Archive for the ‘Denver Nuggets’ Category

Game No. 20: Nuggets 96, Raptors 81

The Raptors were looking to win their third straight road game on this Western road trip and had a chance to snap yet another lengthy losing streak against a Western Conference opponent. Instead, they handed the Nuggets their sixth straight victory.

Toronto came into this ball game 0-6 without Andrea Bargnani and averaged just 81 points in their six previous games without Il Mago. Go figure, in falling to 0-7 without Bargnani, the Raps scored 81.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

1- Those sluggish starts continue to plague the Raptors. On Friday, the Raptors started one-of-15 from the field and didn’t surpass two points until nearly nine minutes into the game. They shot five-of-21 overall in the first quarter and found themselves down 28-12 after Andre Miller capped the first quarter with this fitting punch to the gut. I wrote about how bad the Raptors have started games recently after their win in Phoenix, but given that the trend has continued in Utah and Denver, I figured it’s worth bringing up again. Just how bad has Toronto been in the opening quarters of games lately? In their last eight first quarters, the Raptors have been outscored 219-123 (or an average of 27.4-15.4) and have trailed by at least eight points after each one of those first quarters (trailed by as many as 16 twice).

2- A tale of two halves, almost. The Raptors went into halftime down 22 points, but the comeback bid started with the Raps matching their entire first half output (32 points) in the third quarter alone, and continued into the early portion of the fourth quarter with Jerryd Bayless and Leandro Barbosa carrying the load (combining for 37 points or 46 per cent of the Raptors’ offence). A Barbosa three actually had the Nuggets’ lead down to six with nine minutes to play, and momentum clearly shifting, but then Dwane Casey took Bayless and Barbosa out of the game, leaving things to go downhill from there. I like what Dwane Casey has done with this team through 20 games, but can we call that fourth quarter substitution inadvertent tanking?

3- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Good was James Johnson finishing with yet another solid performance of 16 points, three rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block. In his last five games, Johnson is averaging 13.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.6 steals. Bad was Jose Calderon finishing with nine points on three-of-10 shooting and an uncharacteristic three turnovers to just two assists. Ugly was DeMar DeRozan, who continues to struggle, finishing with eight points on three-of-15 shooting and three turnovers. In his last 14 games, since this mega-slump began for DeRozan, he’s averaging just 12 points per game on an ugly 32.8 per shooting (63-of-192).

4- Jerryd Bayless probably had his best game of the season on Friday night, scoring 18 points on an incredibly efficient seven-of-10 shooting in just 16 minutes of action. Bayless was leaps and bounds ahead of Jose Calderon in Denver, leaving me to wonder how the heck Jose got 32 minutes in this game while Bayless only got 16? If Calderon continues to slow down, as we’ve seen in recent games, and Bayless can build some momentum off of this performance, I wonder if we will see the 48 minutes available at the point guard position slowly even out between Jose and Jerryd.

5- A quick word on the Nuggets. I know he’s already received a ton of praise, but former Raptors employee Masai Ujiri deserves all of it and more for his calm and patient approach to the Carmelo Anthony situation last season. The Knicks may have gotten the “superstar” in that deal, but the Nuggets clearly got the better overall package, and a much more team-friendly package at that. If you don’t think the Nuggets won that deal, quite frankly, you’ve been sleeping for the last 10 months. Denver has a good starting unit, great depth and a reliable bench, and gets above average play from both the point guard (Ty Lawson and Andre Miller) and centre (Nene) positions. I don’t think they can beat the Thunder in a seven-game series, but with way they’re playing right now (14-5, second in the West), it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Nuggets meet Oklahoma City in the West Final. The most efficient offence in the NBA coupled with an underrated defence is a nice playoff recipe.

6- This game was a dud, in all honesty, but luckily Linas Kleiza gave us something to talk about with 30 seconds remaining when his hand “accidentally” collided with Al Harrington’s face while trying to play defence. Harrington was obviously upset (though in fairness, Harrington seems pretty easy to rile up), and Kleiza appeared to be jawing at him as they walked down the floor. The end result was Harrington snapping and trying to get through a flurry of players to confront Kleiza, to no avail. What I want to know is what in the hell Keiza said to Harrington to get him so fired up? Maybe Al was just really ticked about the hand in his face, maybe he was insanely frustrated with the fact that Kleiza was basically laughing in his face while he tried to talk trash, but I’m thinking Linas had to say something to set him off like that. If he did, I’m dying to know what it was.

Raptors Player of the Game: James Johnson – 27 Min, 16 Pts, 7-10 FG, 1-1 3PT, 1-2 FT, 3 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 Blk (Fouled out)

Nuggets Player of the Game: Nene – 34 Min, 20 Pts, 5-10 FG, 10-14 FT, 10 Reb, 3 Stl, 1 Blk, 1 TO

Start time: 9:00 PM ET
Channel: TSN2
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Amir Johnson, Aaron Gray
Denver: Andre Miller, Arron Afflalo Danilo Gallinari, Nene, Kosta Koufos

Injury report

Toronto: Andrea Bargnani is expected to be out until at least early February.

Denver: Arron Afflalo and Rudy Fernandez are probable, Ty Lawson and DeMarre Carroll are doubtful.

The Nuggets will be aiming for their sixth straight win while the Raptors will try to win their third straight, but only one of these teams will have their Italian scoring machine in the lineup tonight. Hint: It’s not Toronto.

After breaking a 14-game losing streak against the Suns on Tuesday and a 12-game losing streak against the Jazz on Wednesday, the Raptors will attempt to break an eight-game losing streak against the Nuggets. Since the Raptors are 0-6 this season when Bargnani isn’t in the lineup, I don’t like their chances.

Expect the Raptors’ new, hardier defense to be put to its toughest test yet tonight — the Nuggets have both the league’s fastest pace and the most efficient offense, and they’ve scored over 110 points in eight of their 18 games. Meanwhile, the Raptors haven’t allowed more than 106 points in any of their 19 games. If Ty Lawson misses tonight’s game as expected, the Raptors should be able to keep the Nuggets’ offense from running them completely ragged. That doesn’t mean that Raptors have a good chance of winning this game, mind you — they’re 12.5-point underdogs.

Random thoughts…

  • I tweeted about this earlier, but somebody asked me about my all-time favorite athlete today. To my surprise, I decided it’s Anderson Silva. I’m afraid to ask Raptors fans who their favorite athlete because I don’t want to be deluged with “Vince Carter” answers.
  • I don’t care how many times Kevin Garnett said “bar fight” in this “interview” with Craig Sager, I’ll bet he’s never actually been in one.
  • Have you ever seen an advertisement for Jagermeister? Dave Attell hasn’t seen one, but he has some suggestions.

If I had an intern and an intricate stats database, I could tell you what the win-loss record is for teams who play in Denver when they played another game the day before. Sadly, I don’t have those resources at my disposal so I’m just going to have to assume that there is a distinct disadvantage to playing in Denver’s rarified altitude on the second of back-to-back games. That would help explain the total domination of the Nuggets over the Raptors on Monday night.

The Nuggets made it look easy, like they were a pro team playing a college squad. The Raptors looked tired, unmotivated and demoralized — and considering how this season has gone, can you blame them? Denver dominated in every meaningful statistical category: rebounds, points in the paint, free throw attempts, field goal percentage, fast break points… I could go on, but you get the point.

I found my mind wandering as this game got out of hand early on. I ended up fixating on the Nuggets’ General Manager, Masai Ujiri. While Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment waffles about whether they should extend Bryan Colangelo, Ujiri currently looks like a rock star in Denver due to his patience and savvy with the Carmelo Anthony dilemma. The contrast between how Ujiri handled the Carmelo standoff with how Colangelo managed the Chris Bosh situation is striking, and it’s worth bringing up because Ujiri was an assistant GM to Colangelo before the Nuggets poached him last year.

Thanks to the brilliantly inspired trade Ujiri made with the Knicks, the Nuggets have emerged from the Carmelo trade with loads of young prospects and draft picks while they’re already arguably a top-10 NBA team. They showcased their talent Monday night and I expect Ujiri will find a way to re-sign Nene this off-season as one of the keys to their future plans. He doesn’t get a lot of hype but Nene is a lot better than anyone on the Raptors’ roster and he made that abundantly clear in his 24 minutes of play.

There are 12 games left in the Raptors’ season before we can start enjoying playoff basketball without burdening ourselves with the angst of watching games like this. Hold on tightly to that thought like the life of your NBA fandom depends on it

Raptors player of the game: N/A

Nuggets player of the game: Ty Lawson — 23 Pts, 7-10 FG 2-3 3Pt, 7-7 FT, 4 Reb, 8 Ast

Goat of the game: Leandro Barbosa — 17 Min, 5 Pts, 2-11 FG, 0-4 3Pt, 1-1 FT, 1 Reb, Minus-28

Chris Andersen

The Denver Nuggets have arguably been the most intriguing NBA team of the past month. Since they traded Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman and Shelden Williams to the Knicks for Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and a bunch of future draft picks, the Nuggets have gone 9-4 with their last two losses coming against the Magic and Heat. The trade has allowed players like Nene, Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo to show that they can thrive in larger roles and the consensus appears to be that the Nuggets won this trade, hands-down.

Amazingly, Denver’s offense and defense have both improved since the trade. As reported by Justin Kubatko of the New York Times, before the recent back-to-back losses against premier teams, the Nuggets offense had improved from 1.13 points per possession pre-trade to 1.14 points per possession post-trade, while their defense allowed 1.10 points per possession before the trade compared to 1.00 point per possession after the trade. It’s a relatively small sample size, but when you combine this with the fact that the Knicks are 7-8 since the trade, Carmelo Anthony’s actual worth has to be called into question.

As Denver is coming off two losses to tough opponents, the Raptors are riding a high from back-to-back wins including last night’s shocking win in Oklahoma City that broke a 14-game road losing streak. I’m not sure what got into our boys last night, but they played with surprising confidence and inexplicably didn’t collapse in the clutch. If you didn’t know better, you might think they’re actually starting to jell into a competitive team.

Playing against a team with a 27-7 home record this season could be a reality check for the Raptors — the Nuggets have won six straight in Denver and they’re gunning for home court advantage in the first round if they can make up the 4 1/2 games behind fourth-place Oklahoma City. I’m not sure what the Raptors are playing for at this point, other than messing up their chances of winning the draft lottery.

Injury report

Toronto: No injuries reported.

Denver: Raymond Felton and Al Harrington are both expected to sit this one out, while Arron Afflalo is questionable with a hamstring injury he suffered on Saturday.

Five questions

1. Is Reggie Evans the real MVP of the Raptors? They’re 9-12 when he’s in the lineup this season and 11-37 when he doesn’t play.

2. Do you think the Carmelo trade is worth it for the Knicks in spite of the mediocre early returns because of their supposedly increased chances of landing a third star player?

3. Considering Amir Johnson’s cool under pressure last night, should the Raptors look to him more often as a scoring option in late-game clutch situations?

4. Which NBA prospect impressed you the most during the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament?

5. Would anyone be surprised if Chris Andersen starts getting his whole face covered in tattoos now that he’s apparently run out of room to put them anywhere else?

Start time: 9:00 PM ET
Channel: TSN
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Amir Johnson, Andrea Bargnani
Denver: Ty Lawson, J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, Nene Hilario

Tonight’s pregame song was recommended by Drew Fairservice from our Getting Blanked blog. It’s “The Past Two” by Planes Mistaken for Stars, a band that was based in Denver for most of its existence. Chris Dart wanted me to use John Denver but… no.

Getty Images

Nene had his way on the inside, while the rest of the Nuggets hit daggers from the outside

The Raptors were looking to make it two straight Friday night victories over Western Conference teams missing their stars, as Carmelo Anthony sat this one out. Jose Calderon sat out for Toronto, reportedly suffering from a cold and sore foot.

From the get-go, it was apparent this was going to be an offensively dominated ball game. The two teams traded baskets, with the odd defensive stop garnering big cheers from a lively crowd.

That crowd was slowly silenced, as Denver shot 75 percent in the first quarter en route to a 39-point quarter and a 74-point first half. The Raptors were putting on an offensive display of their own, racking up 65 points before the break, but free throws and three-balls were the difference.

At halftime, Denver was 16-of-17 from the charity stripe and 8-of-16 from beyond the arc. Toronto was 3-of-4 and 4-0f-13, respectively.

The trend continued into the third quarter, as the Nuggets bombed away from three and were rewarded with free throws when they went inside. The Raptors, on the other hand, grew increasingly stagnant on the offensive end, continued to botch free throws and weren’t getting the calls on the rare instance they did drive the lane.

It all amounted to a 19-point Nuggets lead late in the third quarter, but you knew the Raptors would show their usual fight at some point. The Raps battled back to end the third and attempted the uphill battle in the fourth, but consistently came up short.

Between some ridiculous shots falling for the Nuggets and the Raptors shooting themselves in the foot, T.O. didn’t stand a chance. On one possession, with the Raps down seven, Al Harrington chucked up a fade-away three from well behind the arc that hit nothing but net.

Later, with the Raptors down just four, Chauncey Billups missed a tough shot and the rebound fell to Linas Kleiza, with no Nuggets around him. Sonny Weems then ran through Kleiza’s arms, and the ball deflected out of bounds. It was one of those nights at the ACC.

From an individual standpoint, Kleiza silenced his critics (for now) with his best performance as a Raptor. Andrea Bargnani added 24 points, but gets no love from me tonight, as Nene abused him on the other end.

Sonny Weems rebounded nicely with a 21-point, seven-rebound performance, but still settled for too many ill-advised jumpers that just happened to fall for him tonight. DeMar DeRozan looked lost out there, as he refused to attack the basket on one end and was unaware on the defensive end. Case in point, a loose ball slowly bounced by him in the fourth quarter and ended up in the hands of J.R. Smith, who promptly buried a three.

Jerryd Bayless responded to his first start as a Raptor with what was probably his worst game as a Raptor. He and Barbosa both tried to force things offensively, and while the offence put up 116 points, the lack of ball movement and lack of aggressiveness was painful to watch.

If the Raptors want to come out of this funk, they need to get back to putting an honest effort in on the defensive end, they need to start making their free throws and they need to figure out how to run a solid play out of a timeout. I don’t know if it’s bad play-calling on Jay and the coaching staff’s part, or a lack of execution on the players’ part, but a group of kids playing street ball can organize a better play out of a huddle right now.

The Raps are back at it on Saturday night in Detroit (without Calderon again) to face a Pistons team also coming off of a Friday night loss. We’ll do it all again in about 24 hours.

Raptors Player of the Game: Linas Kleiza -31 Min, 26 Pts, 11-16 FG, 4-5 3Pt, 0-1 FT, 12 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl

Nuggets Player of the Game: Al Harrington -36 Min, 31 Pts, 12-19 FG, 6-11 3Pt, 1-1 FT, 6 Reb, 3 Ast

Goat of the Game: Jerryd Bayless – 23 Min, 3 Pts, 1-9 FG, 1-4 3Pt, 0-2 FT, 5 Ast

Side-note: I highly doubt George Karl will glance at this post before departing, but never the less, we have to congratulate Karl on grabbing win no. 1000 for his career tonight. It has to feel that much sweeter for all involved, given what Karl’s been through recently. Well done, coach.