Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Nuggets Shoot Themselves in Foot
(Boulder-CO) I said it before, and I'll say it again: Nothing about the Portland Trailblazers impresses me. The Denver Nuggets flat out beat themselves last night by abandoning everything that is holy to them offensively and even if you didn't have the chance to watch last night's agonizing loss the box score serves as the best evidence to support my claim. So, if you will, allow me to cry over all the spilt milk of last night's, 101-92, loss to the Blazers.
The main hurdle that stumbled the Nuggets last night was shot selection and it was fueled by the fool's gold shooting in the first quarter. Despite playing the Blazers even, 25-25, through twelve minutes, Kenyon Martin, Chauncey Billups, and J.R. Smith were all playing outside their available means. Kenyon especially needed to check his outside shot with his warm-ups as the 6'10" power forward kept catapulting long range jumpers after he was fortunate enough to make his first 20+ foot jump shots. Chauncey Billups was also shooting shots that were out of his normal repertoire on his way to 1-7 start in the first half and his reluctancy to get others involved became contagious as the Nuggets handed out a measly eight assists in the first half on a combined 14-35 shooting. And to compound the frigid shooting and lack of ball movement, the Nuggets added ten first half turnovers to the already disappointing box score as they found themselves trailing at the half, 47-42.
An interesting side note in the second quarter was Carmelo Anthony taking a seat with the broadcast crew with about eight minutes to play before the break. Now, I'm not against star players stopping by the game table for a few comments now and then to add some insight to their team, but it seemed like the entire game stopped for the Nuggets when Carmelo got on the headset. From the time he put on the cans until the time he retreated back to the bench over five scoreless minutes went by where the Nuggets played like a junior varsity. The Trailblazers took full advantage of this miserable stretch and pasted Denver with a 15-0 run and I had to look away because the play was absolutely hideous. No resemblance to an NBA offense was run, Denver turned the ball over three times, Chucky Atkins played far too many minutes (where was Renaldo Balkman?), and the shot selection continued to be horrendous. Denver should have felt lucky to only be down by five heading into intermission after that debacle that I have no problem calling it their worst five-minute stretch of the season.
Once the second half got underway there seemed to be a revival of quality Nuggets basketball as the Nuggets regained their role assignments and started taking the ball to the basket and hitting the boards. In fact, the Nuggets scored eight of their first 15 points in the second half on free-throws en route to tying the game, 58-58, with 4:20 still remaining in the third period. Furthermore, the Nuggets actually took the lead twice, momentarily, 64-63, after Kleiza hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Anthony Carter connected on a long jumper, 66-65, before Anthony Carter fouled Rudy Fernandez with the shot clock winding down to grant Fernandez two free-throws and the Traiblazers regained the lead entering the fourth, 67-66.
Brandon Roy took over in the fourth scoring 12 of his 19 points as the Denver defense allowed Portland 34 points in the final quarter. The complete breakdown defensively was weathered well by the Nuggets until the Trailblazers made it into the penalty at the five minute mark as the final 19 points scored by Portland came by way of 12 Blazer free-throws.
So here's the real truth about how the Nuggets lost this game: Denver stopped passing the ball. The Nuggets only recorded 15 assists in this contests because everyone wanted to shoot the jumper. Kenyon Martin is not an outside shooter and all I want for Christmas is for him to stop shooting from anywhere outside 15 feet. Martin was 5-15 from the field, Chauncey was 4-12 from the field, and J.R. Smith was 0-5 from downtown and 2-8 overall with a team-high four turnovers. And here's something we probably will not see in the remaining 53 games of the season: Chucky Atkins led the team with four assists! Sometimes the Nuggets can be so selfish offensively that it really makes it hard for me to fathom what is going on internally with this team when it's so obvious that when they don't share the ball they will almost surely lose against most teams in this league. Is it too many egos and not enough we-gos? Is it a sense of role misidentification? Is it a sense by the players that if they don't individually produce that their playing time might get trimmed in the same manner as Renaldo Balkman's has? Take your pick, but it's certainly making this team hard to watch on night's like this when the problem seems to be pretty obvious.
Moving on, the one thing I have noticed about J.R. Smith is the only person who can stop him is J.R. Smith. When he penetrates it's a coin flip as to whether we are going to be treated to a breathtaking dunk or finger roll, or an out of control turnover. Rarely ever does the defender stop him; it's always a turnover by bad pass or lost dribble. Last night, Smith looked out of synch while tryign to force the offensive issue instead of just letting the game come to him.
The only Nuggets who I felt played THEIR game were Linas Kleiza and Nene. LK scored 20 points on an efficient 6-10 from the field, including a red-hot 5-7 from beyond the three-point line. He also didn't turn the ball over and snagged four rebounds while not taking any "hero shots" and playing solid defense. Nene played 39 minutes of controlled cerebral basketball on both ends of the floor finishing with 17 points, 13 rebounds, and four steals as he once again completely dominated Greg Oden. Big Brazil managed to stick four out of Oden's five fouls on him in just eight minutes of burn as Portland's next Sam Bowie was held to just two rebounds.
The loss brings the Trailblazers back into a tie with the Nuggets for first place in the Northwest Division with an indentical 18-11 overall record. The Nuggets did not fare well in this brutal stretch of six games in nine nights with a W-L record of 2-4 and will not have Carmelo Anthony back for their game on Friday against the 76ers at the Pepsi Center.
Until then, Happy Holidays, Nuggets Nation!