Practice was open to the media for perhaps 20 to 30 minutes today, and we again got to see the team work on inbounds plays and conditioning drills. Lots of topics to discuss so we will jump right in.
Who starts at the 3?
During the open portion of practice, Batum was practicing with the starting unit. After practice, Nate said, "I don't know, I might" start Nic at the 3, although he was, overall, non-committal and said both Nic and Travis had worked with the starters today. Stay tuned to this small forward soap opera.
The other big topic, of course, is Greg Oden. Asked if Greg would be back closer to the 2 weeks than the 4 weeks, Coach cryptically crossed his fingers and smiled. He did note that Greg is "walking and moving around, he's getting better" but "not walking totally without the boot" and therefore "is not close to getting back on the floor."
Nate said that today was an "aggressive" practice. Indeed, we were told to show up at 11:30 (the normal time for the 10AM practices to be wrapping up) and practice didn't actually wrap until closer to 12:20 or 12:30.
Asked about the team's defense, Nate said "We held Phoenix to 49 in the first half and that's not bad" and "I thought [our d] was great in the San Antonio game." But, "you need a stop every possession" and he wants the focus on consistent play and solid rotations over 48 minutes.
If you've been shaking your head at the easy layups, you're not alone.
As mentioned, the guys went long today and it was a pretty physical practice. Rudy got whacked pretty good by Bayless. Channing set a decidedly non-soft screen on Batum that sent him reeling.
After the inbounds work, the team ran a full court conditioning drill that was fun to watch. 3 guys would start with one ball at the right baseline, making two passes that led to a layup on the left hoop. Two guys with balls were waiting on the left baseline, and would pass the balls to the 2 players from the first group that didn't make the shot. These guys would catch those balls and shoot pull up jumpers. Meanwhile, the two passers would sprint back toward the right hoop, and receive an outlet pass from the guy from the original group that made the layup. One guy from this new group of 3 would make the layup, and the other 2 would receive passes from the right baseline and they would shoot pull up jumpers. Phew. The two guys from the first group who shot pull up jumpers would then rotate to be the passers on the left baseline. The drill would run continuously for perhaps 5 minutes with new guys working in from the right baseline, and with the coaches tracking how many total shots (including pull-ups) were being made.
It was fun to watch because, as professional basketball players moving full speed and tired after a long practice, everyone still hit a remarkably high percentage of their uncontested jumpers. Even Przybilla got in on the action with a jumper from perhaps 8 feet out. Swish.
After the team didn't meet the appropriate number of made shots in the first timed section, Nate made them run it again, saying "Don't wait to turn it on. Right at the start, turn it on." After the second run through, he called practice.
Ike and Shavlik retired to the workout room to run on the treadmills.
The Iverson/Billups Trade
Nate was prodded for his thoughts about the big news of the day. He was stoic and not really looking to give a sound byte. Come to think of it, Nate was more Sarge-y today than he generally is. Of the Nuggets he said, "I thought they were strong with Iverson." Of Iverson and Rasheed, he said only "combinations on paper sound good." Would there be a personality issue there? "We'll see."
Of Detroit, he said the move "is a test. To see if they can spark [Iverson.]"
Nate wasn't willing to say the Nuggets were better or worse with Billups instead of Iverson; he wants to see how things shake out first.
Brandon talked at length today about playing 48 minutes of basketball, especially on the defensive end. He also said the team needs to be ready to play the physical teams that are coming up next: Utah and Houston. Of Utah, Brandon said, "after you play Utah, you want a day off."
Against Phoenix, Brandon said "we made a lot of mental errors," which he chalked up to fatigue. "It was our first back to back, first time we've been through that."
His big concern was defensive rotation. Especially with Greg out of the lineup, Brandon insisted that "SOMEONE needs to be there" in the paint when guards beat their men off the dribble. "More consistency in the rotations" will go a long way to fixing the problems in Brandon's eyes.
After practice was over, Martell came out in his boot. Monty playfully asked him, "What are you doing? Get out of here." Martell, with a huge smile on his face, "Free throws!" He then proceeded to take some standing free throws with his normal release and Monty shagged the balls for him. Martell was giggling through most of it, obviously happy to be progressing in his rehab. Brian Hendrickson has an updated time table for Martell's return. It's good news so go read it.
One Final Nate Moment
At one point during the inbounding drills, Rudy was taking the ball in on the baseline. HIs teammates were not yet in their proper spot and Nate handed him the ball. Rudy took the ball. Nate blew his whistle loudly. Rudy and others looked a little confused. No way that was five seconds.
Nate, with practice stopped, said loudly, "Don't take the ball [from the referee] if the team is not set." He demonstrated pretending not to see the ball come from the ref, allowing the ball to fall to the ground so that the ref would retrieve the ball and wouldn't begin the 5 count, so the team could have some extra seconds to get set properly.
I thought that was cool.
-- Ben (firstname.lastname@example.org)