Here are some interesting facts about this year’s Nuggets team. First, Denver didn’t have either a first or second round draft pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. And, Denver made no acquisitions thru trades. Denver declined to match Toronto's offer sheet to Linas Kleiza. And, they allowed three FA’s to sign with other teams; Orlando signed Malik Allen, Cleveland signed Joey Graham, and New Jersey signed Johan Petro. But they did sign four FA’s; Al Harrington, Shelden Williams, Melvin Ely and Gary Forbes. So, except for those 4 Free Agent swaps, Denver is the same team that the Kings beat 2 out of 3 games last season; 106-101 and 102-100 in Sacramento, before losing 112 to 109 in Denver.
After winning the Northwest Division last season with a record of 53-29, the Nuggets have had a rough time early in the season and are currently 6th in the West with a record of 18-13. They are only 5-10 on the road but have played well at home and are currently 13-3 at the Pepsi Center. Some of their early problems were due to Kenyon Martin having left knee surgery in June. He’s only been back for 4 games, and because he wasn’t expected back until mid-January, Denver has been careful to slowly ease him back into the rotation. They even held him out of Wednesday’s game against Minnesota as a precaution.
Martin’s return about three weeks earlier than originally scheduled may have been forced by the absence of Carmelo Anthony who has missed the last 5 games. He was given the time off to grieve over the death of his sister, Michelle. Anthony is expected to return in time for the Kings game, but other injuries may deplete the Nuggets lineup. Al Harrington dislocated his right thumb in Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers, and Nene has a strained right hamstring. Both players missed Wednesday’s game against the Twolves.
Injuries aren’t the only problems affecting the Nuggets as evident by this quote:
“We’ve lost a lot of games in the fourth quarter,” Billups said. “We’ll have the lead and end up just giving it away. There haven’t been a lot of teams that have beaten us this year. We’ve lost because of the things we do in fourth quarters. We’ve got to find a way to put our finger on what the problem is and solve it.”
If Nene can’t play, we’ll probably see 6-10 Melvin Ely start at Center. Ely is in his 8th season out of Fresno State, and has been with the Clippers, Bobcats, Spurs, Hornets and now Denver. He’s only appeared in 16 games averaging 2 pts / 3 rebs in 12mpg. Martin has started all 4 games since he’s been back, averaging 7 pts / 4.5 rebs in 18.5 mpg. But, since he’s been resting since Tuesday’s game against Portland, we might see more of him than we want. We’re definitely going to see a lot of Carmello, who has been averaging 24 pts / 8.4 rebs / 3.3 asts in 34 mpg. Arron Afflalo the 6-5 SG out of UCLA is shooting 50.5% field and 42.7% on 110 three point attempts. He’s averaging 12.8 pts / 3.9 rebs in 35 mpg. Chauncey Billups who’s averaging 16.6 pts / 5.4 rebounds, is also shooting well from 3-pt range at 41.2% on 119 attempts. If Nene can make it back from his injury, you can expect 15 pts / 7 rebs in 31 minutes from him.
In Kmart’s absence Sheldon Williams started 27 games averaging 5 pts / 5.8 rebs in 19 mpg. But, Al Harrington the 6-9 forward in his 13 season, is averaging 12 pts / 5 rebs in 26 mpg, while shooting 38.6% on 153 three point attempts. J. R. Smith and Ty Lawson have also been adding 11 pts each in around 25 mpg. While Chris “Birdman” Andersen has only seen action in 10 games, averaging 6 pts / 6 rebs in 20 mpg.
Denver is one of the top 5 offensive teams in the league, but they are also in the top 10 worst defensive teams. They are in the top 10 in eFG% and like last season, they are the best teams in the league at getting to the FT line where they shoot 78.9%. And, with Billups running the offense they have a low Turnover rate. They have the 6th best eFG% from 3pt range and they take the 6th highest number of 3pt attempts. They need to be good shooters because they are in the bottom 5 in Offensive Rebounding and are only an average Defensive Rebounding team. They have the 3rd lowest number of blocks (3.9 per game) and they are below average in creating steals. Their opponents have the 2nd lowest turnover rate.
Your viewpoint on this game probably depends on whether you view the glass as half full or half empty. Yes, Mello is back but he’s been out for 2 weeks. So, is he rested or rusted? Kmart is back, but is he back too early and not in game shape, or is he fully recovered and ready to terrorize the league again. And from the King’s point of view, was “The Shot” proof that the team is back on track, or proof that every dog has his day? I’m going to go with the glass is still filling and ends up being more than half full.
I’m worried that the Kings still cheat too often off of good to great 3-pt shooters, but our guards and SF’s have been shooting pretty well from 3pt range themselves. I don’t see Billups or Afflalo as being a hard cover for Beno which means his scoring isn’t going to be negated by his defense. Denver was already having problems with bigger teams inside, and with Nene out or even slightly hampered by an injured hamstring, you’ve got to believe that Cousins, Dalembert & JT will dominate the boards and score well in the paint. I think that Kmart’s offense isn’t back but he’s still a solid defender and he’s probably going to give Carl problems, but that could work both ways.
So, it comes down to a matchup of the ROY versus the perennial All-Star. I’d guess that Afflalo has a better chance of defending Tyreke, than Cisco has of defending Carmelo. Might we see some Donte for defensive purposes? The Kings still haven’t shown enough improvement defensively for me to give them the win. But, if they can avoid sending Denver to the FT line more than 30 times, I think our size will give us the chance to pull off another road win. The Kings are on a high and the Nuggets are rusty and injured, so look for another close and exciting game. Goooo Kings!!