We noted in the Knicks-Blazers preview how rough this Western Conference road trip could potentially be and so far its been just that. The Knicks have fallen to the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers, and now must face a red-hot Denver Nuggets team.
To help get a better idea of what to expect out of the Nuggets-Knicks game tonight I brought in Nate Timmons from the SBNation site, DenverStiffs and Justin Faudree, a Nuggets fan, basketball observant and former Warriorsworld contributor.
The Denver Nuggets are currently riding a four game winning streak after getting off to a pretty rough start. What’s been the biggest reason for the Nuggets turnaround?
): The biggest reason for Denver’s turnaround is twofold: First, Ty Lawson has played like an MVP candidate, particularly on the offensive side of the floor. He’s basically averaging career highs in every statistical category. Brian Shaw’s pick-and-roll centric system has given him new life. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the Nuggets have gained a familiarity with each other and their coaches. Incorporating a mostly new coaching staff in addition to three new starters while dealing with injuries to those same players is not conducive to immediate success. Brian Shaw was going to need to be patient with this roster. And so far, it looks like that patience is beginning to pay off.
) I think the turnaround can be attributed to the team gelling. Even with the guys returning from last year’s team, they are being asked to learn new things and to do things differently. Some old habits (switching everything) have been dying hard and just playing with new guys has taken some time. Also, the Nuggets are starting to shoot the ball better, they had some issues scoring the ball to kick things off and guys are now starting to hit shots that just were not falling in the first few games. And we can’t forget that adding Wilson Chandler and eliminating Anthony Randolph from starting at small forward has helped a lot too. Randolph is out of the rotation now and Chandler and Jordan Hamilton have been playing pretty well.
Ty Lawson is currently the only player on the Nuggets averaging more than 30 MPG, and the Knicks struggle mightily against great point guards. Is there anyway to really hinder Lawson from having a big night against the Knicks tonight?
Justin: As mentioned above, Lawson is off to the best start of his career. The question is if he will be able to sustain such incredible production for the duration of the season. Against a defensively challenged team like the Knicks, he should have no problem. In my opinion, the only way New York can possibly slow Lawson is to give Iman Shumpert the assignment. In theory, limiting Denver’s offense shouldn’t be terribly difficult. That begins and ends with Ty Lawson. A defender with the size, speed, and strength of Iman Shumpert should do the trick. New York has very little chance otherwise.
Nate: The Knicks’ best bet would be to have Shumpert guard Lawson and ask Felton to guard Randy Foye. While Foye does move well without the ball and possesses a dangerous outside shot, he’s not going to kill Felton on offense. Putting a bigger guy on Lawson might work or it might be a disaster. I’m not sure Shumpert can stay in front of Ty, but if you can force Lawson to be a jump shooter or just a passer then you have a shot at keeping him somewhat quiet. Lawson’s attacking the paint game typically ignites his outside game, so do what you can to keep him from penetrating the defense. The Knicks’ biggest problem is going to be finding shot blockers to challenge Lawson once he gets by his man. His shot can be blocked, but without elite rim protectors … he should feast.
The Nuggets have the sixth best ORtg in the league, but are just 20th in DRtg. Where are the Nuggets liable defensively and how can the Knicks look to exploit those holes?
Justin: Denver has defensive liabilities everywhere — particularly in the starting lineup. While Lawson is off to a great start offensively, he provides very little resistance on the defensive end. The Nuggets give up around 16 extra points per 100 possessions with Ty on the court as opposed to when he sits. That’s the very definition of liability. The other position where Denver is most vulnerable is at power forward/center, where Kenneth Faried and J.J. Hickson give up points like they’re going out of style. How Brian Shaw continues to pair Lawson and Faried in the starting lineup when they give up so much defensively is a wonder. Denver has no one to guard Carmelo Anthony when Mike Woodson plays him at the four — unless Shaw counters with Wilson Chandler (which would render Faried unplayable, as no one wants to see him guarding Bargnani on the perimeter). Denver’s best defensive unit is their bench. It remains to be seen how Brian Shaw divvies up those minutes.
Nate: If Tyson Chandler was healthy, the pick and roll he runs with Felton would be one place that New York could thrive. So, the pick and roll is one spot. Denver has been doing a little more switching in the PnR department lately instead of what they were trying to do early in the season and that’s hedge-and-recover with the power forward and catch-and-recover with the center. I do not like the switching as it leads to mismatches … Melo being covered by Foye and Lawson will not be good for the Nuggets.
If the Knicks hit the offensive glass, they might be able to catch the Nuggets off-guard too as Denver’s bigs like to rebound with athleticism, not fundamentals, and they like to leak out a bit too. Denver’s perimeter defense has been okay, especially with Chandler back in the mix – but I always worry about open threes for the Nuggets’ opponents.
Besides Lawson, why do you think the Nuggets’ offense has been good as it has been, even with pieces that perhaps don’t necessarily fit into Brian Shaw’s scheme?
Justin: This is an excellent question for which there may be no answer. I think Lawson is the be-all and end-all when it comes to Denver’s offensive success (especially in the half court). Like with George Karl, the Nuggets do most of their damage in transition, as you will see Kenneth Faried give up a basket on one end and then immediately leak-out for an easy dunk at the other. Other than that, Jordan Hamilton’s rebounding and shooting touch has been a bright spot.Nate: One reason why is Kenneth Faried. The guy just flat out plays harder than anyone else on the court. To play against him has to be super annoying. He’s a force on the offensive glass and can clean up a lot of mistakes. The Nuggets also have a pretty good thing going with their rotation. Lawson is the main feature, Foye hits threes, Chandler can do a little bit of it all, Faried rebounds, J.J. Hickson looks good in the pick-and-roll, in the post, and hitting jumpers for the starting unit. Off the bench: Robinson can come in and light it up, Andre Miller is still an offensive force (weird word, but true) in the post, driving or dishing, Evan Fournier can drive and he can hit threes,Hamilton has been consistent, Darrell Arthur plays the pick-and-pop well, and Timofey Mozgov has shown flashes in the post and away from the basket too.
It’s a fun team and a team that has been told over-and-over by the coach that they have to play really well every night if they want to win. They are not going to waltz in and win based off their superior talent because they don’t have that advantage. But the puzzle pieces have looked better than advertised.
Who ultimately wins tonight and why?
Justin: I give Denver the edge tonight for one reason: Home court advantage. I do wonder if the Knicks decided to stay in Denver for Thanksgiving. If so, that might give them a leg up over most other visitors in that they will have been acclimated to the altitude for at least one full night. Beyond the Nuggets’ home court prowess, I just don’t think New York has the defensive chops to keep Denver in check over a full four quarters. Lawson’s speed wears opponents down — particularly at home.
Nate: I think the Nuggets win this game. Denver will let teams back into games, so I’m expecting a close game. I think Denver’s ability to penetrate the paint is going to be a problem and I think their will to outwork teams is going to come into play. The Knicks’ defense is going to be a problem for the Melo man and his teammates and I expect the Nuggets to be able to get whatever shots they want.