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Denver Nuggets 132, Houston Rockets 114 – Sometimes the schedule knows best

Having played in Portland last night and coming up against a Nuggets team that has had a night off, you could be forgiven for writing this one off as a schedule loss in the high altitude of the Pepsi Center. But the Nuggets are missing two of their better players in Ty Lawson and Danilo Galinari, and given how the Rockets have been playing pretty well recently there was reason to be optimistic. Could they upset the odds and pull off a win in difficult circumstances?

The Rockets came cold out of the gate, slipping to a 12-4 deficit on the back of a couple of Nuggets threes. But as has happened in the last few contests, they were able to key off the spark provided by Garcia to get them going. He knocked down a couple of threes on consecutive possessions, and suddenly it was contagious – Terrence Jones and Jeremy Lin both put in one of their own in quick succession to give them the lead, and both Anderson and Motiejunas converted later in the quarter.

The defense also stepped up, at one point forcing two shot clock violations in succession. It seemed as though the Nuggets were missing the outside shooting of Galinari as they tossed up several airballs from around the perimeter. No Ty Lawson probably hurt them too – the Rockets were packing the paint and making penetration difficult, particularly for Andre Miller who isn’t the quickest any more. When Evan Fournier came off the bench he was able to do a bit better.

Terrence Jones was more active tonight after a passive game against Portland.  He looked confident in the first half, knocking down the open three (although his release is painfully slow), and converting a three point play. There was also a very attractive block where he had the presence of mind to direct the ball up the floor, triggering the break. Unfortunately he looks as though he still hasn’t quite adjusted to the speed of the NBA games at times though. There were a couple of offensive possessions where he hesitated upon receiving the ball, destroying the Rockets’ flow. The coaches have obviously told him to be aggressive, and that manifests itself in him trying a lot of expansive and flowing moves, facing up his man or trying something in the post. You can see the quickness and strength is there, but he’s going for too much at the moment and it’s not coming off. In the NBA you want every dribble to have a purpose, but he doesn’t seem to have  absorbed that lesson yet.

Harden was struggling from the field, but making up for it by getting to the free throw line a lot. He’s struggled in the past with Iguodala, but tonight he was taking advantage of the eagerness of Corey Brewer. Every time Harden drove Brewer would go for the steal and inevitably get nothing but arm, making an easy call for the referee. The upshot was that by half time Harden had 12 points despite only making 1 of 6 shots.

In the second quarter it seemed as though the thin air and lack of rest was catching up with the Rockets. They’d done a good job up to that point of limiting the high-flying transition game the Nuggets love to play, but some sloppy turnovers allowed a procession of layups and alley-oops to give the Nuggets back the lead. McHale looked absolutely furious with the team as he was forced to call a timeout – the subject of his ire was probably the previous defensive stand, in which JaVale McGee was able to rise up uncontested for an easy dunk. But despite looking a little more alive after the timeout, they were unable to completely stop the bleeding. They ended up giving up 39 points in the quarter to be down 8 at half time.

The third quarter felt like more of the same. The Nuggets seemed to have more energy, flying all over the court, while the Rockets were starting to make a few silly mistakes. Harden looked low on energy. At one point he thought he had been fouled in the far corner and just…stopped. The Nuggets stole the ball and went the other way, easily converting the ensuing 5-on-4 as Harden jogged back up the court. By this point it shouldn’t be surprising to see Harden putting in less effort than he should be on defense, but this felt particularly egregious. He missed a couple of threes short as well, which tends to be a sign of fatigue, and McHale pulled him out shortly thereafter. He did not see the court again for the rest of the game.

The lone bright spot in the third quarter for the Rockets was Jeremy Lin. He was making a lot of tough shots around the basket (including his first 6 of the game) and doing a great job on the distribution side of things too.  The driving game was working really well – at this stage of life Andre Miller doesn’t really have the necessary footspeed to stay in front of players like Lin. Apart from one possession where he clanked two corner threes (Terrence Jones with the offensive rebound), I don’t really remember him putting a foot wrong. He ended up with a pleasing 23 points (on 8-15 shooting) to go with 8 assists.

When the dust had settled at the end of the third quarter, the scoreboard did not make for pretty reading. The Nuggets had put up 38 points en route to a 19 point lead, and there was no coming back. The Rockets opened the quarter with Lin/Beverley/Anderson/Jones/Robinson, but quickly subbed in Brooks as McHale threw in the towel. There were about 9 minutes of garbage time as the teams played out the string. It’s probably fair to assign some of the blame to the circumstances as the Rockets looked dead-on-the-court for most of the second half, but some credit must be given to the Nuggets too. They were explosive on the break and clinical at making the most of the Rockets’ fatigue. Even without some of their better players, they’re still very much alive in the third spot, and on the evidence of tonight and the previous games in the season series they are not a team the Rockets match up with very well. If Houston can make it to the number 6 spot for the playoffs, I maintain that they are the team the Rockets would least like to play.

Random Observations:

  • Since Smith has joined the starting lineup, the Rockets have liked to go to him for the first possession of the game in the post. This game they continued to feature him on the low block on several further possessions in the early going. He didn’t have much success with it, going 0-3 to start the game (though he did have a bit more joy in the second half, making a hook shot and drawing a foul). While it works as a change of pace, I’m not sure that Smith quite has the back-to-the-basket game to be able to do it consistently unless he’s got a smaller opponent on him. Playing him at the four seems to reduce his opportunities for easy finishes slightly, but the team should probably be looking to set those up over some low percentage post ups.
  • MEGA-DUNK! James Anderson absolutely posterised Evan Fournier for a dunk on the break that came from a Jones block in the first quarter. Didn’t realize he had such springs. I’m sure it will make some top play lists, so make sure you check it out. There were plenty of other highlights to be had from the Nuggets alley-oop factory too.
  • I continue to be very impressed by Lin’s post defense – Miller took him down to the post a few times tonight and he handled it exceptionally well. It’s been a recurring theme with him – I remember Chris Paul trying to post him up a few games ago and getting nowhere either. He may struggle to keep quick guards in front of him at times, but if they’ve got their back to him you can count on him to do a decent job.
  • At one point in the third quarter Asik tried to flop on a move in the post by Andre Miller. It was comedic to see the big man hit the deck on a bump by such a small player. Obviously he didn’t get the call.
  • Really liked the look of Evan Fournier, who was playing backup point guard for the Nuggets tonight. He can hit the outside shot, he can penetrate, and he looks great in the open court too – there was one pretty fast break where he dropped a behind the back pass to a streaking Anthony Randolph.
  • Stat-line of the night has to go to Andre Iguodala, who finished three rebounds shy of a triple double. He had 18 points, 14 assists and 7 rebounds and generally was at the heart of everything the Nuggets did. When analyzing the Dwight Howard trade in the summer, it seems as though the Nuggets can put up a good case for having come out best. They’ve done really well this season and Iguodala has been a big part of that.

 

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  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago

    Haha I remember that awesome dunk. The bench's reaction is priceless lol.

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    Oh and how could I forget, this was a pretty nice highlight of the game:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHjVop5aQhU

    I kind of wanted Anderson to pass it back to Jones so Jones could be rewarded for the block but this was nice too.

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    I think Faried made him look bad by outhustling him, but he wasn't as bad as he looked, I think Greg Smith did what he usually does which is hustle and fight for position. 6 points and 4 rebounds in 13 minutes is very solid. As for finishing, it's hard to finish when the opportunities weren't there, the Nuggets defense was swarming everywhere. However, there was a moment in the game where Greg Smith tried to dunk a pocket pass on the baseline but he got blocked. I think Greg Smith would have got more minutes if the lane was so crowded, Terrence Jones was spacing the floor better.

  • Sir Thursday says 1 YEAR ago

    Denver is the only team we haven't beat this season.

    We also failed to beat both Miami and Indiana.

    I'm surprised you picked out Greg Smith as a positive tonight, because I thought he had a pretty poor game. Mainly because instead of looking to get clean up buckets and finishing at the rim like he normally does he spent most of his time trying to post up Faried (and it didn't go very well). As I said in my recap, I think that's something he should be doing only occasionally as a change of pace rather than as the main option.

    ST

  • idiotfan says 1 YEAR ago ok, at this point, IDK if it's a great idea to face Denver in the first round of the playoffs. These guys are 35-3 at home, with none of the 3 losses versus any of the other 7 western playoff teams. They's tough at home in the thin air, and Houston was flat out tired....... the Rockets are a disaster on the 2nd leg of a back-2-back. There high-tempo style of basket ball tires them out the night before, and tonight you add in the thin air of Denver plus a Nuggets team that runs up and down the court too and you could see the boys just couldn't keep up. Even without Gallinari, Denver is too physical and roster-deep for the Rockets. Not a good matchup. I think maybe playing OKC or SA or Denver would all be about the same kind of challenge. The only team the Rockets probably match up the best against is Memphis, and this still has an outside chance of occuring in the first round.
  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago

    I don't really think McHale is 'learning' anything on this front. I think it is rather due to incentives, at least partially. Early in the season, he didn't have much choice. He needed W's. You can't punish your best player if doing so shoots you in the foot too.

    Now he can punish players more easily...we are all but a lock for the playoffs, so benching against a team that we were "supposed" to lose to anyways...when he thinks Harden needs to ride the pine a bit? lol a much more palpable decision

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    There's a few things I've asked myself "what took so long?" when it comes to McHale. But maybe we should just be glad he's learning.

  • datruth says 1 YEAR ago

    I'm confused with some of the comments. Harden has been bad on defense all year. McHale has bench kids and taken players out of the rotation. Reduce kids minutes and now at the end of the year he's benching Harden. Why not bench him when you bench the rest of the team. All year long Harden has relax on defense, but now he isgetting benched. Again, I'm happy that Mchale is treating all players equally, but what took so long.

  • thenit says 1 YEAR ago

    It's okey we will beat them when it matters in the Western Conference final or having someone taking them out on our way to the finals :)

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    Denver is the only team we haven't beat this season.

  • rockets best fan says 1 YEAR ago

    Yea we saw what a fresh emotional Denver squad can do to a tired who gives a ripe attitudinal Rockets team. Until rest and emotions are equal, then it's all just a flash in the pan.

    they had no trouble kicking our butt the last 6 times they saw us as well

  • thenit says 1 YEAR ago

    Thanks 2016 for the quick recap there.

    Looking at the box score it looked like Bev had a decent night 3-3 and 9 assists, and brooks shot 3-5 in garbage, I like to have AB as a joker if we really struggle the first couple of games in the playoffs. Hopefully this game gave him a few minutes he wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

  • Steven says 1 YEAR ago

    I hate to say I told you guys so, but I told you so.......Denver is a deeper team than us with an first rate coach. I would have liked to seen a better game, but I knew we taking on a tall order. even without galo and Lawson they are still to deep and experienced for us. for all those wanting us to take that sixth spot you just saw what will happen. I'd rather take my chances with the spurs


    Yea we saw what a fresh emotional Denver squad can do to a tired who gives a ripe attitudinal Rockets team. Until rest and emotions are equal, then it's all just a flash in the pan.
  • rockets best fan says 1 YEAR ago

    I hate to say I told you guys so, but I told you so.......Denver is a deeper team than us with an first rate coach. I would have liked to seen a better game, but I knew we taking on a tall order. even without galo and Lawson they are still to deep and experienced for us. for all those wanting us to take that sixth spot you just saw what will happen. I'd rather take my chances with the spurs

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    Can any of you guys tell me why harden only played 29 minutes? I didn't watch the game tonight, but based on the highlights faried just showed us why he should never be compared to T-Rob, he had a couple of massive dunks.

    Also was there any positives in this game except that with this loss we won't have to play denver.

    We did okay in the first quarter, but from there the fatigue from last night's gameagainstPortland set in and we couldn't keep up with the insane pace anymore. We're a fast team, but Denver made us look like we were standing still (actually there was one possession where Harden literally stood still after turning the ball over and watching on as 5 Denver jerseys sprinted past him for 2 of their 35 fast break points), and with 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter it was already clear that this game was over. It wasembarrassing, our best player looked like he was ready to pass out, and they were putting the ball through their legs, throwing alley oops, playing globetrotter basketball making an absolute joke of us. McHale was furious. He wisely benched the exhaustedstarters and let the fresh legs finish off the game against the Nuggets bench, and thankfully we only lost by 18 even though it looked like it was going to be a 30 or 40 point blowout.

    Positives that we can take from this game are:

    • Lin was fantastic. He showed tonight why his defense is so underrated, and offensively he was hitting huge bail out 3's and attacking non-stop, and he made a couple of very nice floaters which you don't see often from him. He also should have got a few more assists if Asik could finish better.
    • Terrence Jones was great too, he was shooting with confidence and being very aggressive. And that block he got was impressive.
    • T-Rob looked like he was inspired by Faried because he was showing off his speed and hustle a little bit tonight. It's not easy to outrun the Nuggets on a fast break but he did, I swear he looks like a wide receiver with that speed and athleticism.
    • Greg Smith his usualaggressiveself, I feel like he's becoming more and more reliable after every game.
  • thenit says 1 YEAR ago

    Can any of you guys tell me why harden only played 29 minutes? I didn't watch the game tonight, but based on the highlights faried just showed us why he should never be compared to T-Rob, he had a couple of massive dunks.

    Also was there any positives in this game except that with this loss we won't have to play denver.

  • Red94 says 1 YEAR ago New post: Denver Nuggets 132, Houston Rockets 114 - Sometimes the schedule knows best
  • Cooper says 1 YEAR ago Yeah, Trade him to the kings.
  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    There were at least 3 moments in the game where Harden just stood by or lazily went for a steal instead of running back whilethe while Nuggets stampeded their way towards an easy dunk. Man, I know he's our superstar and all but I think no man should be bigger than the team, I really think McHale should find a way to punish him. IfMcHale doesn't want to bench him that'sunderstandable, but he needs to make an example of Harden to let the whole team know that it's not acceptable. I'm going to make a seperate thread because thisis something to discuss imo.

  • Cooper says 1 YEAR ago Even without gallo and Lawson Denver still ran all over us.
  • Steven says 1 YEAR ago Don't they have a csnh2?
  • miketheodio says 1 YEAR ago Where can you watch this live on tv? I have my csn and its a 2 and a half hour delay. Thanks comcast.

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