The Denver Nuggets are on the verge of going undefeated on their most recent four-game road trip and the most interesting part of it was how bad Denver has played to start each game.
The Nuggets were facing deficits in each contest, trailing Minnesota 53-48 at halftime and 60-52 early in the third quarter. They were also behind early to New Orleans and faced a 75-73 deficit going into the final quarter. Nothing was worst than the foul-plagued first half against the Memphis Grizzles and the Nuggies were down once against at halftime, 63-58. However, in each game Denver came through at the end and each one was better than one before.
Against Minnesota, just when it looked like the Nuggets were going to lose to another struggling squad they responded with a 9-point run to the end the third quarter and never looked back. During that stretch, the Timberwolves missed all seven of their shots and went cold for over five minutes and when they finally scored, two minutes into the fourth they were down double-digits to a Nuggets squad that had too much firepower to let the Timberpups comeback.
It was in the fourth when Denver caught fire against the Hornets. With under six minutes left in the game, the Nuggets went on a 12-2 run iand the next thing New Orleans knew the Hornets were down by 10 and the Nuggets never looked back.
Denver once again used a big fourth against the Grizzles and this time JR Smith and Nene got things going for the Nuggets. The duo scored 16 of the team’s first 18 points in the quarter and helped Denver not only push its advantage to double-digits but put the game away. JR finished the game with 30 points and scored 16 in the final quarter, while Nene scored seven of his 13 points in the fourth.
Now if Denver could just play that way the entire game, in the three road games the Nuggets were outscored 28.3 points to 23 in the first quarter and 56-51 at halftime. However in the second half, Denver outscored its opponents, 60.3 to 45.7 in the second half and 33.3 to 24.3 in the fourth quarter.
No respect for Melo
It’s not like the Nuggets have played particularly well on the trip, well outside of Carmelo Anthony. Melo has hit 31 of 65 of his shots, but he still doesn’t get respect from the officials – only attempted 14 free throws (hitting 13 of them) in three games. And against the Grizzles, Anthony didn’t even make a trip to the charity stripe. His frustration boiled over and he was called for a T.
Despite the officials hating on Melo, he has averaged 25 points, 8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and two steals a game. The lone place where he has struggled is behind the arc, where he has missed nine straight 3s.
Hot and cold, JR is JR
Anybody that thinks that JR has changed his game are kidding themselves. His shot selection is the same and he is just as inconsistent as ever. However, he is the Wild Card on the team that could make them a championship contender or knocked out in the first round.
During the trip, JR has averaged 16 points a game, 3 rebounds an 3 assists. And the crazy part was how cold he got and how hot he got. Against Minnesota, JR missed seven treys but it was the three in a row that he hit that sparked the Nuggets comeback.
Then there was his 1 of 12 shooting (0 of 6 from 3s) against his former squad the Hornets and the next night he hit 11 of his 16 shots and seven of 10 from behind the arc.
The biggest frustration of JR is he only shot four free throws in the three contests and with his athletic ability he should attempt more. It also doesn’t help that 26 of his 43 shots were treys.
Good or bad, the Bird is the word
Chris Andersen has been just as dangerous as JR this season, both for his team and for his opponents. The Good Bird averaged 8.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3 blocks on the trip.
However, the Bad Bird continues to fall for pump fakes. Something that David West took advantage of in the Hornets game, West scored a game-best 30 points. Not to mention, it was Bird’s sloppy play put the Nuggets in early deficits. He shot an ill-advised 16-foot jumper when he entered into the Timberwolves game and against the Hornets his lazy passes turned into four turnovers – many of which were converted into easy baskets for New Orleans.
Nene feeling comfortable
Nene has spent much of the season playing out of position at center, but now with Johan Petro starting next to him Nene has stepped up his game while playing in his normal position at Power Forward.
Nene has averaged 15.7 points and 8.3 rebounds on the road trip and the impressive part has been his proficiency. He has hit 16 of 24 from the field and has attempted 20 free throws (hitting 15 of them).
AC playing his best ball
The running joke among many that watched the Nuggets the last couple of years was Anthony Carter is a turnover waiting to happen. For his career Carter has averaged 2.5 assists for each turnover, but since filling in for Ty Lawson AC has averaged 3.8 assists per a turnover. He has been a big reason why the Nuggets are on a six-game winning streak and during the streak averaged over seven assists a game and hit 18 of 29 shots. While many were sweating when George Karl said Carter may has surpassed Lawson as the Billups’ backup, but if AC can keep the hot streak going it won’t matter.
Petro stepping up
Petro hasn’t been extraordinary, but he has been solid fitting in for K-Mart. Mainly because of his size, Petro has averaged 6.3 rebounds and a block a game and even recorded a double-double against the Hornets. While Petro hasn’t made anybody forget about Kenyon, he hasn’t made the fans demand for the Frenchy’s head.
Photos by Jonathan Maness