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Denver Nuggets 93, Houston Rockets 87

I’m enjoying these new Rockets, but my forehead’s getting a little sore. For a fun project, I decided to tally up how many times I reflexively slapped my hand against my forehead while watching tonight’s game. It turns out the number was fifteen, and the last tally mark was by far the biggest. That last tally mark let the Nuggets seal the game.

This is a young team, and they’re having stereotypically young problems. Passes are bobbled (Looking at you, Morris), dribbles are lost, and defense is overhelped. Strangest of all, they actually look worse as time goes on. It’s probably just a coincidence. Extra practices aren’t hurting them.

Defenses are hurting them. Andre Iguodala stepped it up and held Harden to fifteen points on fifteen shots. While a point a shot isn’t a particularly bad number, it’s far worse than the efficiency we came to adore in those first two games. He had his first relatively quiet night of the season, and hopefully one of only very few (15 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 5! steals) Harden’s night was pushed off kilter early, as he found himself surprised after a pair of drives to the basket. He got muscled around inside, and is clearly used to being able to draw a whistle in that situation. This set the tone for the evening, as the refs (including one infamous Joey Crawford) decided to allow a fairly large amount of contact throughout. Lin’s nose, for example, suffered late at the hands and elbows of the Nuggets.

Lin also looked troubled, though his dribble and passing remained solid. He ended the evening with an equal number of steals, assists and points (6). His ballhawking skills remain valuable, but his man defense leaves something to be desire. While nobody on the team is the defensive black hole Martin and Scola were, allowing Ty Lawson to score a game-high 21 points.

Parsons continued his streak of playing invisible, decent games. His defense was as solid as ever, though clearly some better communication and planning is necessary of pick and roll defense. His line of 8 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists is a slight step back from his previous games.

Asik managed the only double double for the Rockets, scoring 10 points on 4-11 shooting combined with 13 rebounds (7 offensive!) gave him a strong evening. He also managed a team-worst plus/minus of -16. His minutes were disrupted when he took an elbow to the brow from Kosta Koufos and had to head to the locker room for 4 stitches over his left eye. He returned to the game, and it seems unlikely to affect him.

Patterson played well, and put in a season-high 18 points on only 13 shots. He also drained 2 of his 4 three pointers. He’s clearly been devoted to adding a range element to his game, and it’s proven invaluable. He was active in a way he wasn’t last year, and the proper removal of his bone spurs may play some part in that. The biggest hitch in his game was a few poor defensive possessions in which he gave deadly marksman Danilo Gallinari the room he needed to knock down some key shots. He’s more used to defending traditional bigs, though, but this is something he’ll have to address.

The bench was, as always, The Carlos Delfino show. Tonight, his guest star was Cole Aldrich, who didn’t look great (1-2 shooting, 3 rebounds and a block), but showed some hustle in his fifteen and a half minutes. Toney Douglas was as mortifying as ever, with only one field goal out of four. It’s worth noting that he managed it exactly as I was finishing a tirade about how terrible he looked. I’ve had this exact experience at least once a game so far, so I may have to do some research on how much home-team hate it takes per good Toney possession.

Marcus Morris came in and nailed a three, but then failed to nail much of anything else. He played hard the entire way, but heart didn’t seem to be enough. He bobbled an inlet pass and failed to save a crucial ball late, earning himself a seat on the bench. Morris looks to be an ongoing source of frustration, as he teases Houston fans with sporadic solid play and good games.

Ah, yes. Delfino. He made half Rockets’ threes, hitting 4-10, as opposed to 4-29 for the rest of the team. Some were contested, but he managed to sink them where others, like Harden (0-5) couldn’t hit any. He rounded out his night with 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. He’s been the clear sixth man, and so far the only consistently worthwhile player on the bench. Bear in mind, however, we have yet to see a singly minute of rookie play.

Horrific three point shooting isn’t the entire story, however. Through most of the game, the Nuggets held a large advantage in rebounds, led by Kenneth Faried’s 16. He’s proving himself as a starter on the Nuggets, and he simply has the most energy and hustle of anybody on the court.  On the other hand, the Nuggets missed 9 of their 21 free throws, 4 in a row by Lawson. This accounts for a lot of the closeness of the game, especially late.

Despite how ugly it was, the reality is that it was another winnable game, and that’s both good and bad. It’s encouraging to see a very young team in every game, and it’s always a good sign to see strong third quarters (23-13 in favor of Houston). However, they simply must improve their shooting, especially from deep. If Lin and Parsons aren’t convincing threats as spot up shooters, Harden can be doubled with impunity, and it happened several times tonight. 36% from the field and an atrocious 24% from behind the arc are simply not acceptable statistics for a team hoping to make the playoffs.

Also of note were three technical fouls levied by Joey Crawford during the game. The first was on Faried, who took umbrage to Marcus Morris basically throttling him during a box out and retaliated. The next two were a double technical called on Marcus Morris and Danilo Gallinari for getting into a bit of a scuffle on the opposite end. Scott Machado and Royce White were inactive, but were unlikely to get minutes anyway.

The Rockets have tomorrow off, then a back to back on Friday and Saturday. Let’s hope they get in some shooting drills.

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