Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Game 41: Magic @ Nuggets

(Boulder-CO) Tonight the Nuggets face a tremendous challenge. The 32-8 Orlando Magic are in town after beating the Lakers last night, 109-103, to extend their current win streak to six games. And if you haven’t been paying attention to the rest of the league lately, the Magic have knocked off both of the other two division leading teams in the Western Conference during that streak with a, 105-98, defeat of the Spurs just under a week ago while posting the NBA’s best road record of 16-5.

The Magic are also the NBA’s only team with both 32 wins and only eight losses.

The Nuggets aren’t anybody’s chump either. They own a 27-13 record, and win or lose tonight, they’ve already have solidified themselves as one of the best Nugget teams in franchise history with that W/L record. That mark is the third-best record at the midpoint of the season in the team’s 33-year NBA history. The 1976-77 Nuggets were 29-12 and the 1977-78 team went 28-13.

But tonight we are going to see just how good this team is -- even without their All-Star forward, Carmelo Anthony. Denver is 5-1 so far in this seven-game home stand, with their only loss being to the Pistons who for some reason ALWAYS beat the Nuggets, and are 3-1 since losing Anthony.

When you think of the Orlando Magic, obviously, Dwight Howard is the first thing that comes to anyone’s mind. Howard is leading the NBA in rebounding (13.9 rpg) and blocked shots (3.2 bpg) while also leading Magic in scoring (20.3 ppg). But, most people don’t realize that the Magic are also the Eastern Conference’s leading three-point shooting team connecting on 40.2% of their attempts from the land of plenty and that has nothing to do with Howard.

The men behind this complimentary inside-outside attack which leads the NBA in three’s made per game (10.5) are Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, and Hedo Turkoglu. Rashard Lewis is attempting an average of seven long distance bombs per game and is making 42% of his attempts. Nelson, while shooting the fewest attempts of their three-headed three-point attack at just over four attempts a game, is connecting on the highest percentage of the trio at 45.9% while Hedo brings up the rear in efficiency from behind the line at 35%. Regardless, the Magic as a whole are putting up over 25 three’s per game and are making over 40% as a team combined.

Luckily for Denver, Chauncey Billups has stepped up his game since Carmelo has been on the IL. The King of Park Hill has boosted his output from his season scoring average of 18.7 points to 24.8 points per game over his last five outings of which he’s been battling flu-like symptoms.

And he’s not alone.

Nene and Kenyon Martin have picked up some of Carmelo’s slack too. Nene has seen a bump in his offensive output with an average of 16.8 points per game over his last five games in comparison to his season average of 14.9 while Kenyon has had a similar increase over the same stretch of games with an average of 16.4 in comparison to his 13 ppg average on the year.

For the Nuggets to win tonight’s test against the Magic I truly believe their focus needs to be on the defensive end, and more specifically, the three-point line. The Nuggets are in the bottom third of the NBA when it comes to makes allowed from long distance and if they don’t make an adjustment tonight they could very well get the lights in the Pepsi Center shot out. This Magic team is a trident of great distance shooters and they have a couple of role players who can hurt the Nuggets from deep as well. In congruence to this, long shots mean long rebounds so the Nuggets need to show fundamentally sound rebounding technique when the Magic start to bomb away so they can clean the defensive glass and get out and run their fast break. I will be keeping a very close eye on both the rebounding battle and the fast break points because they will be critical aspects for the Nuggets to win if they’re to win this game.

Dwight Howard may have a 20/20 night tonight on the undersized Denver frontline, but it will be in vain if Denver rebounds as a unit and shares the ball on the break for somewhere in the neighborhood of 25+ assists.

Go Nuggets!

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