Nuggets-Hornets: Denver Looks to Regain Control in Game Four

Rich Kurtzman@@RichKurtzman Senior Analyst IApril 27, 2009

NEW ORLEANS - APRIL 25:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the Denver Nuggets drives to the basket over Tyson  Chandler #6 of the New Orleans Hornets in the third quarter in Game Three  of the Western Conference Quarterfinals at New Orleans Arena on April 25, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

The Denver Nuggets came away from Game Three of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series against the New Orleans Hornets down but not out.

In a game that many pundits believed the Hornets would win decisively, the Nuggets made it a close, exciting contest and lost only on the last shot of the game.

Carmelo Anthony, after rebounding a missed free throw by James Posey, ran up the court and heaved a half-court jumper that nearly went in but glanced off the front of the iron.

The Nuggets lost their first game of this postseason, a battle on the road 95-93.

Chris Paul outplayed Chauncey Billups for the first time in the series, scoring a game-high 32 points and adding 12 assists. The Nuggets' leading scorer was Anthony, with 25 points, and he threw in eight rebounds also.

Denver hit only 40.5 percent of their shots on Saturday after averaging over 50 percent in the first two contests.

There are some positives for the Nuggs coming out of Game Three, though. Losing on the road in the Playoffs by only two is surely encouraging, and the team out-rebounded the Hornets by four. They also had two less turnovers than their opponents (16-14), though both squads played sloppily overall.

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While New Orleans got down early (the score was at one point in the first 20-6), they did not get down on themselves and fought back to go up by three at the half (50-47). 

New Orleans thoroughly outplayed Denver in the paint, scoring 44 inside to the Nuggets 30, and many of their other buckets came on the fastbreak: The Hornets were up-beat throughout as they outran Denver to the tune of 22-6 by game's end.

But more than anything, Game Three was a physical contest; 58 personal fouls were called (three flagrants) and 70 free throws taken. The game was lost at the charity stripe for Denver, as they shot only 68.6 percent, missing 11 points from the line.

New Orleans, on the other hand, was prolific, hitting an even 80 percent of their shots.

The Nuggets led the league at getting to the free throw line, but if they shoot as poorly as they did Saturday, they will lose again.

Still, I'd look for Denver to take advantage of the free points tonight, as the players will be more focused.

George Karl expressed to the Denver Post that "The mental game of Playoff basketball is always the thing a coach never knows—it's the challenge of our character, challenge of our pride, to see if we want to be big-time or not."

For Denver to win Game Four and take a commanding lead in the series, they need to push the ball more and play with more defensive intensity.

The Nuggets need to capitalize on easy scores in transition, and they must pass quickly and run the floor. Denver is a much more physically talented team than their counterparts, and they need to use their athleticism to their advantage.

Also, while CP3 is a tough character to stop, slowing him down to around a 20-point pace is essential. Dahntay Jones provided great hustle against Paul in Game Two, and should match up with him tonight.

Look for this to be another close contest, but I say the Nuggets win 100-97 in the end.

The game begins at 8:30 p.m. EDT and is on NBATV and Altitude Sports and Entertainment.