Fellow long-time blogger MichaelÂ De Leon contacted NuggetsHoops for a Q&A session heading into tonight’s matchup between the Spurs and the Nuggets.
You can find today’s Q&A post at ProjectSpurs.com along with lots of other great insights into tonight’s foe. I’ve cross-posted the contents below. Enjoy tonight’s game at 7PM Mountain Time. Go Nuggets!
There was quite an uproar here when we traded away Marcus for a bag of chips.To me, the Nuggets front office came across as very smug over the summer. Several times, they referred to their moves in the offseason as â€œthe fans donâ€™t see the big pictureâ€. At the time, I thought they handled it poorly, but looking back now, there were some brilliant, if mind boggling moves pulled off to get from there to here.
I still miss Camby as a person in the Nuggets organization and community (my entire family has and still wears Camby jerseys to the games) but I miss him as a player less and less. I do feel badly for him in his situation with the Clippers this season â€“ who would have thought they would plummet out of significance so quickly this season? Still, subtracting Camby from this team ended up having two huge positive impacts for the Nuggets, on top of the less exciting but important salary cap/luxury tax relief. One â€“ removing one of the best defensive players in the league made us a better defensive team. Before readers start scratching their heads â€“ its really simpleâ€¦ the rest of the team stopped relying on Camby being the primary defender, and everyone started playing better defense, which brought the team to a much higher, more consistent level overall. Two, with Camby gone, it was Neneâ€™s time to finally sink or swim this season. The coaches completely missed the fact that he should have been selected as a Western Conference reserve last week, but I think the rest of the league is taking notice. Two recent, near perfect offensive games will do that. Nene is a beast down low, both offensively and defensively, and he has made the Nuggets a much stronger force. The Nuggets no longer need to rely on their running game, which means they can still win games in a slowdown, halfcourt pace. Something that will be on display tonight, as the Spurs usually do a great job of slowing down the Nuggets fastbreak part of their offense.
The other Nuggets moves have been less discussed but have been important as well. Dahntay Jones, Rolando Balkman, and Chris Andersen (for a 2nd time) have all played key roles as starters or bench players this year, and some of these subtle moves actually cleared just enough salary cap this year to get the Nuggets completely under the salary cap for the season, something that apparently makes Kroenke a very happy man.
The Nuggs have a tough road trip coming up after tonight â€“ 8 in a row, but they are winnable. We break down the season in 10 game â€œsprintsâ€ here, and so far the Nuggets have been above .500 in each one. They need to win 2 of their next three to keep that streak alive. I do think the Nuggets will finish the season strong and end up with one of their franchise best records â€“ 52-55 wins. The Nuggets have shown two qualities that cause me to â€œbelieveâ€ this season. They are winning the games they â€œshouldâ€ â€“ 20-1 against sub-.500 teams this season, and they are winning the close games â€“ 8-3 so far this season in games determined by 6 or less points.
Because he has pictures of someone on the Nuggets coaching staff? Erâ€¦ no, but it is another head-scratcher for me as well. Iâ€™ll take the high road on this one and try and put myself in Coach Karlâ€™s shoes. I think the main reason he starts is to set a tone for the game. Jones is one of our best perimeter defenders this season, and while JR is improving defensively, his strong suit is still his offense and Karl likes to have that coming off the bench as an infusion of energy and scoring at one of the first subbing points in the first quarter.JR actually started several games towards the end of Carmeloâ€™s recent stint on injured reserve, but I think Karl prefers to have him as a bench weapon, along with Kleiza. The Nuggets bench is one of the best of the league with JR, Kleiza, and Birdman playing well this season. JR ends up getting more minutes than Jones most nights anyway, so I donâ€™t think JR has any issue coming off the bench. Heâ€™s definitely a candidate for 6th man of the year.
I think Manuâ€™s face is on the office dartboard for Karl, as would be the case for most Nuggets fans. Weâ€™ve seen enough of Manu and the other Spurs star players these past 5 years, as you could easily make a case for the Spurs being the biggest roadblock to Nuggets playoff success.
Duncan will see more of Martin than Nene tonight, based on past success that Kenyon has had. Nene is quick enough to guard Bonner on the outside where he likes to work, and still help clog entry into the key for Parker and other Spurs slashers.
I think the Billups/Parker matchup will be a new and big key to the game tonight. If Billups can manage Parkerâ€™s playmaking ability and maintain his own offensive efficiency, I think the Nuggets will be in good shape to come away with a win.
The YouTube video of Karl moshing at the ring ceremony with his players and coaching staff will be listed on the front page of due to its popularity if and when the Nuggets win an NBA championship.
The Nuggets will take this game very seriously, just as they did recently with Utah. A head-to-head edge with the Spurs would be key heading into the postseason and the battle for the top few spots in the West.
Having Carmelo just return to the starting line-up is actually a bit of a concern for me, because his rust could have a negative impact. He alleviated some of that concern with solid all-around play against Charlotte in his first game back, but Charlotte is *not* San Antonio.
I think the Nuggets will come away with a home win, but it will be determined by less than 10 points.
I was more upset about Carmelo getting snubbed last season than thisÂ one. His injury in January was badly timed for an all-star campaign,Â and his scoring numbers are down this year a bit.Â
I feel that Carmelo is re-tooling his game this season. I kind ofÂ equate it to when Tiger Woods re-invented his golf swing. Tiger stillÂ won tournaments that year, but the payoff was bigger the next seasonÂ once he got used to it and fully took advantage of it. Carmelo’sÂ rebounding and assist are both near career highs this season and he’sÂ focused more on them to the benefit of the team. I also see himÂ finally playing better team defense, which has been a huge factor inÂ the Nuggets transformation from a lousy defensive team to at least aÂ middle-of-the-pack defensive team.
I could also easily make a case for both Chauncey and Nene deservingÂ All-Star berths ahead of Carmelo this year. Chauncey got his spot forÂ saving what looked like an under-performing squad this year when heÂ arrived early in the season. He’s made it safe for Nuggets fans toÂ look forward to this year’s playoffs again without fear of yet anotherÂ one-and-done, or worse yet, a sweep similar to last years drumming byÂ the Lakers. If Chauncey is the driver of the team, then Nene is theÂ engine this year, and he has a lot more horsepower under the hood thanÂ we’ve seen in a long time. His is nearly unstoppable down on the blockÂ with his variety of spins, strength mixed with quickness, and a softÂ touch. His 12-12 and 9-10 shooting games were two recent examples ofÂ an overall great season. He could win MIP in the end of the seasonÂ awards.
I think Carmelo has a good shot of making the team after all by takingÂ Chris Paul’s now vacant spot, but I’d be fine with him being kept offÂ and Jefferson or Williams getting it instead. I think Carmelo would beÂ motivated in a positive way the rest of this season if he was leftÂ off.