been disappointed in the Nuggets' effort on the boards in their last two games due to the number of offensive rebounds allowed and the overall lack of a sound rebounding scheme. Too often the Nuggets all turn and look for the ball coming off the goal rather than finding the closest man and putting a body on them. As a result, we have seen Denver fall behind in games early, and make things harder then they needed to be on themselves down the stretch. In this regard, and since acquiring Chauncey, it hasn't burned the Nuggets yet, but that's not to say it won't in the future.
My final thought is going to be the inevitable match-up between Renaldo Balkman and LeBron James. Carmelo Anthony may initially draw James on defense, but King James has scored exactly 41 points in three of the last four games Cleveland has played and I believe the onus of guarding LeBron is going to ultimately fall on Balkman. That's not to say Carmelo isn't capable of at least slowing James down (because let's be honest, no one mere mortal can stop him), but if the Nuggets are going to win they will need Anthony more on the offensive end while hoping Renaldo can do a respectable job guarding the most unguardable player in the league today.
Go Nuggets!


Sean T said...

Good Dr.,
How much of a role in the Nugs success do you think Renaldo "the Predator" Balkman has played? That guy hustles like Najera did for us and isnt as much of a liability. Great pickup in my opinion. Thoughts?

Nugg Doctor said...

I have to agree with you that he hustles much like Najera did while not being such a liability. If Eduardo was short in one area it was athleticism. Balkman has that, and a few more physical gifts.

However, Eduardo could shoot three's, but I'm not sure that the Nuggets needed a reserve power forward with a shy trigger finger.

But here is the most important thing to keep in mind...

I think Balkman, Nene, and Chauncey have drastically improved the Denver defense in comparison to last year's crew with AI and Camby. I know it's still early, but I can already tell the pace has slowed down partly due to Denver not giving up as many easy buckets and the Nuggets are really trying to play both ends of the court much smarter this season.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading,

The Nugg Doctor

tglode said...

Yo Doc,

Are you implying that Camby was a defensive liability? If so, I totally agree. The Defensive MVP of the league was only that because he roamed and cheated on defense....

I'll take Nene D over Camby all day--- do you agree?

Anonymous said...

We're still #1 in pace surprisingly, but I agree that the game seems slowed down this year. My issue is that George is now in love with Balkman and Jones (in addition to Carter and Kleiza) and isn't giving JR the 30+ minutes he was talking about at the beginning of the year, much less the starter's role that everyone thought was due when Chauncey arrived. He's a guy that needs consistent minutes and once again, he's hovering between 15 and 35 minutes from game to game with no real role from what I can tell. He's passing the ball at a much higher rate, rebounding better, and playing solid defense but he still doesn't get consistent minutes from George. I'm all for cutting Kleiza and Birdman's minutes to give Balkman and Jones time, but there's no reason JR should only play 15 minutes with our current team. He had such great numbers and efficieny in pre-season because he was playing a ton -- it ALWAYS happens that way, but George apparently doesn't notice/care. The first two games of the season when he played 35 MPG, he put up games of 17/5/2 and 17/10/2 on 50% shooting... not a coincidence.

And seriously, Kleiza has been HORRIBLE this year (solid play in the last 2 games aside) and is a worse on-ball defender than JR by a mile... no lateral quickness at all, doesn't use his size/strength to his advantage, and generally plays "ole!" defense. I also don't get why he has the green light to chuck whenever the ball comes to him and JR doesn't -- LK is a bad outside shooter by nearly every measure, yet George lets him chuck it without repercussion and gives him 25+ minutes still. As Charles Barkley said, "That boy has no conscience!" -- JR had no conscience the last few years, but he is actually a great outside shooter whereas Kleiza should be hanging around inside and going to the hoop. Very frustrating. Jr's having a bad shooting streak, but he has the numbers to back up the fact that he's a good shooter -- Kleiza absolutely does not.

Nugg Doctor said...


What I'm implying is I think the rest of the Nuggets relied on Camby too much and the situation necessitated Camby playing the way he did, at the overall loss of the team.

As for, as you put it, "Nene D over Camby", I'm not so sure I agree completely, but I do like the way our complexion has changed defensively with the way things are now.

Thanks for reading,

The Nugg Doctor

Nugg Doctor said...


I'll agree with you that there seems to be less scrutiny on Kleiza's shot selction and frequency than on J.R.'s.


I'm not worried about J.R.'s role with the team right now because the Nuggets are injured on the frontline and Kleiza is probably getting more minutes because of his size. J.R. is still the better player and I think once some of the bigs return so will more consistent minutes for J.R.

Thanks for reading,

The Nugg Doctor