The Runner Sports

The Denver Nuggets Can’t Get The Timing Right

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Another up and down week for the Nuggets.  With leading scorer Danilo Gallinari joining rookie Emmanuel Mudiay in sitting out with an ankle injury, Denver went 1-3.  Going 1-3 was not much of a surprise in a week with sets of back-to-back travel games, and visits to the arena’s of top-tier teams in San Antonio and Oklahoma City.  The surprise was how they got there.

With this much mileage on his basketball shoes, soon to be retired NBA icon Kobe Bryant is only good for one or two good games a month.  Unfortunately for the Nuggets, he had one of those turn back the clock games Tuesday in his last appearance in Denver.  Kobe scored 31 and shut down Will Barton after he had a hot first half (23 points at the break, 25 for the game).  The young Lakers smelling what will likely be one of their few victories for the season overcame a 21 point first half deficit to win 111-107.

After one of their worst losses of the season, the Nuggets came through with one their best wins.  The word gutsy has not been used to describe the Nuggets very often over the last two plus seasons, but it would be apt for their performance against Phoenix.  After playing in Denver the night before, and with Jameer Nelson (illness) joining Mudiay and Gallinari in wearing street clothes, they beat a Suns squad that had dominated them twice this season.  The Nuggets only played 8, but led by Randy Foye (31 points 6 assists), they started hot and led by as much as 18 in the first half before the Suns cut the deficit to 6 by halftime. The third quarter collapse has plagued this team all season, but they held on, outscoring the Suns by a point in each of the last two quarters to win 104-96.

The bench, though short, came up huge.  All three bench players scored in double figures.  Darrell Arthur had his best game of the season with 19 points and 10 rebounds and rookie Nikola Jokic was solid scoring 13 and grabbing 9 rebounds.  Will Barton came through with 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists.

The bad timing of the week continued.  Going up against the league’s elite all season the Nuggets have appeared outclassed, and last weekend was much of the same.  Instead of building on the victory in Phoenix, they travelled to San Antonio, a place where momentum goes to die.  The Spurs came into the game having not lost at home this season, and the Nuggets did little to jeopardize the streak.  The Spurs, resting Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, stretched a two point lead in the first to double figures with a big second quarter and the Nuggets never seriously threatened again.  The bench was again solid for the Nuggets, Jokic scored 22 and grabbed 7 rebounds and Will Barton had 16, but the starters faltered, with only Gary Harris (10 points) reaching double figures.

Again the Nuggets stepped up to play well in the second night of a back-to-back.  The effort may have gotten them a win versus many teams in the NBA, but the Oklahoma City Thunder have re-established themselves as one the league’s top franchises after an injury riddled 2014-15 team missed the playoffs.  The Nuggets raced out to an 8 point halftime lead.  Offensive breakdowns in the third have been common for the Nuggets, but this time the offense held up (29 points) but the defense did not, as they gave up 38.  They still managed to take the lead with 8 minutes to go, but a big fourth by Enes Kanter (21 points 8 rebounds) and stellar performances by Russell Westbrook (30 points, 12 assists, and 9 rebounds) and Kevin Durant (26 points 10 assists) had the Thunder pushing the lead into double figures late, on their way to a 122-112 victory.

Even at full strength this was going to be a tough week, and their record reflected it.  Had they come to play against the woeful Lakers, or if Kobe played like ‘old Kobe’ instead of the ‘Kobe of old’, they would have come out of it at a respectable 2-2 instead of a disappointing 1-3.

This week’s Good, Bad (the good kind of bad) and Ugly awards.

Good: Like nearly everyone else, Kenneth Faried did not put together four solid games.  He did, however, go for 14 points and 9 rebounds against the Lakers and 25 and 11 versus the Thunder.  Runner-up: His great game against the Suns was really his only good game, but Randy Foye’s 31 points and 6 assists in that one led the team to their only win of the week.

Bad: Even though he disappeared during the second half in the loss to the Lakers, Will Barton remains the most consistent Nugget, scoring in double figures every game during the week, averaging 19.2 points and 6.7 rebounds. Runner- up: Nikola Jokic continues to excel coming off the bench.  He had a tough game against the Thunder, getting on the wrong side of a couple of Enes Kanter dunks while scoring 7 points and grabbing 3 rebounds, but scored 22 against the Spurs and had a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) in the Laker game.  He averaged 14.2 points and 7.2 rebounds over the week.

Ugly: There are not too many games this Nuggets team can look at and say they absolutely should win, so when they drop one of those it is especially painful.  They had this problem last year, getting beaten twice in two tries by the Philadelphia 76ers team (18 wins in 2014-15), getting beat by the Knicks (17 wins), the Timberwolves (16 wins) and falling to the Lakers (21 wins) at home.  They are back to bad habits this season, if they did not rally late they would have doubled the 76ers’ win total in their game in Philly earlier in the season and they again lost to the Lakers at home.  Letting the second worst team in the NBA take one in Denver is inexcusable.  Yes, Kobe was good, and with this being his last game in Denver the Lakers fans showed up to make it seem like the game was being played at the Staples Center, but this is still a bad team.  The Nuggets had a 21 point lead and seemed to be cruising when they appeared to forget they are not a powerhouse themselves and cannot lose focus against anyone.  Runner-Up: The lack of home court advantage makes a second appearance.  The Nuggets are a respectable 7-10 on the road this season, even better when taking out 5 games no team in the NBA would be favored to win (2 in San Antonio, 2 in OKC, and one visit to Oakland to play the Warriors). They are only 5-9 at home with an easier schedule than they have away from the Pepsi Center.  Not only have they lost to the Lakers, they have lost to beatable Western Conference foes in Minnesota, Utah, and Phoenix on their own floor.  

The Count: They need to get going if they want the 33 more it will take to get into the playoffs.  The 19 more needed to beat last years total of 30 wins is still well within reach.

Up Next: Another tough matchup as the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James come to Denver.  In between two games with Portland they get to travel to Golden State.  Wins will be tough to come by this week as they see the best in the East (Cleveland) and the best in the league (Golden State).

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