Nuggets still not title factor ... yet

BY foxsports • December 13, 2009

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 Magic.

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