There were a few simple reasons we lost this game.
1. We didn't defend the middle well enough. At the beginning of the game and again at the beginning of the second half the Nuggets seemed to have their way with us at the rim. J.R. Smith, Nene...granted it wasn't the whole game but even if it happens 5-6 times that's 10-12 points you gave up when 4 would have done. What's the margin of victory? Basically we failed in perimeter containment and then failed again in rotating to cover. We also failed to stop their post guys from getting to the hole.
2. We got obliterated on the boards. Rebounding advantage is a major key to this team's success. Allowing the Nuggets 12 offensive rebounds is unheard of.
3. We got destroyed at the foul line. It's not just 39 attempts to 19, nor the -13 margin in points scored at the line, it's the time Oden and Roy spent on the bench. I'm sure some will complain about the unfair reffing but before you do, see the next point.
4. The Nuggets just plain came out with more energy. We weren't exactly flat, we just didn't have fire in our eyes. This particularly showed on our offensive end. As the game wore on we devolved into more and more isolation plays with four other guys standing around waiting to see what would happen. It cost us the game in the fourth as we missed tough shots and Denver converted easier ones. This game wasn't taken from us, we just failed to take it. Sometimes after good wins we seem to play like we believe we're miraculous and anything we do will turn out well. Sometimes it takes a little hardship to remind us that winning is work.
5. We did a pretty good job containing Chauncey Billups' personal offense but we couldn't keep him from passing and we couldn't keep him off of the free throw line. The Blazers SO need some extra perimeter defenders.
We shot well from the three-point line tonight but all the three-point shooting in the world isn't going to overcome those obstacles.
Brandon was bound to have a down night sometime. I didn't quibble with his shot selection tonight as much as his aggressiveness. He just didn't seem to look for his shot that much. He missed a couple layups early after amazing drives through the Denver defense. That was there for him all night. We never saw its return. He also got in foul trouble early, which is a rarity for him. Maybe that took him out of the game mentally. 3-11 shooting and 8 points but also 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 3 turnovers.
Lamarcus Aldridge did try to take over the game with his shot. The problem is unless you're obnoxiously on fire it's hard to dominate with jumpers. He kept the Blazers in the game and they were more than happy to feed him but it couldn't last all night long. 8-18 shooting and 20 points plus 2 blocks and some fine defensive moments on Nene describes the good stuff. 4 rebounds is a little short for 39 minutes, especially when the Denver starting bigs got 12 and 11 respectively.
Greg Oden got in major foul trouble tonight. Guarding quicker guys still gives him trouble. Nevertheless, he has a propensity to stretch 2 fouls into 5. Sometimes you have to let a bucket go to preserve the foul, especially when you've already collected 2 or 3 whistles. And whoever is putting him out on the perimeter on those switches should be spanked. I can't imagine the coaching staff is drawing up defensive schemes that leave him out on an island guarding a small forward on the drive. Whether it's the perimeter defender's decision or Greg's himself he needs to opt out of those situations. He's 7-feet tall and strong as an ox. You can't make him go out there. When he did play tonight Greg shot 4-5 for 10 points and had 2 blocks and 2 nice assists. However he only had 3 rebounds in 22 minutes which is really nice for a point guard but not so great for your huge center.
Steve Blake kept us afloat with his offense early but he, too seemed to get more tentative as the night progressed. Granted one of his main job descriptions is passing but not when somebody leaves him wide open at the three-point arc and we need points because we're down by 6. Blake was 4-6 from distance tonight and had 14 overall.
Nicolas Batum collected 3 fouls and 3 points in 13 minutes. I'm starting to hope he'll get some run against opposing benches soon, as opposed to opposing starters. He just seems to have faded as the season has progressed.
Travis Outlaw wasn't shy about shooting tonight. He was 6-13 and had 15 points in 32 minutes. He also had 2 assists and 2 blocks in a generally active game. The one-on-one isolation style is still his strongest suit. He won the battle a lot of the time tonight but we lost the war.
Rudy Fernandez scored 9 points in 18 minutes and had some beautiful passes. Unfortunately he also had some glaring defensive lapses and couldn't hit when he wasn't open for three. It wasn't one of his better outings.
Sergio Rodriguez also had some nice passes but had real trouble putting the ball in the hole when Denver pressured him to. He turned the ball over twice in 5 minutes (to go along with his 3 assists, we should say) and that split-personality outing got him benched for the second half in favor of Jerryd Bayless.
Speaking of...Jerryd Bayless tried to make a couple drives in his 3-minute appearance. He tried to make a couple passes in his 3-minute appearance. You have to credit him with aggressiveness. However nothing worked, which is probably why it was a 3-minute appearance.
Mirroring that point guard split, Ike Diogu got 9 minutes in the first half. He started out abysmally...just all the worst parts of Ike's game: slow-footed, missing shots around the rim, getting stripped, not defending that well. He started getting into it during the last couple of minutes and managed a couple of rebounds, a couple of points, and a blocked shot. However that wasn't enough to balance the turnovers and earlier poor play so his second half minutes went to Channing Frye.
Speaking of...Channing Frye missed a shot and collected a foul in 5 minutes. That's it.
If you're starting to get the idea that Nate was trying different lineups to create a spark tonight and it didn't work, you're getting the right idea.
Joel Przybilla did his usual blue-collar job with 7 points, 8 rebounds, and a block in 22 minutes spelling Oden.
Let's hope we see some more genuine fire tomorrow...or whenever this game is played if it gets snowed out.
Check out the Denver victory cigars being lit at PickaxeandRoll.
View this game's Jersey Contest results and enter tomorrow's form here.