For tonight’s game against the Nuggets, I talked to Alan Switzer of NuggetsHoops. Alan is a longtime friend of Project Spurs and has given the Nuggets perspective on several gameday previews, playoff series previews and podcasts.
1. We’ve seen quite a bit of change in Denver since the offseason. First the Nuggets gifted Marcus Camby to the Clippers, then most recently the trade that brought Chauncey Billups back home to Colorado. On a smaller scale, you guys also acquired Johan Petro and sent Cheikh Samb to the Clippers. Are you happy with the trades that were made and do you feel they have paid dividends?
There was quite an uproar here in Denver 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 “the fans don’t see the big picture”. 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 – 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 – removing one of the best defensive players in the league made us a better defensive team. Before readers start scratching their heads – its really simple… 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 Nene’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.
2. The Nuggets are currently sitting at 3rd in the West. What is your outlook for the second half of the season and with Chauncey Billups having the rest of the season with the Nuggets under his belt, do you think the Nuggets will realistically be a contender in the playoffs?
The Nuggs have a tough road trip coming up after tonight – 8 in a row, but they are winnable. We break down the season in 10 game “sprints” 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 – 52-55 wins. The Nuggets have shown two qualities that cause me to “believe” this season. They are winning the games they “should” – 20-1 against sub-.500 teams this season, and they are winning the close games – 8-3 so far this season in games determined by 6 or less points.
3. Why exactly is Dahntay Jones starting? Are the Nuggets benching J.R. Smith and hoping it’ll have a similar effect to Manu Ginobili’s benching in San Antonio?
Because he has pictures of someone on the Nuggets coaching staff? Er… no, but it is another head-scratcher for me as well. I’ll take the high road on this one and try and put myself in Coach Karl’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 Carmelo’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 don’t think JR has any issue coming off the bench. He’s definitely a candidate for 6th man of the year.
4. How do you feel about Carmelo being snubbed for this year’s all-star game. This continues a trend of Carmelo not being picked by coaches. The only times he’s made the all-star team are when he started due to fan voting and when David Stern used him as an injury replacement. Do you take comfort in the fact that other all-star worthy players like Deron Williams and Al Jefferson also got snubbed.
I was more upset about Carmelo getting snubbed last season than this one. His injury in January was badly timed for an all-star campaign, and his scoring numbers are down this year a bit.
I feel that Carmelo is re-tooling his game this season. I kind of equate it to when Tiger Woods re-invented his golf swing. Tiger still won tournaments that year, but the payoff was bigger the next season once he got used to it and fully took advantage of it. Carmelo’s rebounding and assist are both near career highs this season and he’s focused more on them to the benefit of the team. I also see him finally playing better team defense, which has been a huge factor in the Nuggets transformation from a lousy defensive team to at least a middle-of-the-pack defensive team.
I could also easily make a case for both Chauncey and Nene deserving All-Star berths ahead of Carmelo this year. Chauncey got his spot for saving what looked like an under-performing squad this year when he arrived early in the season. He’s made it safe for Nuggets fans to look forward to this year’s playoffs again without fear of yet another one-and-done, or worse yet, a sweep similar to last years drumming by the Lakers. If Chauncey is the driver of the team, then Nene is the engine this year, and he has a lot more horsepower under the hood than we’ve seen in a long time. His is nearly unstoppable down on the block with his variety of spins, strength mixed with quickness, and a soft touch. His 12-12 and 9-10 shooting games were two recent examples of an overall great season. He could win MIP in the end of the season awards.
I think Carmelo has a good shot of making the team after all by taking Chris Paul’s now vacant spot, but I’d be fine with him being kept off and Jefferson or Williams getting it instead. I think Carmelo would be motivated in a positive way the rest of this season if he was left off.
5. How much of a man crush does George Karl have on Manu, and if the Nuggets win the championship, any chance we will see Karl moshing at the ring ceremony? In all seriousness, what do you see as a key matchup for tomorrow’s game? Bruce Bowen seems to have lost a few steps and got burned by Carmelo before anyway so do you go with Parker-Billups, Duncan-Nene or another?
I think Manu’s face is on the office dartboard for Karl, as would be the case for most Nuggets fans. We’ve seen enough of Manu and the other Spurs star layers 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 Parker’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.
6. The season series between the Nuggets and Spurs is tied at 1-1? What do the Nuggets have to do to make sure the Spurs do not leave Denver with the series lead and what is your prediction?
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.