My opinion to this point has been that the Denver Nuggets ARE capable of making a deep playoff run without that one guy to take control down the stretch. I feel this way not so much because of anything the Nuggets are doing, but because the West no longer has that group of teams all led by superstars that stand out above the rest. While I still believe that this is true, last night’s 89-93 loss to the Lakers certainly didn’t build my confidence. No, they didn’t choke away a huge lead, or even choke away a small one… they never really even had a lead. They simply failed to take advantage of an unreal amount of opportunities presented to them by the Lakers, who really didn’t play very well. Throw in the extra chances the officials gave them and the fact that they ultimately weren’t able to shave a single point off of that four-point lead the Lakers held entering the final quarter just becomes kind of pathetic.
Why were they so unable to capitalize? Well, it certainly didn’t have anything to do with defense–Kobe wasn’t running rampant down the stretch, and Andrew Bynum didn’t beast on Nene any harder than he always does. It was an offensive problem… repeated failure to get good looks at the basket, to be specific… and it wasn’t really anything the Lakers defense did, either. I can’t even tell you how many times the Nuggets got the stop they needed and took possession down four, or two, or one, or three, or whatever, and ended up settling for a terrible shot, completely bailing the Lakers out. It happened time… after time… after time… after time… and I have to admit, it didn’t appear that they knew where to go with the ball. There was no structure to anything. I’m talking Arron Afflalo dribbling down the court down four with a minute left and pulling up off the dribble for a 10-foot baseline jumper. I’m talking stealing a Kobe Bryant pass and giving it right back. I’m talking Al Harrington scoring 10 in a row and then not getting another look for three minutes. Just plain bad decisions from a team that appeared to be in desperate need of a hierarchy of offensive options. It was as if they were playing in a pickup game and everyone wanted to be the hero. That being said…
I think the Nuggets are better than this. Although they don’t have that one guy to take control of the offense and make sure what happened last night never happens again, they have a very intelligent point guard with pretty solid scoring ability in Andre Miller, and a guy who I consider to be borderline “that guy” status in Danilo Gallinari. Unfortunately, both of those guys were off their games last night (Gallo 1-9, Miller 16/7 but 5 TOs). Maybe that was the whole problem… the quasi-closers didn’t show up.
Miami definitely seems to have the Philadelphia’s number. Just two days after they’d run Chicago right out of the gym, the Sixers took that same home floor and lost to the Heat by 20 (79-99). It was just the second time this season that Philly has been beaten by 20 or more… but also the second time the Heat have beaten them by 20 or more. So… what’s the deal? The Sixers have been competitive with all of the other good teams they’ve played thus far, but Miami just seems to give them problems. Why? Well, I think it’s because Miami matches their combination of speed and length; they kind of mirror them athletically. You know how they call Iguodala “Baby LeBron”? Yeah, well, the Heat have real LeBron. They’ve also got an extremely rich man’s version of Evan Turner in Dwyane Wade, and… I guess Chris Bosh isn’t very similar to anyone on the Sixers, but he’s an All-Star power forward who’s more than capable of keeping up in a fast-paced game. Basically, the Heat are a nightmare match up for the Sixers because they match their athleticism, defend well in transition, and like to do a bit of running themselves. It’s crazy… the Sixers usually run like a well-oiled machine, but the Heat cause them to look disorganized. Last night, Miami was able to go without scoring for the first five minutes of the second half and not fall behind despite holding just a four-point halftime lead.
Anthony Morrow’s career-high is no longer the 37 he dropped in his first ever start. I suppose that probably makes him happy… I mean, wouldn’t it suck to feel like you plateaued in the fourth game of your professional career? Now, after dropping 42 on 8-11 from distance in a three-point loss to the T-Wolves, Morrow can finally feel that he’s progressed. Good for him.
Oh, and how about a guy who really has progressed: Nikola Pekovic. This dude is quickly becoming one of my favorite foreigners in the NBA. He’s a goofy-looking Yugoslavian bastard, but he’s got soft hands, an excellent motor, and a nose for the ball. Last night he came in off the bench and scored a career-high 27 points, 8 of which came in the fourth quarter. He also made what could be considered the game-winning assist when he saw Luke Ridnour spotted up in the corner and hit him with a cross-court pass that led to the three-ball that put Minnesota up for good. If Pekovic plays too many more games like this one would have to think he’ll take the starting center spot from Darko Milicic, who has a little size on him… but that’s about it. The Darko/Pek situation proves that there’s something to be said for a guy who just plain gets it done. Pekovic scores a lot of his baskets on basic layups assisted by teammates, but why can’t Darko seem to do the same thing? They play the same amount of minutes… the same position… yet Milicic scores about 4 fewer PPG. Like I said, Pekovic has a nose for the ball. He’ll find that open space around the basket and occupy it. He’ll also catch the ball and deposit it into the hoop. The simplicity almost makes his work fascinating.
Box Score Observations: Dirk Nowitzki did what?! That’s right, folks, Dirk Nowitzki scored 30 points. Too bad the Mavs still lost… to the Pacers… by 11. Paul George also dropped 30 in that game. The Orlando Magic scored as many points as they scored all of last week as they beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 102-94. Amir Johnson sighting! He had 18/13 off the bench as the Craptosaurs overcame DeMaR DeRoZaN’s 4-12 clunkery and smacked up the Generals 106-89. Brandon Knight posted 26/7 to Brandon Jenning’s 20/1 as the Pistons beat the Bucks 88-80. Knight actually out-assisted Milwaukee’s entire starting lineup. The Memphis Grizzlies were winning… then they scored 17 points in the fourth and lost by 7 to the Thunder. Kevin Durant led the way with 36 while Russell Westbrook built a house of bricks (6-18). The Phoenix Suns played their entire active roster (13 players) as they lost to the Rockets by a lot. Kevin McHale did not take the hint and refused to insert Jonny Flynn and Hasheem Thabeet.
Lowlight Recap, Mickael Pietrus Edition: