The reason why?
Denver waltzed into Chicago and once again gave an effort that was too little too late before trying to pull off a miracle and falling short, 135-121. And the sick thing about it is yet another individual Nugget gave a career-best performance, but it goes wasted because Denver collectively still refuses to play a lick of defense for more than a couple of back-to-back possessions at any one time.
Just how bad was the Nuggets defense?
Denver allowed the Bulls to shoot 57.1 percent from the field which is the second-highest percentage an opponent has shot against the Nuggets this season. Chicago’s 135 points were also the second-most they've allowed, trailing only a, 137-115, loss at Phoenix in early January as the Suns went berserk from long-range setting a franchise record for three’s made in a single game. Plus, the Nuggets are now allowing their opposition 109 points per game on the road and have kept only five teams below 100 points in its 26 road games.
More horror is abundant in the Bulls’ box score. Of the nine players seeing action for Chicago, seven scored in double figures. Ben Gordon lit the Nuggets up from every conceivable spot on the floor with a team-high 37 points and five assists coming off the bench. Kirk Hinrich recorded a double-double of 16 points and 14 assists. So did Joakim Noah with 14 points and ten rebounds and Tyrus Thomas who added 18 points and eleven boards.
As for the Nuggets and their single most detrimental character trait, let’s just say they are consistently inconsistent. Since averaging 20 points and seven rebounds in his last three games, Kenyon Martin was a no-show with four points and one rebound in 30 minutes of playing time against the Bulls. Linas Kleiza is another player who is capable of really helping this team on one night and on the next night he looks like a rookie all over again. He has a season scoring average of 11.7 points but in the last five games Kleiza’s average has dropped to 6.2 points including last night’s 20 scoreless minutes.
But the area where the Nuggets inconsistency hurts them the most is defensively. Denver has proven to be unable to sustain a level of intensity on defense and in cases like last night they can flat out look uninterested in stopping their opponent. The Nuggets often play with an attitude that is so sure of themselves offensively and as individuals that the defensive end of the court goes forgotten because good D doesn’t produce good stats. And the sick part about the whole defensive agenda is the Nuggets have quite possibly the premier defender in the whole league in Marcus Camby, but as a team they just don’t aspire to match his intensity very often.
Offensively, the Nuggets are fully loaded. J.R. Smith recorded a career-high 43 points, including a 23-point fourth quarter consisting of seven made three’s, on 8-14 from the land of plenty making him the fourth Nugget this season to score 40 or more points in a single outburst. The only problem was Denver couldn’t stop anything on the other end of the floor and at best could only match the Bulls’ 34 points in the final period after trimming a once 23-point lead in the third quarter to a score of, 108-102, four minutes into the fourth quarter before a 14-3 run by Chicago slammed the door shut on the Nuggets comeback.
This was a game that the Nuggets needed to win. The Bulls were shorthanded due to extended paper work involved in the trade of Ben Wallace to Cleveland for Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes. Furthermore, games like this are going to be the ones that get looked back on and labeled missed opportunities in the event that Denver does not make the post season. I know it’s a short plane ride from Chicago to Milwaukee and the Nuggets had better of used their time in preparation for tonight’s Milwaukee Bucks match-up to square away a defensive agenda.