Preview & Chat: The Denver Nuggets

Kurt —  February 27, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets - Game Three
Records: Lakers 48-10 (1st in West) Nuggets 38-20 (3rd in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.4 (1st in league) Nuggets 109.2 (9th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.4 (7th in league) Nuggets 106.6 (10th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Nuggets Billups, Dahntay Jones, Melo, K-Mart, Johan Petro

Jordan Farmar’s beard: Jordan Farmar has apparently given up shaving for Lent. I’m not sure there’s another reason for sporting his new beard. But Mimsy made a great point in the comments:

There has been a depressing lack of facial hair on the Laker bench since Turiaf left. Morrison’s porn stach is all well and good, but we needed for a real beard. Farmer stepped up and did what was necessary for the team, and should be commended. Plus, the beard makes his ears look smaller which means he now looks more like an Earthling and less like a Vulcan. Since extra-terrestrials have been banned from playing in the NBA for some time now, that will also cut back significantly on administrative costs for the team.

Lakers without Bynum. When someone suggested in the comments after the OKC game that the Lakers were better off without Bynum, there were some interesting comments from Reed and Darius, that deserve a bigger audience. So, here they are.

Reed first:

I don’t think the Lakers are better without Bynum either, but they are much more cohesive, fluid, natural, purposeful (searching for the right combination of adjectives…). Without Drew, I think the team feels more comfortable in a few ways. There’s a sense of familiarity born of last year’s title run. The roles are more clearly defined, leading to increased individual (even if not team) consistency – Kobe gets 30, Pau 20 and 10, Lamar 15 and 12, and so forth, with little variation. With Drew, sometimes he’d be option #1 down low and sometime Gasol, Odom’s role wildly fluctuated based on need, Kobe didn’t need to score as much, etc. The offense also moves more fluidly without Bynum as all 5 players can typically pass and shoot from outside, whereas Drew leads to a lot of possessions where he slowly operates on the block (and very effectively). The pace is also more consistently up tempo without Drew. So, again, things are more uniform without Drew – consistent pace, defined roles, free flowing offense, etc. There’s real appeal in that and it works, this year and last. But Drew gives the team real upside. When he’s firing, he transforms our defense from okay/good to great and presents an overwhelming physical presence that few teams can deal with on offense.

Now Darius:

I would also add to what Reed is saying about fluidness on offense. Bynum is not nearly the level passer that Gasol is from the hub of the Triangle and that makes the ball stall more and leads to uninspired cuts from our other players as they rarely get rewarded from that movement when it’s Bynum that’s doing the posting. In addition to this, LO is replaced by Pau in the starting group and Pau is not as mobile nor the cutter that LO is so we don’t get the same type of off ball motion out of Pau that we get from LO (this is also true when it’s Pau posting and Bynum is the one that would be moving off the ball). So, with Bynum in the game, we end up with more post iso’s. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because as Reed pointed out, our bigs are very efficient scorers on the block.

One last point I would make is that both LO and Bynum are mostly isolation players when they have the ball in their hands, they just do it in different ways. LO loves to attack off the dribble and Phil likes to put him in positions where he can drive against PF’s that don’t have the skill to stay in front of him (for example those top of the key iso’s where we go to a 1-4 set and Odom can drive hard to his left hand with shooters all around him). Bynum on the other hand has really come into his own as a player that can score against very good defenders in the post. My point really is this: Do you want a player that can create off the dribble or another player that can score on the block with consistency? The funny thing is, (I want) and we really need both. When you look at our team, Kobe and Farmar are the only players that can create for themselves or others off the dribble besides LO. And Kobe and Gasol are the only players that can score in the post with consistency besides Bynum. This is why we need Bynum back and why we also need Odom on this team. They bring dimensions to our team that aren’t prevalent outside of one or two other players. In the end, I’d love for Odom to keep his aggression level high when Bynum returns while also hoping that Bynum is ready to score on the block the way that he was when he got injured. It’s this diversity, with a full roster, that makes us such a complete offensive team.

The Nuggets Coming In: Last playoffs we got so much great info on the Nuggets from the blogger Jeremy that I reached out to him, at his new blog Roundball Mining Company, and asked him a couple of questions.

The conventional wisdom is that this year’s Nuggets team is a better defensive squad than last year’s team. But, the squad’s per possession numbers are identical to last year’s numbers. Is this a better defensive team? Also, is their transition defense as inconsistent as it looks at times?

The Nuggets have been subjecting their fans to a return of the enver Nuggets jokes with the play over the previous couple of months. No matter how you slice it, their defense has been mediocre at best the past couple of months. They put together a three game stretch against Miami, Orlando and Philly that lead me to believe they may be getting back to playing defense the way they did to start the season. It proved to be a fluke though as they have posted single game defensive efficiencies of 123.4, 121.3, 127.4 and 121.7 since then.

The area where the defense has improved is they are all paying attention. Last season players like J.R. Smith, Allen Iverson and Carmelo would routinely lose track of their man and then be shocked to discover that he had just scored a layup. That does not happen anymore this season. The problem has primarily been an issue of communication and defending the pick and roll.

Earlier in the season you almost never saw two Nuggets both running at the same shooter. Now that is much more common. Tell me if I am wrong, but it I always thought that teams should get better executing what they do as the season progresses and not worse.

As far as defending the pick and roll they have been relying almost exclusively on switching, which makes me nuts. You are voluntarily creating two mismatches when you switch plus it is lazy and I think establishes a culture of passivity. After the Celtics completely demolished them due largely to the switching of screens Denver tried playing much more aggressive against Atlanta by trapping the ball handler coming off the screen. If you are interested in reading how that went you can do so here, but the summary version is the Nuggets ended up giving up many open shots.

Ultimately, I think the conventional wisdom is correct that this version of the Nuggets is a much more capable defensive squad than in the past, but only if they are performing at their peak. When they float through games just going through the motions, they get absolutely picked apart.

As far as their transition defense, they have been very porous as of late. One reason for that has been that the guards are not stopping the ball in transition. Both Chauncey and Anthony Carter routinely are left standing at the three point line while the opposing point guard is in the lane to finish a fast break. The other reason is just a lack of want to. They are just getting beat back on defense. Several times against Atlanta they had Hawk players pass them going down the floor, even after makes, resulting in fast break points.

I am still holding out hope that as the season progresses and the pressure ramps up Denver will revert back to their early season defensive mentality, but there is no guarantee that they will. That means there is no guarantee that they will continue to remain amongst the top teams in the Western Conference and thus if they do not get their defensive act together, they will be staring at a sixth straight first round playoff exit.

The Nuggets seem to be the most heavily tattooed team in the league. Are they? Is there anyone they need to pick up to ensure that crown?

The Nuggets players talked about this very issue during training camp. They believe they are the tattoo kings of the NBA. Kenyon Martin arrived with his classy neck kiss lip tattoo, Chris “Birdman” Andersen now has wings tattooed under his arms. I am sure Carmelo and J.R. Smith had some new ink done, but good luck finding it.

Unfortunately, the front office made a big tattoo mistake acquiring the plain wrapper Chauncey Billups for the inked up Allen Iverson. If they want to make sure they hold onto the most tattooed team in the NBA title I think they need to bring in Stephen Jackson. His praying hands holding a gun tat would put them over the top.

Keys To The Game: I think Jeremy gave us just about everything we need to know — the Lakers can run on the Nuggets and should push the pace. When that is not there, some Kobe/Gasol pick-and-roll at key moments would lead to mismatches and baskets. Those two things should get the Lakers the points they need.

The Nuggets defense is predicated on steals and blocks (they lead the league in both per game). You can turn that aggressiveness against a team with back-cuts and interior passing, something we can hope to see tonight.

Last meeting the Nuggets decided Kobe was not going to beat him — they threw hard doubles at Kobe early and way out on the wing. They wanted the ball out of his hands. If he passes out of that and the rest of the Lakers move and pass, again that aggressiveness can be turned into easy baskets for other Lakers.

Normally I’d be talking about the second game of a back-to-back, but the only person who should be tired is Adam Morrison, who is not used to that much run. The rest of the Lakers should be fine.

Where you can watch: 6 p.m. start, with KCAL 9 here in LA having the game. Which means John Ireland and his hair.


232 responses to Preview & Chat: The Denver Nuggets

  1. Christian, dont mention the word “toughness” when the Lakers lose or you will get hammered in this forum haha. I know from experience

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  2. Somehow I seriously doubt that fans screaming in all-caps on a blog will get any attention at all from anyone in the NBA who can do anything about it. (This is where I would insert a smiley with sarcastically rolling eyes if the blog offered one…)

    The ref were crap. Yes. But we shot 30% and our bench combined for a total of 7 points. That’s not the refs’ fault.

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  3. BCR, good look on the stats. I’ve been wondering all season if Sasha is still struggling to adjust after his injury or if he’s just regressing to the mean, as you stated. Sadly, I think you might be right. What’s strange to me is that he’s not just missing shots, his jumper doesn’t even look normal anymore. Sometimes his foundation isn’t set properly, other times it looks like the shot is being released too far away from his body. Maybe he’s losing his confidence and turning back into the 3 p.m. shooter?

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  4. I wish everyone would stop complaining about the refs. This is starting to turn into Celticsblog, and that’s not cool. We committed 28 fouls; the Nuggets committed 26. Overall, the game was called pretty tight, but it was, because the ticky-tack fouls went both ways.

    Our whole team looked really tired, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into this performance. Fatigue only really shows through on shooting percentage, and our percentages reflect this. The entire team, not just the bench, quit on this game, and no one player is to blame.

    However, what we can do is take a few things from this game and learn from them:

    1.) Yes, Sasha has shot terribly for the couple weeks, and my prediction that he would break out of his slump was probably derailed by the travel. A lot of our threes were barely hitting the rim, and this doesn’t come from lack of focus, it comes from lack of push from the legs, which we can all chalk up to fatigue.

    2.) Both Pau and Lamar had pretty bad games. Birdman Andersen came in and really gave the Nuggets some energy, which none of our bigs could match. However, we lost a lot of our excellent interior passing today, which we could’ve used to carve up Birdman and his help-happy ways.

    Overall, our team was just tired. Nobody was playing good defense, everyone was shooting terribly. Maybe it was fatigue, or the altitude, or both, but our team was just flat from the beginning and we couldn’t do anything to break out of it.

    Let’s not allow our beloved FB&G to turn into whiner’s club.

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  5. sasha’s shot always looked like it was realeased too far from his body,but i guess it was perfectly too far…but now,he just looks totally unsound,shooting-wise,he need to get in the gym and put 1000 proper shots,and take some pointers from the late Pistol,on how to shot a basketball,and hire some of those triainers that kobe had when he came into the league with a less than stellar shot…

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  6. Mohan,

    I know, it’s frustrating, but this is a fairly common occurrence among shooters who have a great year and then the wall comes down the following year. What makes it so frustrating is that his shot selection is basically the same as last year — he’s getting the same looks. It’s hard to pass judgment nearly two-thirds through the season, but with the exception of December — which was a light month for us in terms of opponents — he hasn’t shown that he’s just going through a cold spell.

    The most frustrating thing is that we essentially chose Sasha over Ronny in the summer, and Ronny is basically playing up to last year’s level. I love Powell, but there’s a lot of things Ronny does that Powell can’t duplicate — especially the cheerleading. Now, having the gift of foresight is important here, and we weren’t predicting Bynum to go down, but seeing Sasha drop up significantly from last year is depressing.

    I don’t want to speculate, but with Morrison’s fairly significant expiring contract — $7 million off the top of my head — Kupchak might think about packaging Sasha with him if this slump continues through the year, especially if it persists into the playoffs. This summer is a buyer’s market, and we could nail a homer if we’re active.

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  7. ya know, I won’t say the refs caused us to lose the game, but they did completly ruin the game by non stop constant whistles, the game never, and I mean never got into any kind of flow, just go from one end- whistle, to the other end-whistle. back and forth, same ol same ol.
    of course, I didn’t agree with most of the calls either, and felt they went against us much of the time.
    but what cost us tonight was that we couldn’t hit a shot, period.

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  8. our offense was stagnant tonight, we had 22 more possessions then the nuggets our shots just didnt fall.

    if we had shot even 35% tonight this game would have been in the bag.

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  9. So where are all those people saying we’re better without Bynum?

    A game like this tells us that any given night a team can get up their energy level and ride it for a W. The flow of the game was just ragged all night. There was no flow to the offense and b/c the Lakers decided to work outside-in, we looked out of sync. In most cases Kobe senses this lapse of focus and consequently bails us out with a deadly array of jumpers. On this night you see what happens when his shot doesn’t fall.

    Basketball is a funny thing, when a few shots start to swish, it seems like everyone is making buckets. But when bricks start building up, it’s like every shot that hits the basket rims out.

    You saw what happened last night, and with the ying comes the yang. Just one of those things that happens in the course of an 82 game season. We scored what…132 last night, and now 79. That takes us to 105.5, right around our league avg. Now relax and get ready to bounce back against Phoenix.

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  10. #47. Jesse,
    I understand the characterization Bynum and Odom were fighting for crunch time minutes. I also understand the feeling that both could be mopy about not being in the game. But I would also say that both players were accepting of their roles (a credit to the players themselves and the coaching of Phil) and that both players were very effective in their opportunities to play in the closing stages of the game. One last thing I would point out is that I’m glad those guys were competitive and would be upset if they were the odd man out in crunch time. That shows me that they are confident in their abilities and think that they can contribute in those situations to help win games. I never sensed one bit of friction between them or towards the coaches, so I am fine with however those minutes play out and trust that the coaches will make the right choices at the right times (for the most part).

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  11. Tonight I learned what King Soopers is, that Mimsy has a cat and that the Denver announcers are annoying. Not sure there is much else to take away from this game. There are nights the team is tired, the shots are flat and the game is ugly.

    Re: Sasha. I can tell you that his issues are not the need for coaching or practice — he regularly stays late to practice shooting, he has a good work ethic. But he’s always been a bit streaky, and I think it is tied to confidence in terms of how he is being used and if he is getting the looks he likes. I think when Bynum gets back, and likely at least for the first few games comes off the bench, Sasha will be key because with the defenses having to drop down he should get better looks. A couple fall and suddenly he is on the upswing again. Right now, teams seem to be forcing him to put the ball on the floor more often and it has gotten to his catch-and-shoot head.

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  12. the marbury effect isn’t supposed to be like this!no!

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  13. mama said there’d be games like this.

    someone said in another thread our vaunted bench was so vaunted b/c we had odom coming off it. I think he was spot on.

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  14. wow, i never thought i’d say this in my entire life but chris anderson actually made a difference in a game. this coming from a denver resident. 7 blocked shots is impressive. i think the lakers hesitated going to the rim (with the exception of odom) because of that inside presence. towards the end of the game, i thought the lakers would pull out the win, but they just never got in a rhythm, the fouls just kept coming. it was a difficult game to watch. no one wants to watch free throws for an entire quarter.

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  15. Today’s LA Times reports that part of the reason the Lakers got in so late is that they sent Sun Yue on an In-N-Out run before they left and he got lost. That’s . . . completely understandable if you don’t know the area around LAX very well, but still sad. And I can just imagine how much cold cheeseburgers and fries at 2am helped the team recover between games.

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  16. One thing I notice about Lamar. He doesn’t have any real deception when he goes to the basket. What this means is that shot blockers can more easily gage their actions. Lamar gets a lot of things blocked when he is facing a large shot blocker – he also shows the ball early with his large, roundhouse delivery to the board.

    I don’t think he will change his shot approach, so he should shoot jumpers or pass unless the path to the basket is wide open – when playing against shot blockers.

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  17. the other Stephen February 28, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    215: HAHAHAHAHA. oh man, that’s the most hilarious news.

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  18. i was miffed at how many calls the officials were making. i certainly can’t recall a similarly officiated game where there was a whistle on every possession. I don’t know if the teams were that sloppy or if the refs were just being particularly nit-picky but man, what a dreadful game to watch. I’m with everyone else who wishes they watched Gigli instead. I’m not even mad about the game. We’ll see how the team bounces back tomorrow.

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  19. nomuskles, a Laker game can never be bad enough that I wish I had watched Gigli instead. Though it’s funny that Phil said in an interview after the game that he wished they could refund the fans some money…

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  20. All I can say about this game is I’m glad I didn’t watch it and got sushi instead. On to the land of the sun.

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  21. the fouls off the ball were killer. but the players should have adjusted, the refs were consistent throughout. Consistently making bad calls true, but still.

    ugly game, thank god for farmars last second layup or else the most potent offensive team in laker history would have been responsible for the lowest shooting percentage in franchises history.

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  22. lol, if the Lakers end up losing HCA by 1 game, that’ll be a burger run that will live in infamy.

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  23. remember that movie Tin Cup? when the character played by Kevin Costner, (I believe), chokes on a drive or whatever, and they say he’s got the … “whatever bug you get when you choke” thing…I can’t remember what it was they said.
    well, anyway, that is what I think happened to Sasha.
    he’s got the “whatever happens when you choke and now it’s in your head, and can’t hit anything” bug.
    like you say Kurt, once he gets back into a rhythm, it could all become a distant memory.
    let’s hope that comes soon, and stays with him.

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  24. Knew this game was going to ugly, but not that ugly. In any case, going into Denver and Utah on the second night of a back-t0-back are the hardest games on any NBA schedule. Couple that with the Nuggets being hungry for a win after losing so many times to the Lakers, playing physical even when they were calling fouls and just working maniacally at the defensive end. The Lakers did get a lot of shots where they wanted them but Denver made everything difficult.

    All in all, not too upset about the loss cause they played great defensively despite their offense not clicking, which is something they wouldn’t have done last year. Plus, I had pretty low expectations coming in. Getting in late, playing at that altitude, I’m not really surprised the Lakers missed a lot of shots. Denver just had one of those games that occasionally opponents have. Like the Detroit or New Orleans game where the other team just beat the Lakers. Don’t think they or Denver have many games in them like that (Pistons are probably the best proof of that) but it’s definitely not a concern for me. They played awful, but the effort was there. Teams have had to earn their wins over the Lakers this year.

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  25. Bah, sorry for the double post but the one real negative thing that came out of this game is that I’ve given up hope on Sasha turning it around this season. Hopefully doesn’t hurt us too much in the playoffs.

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  26. great relieving post Simon. guys the refs did have some bad calls but that should not be magnified. for the past victories now, during postgame, i keep on hearing that word perfection. that won’t be possible. but the lakers are playing to be the complete package and deserving champions at least and that demands consistency, even during bad call nights. no excuses. no bickering. a loss is a loss and to denver, that was a statement game for them. the earned it. we could have played better in the end but that tells me we are not that complete package and worthy champions yet

    on a lighter note, every loss of LA becomes a statement game to the opponent. that’s how every team wants so badly to beat LA. but the lakers got to live with that. besides, our camp won 48 times and lost only 11 times. come playoff time, and by God Bynum get back soon, no excuses no blaming the refs or at least making them culprits of the loss. that’s 48 minutes of calls guys, the home team had their share too.

    so i think the lakers had their share of bad calls themselves. our bench was non-existent. are they remorseful when they play like this? the only guarantee i have is when they get out of the gates and show something the next game. on back to backs, we need them to deliver night in and out. can’t let up come playoff time. that’s what’s a bit frustrating as a fan. i get sometimes why some call our bench overrated. so they’re young and all. but the season won’t forgive you for being young and young and talented at that. sasha needs his mojo back. it’s painful to see him jack up shots now. mbenga has been some good news. jordan is putting up effort but his shots at time look so wild, you know it won’t go in. ariza is on a downside of the season which i know he’ll pick himself up from. i’d think they’d play at another level when marbury and his new (and face this guys) improved bench (though not as good as last year) comes to town.

    now the starters well not so pretty too. defense was good and i think it shows our maturing character as a team. but kobe was simply a jumper-freak last night. sure he was burning them come 2nd quarter but that was it. i can’t imagine this guy kept the lakers floating in the shaq days and during his stint after that by driving hard, mkaing and 1s or trooping to the line. i think he can still do that. last night called for it. instead, he was taking jumper after jumper and maybe the altitude and travel fatigue got into him. our bigs took some horrible shots. lamar put up great rebounding numbers but 4th option scoring options (and man he shouts to get those shots in). pau looked tired. passing was not as crisp. fisher i only noticed in pockets of the game. luke is being an invisible contributor which should no longer be the case.

    so a case of a lot of bad things happening at a bad time against a great team. nothing to be panicky about. lakers prevail and i pray they show, what’s this?, the suns something later. poor suns. thought shaq had 45 (and someone grumbled about it). maybe our defense is just that good.

    but still, WE NEED BYNUM BACK! these showings validate how much we need him. and i won’t hesitate now to use the triple tower strategy. forget clogging, start banging! GO LAKERS!

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  27. Mad Game and The Last Season just arrived today via international shipping.

    Which should I read first?

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  28. Renato Afonso March 1, 2009 at 7:11 am

    I’m one of those who believes that, with Bynum back and running with the 2nd unit, Sasha will return to being a good 3pt shooter… We just need to wait and see.

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  29. You lie Kurt! There is no post! Take the red pill!

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  30. 230. Yes there is. Try to refresh.

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  31. Thank you. Games aren’t the same without the FB&G previews.

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