Courtside: Raptors-Nuggets Report
RotoRob has been remiss. It’s been a few days since I did a Raptors’ report as I’ve been completely swamped putting together next year’s Fantasy Baseball Guide among other things. But not to worry. I’ll make up for it today with an extensive report from last night’s loss in Denver.
You had to know going in that something was going to give here. The Nuggets were 0-2 at home and the Raptors were 0-4 on the road. Someone was going to break a goose egg. Unfortunately, it turned out to be Denver. And yes, the Raps didn’t arrive at their hotel in Denver until 4 a.m. Saturday morning and it’s never easy to play in the altitude of Denver, so that’s an easy excuse for the 117-109 setback.
But plenty of credit has to go to Carmelo Anthony, who has stepped up big time in the absence of Kenyon Martin, done for the year with another knee surgery. Coming on the heels of a 34-point point effort in a loss to Orlando Wednesday, Melo went crazy again last night with another 34-point game for his sixth straight 30+ effort.
That ties the Denver record and it was done with the man who held the mark watching from the bench. Raptors’ assistant coach Alex English was the first Nugget to turn the trick, doing it 24 years ago.
So despite an impressive offensive showing from Toronto, that’s five straight times the Raps have gone down at the hands of Denver.
- J.R. Smith has plenty of talent, but man, does he need some work on his decision-making skills. After his meltdown Wedneday that led to a tech and ultimately doomed the Nuggets, last night he threw up some very questionable shots. Sure, he sinks his share, but you could see the smoke rising from coach Karl’s ears. If the Nuggets finally deal some of their big men and bring in another small man (Corey Maggette?), Smith’s starting job will be in jeopardy. Despite the fact he’s a 3-point machine (four last night, on his way to 16 points), tread carefully.
- Moving Jorge Garbajosa into the starting lineup has been a stroke of genuis, even if it hasn’t resulted in a win yet. After scoring 10 points with eight boards on Friday in LA, Garbo was simply fantastic last night, filling up the stat sheet with 17 points (on 7-for-14 shooting), 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block. That’s his first NBA double-double. I told you he can shoot; after three straight fantastic efforts, this slump is officially over.
- Toronto’s defense looked good in the second half Friday, holding the Lakers to 39 per cent from the field. We need to see more of that. Last night wasn’t great, but holding Denver to 45.1 per cent is a step in the right direction.
- Denver came in to the game third in the NBA in fast break points, but Toronto limited the Nuggets to 19. So how the hell did the Raps lose this game? Three reasons — the bench (see below), Denver shot over 40 per cent from beyond the arc, sinking 11 treys, plus it piled up 50 of its points in the paint. Hell, Yakhouba Diawara nailed three 3-pointers. Who? Exactly. He came in 0-for-8 from downtown. Uh, yeah. Perimeter defensive woes and an inability to stop Denver down low translates into another loss.
- That’s five straight losses. Yep, the team needs to step up defensively. Where have we heard this before? We have a habit of making teams look much better offensively than they are. Denver’s 117 points are its best total yet this year. Again, teams are circling the calendar dates when Toronto comes to town.
- English is the Nuggets’ all-time leading scorer with 21,645 points. At the pace the fourth-year Anthony is going, it won’t be long before he supplants him. Melo is already closing in on 6,000 points. In fact, at the early-season pace he’s set, he’ll get to 6K in about a dozen games. He might be knocking on the door of 8,000 points by the end of the season.
- With K-Mart out, Eduardo Najera has become the starting PF for Denver, and while he’s not a big-time scorer or fantasy option, he is an extremely physical player and very tough to play against.
- Chuck Swirsky says the e-mails are pouring in about Garbajosa. Is he a Kramer lookalike? What do you think? I think he could use a bit more poof in the hair, but there’s something there.
- With Anthony on fire, it was another reminder of how great the 2003 draft class was. Fellow members of that class, Chris Bosh and T.J. Ford, did their part last night. Bosh poured in a season-high 31 and added two steals, but had “just” nine rebounds. What? No double-double? I guess we’re spoiled. Ford was unbelievable. How about a season-high 26 points and a career-best 18 assists plus five boards and two steals? Wow! Charlie who?
- Raps were doing a great job moving the ball downcourt in the first quarter. They sink 14 of their first 19 shots. How they are still standing after that I have no idea considering the lack of sleep they’re operating on.
- Carmelo looks much improved this year in his abilitity to lean in and invite contact. The result is a career-best 10.1 trips to the line per game so far. Last night, he was 11-for-11 from the charity stripe.
- Ford didn’t just break his career-best in assists — he shattered it. He previous best was 14, set last year. With two minutes to go until halftime, Ford had already dropped 13 dimes. In fact, he fell just one assist short of tying the Raptors’ franchise record, held by good old Damon Stoudemire back in 1996. Ford is thriving in this offense.
- Denver shot 57.1 per cent in the first quarter. Here we go again. On the plus side, the Raps drained 66.7 per cent! It’s the wild, wild west. Is there a defensive stop in the house?
- The Raptors’ second and third quarter defense was much better, as Denver is down to 45.5 through three quarters.
- The Raptors definitely showed some life in this one, especially considering it was their first back-to-back of the season. They trailed by a dozen points in the fourth, but instead of folding in the tent, they pulled back within four with 42.5 second to go. However, Najera put the dagger in with a layup. Anthony drained two of his three 3-pointers in the decisive fourth quarter as well.
- Rasho Nesterovic was getting some good low-post position, but where’s the touch? He missed an easy shot, and wasn’t a factor, playing just nine minutes off the bench. He’s been doomed by a 38.9 per cent field goal percentage.
- Seven Nuggets scored in double figures. The Raptors bench was bitch-slapped by Denver’s reserves, 39-14. That doesn’t happen very often and was a key contributor to this L.
- Reggie Evans is looking absolutely dominant under the glass. In his first nine minutes, he’s already got seven boards. All told, Evans scores 10 points and adds 12 boards for his first double-double of the season. He is controlling the boards.
- Joe Smith also did a great job with 10 rebounds off the bench. Even without Martin and Nene (out for the past four games), Denver has been a superb rebounding team so far. Smith, of course, is being dangled in trade talks, and this can’t hurt his stock. Plenty of undersized teams could use some help even in this new small-ball era of the NBA.
- Morris Peterson’s elbow was bothering him. It’s obviously affecting his shooting touch as he misses his first three tries over 11 minutes of action, and goes just 1-of-5 in 15 minutes. The fact that MoPete was a complete non-factor off the bench really hurt Toronto in the battle of the benches as we discussed.
- Anthony’s big night moves him ahead of Michael Redd for the early scoring lead. Could this be the year he breaks through for his first scoring title?
- Marcus Camby had a tough time defending Bosh one-on-one. He kept gambling, trying for the block. It never came, marking Marcus’s first game this year without one.
- Bosh again did most of his damage early. He had 19 points with almost eight minutes to play still in the third quarter.
- Kris Humphries returned from his sprained ankle, and got to play 10 minutes — much of it in the third quarter — and he looked strong with six points and a steal.
- Melo was shooting the lights out late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, but takes a seat 90 seconds into the final frame. You can see he’s pissed, but coach Karl looks like a genius as the Nuggets go on a big run to stretch their lead.
- Denver got a scare in the final minute when Andre Miller landed on someone’s foot and sprained his ankle. X-rays were negative and he says he’ll be good to go Tuesday, but he looked quite hobbled as he tried to get to the bench. Miller shot well last night (6-for-11), but wasn’t much of a factor otherwise. If he has to miss time, watch for little Earl Boykins to step up.
- Bosh was struggling from the line — 4-for-8 to start — not an uncommon event in the altitude when you’re trying to slow your heart down. But he nails his final five from the line to salvage the night.
- Andrea Bargnani played just five minutes in the first half and not at all in the second half. His PT is on the decline on this road trip as he’s clearly been struggling. Once again: be patient. The skills are there for this guy to be a player.