Kyrie Irving

Utah was a disaster, a big fat one. It was one of the most disappointing games I have ever seen. The effort was so bad that they could have easily lost by 45 points, and no one would have been surprised.

At this point of the year, and I’m sounding like a broken-record here, these sorts of performances shouldn’t be the norm for a team trying to build some momentum heading into the playoffs. Colangelo talked about the difference in the players since the All-Star break. He used the word “agenda” very deliberately, and deflected any blame from Triano, saying that it was up to the players to do what they are told to. This means that Triano has the bosses full support and will be back next season; which makes me sad.

The Nuggets have absolutely owned the Raptors the last three seasons, having, quite easily, won the last five meetings:

Nov. 17/09 – L 112-130
Dec. 2/08 – L 93-132
Dec. 31/08 – L 107-114
Mar. 14/08 – L 105-137
Mar. 23/08 – L 100-109

Brutal…

I checked in with Jeremy from the Roundball Mining Company, to get some insight into the Nuggets:

What’s going on with the Nuggets? Is what we’re seeing just a blip, or is there something bigger at play?
Right now there is no team dealing with a bigger distraction than Denver. As everyone knows their head coach is battling cancer and has reached a point physically where he cannot be with the team. Adrian Dantley has struggled at times and is probably hamstrung a little by the situation he is in. Plus Denver’s best interior defender and rebounder, Kenyon Martin, is out for an unknown period of time as he deals with patella tendonitis.

It is completely understandable why Denver is not playing their best. However, the level to which they have fallen goes beyond simply dealing with the stress and worry about Coach Karl and the absence of Martin. The effort they put forth defensively on Wednesday in Boston was completely unacceptable and they had similar lapses in New York. Offensively their perimeter shooters have been firing blanks from behind the arc, especially Chauncey and J.R. Smith, yet, when they are not shooting well, they seem to actually attempt more long jumpers which is a thought process that is foreign to me.

Denver is clearly capable of playing better, and they will, the question is when? Considering the way they have played their previous two games and the fact the game in Toronto is their only remaining game on this current five game trip against a non contending squad, I fully expect Denver to put forth a very strong and focused effort. If they do not, I fear their season could be irreparably damaged.

How bad a decision was it to give Camby away when you could have used his size against the likes of the Lakers in the playoffs?
I was fully in favor of the decision to trade Marcus Camby. He was an overrated defender in Denver as all he did was sit back and play for the blocked shot. He played horrible pick and roll defense, is too sparsely proportioned to defend in the post against other centers and is so limited offensively that on one occasion the Warriors decided to have Mickael Pietrus cover him and Marcus never even thought of trying to post him up. Camby was actually not a good matchup against the Lakers as he is too light in the keister to cover Andrew Bynum. He also struggled against the multi-talented Pau Gasol.

Of course, Camby is a gifted rebounder and it is obvious Denver could use another big to help in that department. Chris “Birdman” Andersen has filled Camby’s role relatively well and for much less cash, although he apparently thinks a box out is something you have to do when you are moving. Denver was hoping that a big like Drew Gooden was going to be available after the trade deadline, but that market never developed this season. They made a play for Zydrunas Ilgauskas, but clearly he was never going anywhere but Cleveland.

What a lot of people do not realize is it was the Camby trade that created the financial wiggle room to make the trade for Chauncey Billups. Chauncey’s annual salary was nearly equal to what Camby was making and without dumping Camby’s contract they could not have taken on Chauncey’s. Plus it opened up more minutes for Nene who has responded with two very good, and healthy seasons.

Who do you guys want to see in the 1st round? Can the Nuggets get to the conference finals or beyond?
An ideal first round opponent would be the Oklahoma City Thunder. Denver matches up very well with them and I suspect it would be a very short series. Apart from the Thunder there are few teams I would dismiss. I have said since last season that I am not afraid of San Antonio until I see all three of their stars are healthy at the start of the postseason. It does appear the Spurs will be at full strength with Tony Parker slated to return soon and while I do not think they can make a deep run, they certainly would be a handful in the first round. If I had to pick a second team for the Nuggets to face it would be the Mavericks, although they are better than the team Denver routed last season. Next on the list would be Portland. Denver matches up pretty well with them and while I think the series would be a long hard fought one, I believe the Nuggets would prevail. The one team I am really afraid of is Phoenix, especially if the Suns have home court advantage. They are the one team who can outgun Denver game after game and it is entirely possible the Nuggets fall to fifth and have to play the Suns in the first round.

I have maintained all season that Denver is the second best team in the west, but have always added the caveat if healthy. As long as Kenyon Martin can return and be effective, and I must say I am dubious of speculation he will be ready to go for the playoffs, Denver can beat any team in the league. Along with adding Kenyon in order to reach their potential the Nuggets probably also need Karl to be back on the bench, but that too would seem to be a long shot.

What’s next for this team if this group can’t put it together and make a serious run?
I really do not want to entertain that notion, but their chances of repeating last season’s run are decreasing with every loss. Ideally Denver can rebound next season with Karl back to full health and each of their young players, Carmelo, Nene, J.R. Smith, Arron Afflao and Ty Lawson, a year closer to their prime. Denver could have some spots to fill with hangers on like Malik Allen, Anthony Carter, Joey Graham and Johan Petro in the last year of their contracts. Plus next season is finally the last year of Kenyon’s monster contract and in a tough economic climate a contract of that size could be very valuable. Then hopefully Denver is the team who can trade an important piece of their team to add a major piece of the puzzle, have him bought out, wait 30 days and bring him back for the playoffs.

All of that sounds nice, but it might not be reality. The really, really bad news for Nuggets fans is with owner Stan Kroenke proving to be exceedingly disinterested in paying the luxury tax they could see wholesale changes this summer. Depending on where the tax level falls for 2010-11 Denver’s top five players alone could make them a tax paying team. There has been no real discussion about it in the media, but I would not be surprised if the Nuggets are forced to dump another player in the next few months. That would be a blow that I doubt they could overcome.

If we really want to look long term, you may have heard the recent scuttlebutt about Carmelo having an early termination clause after next season. Picture him as a free agent at the same time the Nuggets are tightening the purse strings and dropping down the standings. I find the chances he will leave minute, but they are real enough I had to write a post about it earlier this week.

What are George Karl’s strength’s and weaknesses? How is he doing with the cancer battle, how is the team responding?
I would say that George Karl’s greatest strength with this team is the fact he has gone toe to toe with some of the most important players on the roster, but unlike in the past it seems to have made them closer. At times he seemed like Karl was the last remaining guard during a prison riot. He has battled with Carmelo, Kenyon and J.R. Smith and all of them seem to have come out of the other side better for it although he and J.R. do not seem to be on great terms. At least Smith realizes even though he may not like what Karl says or does, it is all designed to make him a better player.

As far as weaknesses there are a number of little things that get on the fans’ nerves. He tends to be too passive on the bench from time to time and his intensity seems to ebb and flow from game to game. If I had to criticize him about something, it would have to be that he has not done a very good job of maintaining the defensive emphasis that served Denver so well last season. Heading into training camp in 2008 it was made clear that the happy go lucky ways were gone and that he was going to get the team back under control. He pulled it off and Denver was a vastly improved defensive team in 2008-09 even without Camby. This season they have become a more offensive oriented team again and the attention to detail defensively is not there.

As far as his health the treatment Karl is enduring has been very painful. If you have not seen it I encourage everyone to read this article by Rick Riley documenting what Karl is going through. Over the weekend he had a problem with blood clots in his legs. That issue is reportedly resolved, but he is certainly in a great deal of pain every minute of every day. We can only pray that the treatment is successful.

As far as the impact on the team at first they seemed to rally around it, but recently Chauncey spoke about how they miss having their leader around and from the perspective of an outsider I would say the spirit of the team is low. Karl has told them the best medicine for him right now is wins and I am a little surprised that the biggest problem with the team recently has been effort.

If the Raptors want to do a good deed I suggest letting the Nuggets win tonight. It really is the humane thing to do.

Interesting that Karl chooses to go toe-to-toe with his players as opposed to Triano, who seemingly indulges the players after terrible performances saying that the effort was there but they just fell short a couple times blah blah blah.

I expect to see a few things this game:

  • Chauncey to have 20pts 11ast 5rebs 2st – it’s time for him to come out of this little funk of his
  • JR Smith to go 4-8 from behind the arc, all open shots, and all of them daggers
  • Nene to have 20 points in the paint, 6 offensive rebounds, and be the best front line player on the floor (of either team)
  • Bosh to have 24pts 11rebs
  • Raptors to lose by 21
  • For all the gamblers to take Denver at -5.5; that’s about as close to a sure thing as you can get
  • Join us tonight at the Sports Centre Cafe for Raptor Fans Friday. For the rest of you, we will be on Twitter, and in the RR live chat.