Nuggets Beat Down the Bees

In a game that was at times reminiscent of the 2009 first round playoff series, the Denver Nuggets thoroughly dominated the weary New Orleans Hornets, 93-80. Yet again, the Bees simply didn’t have the firepower to compete with the Nuggets.

In the first half Denver pretty much imposed their will, turning a 10 point first quarter lead into a 25 point margin at the half. For the first 18 minutes the Hornets split time at center between Emeka Okafor and Aaron Gray, with a 14 point deficit resulting. Neither was great at defending the interior, although Okafor did amass eight first quarter rebounds. It was when Bower went with a front court of West, Songaila, and Julian/Posey that the situation went from bad to worse. In the three minutes that followed the lead swelled to 23, and with it the game was essentially lost.

I don’t have the numbers available for teams turning 23 point second quarter deficits into victories, but it’s a near certainty that wins from that situation are few and far between. This year the team has really fallen behind by significant margins early in games, even when Chris was healthy. Most of the time they wind up battling back, but it’s obviously worn on them. This road trip has been killer, especially with the injuries that have hit. It will be interesting going forward to see if this occurrence continues when everybody is at full health.

The team did make their usual second half run, and not primarily against backups. Denver turned away from their first half strategy of working hard for easy shots and decided to instead settle for three pointers and mid-range jumpers. When the shots didn’t fall, they just kept at it, assuming that the lead they had build up would last. Even when Denver manged to get inside, the layups just didn’t drop. It was that kind of second half offensively for Melo and co. The lead they built up? It held, but the Hornets cut it to single digits.

Down 27 after Nene’s dunk to start the third quarter, the Hornets slowly managed to crawl back thanks almost exclusively to Denver’s offensive woes. With just over nine minutes to go Arron Afflalo made a long jumper to extend the lead back to 25. In the next 16 minutes, the Nuggets managed to shoot just 4 for 28 from the floor. The Hornets weren’t fantastic during this stretch, but weren’t “Nuggets bad”. The 27 point lead had been cut to just 9 with five to play and there was brief hope for Hornets fans.

We’ve seen this before- Getting whooped early, nice comeback, and then the Hornets put the ball in the hands of the young guns. Marcus had his game face on, and looked ready to cut the lead even further, but there just wasn’t enough in the tank tonight.

Carmelo knocked down a 12 foot jumper, which the Hornets were unable to respond to. A poor possession led to Marcus taking an off balance three pointer that missed. On the other end, Busch-League rebounding allowed Carmelo to get two more easy ones. Thornton again tried to answer, but badly missed an 18 footer. Back to back turnovers by West and Thornton put the nail in the coffin.

What went wrong?

For one thing, our rebounding and interior defense was, and is, atrocious. Emeka may take a bunch of heat around here, but he was instrumental in clogging up the middle and preventing Denver from continuing to dominate in the second half.

Bower loves to go small with a combo of Songaila and West, and in a lot of cases I can see why he does it. That being said, there are times, like tonight, when I feel he’s over-reliant on that lineup. Neither of the two are good rebounders or defensive players, so when they are in there together against teams with a real front court they tend to struggle. In only 30 minutes Okafor managed 11 points on 5-9 shooting and 10 boards. When he was out there the team managed to outscore the Nuggets by 2, making him the lone Hornet in the black.

During the third and fourth quarter offensive lapse by Denver, the Hornets needed someone to step up and be assertive on offense. That man tonight needed to be David West, who was strangely absent after an 8 point first quarter. He has been fired up for a while, but I imagine that all this losing is taking it’s toll on him. It’s hard to stay fired up in vain.

Sloppy offense again destroyed any chance of victory. Collison and West turned it over five times each, with Songaila tossing three of his own. The trio played a big role in the 19 total turnovers. One thing that’s constantly overlooked about Paul, especially when comparing him with Collison, is turnover rate. CP3 has the ball in his hands all game long, rarely coughing it up.

Let’s conclude this with some bullet action.

  • Chris Paul is expected back either Saturday in Utah, or Monday at home against Dallas. It can’t come soon enough. Even though the playoffs are a pipe-dream at this point, the next month should be a lot of fun as we get to see how Paul and the rookies fare together.
  • Julian Wright gave another performance that left me scratching my head. Some days he makes me think that he’s coming around and others he just look exactly the same as he did 4 years ago- raw and undeveloped. At what point is it appropriate to stop talking about potential?
  • Aaron Gray gave six solid minutes, and probably deserved more. Call me crazy, but I’d like to see him back next year, 30 points lighter.
  • Carmelo Anthony was a men among boys tonight, nearly amassing a 20-20. He wasn’t at his best, since settling for jumpers is probably his biggest weakness, but his work on the glass made a big impact throughout. Sure would be nice to see him in a Hornets uniform one day.
  • Birdman and JR combined for 22 points and 16 rebounds. If only they were on the other side of the court still, things would have been much different. On the Daily Dime Chat someone called JR Smith the “best bad player in basketball”. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Here’s hoping that Paul brings some W’s for us when the Bees return home.

UPDATE: Game highlights…

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