2011 NBA Playoffs: Denver Nuggets Need Star to Emerge to Beat OKC Thunder
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It certainly appeared to the casual observer that the Nuggets missed out on an opportunity to steal Game 1 of their opening round playoff series with the host Thunder when they ultimately fell short, 107-103.
But to the slightly more educated viewer and follower of Denver basketball, it was clear that with the game on the line in end of the game that the Nuggets didn’t have the basketball in the right guy’s hands.
This is not a knock against Raymond Felton as it is a compliment to Ty Lawson, who has been the Nuggets go-to guy for several weeks now.
For a while, it appeared that guy was going to be forward Aaron Afflalo.
But Afflalo injured his hamstring on March 5th, and has been in and out of the lineup ever since.
“It is frustrating because I want to get out and help my team, but they’ll be fine,” Afflalo told John Rohde of NewsOK.com. “I can perhaps run around and shoot, but can I play a competitive playoff game, be effective for my team for the type of minutes I play and not re- aggravate (the injury)? That’s a different story.”
Most of Afflalo’s minutes have been absorbed by Wilson Chandler, who along with Felton, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgof came to Denver in the Anthony deal, and he has played well.
But the clutch, game-on-the-line moment that used to be almost exclusively the property of the traded superstar duo, has not latched onto anyone currently on the Nuggets roster.
And with a tough pair of Thunder scorers in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who combined to drop 72 against the Nuggets by themselves, Denver’s going to need for someone to step into that star role.
Perhaps tonight a guy like Lawson or J.R. Smith can rescue the underdogs on the road and even the series at one game apiece.
When Nuggets leading scorer Carmelo Anthony was traded to New York Feb. 22, many around Denver basketball thought that streaky bench standout J.R. Smith would be the guy to replace his minutes, and the majority of his points.
No one, I can imagine, thought this was a truer statement than Smith, himself.
After all, when hot, Smith can make shots in bunches from nearly anywhere on the court and can sometimes score at will.
But no one really knew how deep the Denver squad was going to get with the acquisitions of Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey from the Knicks in exchange for Anthony and point guard Chauncey Billups.
I can’t imagine that Smith ever thought he’d have a harder time getting on the court than he did before the Anthony deal, but that’s what has happened, as a result of, in part, the new Nuggets emerging as scoring threats and team leaders.
And as Denver’s playoff upset of Oklahoma City chances are dwindling, so is the likelihood that Smith will remain a Nugget after the season is over.Following Wednesday night’s 106-89 blowout loss, Smith told Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post, that there was a “strong possibility” that he wouldn’t return to Denver when he becomes a free agent this summer.
"There's a strong possibility as of right now," Smith told denverpost.com. "It's not going the way I planned it to go. It's a tough situation. I want to be here, I love the fans and everything about the city. It's just maybe not my fit."
Smith’s frustration stemmed from playing only six minutes and went 1-of-6 shooting for just two points.
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