Nuggets go on the defensive during post-All-Star hot streak
For what seemed like the 86th time in a 48-hour span, Nuggets coach George Karl was asked to explain his team’s newfound commitment to defense.
Karl responded by putting a finger to his lips.
“Shhhhh,” he said.
Uh, coach? Hate to break it to you, but the cat’s out of the bag.
The Nuggets have celebrated a new era of equality by sharing the ball, taking intelligent shots, and minimizing their turnovers, which in turn has led to better results at the defense end of the floor. In essence, efficient offense has contributed to excellent defense.
“We’re committed and focused pretty much at both ends of the court,” Karl said. “The defensive end of the court has never been our forte. I think you’re seeing a team that can be not only a good offensive team, but it might become a special defensive team.”
In five games since completing a three-team, 13-player trade on Feb. 22, the Nuggets have held the opposition to an average of 91.8 points, compared to 105.2 points in 57 games prior to the trade.
The trend continued Wednesday night when Denver limited the Charlotte Bobcats to .367 shooting in a 120-80 rout at the Pepsi Center.
“We’re talking (to each other) and just getting after it,” Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin said. “Defense is all about effort. Guys get it in their mind to defend and that’s what we’re doing.”
Not only is Chandler a strong one-on-one defender, but he is excellent at reading the play and providing weakside help for his teammates. What would have been an easy basket for the opposition early in the season is now a contested shot that might lead to a four-point swing for the Nuggets.
“Wilson has made five or six defensive plays that we’ve haven’t seen in a year or two here,” Karl said. “It’s something that can be contagious. Other guys will start trying to make more defensive plays.”
Chandler blocked three shots and had three steals against the Bobcats. He also was Denver’s leading scorer with 16 points as seven Nuggets finished in double figures. Ty Lawson posted his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 assists, while Nene, Chris Andersen and J.R. Smith added 14 points apiece.
Moving the ball, defending the rim and pushing the pace, the Nuggets shot a season-high .608 from the field and had a season-high 34 assists on 45 field goals. As the lead went from 20 to 30 to 40 in the second half, Karl couldn’t help but smile as he took it all in from the bench.
“It was kind of a perfect storm in a lot of ways,” he said. “Defensively we were solid. Offensively, it was a pretty performance. The passing, the spacing, the unity of the team, it was really fun to see it come together.”
The Nuggets (36-26) won for the fifth time in six games and continued to solidify their position in the Western Conference. Denver has risen from seventh in the West to fifth since the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the New York Knicks.
While the post-Melo success might be surprising to some people, it’s not a surprise to those inside the Denver locker room.
“From a player’s perspective, I knew we had talent,” Afflalo said. “I know the type of personalities we have in here and the pride we’ll take on the defensive end of the court and executing offensively. I’m happy. I think we’re right where we should be.”
The next eight games will give the Nuggets a chance to erase all doubt about their ability to compete and win in the playoffs. Starting tonight in Utah, they have seven road games, including a four-game trip to New Orleans, Atlanta, Miami and Orlando from March 14-19.
“It’s going to be a good test for us,” Lawson said. “Can’t wait for the opportunity.”
SPECIAL GUEST: With his NBA career entering the twilight years, Nuggets forward Melvin Ely wants to start making good use of the broadcast communications degree he earned at Fresno State.
Ely, sidelined by sprained right ankle, joined Chris Marlowe and Scott Hastings for an extended cameo during the Altitude television broadcast Wednesday.
“I told all the Altitude guys I’m in for their job,” Ely said. “I’m nowhere near ready to stop playing, but I am ready to start having a direction after basketball.”
Coaching is also a possibility for Ely, who was out of basketball in 2009-10 but worked hard to earn a roster spot with the Nuggets out of training camp. The 32-year-old is now in his eighth NBA season.
“I do want to coach,” he said. “If not, maybe get on somebody’s TV and talk about people like they do about us. If I ever get the chance, I would love to have a player’s view of bringing out the truth.”
ETC: Denver’s 40-point victory was the fifth-largest in franchise history and the biggest since a 52-point win over Seattle on March 16, 2008 … Afflalo sprained his left ankle in the first quarter but returned before halftime. He finished with 11 points … Seven-footers Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos made their Nuggets debuts, combining for eight points and seven rebounds … Andersen was 4-for-4 from the field and is 10-of-11 in five games since the All-Star break ... Smith scored his 6,000th career point when he hit a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.