The first half ended with the score tied at 48 and from there it all went down hill for the Nuggets Nation. In the third quarter, the Nuggets were out hustled to loose balls, long rebounds, and on defensive rotations. J.R. Smith, while scoring 16 points off the bench, took errant three after errant three and played absolutely terrible defense. Numerous times he was looking the wrong direction as his defensive rotation was blown. Tonight, he also proved to me that even while getting into the fold offensively he just still doesn’t understand time and possession basketball. Shooting three’s on fast breaks when the team needs buckets in the worst kind of way is absolutely ridiculous. Furthermore, Smith could do himself a huge favor after hitting one outside shot if he didn’t always huck up his next touch from wherever he may be standing. It’s as if he gets blinded by a single make and loses all track of what the team is trying to accomplish as a unit.
Honestly, I give when it comes to J.R. and his game’s immaturity! The guy is such an exciting talent, but until he learns how to really play the game within the game he is going to continue to frustrate me and George Karl.
It also didn’t help that Allen Iverson is having a hard time finishing on the drive. AI struggled through his second straight game offensively finishing just 5-16 from the field for 21 points and seven assists. Now, I know that isn’t a bad box score, but when a team relies on a certain level of performance out of a guy like Iverson an off-night like tonight can make the difference in a game’s outcome. Additionally, Carmelo Anthony also had a rough showing tonight. Despite finishing with a game-high 32 points, ‘Melo was 9-19 shooting with his proficiency at the line serving as his saving grace. Anthony went 11-14 from the charity stripe, but didn’t hit the glass as hard as we have been getting used to finishing with just six rebounds.
Whether you call it running out of gas or just checking out early the Nuggets looked uninterested as the Magic won the game, and the second half, by eleven points. Dwight Howard must have took Van Gundy’s comments about his focus personally as he repeatedly out-muscled the Nuggets frontline on his way to a game-high 24 rebounds, 23 points, three assists, and two blocked shots. The Eastern Conference’s starting center received most of his offensive help from Hedo Turkoglu, Brian Cook, and Rashard Lewis who were a combined 8-14 from downtown and a total of 61 points.
Now, with 30 games remaining the Nuggets are 32-20 overall and currently still in second place in the Northwest Division trailing the Utah Jazz by a single game. I think we should all be pleasantly satisfied with that record and the Nuggets' current position in the division when all things are considered. Kenyon Martin is proving to be a durable asset, the ‘Melo-AI experiment has proven to be a success (at least for each man individually), and given the types of injuries Denver has had to fight through things could be a lot worse.
The last 30 games of the season are going to truly reveal what kind of gusto this team is made of. The Nuggets have to face the Suns (potentially with Shaq in the line-up) three more times, the Spurs, Jazz, Rockets, Warriors, and Pistons each twice, and the Mavericks and Raptors each once again before all is said and done. Not to mention they have to come out of All-Star Weekend with a match-up against the best team record wise in the NBA in the Boston Celtics!
So, could the Nuggets still win 50+ games this season? Absolutely. Could they still miss the playoffs in the extremely crowded Western Conference? That’s not too far of a stretch either. Stay tuned.