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Regarding the Nuggets recent loss...

Okay before I do this I need to make sure people understand something: I love the Denver Nuggets. Unconditionally. Far and away my favorite team, professional or collegiate level.

Needless to say, I have been closely following this year’s team. And while I find much to praise in the way the Nuggets generally play, I also have a sharp eye for their flaws. So just know that before I begin this mini-rant, I am in no way, shape, or form a hater. I am merely an observant fan that is willing to accept his team, warts and all.

Unfortunately, those warts were on full display in the Nuggets disappointing loss to the Washington Wizards on Friday night. The Nuggets had only 12 assists for the game and were pummeled by 19 points (34-15!) in the fourth quarter, which they had entered with a 9-point lead.

It’s easy to write this game off. They were playing the second night of a back-to-back, they were coming off a physically and emotionally draining overtime win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chris “Birdman” Andersen didn’t play, George Karl waited too long to put his starters back in the fourth quarter… all are nice excuses. But there really is no excuse. There is no reason a team that can beat the Cavs on their homecourt one night can’t beat the lowly Wizards the next.

The trend of playing down to the competition has to end. The Nuggets too often play complacently against sub-.500 teams, and if they don’t reverse it, their dreams of winning the No. 2 seed out West and the Northwest Division could go belly up. After the Wizards loss, Utah is merely a half-game back of the Nuggs and showing no signs of slowing down.

On Friday, the Nuggets reverted to the selfish, one-on-one basketball that has been their Achille’s heel in the past. After a hot start, Carmelo Anthony went cold and started forcing shots. Chauncey Billups shot well and had 28 points, but Denver needs more than two assists from the starting point guard. The bench couldn’t get anything going, and Kenyon Martin disappeared after a string of strong performances.

But to me, the most egregious error was the Nuggets absolute refusal to give the ball to Nene. Nene had a superb first half and appeared to be scoring at will. Then, the Nuggets stopped feeding him the ball. Right around the 4:15 mark of the fourth quarter, while Denver was unraveling, Nene set a screen for Chauncey and rolled to the hoop, wide open. At this point he was 5 for 7, with 17 points. He would stay at that total the remainder of the night. Chauncey decided to give the ball to Melo for the 17th time in a row, and the ball was poked away by Josh Howard, who set about smashing a beer that some oblivious fan had set on the floor.

The face on Nene said it all. He looked absolutely disgusted, and I don’t think it was because some Wizard fan had been denied a $10 Coors. I don’t blame him for one second. Chris Marlowe says it all the time, and he’s right: the Nuggets need to consistently get Nene touches if they are going to win it all. The man needed only seven shots to get 17 points!

Compare that to Melo, who took 20 shots and had 23 points. Nene was playing extremely efficient, and yet the Nuggets went to Melo on nearly every possession during crunch time in the fourth quarter. Melo, bless his heart, does not understand when it isn’t his night. He will continue to shoot, because in his head it’s the only way his team can win. It’s so frustrating when he does this, because he is such a talented passer who can really create offense for his teammates when he is willing.

The problem is Melo and other players sometimes still think the best (only?) way to will the team to victory is to score and score and score, but the numbers show that when the Nuggets are sharing the ball they win at an amazingly high rate. And Al Thornton has officially taken residence in Melo’s brain, because Melo always seems to struggle against him. Thornton defended Carmelo especially effectively in the fourth quarter, holding him scoreless on 0-5 shooting.

This is going to sound a little weird, but bear with me. When the team is in a rut like that, when everybody on the team reverts to ball-stopper mode, Karl should insert Anthony Carter. Maybe not in crunch time, but it's not like the Nuggets were dropping dimes left and right at any point during the last game. It may or may not work, but at least it would send a message, and anything would have been better than what was going on in that fourth quarter against the Wizards. As much as us fans give him grief for his shaky offense and his turnovers, the man moves the basketball. He pushes the ball up the court and he looks to pass, and that’s exactly what the Nuggets needed.

Hopefully they will step it up against the Celtics on Sunday. What am I saying? Of course they will. It’s an upper echelon team, the type the Nuggets have already chalked up 10 wins against by my count. It’s those lesser teams I worry about, the ones the Nuggets have lost 11 games too.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier from here on out, and the Nuggets road record must improve. Home court is absolutely crucial for the Nuggets if they are too advance in the playoffs, and to achieve that advantage they have to start picking up more road wins, especially against teams that most would consider the dregs of the NBA. This Washington win would have been nice, but now the Nuggets will have to win another unexpected road game (like the Cleveland one) to erase the stain of this loss.

To end on a positive note, I am heading to the game today, and I get to go to the shootaround in the morning. Not sure if it’s the Nuggets shootaround, or the Celtics, or both… but if Kevin Garnett is out there, don’t be surprised to see a Nancy Kerrigan-type incident on that bum knee. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!! (Joking, by the way).

1 comment:

  1. This article was a well thought out and superbly written. I agree that in order for the Nuggets to make that next leap to be an elite team they need to start taking each game seriously and stop getting "up" only for "elite" teams. Keep up the good work! I look forward to your next post.