Nuggets still not title factor … yet
In battling their way back from an early 17-point deficit, the
Nuggets displayed several admirable qualities: Resourcefulness.
Incredible talent. An outstanding combination of power, speed and
quickness. And, above all, guts. But how far can these qualities
Why Denver can win it all
Carmelo Anthony can score every
which way. Denver ran 22 isolation plays for him (mostly from the
right wing), resulting in one air ball, two turnovers, and 17 of
his overall total of 32 points. Not a terrific rate of production,
but an undeniable indication that he’s one of the league’s most
dangerous one-on-one scorers. ‘Melo also showed a willingness to
dish — he had three assists — as well as some effective
Chauncey Billups had a miserable first-half, but lived up to
his reputation by burying a bunch of big shots — including
five second-half treys. Also, Billups is the rare point guard who
can venture into the low post for profit — and in so doing
force the defense into a scramble mode.
Kenyon Martin’s athleticism is wondrous to behold — and
his spot shooting, while erratic, is still a viable threat. K-Mart
aggressively attacks the offensive glass, and is equally as earnest
(well, usually) on defense.
Aaron Afflalo is simply blossoming at both ends of the court
— hitting jumpers, and zipping into the lane. He’s also
quick-footed and unafraid on defense. Nene produced nine of his 15
points on seven isolations. His defense is much improved,
especially in the anticipating of interior passes.
J.R. Smith had a woeful game — 0-for-8, two points
— but is always a threat to score points by the dozen.
Chris Andersen makes outstanding baseline cuts, is always
active in the paint, approaches Denver’s missed shots with the same
intensity as a wolf approaches a lamb chop. He corralled seven
offense rebounds, and got a piece of several more.
Anthony Carter was scoreless in 14 minutes, but his smarts
were evidenced by his three assists.
George Karl also had a big hand in this stirring win. After
getting nailed for a tech in the first half, Karl kept working the
refs in his own red-faced, semi-outraged fashion. As a result, the
Nuggets got much more than their fair share of close calls after
While Denver was blasting with impunity every Phoenix player
who dared drive into the lane, the Suns were repeatedly called for
ticky-tack fouls. Indeed, several highly questionable calls on
Amare Stoudemire kept him on the bench for long stretches while
Denver mounted its comeback. Moreover, the minutes of Jared Dudley
and Channing Frye were similarly limited by unjust foul trouble.
All told, the Nuggets absolutely have the right mix of
highly-talented players to capture the franchise’s first-ever NBA
title. Plus, they had a fleeting taste of glory in last season’s
Western finals against the Lakers, and seem to be hungry for more.
Why Denver can’t win it all
The Nuggets switched on most of
the Suns high screen/rolls. And except for suffering a meaningful
block by K-Mart late in the game, Steve Nash simply killed
whichever big man wound up trying to defend him.
When the Nuggets didn’t switch, their bigs were too often too
slow to show on the weak side. Denver’s inept screen-and-roll
defense was the primary reason why Phoenix shot 54.5 percent. This
is a huge problem. Nene was late on several defensive rotations,
and also on several more defensive transitions. Ditto for K-Mart.
Both ‘Melo and Andersen were badly burned when their opponents
turned, faced, and drove.
Discounting his critical buckets, Billups failed to
demonstrate the on-court leadership that the Nuggets so desperately
need. His 10 isolation plays resulted in four of his five
turnovers, one blocked shot and only four points. In addition, he
turned his head on defense on several occasions, and was also
periodically guilty of not hustling back on defense.
Andersen did yeoman’s work on the glass, but was totally
outplayed by his opposite number, Louis Amundson.
Smith’s passing is shaky. He also committed what might be the
dumbest foul of the season when he assaulted Nash deep in the
backcourt with only five seconds left on the Suns’ shot clock.
Anthony has still not reached his full maturity. After
Andersen failed to catch a hard interior pass, ‘Melo demonstrated
his disgust by lingering in the backcourt while the Suns were off
and running. And after he was whistled for delivering a blatant
elbow while jockeying for position in the pivot, his over-the-top
protest earned him a technical.
It says here, that the 25-year-old Anthony is still a year or
two away from evolving into a stainless super-duper star.
With so much of an emphasis on isolation plays — a
total of 45 — Denver struggled through a 7-minute scoreless
stretch that extended from the late in the first quarter to early
in the second quarter.
However, the three most significant reasons why the Nuggets
can’t win the championship are the Lakers, the Celtics and the