Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nuggets at Blazers: The Denver Express

Few teams are as highly dedicated to their offensive philosophy than the Denver Nuggets. George Karl's team is absolutely plugged in to a system that is based on constant fast breaking and attacking the basket. Unfortunately for the Portland Trailblazers, they were unable to prohibit Denver from playing exactly that style when they came to the Rose Garden Wednesday night.

The Nuggets play at the league's second-fastest pace, producing 97.5 possessions per game, and it is evident from their never-ending desire to run fast breaks off of opponent missed baskets and turnovers. With one of the fastest end-to-end point guards and a bevy of transition finishers, they are well equipped to turn games into track meets. Denver is also committed to driving to the rim as much as possible and Karl says that he wants to have 80 possessions per game that result in someone driving toward the paint. This clearly shows as 41.4% of their shots come directly at the rim, by far the highest figure in the league. Denver also generates tons of free throws from this strategy (30.5 Free Throw Rate, tied for 5th in the league), another high-value aspect of their offensive scheme.

Denver had little trouble implementing their game plan in last night's game as 29 of their 39 first-half shots came in the paint while they shot 59% from the field. Portland, in return, shot just 38%. The Nuggets also had 17 free throws on their 39 field goal attempts. The Blazers were kept afloat by a tenacious performance by J.J. Hickson, who grabbed 4 offensive boards and drew 7 free throws on his way to 14 first half points.

Portland ran into problems in the 2nd and 3rd quarters as they attempted to run alongside the Nuggets. The Blazers aren't a particularly fast-paced team and creating more possessions favors the superior offensive team, which proved to be the Nuggets. This was most evident on a wild Lillard drive that led to an Iguodala steal and monster dunk. When Portland tempered their offense and ran their high pick-and-roll sets with Lillard or post-ups for Aldridge, they seemed much more comfortable generating shots. Late in the 3rd they were able to regain the lead after calming the tempo.

A rash of 4th quarter Portland turnovers allowed Denver to continue racking up easy points as the game came down to the wire. Late, and with the game tied at 106, the Nuggets gave the ball to Andre Miller for a post-up against J.J. Hickson. While most point guard on center post-ups don't yield many baskets, Miller used some savvy footwork to get a scoop shot and take the lead. After a couple of trips to the line for Denver and a Lillard 3-pointer, LaMarcus Aldridge had a chance to tie the game with a last second shot, much like the one he took to beat Dallas earlier this year. This one clanked off the rim, however, and Denver was able to hold on to the road victory.

Denver was led by Ty Lawson's 30 points with Iguodala, despite continuing to launch some ugly jumpers, adding 29. Lillard was the high scorer for the Blazers with 26 points including 4-6 on 3-pointers. Aldridge contributed 22 points while Hickson gathered another double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds.

Despite the loss, Portland can be encouraged by the play of Meyers Leonard. The Illinois rookie scored 13 points off the bench on 4-7 shooting and went 5-5 from the line, all this on the night of his 21st birthday. And many more.

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