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

take them?

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

post-up defense.

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

the intermission.

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