Denver Nuggets: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
At times they've looked like an elite powerhouse. At times they've looked disorganized and sloppy.
With the team riding a three-game winning streak and playing what may be its best basketball of the season, things are looking up for Carmelo and Co.
But with their next three games coming in San Antonio and at home against the Blazers and Rockets, the Nuggets can ill-afford to get complacent.
Carmelo Anthony isn't having the type of scoring season some expected after his dominant performance at the FIBA Americas Championship.
Melo is settling for too many outside jump shots, instead of posting up and drawing fouls. He's playing more in the low post as of late, which has helped his scoring average and opened up his perimeter game.
Allen Iverson, meanwhile, got a boost from his 51-point outburst in a loss to the Lakers. AI now looks much more comfortable driving to the paint for layups and floaters. His jump shot has also improved, and he's taken over the team lead in points per game.
Iverson's point guard play has been suspect, but Anthony Carter has provided solid leadership and unexpected scoring.
2. K-Mart's Intensity
These Nuggets seem to play with much more effort than any of George Karl's other squads. A good chunk of the credit belongs to Kenyon Martin.
Martin has been stellar in the past three games, averaging 13 points and nine rebounds. But it's really his hustle on the defensive end that has made him so important.
Last night against the Hornets, Anthony Carter and K-Mart ran a stifling two-man defense on Chris Paul in the final five minutes. Carter's tenacity and Martin's reach helped Denver notch a comeback win over a tough team.
3. Bench Play
The Nuggets' bench is one of the best in the NBA, averaging roughly 30 PPG. Local announcers refer to J.R. Smith, Bobby Jones, Linas Kleiza, and Eduardo Najera as the "scramble squad," as they're always be clogging passing lanes, forcing turnovers, and playing scrappy ball.
I'd like to see Jones and Yakhouba Diawara get into the game more for defensive reasons, but Smith has provided clutch shooting, and Najera's three-point range has improved dramatically this year.
Once Denver gets Nene and Chucky Atkins back from injury, the bench will be even more of a factor.
The Nuggets are scoring 107 PPG and surrendering 102. That won't get it done come playoff time.
I fully expect Denver to make a fifth consecutive playoff appearance, but with such a porous D, the team may be bound for another first-round exit.
A big problem is Marcus Camby's one-on-one wing defense. Camby is a much better defender when he's around the rim; on the perimeter, he often gets beat off the dribble, leading to fouls and easy buckets.
If the Nuggets can clog the lane more consistently—as they did late in the game against the Hornets—they'll be much better positioned to make a run in the postseason.
On the bright side, Denver leads the league in forced turnovers...but that doesn't matter when opponents are scoring at will.
2. Point Guard Play
Anthony Carter has been a pleasant surprise, but whether he can handle the load as the season continues remains to be seen.
Denver was counting on Chucky Atkins to be the PG this season. His injury has left Carter and Iverson (not a true point guard) to bring the ball up.
I like Carter a lot as a backup, and he's shown signs that he can really lead this team—but he's been fairly inconsistent, especially with his jump shot.
The Nuggets may be regretting the decision to let go of Steve Blake, who's flourished this year in Portland.
There actually isn't too much ugly on this team—unless you take a long, hard look at Linas Kleiza (I hope he's not reading this).
Denver's offense is usually good enough to at least keep the Nuggets in games. They've suffered blowouts on the road against the Celtics, Lakers, and Rockets, but only in the Houston game did the team show a real lack of effort on the offensive end (which might've been due to fatigue from the previous night's win against the Timberwolves).
Denver had an impressive win in Dallas, and has come home for two straight victories. The Nuggets only have three home losses on the year.
All told, the future looks promising in the Mile High City—especially if the Nuggets' injured players can get back soon. Still, a renewed commitment to defense will be vital if Denver hopes to avoid another postseason disappointment.
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