Preview & Chat: The Denver Nuggets

Kurt —  November 21, 2008

Records: Lakers 9-1 (1st in West) Nuggets 8-4 (2nd in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.3 (4th in League) Nuggets 103.5 (20th in League)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 95.3 (1st in League) Nuggets 100.6 (5th in League)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Nuggets : Chauncey Billups, Dahntay Jones, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Nene

Live Blog Tonight: That’s right, if your Friday night includes a computer and television set… well, I’m sorry. But we’re going to try to make it better. FB&G is doing a real-time live blog for the Lakers and Nuggets. And this will be in the BLD style (same software) so your comments can be approved and added to the discussion, taking place in real time. Myself and a few regulars will be in, but it’s going to be a big party and all are welcome.

And, this is the one time we’re violating the drinking and commenting rule around here. At least I am. Everything starts at 7:30 (Pacific, I can’t start drinking at 7:30 in Newfoundland).

Lakers notes: Does any player in the NBA have more arc on their shot than Vladimir Radmanovic?

Brett Edwards of NBA Fanhouse (and like a million other places) was at the game in Phoenix with media passes last night and passed along this:

After the game obviously (Radmanovic) was in good spirits, and his personality is such that he was very laid back about it, basically just saying “hey, the shots went in” and “I only get three or four shots a game, so if they miss, that’s it.” But overall he was real happy. Then I unintentionally killed his mood by asking if he thought his performance solidified his position in the starting lineup. I added on “or does it even matter if you start as long as you’re helping the team win,” but he was visibly unhappy with the question, gave a short response, something like “I don’t know why all the questions about me starting.” But I could tell it bugged him.

As for last night, the Suns are a good team but not a team with the personnel that can tear apart the Lakers defense. Steve Nash can’t get out and run in the new offense, Shaq allows defenders to stay in and protect the paint and all that plays right into the Lakers trap. Kevin Arnovitz over at TrueHoop did a great breakdown of the Suns last night and added this:

The easiest way to beat the Lakers’ strong-side pressure is spot up lethal long-range shooters on the far side. Nobody is better at orchestrating that kind of attack than Steve Nash. Unfortunately, other than Raja Bell, he doesn’t have any teammates on the floor who can hit a shot from beyond twenty feet. This gives the already stifling Laker defense even more freedom to strangle the Suns.

The Nuggets Coming In: I’m still not used to Melo without the cornrows. It throws me off every time.

The Nugs are 7-1 since the trade that sent AI east and brought Billups West. What’s different? I asked Jeremy of the brilliant Pick Axe and Roll for his thoughts:

I think it is important to start off by saying Chauncey Billups is not solely responsible for the Nuggets improved play. They started the season with a renewed team wide commitment to defense. However, the fact that his acquisition has pushed them to a higher level on both ends of the floor and made them a much more dangerous team is beyond dispute.

When I outlined who my ideal point guard would be for the Nuggets I proclaimed he would have to be a good shooter, a player who plays a pass first style, is quick enough to get in the lane, big enough to guard any opposing point guard, quick enough to stay in front of his man and dedicated to playing great team defense. The NBA player who most resembles a combination of all of those criteria is Chauncey Billups (Deron Williams is also a good match, but I do not think Utah was looking to move him to Denver).

The Nuggets have really stepped up their defensive pressure this season and their defense has risen to an even higher level with Chauncey on board. They have held six of their 12 opponents to sub 40% shooting nights so far this season and you may recall one of those six opponents was the Lakers. Their starting lineup is stronger defensively with Billups as they no longer start the diminutive Allen Iverson at shooting guard. That means the Nuggets will not have to send Anthony Carter or Kenyon Martin out to cover the Kobe Bryant’s of the league. As an individual defender, he is very strong and fights through screens well. As a team defender he has good instincts that allow him to freelance a little and he has already proven he trusts his new teammates to rotate and cover his roaming. The Nuggets are more stout defensively than even the most optimistic fans ever expected them to be.

Offensively Chauncey gives the Nuggets their first long range threat at the point since Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and his ability to hit the three has been a key addition to the offense. Paired with J.R. Smith the Nuggets now have two guards with good size, deep range and diverse offensive talents. Chauncey is also a very good in the post and does a great job of directing the offense with his back to the basket where he can spin and drive, shoot a soft turn around or pass to a cutter. He is not a great passer out of the pick and roll, but his ability to shoot has enhanced the Nuggets ability to run pick and rolls this season and they have been taking advantage of that.

In the half court with Allen Iverson on the floor the Nuggets had no true half court offense. No one ever really knew what AI was going to do with the ball. That caused them to stand around and wait for AI to make his move so that they did not get in his way. Now they are playing with more movement and are passing the ball much more readily. In the past the Nuggets would make two or fewer passes and shoot on a vast majority of their half court possessions. Now they are much more determined to work for a good shot and much of that is due to the presence of Chauncey.

As fun as it was to run and gun, it was not making them a contender and in fact I thought it was actually hurting them. Over the offseason I called for them to shift into more of a half court defensive oriented team, because that is the style of play that wins championships. I did not really expect them to do it, and if they did I figured it would take two or three seasons to make that transformation. Well, they pulled it off in a matter of months. The key to that transformation was Billups insertion as the point guard.

Now that Chauncey is running the show they are no longer in such a hurry to jack a shot up as soon as they cross half court. They will still run when the opportunity presents itself, but as I mentioned they have changed their approach in the half court. Thanks to that change their pace factor has dropped by more than five since last season from a league leading 99.7 to 94.3, still in the top ten, but there has been a noticeable alteration in philosophy.

Despite his sizable impact on the X’s and O’s of the game the most important thing Billups brings is his championship experience, leadership and confidence. It is shocking to look back and realize the Nuggets have not had a significant contributor on the roster who owned a ring since Avery Johnson joined the team during the 2001-02 season. Needless to say that was not a good team and he was far enough over the hill that he was already approaching the other side of the valley. I honestly cannot remember the last time the Nuggets had a key player who had already won a championship.

Chauncey’s championship pedigree has revealed itself in the way he pulls guys aside during games and gives them advice or encouragement and he also is very vocal in directing the offense and defense. This is a huge difference from the last few seasons where no one had the gumption, or the credibility, to do that in the past and you can see them growing together game by game because of it. Since his arrival the Nuggets have really morphed into a team instead of a group of talented individuals. You can see the impact Chauncey has had in the play of J.R. Smith. Smith has not shot well and his scoring has been absent over the last couple of games, but he is actually playing some of the best offense of his career. He is looking to set teammates up more than he is looking for his own shot. He is passing up open shots to swing the ball for even better shots and has become much more mature.

The trade has not only energized the team, but the fans are encouraged as well. I expected Denver to surprise most prognosticators and make the playoffs before the season started, but they were still just going to be first round fodder again. That was nothing to get excited about. Now with Billups the ceiling for this team has risen from sixth straight first round exit to a team with a shot at earning home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs that can make some noise.

However, at this point any talk of how far this team can go is pure speculation. Even though they are 7-1 with Chauncey running the show they have only played two tough games during that time. They lost at Cleveland, but then went into Boston the next night and out defended the champs in a game that some pundits called the best road win in 30 years.

Because of their relatively soft schedule since the trade the game against the Lakers is a big deal. If Denver can somehow defeat the conference champs on the road, a task they have not even approached achieving last season despite having four chances to do so, we will all know that this team is legit in a way they have not been in over 20 years. Even if they lose there is a key difference with this team from last season. They may not beat the Lakers in LA, but deep down I know they can and I could not have said that last season. The reason for that change is Chauncey’s presence on the roster.

Keys To The Game: AI may be gone, but these are still two teams that like to get out and run, so transition defense will be key. The team that does it better, and controls the boards, will probably get the win.

Defense in general will be big for the Lakers — the Nuggets did better than most teams with passing and breaking down the Lakers defense last meeting. And they are a better ball movement team now with Billups running the show. The Lakers need an outing like last night, not like last meeting, with good doubles and traps and smart play defending the weak side. And, unlike last meeting, close out on Anthony Carter. Please. That guy kills us every time.

Billups gives the Nuggets more options to defend Kobe (he had 33 in the first get together) so that means other players are going to have to step up. Bynum should be able to dominate Nene in the block, although to his credit Nene is having a breakout season (second best PER on the team).

Another hot shooting game from Radmanovic would be nice. But dare we expect that two games in a row?

Where you can watch:Fox Sports here in LA, nationally you’ll need League Pass or one of the several Web streams for the game.

Kurt

Posts

23 responses to Preview & Chat: The Denver Nuggets

  1. Chris Mihm, Rolaid Rating Team MVP: http://www.82games.com/0809/0809LAL.HTM

  2. Its just great to see the Lakers doing so well. This is where they belong, at the top. Lets hope they keep it up. I see Dallas, San Antonio, and Phoenix all aging faster then a kid with Progeria while the Lakers look young and vibrant.

    Lets hope it leads to a championship this year.

  3. Lakers need to get the Denver bigs (Nene and Martin) into foul-trouble early. If we can get into their bench, as has been the case, our depth will prove to be superior and decisive.

  4. Lakers need to remember that Pau Gasol exists in this game. Denver still has nobody who can guard him, especially if one of their starters is in foul trouble.

  5. Joel. I agree, Pau should be able to have a big game, since they do not have anyone that can match up with him. Both Gasol and Bynum should be able to get good position to get offensive rebounds over Nene and Martin. So if the Lakers can control the glass and rotate well on defensive (like they did last night) then they should win this game.

    A note from last night. Vlad may be the streakiest shooter in the NBA (it just seems he is either really hot or really cold), but when he is hitting the outside shot, I am not sure if anyone can beat the Lakers.

  6. Attacking Denver’s bigs is a key tonight, for sure. We should do this with post ups and penetration by our wings.

    Melo is due for a breakout game against us, so I hope to frustrate him as we have recently with our traps and aggressive defense. Melo is one of those players that likes to attack from the wing (rather than the top of the key) and that’s where our trapping is really putting the clamps on teams.

    Speaking of trapping, I love Odom in this defense. He is one of only a handful of players in the entire league that has the height, length, and quickness to trap hard on the wing and then still recover to the paint to rebound or back to the opposite wing to contest a jumper. When he comes into the game with Ariza and Farmar, that’s when we get so many of our steals by stepping into the passing lane. His trapping on the wing and Ariza/Farmar’s aggressive man defense makes a simple ball reversal a risk against us.

  7. What happened to the new website??

  8. Sounds like our crosstown rivals are working out a deal to get Zach Randolph for Tim Thomas and Mobley….Interesting move. Knicks are clearing house for the summer of 2010.

  9. David St. Hubbins November 21, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Any thoughts on the trades today? I guess the NYK are serious about having cap space for 2010. I think it is exciting that we’ve had so much activity well in advance of the trade deadline.

    My initial gut reaction to the Crawford/Harrington trade is what in the world does GS want with yet another guard who shoots every time he touches the ball? Biedrins better continue to rebound like a demon or he’ll never touch the ball. I guess they plan to have him run the point a little along with Jackson and Ellis when he returns. It’s actually kind of intriguing. For the Knicks, now that they’ve traded Randolph too, they can plug Harrington into the 4 and clear lots of cap space for 2010. I’m not really a Mobley or Thomas fan (it still burns my ass that a crappy player like Thomas buried the Lakers in the playoffs with that 3 for Phoenix), but for the Knicks this year clearly doesn’t even matter that much. They’ve already shown great improvement under D’Antoni and anything else this year will be a bonus.

    But what does this trade mean for the Clippers? Does the arrival of Randolph mean a future departure for Kamen or Camby? I’m can’t envision all 3 playing at the same time nor can I see any one of those 3 coming off the bench. There was a rumor a couple of weeks ago about Kamen getting moved to Miami who is desperate for size. I wonder if a trade like that may be in the works for the Clips. I can’t say that I quite understand where they are going as a team. Maybe this trade makes more sense for them if a Kamen/Marion trade is in the works as well.

  10. This is a bit off topic, but did anyone else see Pau push Matt Barnes to the floor during one of Shaq’s free throws last night? Barnes ended up getting called for the lane violation and Pau was just shrugging his shoulders like “Weird, he just fell down, I dunno what happened.” Had to be one of the funniest plays I’ve ever seen in a game. I rewound it like 5 times, but the announcers didn’t say anything about it and I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere online.

  11. David St. Hubbins November 21, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    10. I saw that…it was hilarious! Barnes was already falling into the lane, Pau just helped him along a little bit.

  12. Ryan O. Yeah I am not sure what the Clips are trying to do. My guess is that they are going to try and move Kaman (or Camby though I think that is less likely). Randolph gives them someone who can score inside and I guess they are hoping that Camby can play defense well enough to clean up for Randolph’s complete lack there of. Not sure who they can get for Kaman, Wallace from Charlotte was a rumor that I heard. The Knicks are clearly trying to clear up space for James (or Wade) in 2010. Though Harrington should work out well in D’antoni’s system so he will help them make a push for the playoffs this year and they should still have enough cap space in 2010 to offer a max contract.

  13. Oops that a response to David not Ryan O. I am responding to the wrong person.

  14. Thanks Kurt! I’ve been refreshing 2-3 times a day hoping that I’ll see a new site. Can’t wait!

    Going to the game tonight……..going to be a great matchup. I hope Lakers don’t use the “back to back” games as an excuse to get complacent. We need to come out focused. After all…….we’ve only played like 10 games.

  15. Is everyone coming to the Live Blog tonight? It’s going to be the event of the century.

  16. Zach Randolph traded to the clippers for Mobley and Tim Thomas.

    WHAT DOES DONNY WALSH HAVE AGAINST MY FANTASY SQUAD?

    And is this not a perfect illustration of the problem of the coach/gm? They overreact to on court issues (My SFs suck and we aren’t rebounding! I know, I’ll trade all my SFs for Zach Randolph!) without considering the long term salary or chemistry issues.

    Does this leave the Clippers with only Thornton and Kaman from last year’s squad? Just Wow, all around. Cleveland fans just spit out their coffee as their stomachs dropped. The Knicks are now 18 mil under the cap for 2010…

  17. Laker fans at the games PLEASE get loud for the best sports franchise in history. Many go to Laker games because it’s hip and it’s their right to do so, however REAL fans need to give the Lakes a true home court advantage as we’re one of the quietest arena in the NBA. Let’s go FANS

  18. any website we can watch the game on ?

  19. stop shooting 3s and keep that lead high. let’s end this game as we started it. go lakers!

  20. Watching Ariza and Bynum this season just makes you wonder how we ever played without them.

  21. That was quite a game. Lakers just didn’t quit on the defensive end.

  22. I LOVED that Pau move on Barnes. Pau was hilarious that day. Before that he was defending doing jumping jacks, did anyone catch that? That too was hilarious. The Barnes push was classic, though. His shrugging made it even funnier. I had no idea Pau was so funny.