It’s funny how things change.
Just two months ago the Denver Nuggets were suppose to be destined for the lottery after dealing away their two top players, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, but instead the new Nuggets squad turned around and finished the season 18-7.
Than, in many eyes around Denver this team was destined to advance further in the post-Anthony era.
Now the Nuggets are facing a 3-0 deficit against what may be their toughest opponent, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and are on the verge of being knocked out of the playoffs and once again the the ski is falling.
The bottom line is this is a young squad that is going to wow you at times and also go through growth spurts. And of course there will be some changes in the future, especially with seven free agents, a backup point guard that will draw attention (Raymond Felton) and an overpaid Al Harrington that may be traded.
Ty Lawson, Timofey Mozgov and Danilo Gallinari aren’t even old enough to rent a car and they all should be better and part of the Nuggets rotation next seasons. As should Nene, Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler would will most likely resign. So the future and current teams remains bright. And not to mention the cap room the Nuggets should be good and young for years to come.
Free throws, free throws and free throws
Once again the Nuggets missed free throws in yet a close game. Game 1, Denver missed 12 free throws and lost by four. And Game 3, the Nuggets missed 15 and lost by three (thanks in large part of some sharp-shooting by JR Smith in the final minute).
But the worst part is that going into the playoffs Nuggets weren’t a bad free throw shooting team. Nene, who has been the biggest culprit, was shooting a career high .711 percent from the charity stripe this season and Gallinari who has made only 8-12 is a career .847 FT shooter. Felton was atrocious when he came to the Nuggets and only shot .617 after shooting .867 in New York.
Karl tinkering with his lineup
One would think Karl was just throwing darts at a dart board in this playoff series as he decides his lineups.
And while some have worked, many have not. But what do you do if your facing a team that features Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and has only been together for more than two months? You are far less talented and you definitely don’t have the unity they do, you just find any type of lineup that works.
It is eerie similar to when Karl took over the Nuggets in 2004. The Nuggets upset the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of the opening round, but the Spurs found the Nuggets weakness and beat the Nuggets in five games. Same issue in that series, Karl didn’t know his team well enough to know who should play when.
Same is happening now, of the 10 players that played Saturday – five are in their first year with the Nuggets and only four (Chris Andersen, Nene, Smith and Kenyon Martin) have been on the team for longer than two years. Not to mention, Karl knows how hot and cold a player Smith is.
JR Smith answers the call
Smith, who has struggled for most of the series, single-handle led the Nuggets rally late in the fourth quarter – after missing his first five shots of the quarter. He also came in the second and provided energy and hustle.
Smith was a far better team player and best of all he was a +14 when he was on the floor.
The return of AAA
Afflalo is still hurt, but that didn’t bother him Saturday. He played 32 minutes and scored 13 points, nine in the first quarter and played good defense on Westbrook.
Lawson not aggressive enough
There has been an argument for many about who the best Nugget player is. Smith, Gallinari , Afflalo and Lawson are all among the discussions. But considering what Lawson has proven he can do and that he is a proven winner, he should get the nods above the other three.
However, Lawson has been relatively quiet in the playoff series. Even his 20 point outburst in Game 2 was quiet. And statistically, Lawson has been solid (12.7 points, .500% from field and 4 assists a game), but he has struggled against the longer Thunder’ Russell Westbrook. Lawson is the keys to the Nuggets ignition and if he can’t get going it will be hard for the Nuggets to win Game 4.
Many fans have written off Chandler due to his struggles late in the season and in the playoffs. But considering it is first trip to the postseason and he has played on two different squads and four different positions this season – he should kind of a pass -right?
What makes Chandler valuable and an important person to return is his versatility and youth. At 23 (he’s turning 24 on May 10), Chandler has shown the ability to play three different positions, guard four. Hit jump shots, play good defense and bring a hard working attitude that George Karl appreciates.
Will he be a star? Most likely not. But in the long run, he’ll be a valuable reserve who can start for time to time.
Tags: Al Harrington Anthony Carter Arron Afflalo Carmelo Anthony Chris Andersen Danilo Gallinari Denver Nuggets George Karl J.R. Smith JR Smith Kenyon Martin Melo Nene New York Knicks Oklahoma City Thunder Raymond Felton Ty Lawson Wilson Chandler