By J.M. Poulard

Fresh off a double digit home loss to the Phoenix Suns, the Golden State Warriors (22-28) will host the Denver Nuggets (30-22) tonight at Oracle Arena. Despite all the trade talks and all the drama, Carmelo Anthony is still a member of the team and he reminded everyone just why it is that he is such a coveted player when he dropped a Curtis Jackson (50) Monday night against the Houston Rockets. As long as he is part of the Nuggets organization, they will continue to have title aspirations. Let’s see why.

On offense, Denver averages 107.6 points per game (best in the NBA) on 47.1% field goal shooting (fourth in the league). It’s quite stunning that Denver is able to put up that many points on the board and do it efficiently given their seemingly playground style of basketball. Seriously, George Karl’s philosophy seems to be for his players to shoot the ball as long as they are not double teamed. And to be fair, with players such as Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Al Harrington, J.R. Smith, Arron Afflalo and Nene on the roster, the strategy actually works.

The Nuggets might average 21.3 assists per game (15th in the association) but their offense works because they attack mismatches and spread the tcourt with shooters. Opposing defenses typically have a tough time trying to figure out how to guard this Denver team because of all the ways they have to attack them. For instance, they will post up Nene Hilario (can we all agree that Nene is not a soccer star and thus we should be using his last name when talking about him?) Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony and have them attack their defenders. The end result is a team that averages 28.0 shots at the rim (best in the NBA) and converts them at a 60.5% clip (26th in the league). Although the conversion rate is not great, the sheer ability to get so many attempts at the rim normally results in teams having to foul to stop them, hence the league leading 30.6 free throw attempts per game.

When Denver does not find enough room to create shots at the basket because defenders have collapsed inside the paint, Denver does the smart thing and throws the ball back out to its gang of long range snipers that hit 39.0% of their three point field goal attempts (third best in the NBA).

One might think that George Karl is a mad genius because of his ability to get all of these players to coexist on the offensive end and he does deserve some credit; however, the roster is somewhat flawed offensively. Indeed, far too often the players are isolated at the wing or at the top of the key and get stuck trying to beat their man one on one. The end result is that they quite often settle for long contested perimeter jumpers. And granted, it’s tough to second guess them given the fact that they lead the league in shot attempts at the rim and also put up 20.7 three point field goals per game (ninth in the association), but feeding the hot hand can become problematic at times when everyone on the team wants to size up their defender and put shots up.

On defense, the Nuggets surrender 104.5 points per game (23rd in the NBA) on 46.1% field goal percentage (18th in the league). There just seems to be a complete lack of interest on the defensive side of the ball for the most part. And yet, the team has some defensive players in Aron Afflalo, Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin to help provide toughness and defend good offensive players at their respective positions. The emphasis however is clearly on offense whereas it just seems as though the players are merely asked to figure things out on defense. Indeed, the Denver players do not put a lot of emphasis on defensive details during games.

For instance, when faced with a pick and pop situation, it seems as though the Nuggets preference is to hedge out on the ball handler and then have the big man recover back to the screener. However, the Nuggets seem to improvise at times and just randomly trap the player with the ball as the screener gets wide open for a jumper. As a result, the Nuggets surrender 22.5 shots from 16 to 23 feet per game (fifth most in the NBA) and allow a conversion rate of 39.3% from that distance (16th in the league). The lack of a rotation on the trap from other players would have one think that this occurs in defensive lapses.

Also, Denver does a poor job in general of defending post players because of their lack of help on the interior. Indeed, when the ball goes down low to a post player, the Nuggets might have a second defender shade the post player from the high post but that Nuggets player typically offers little resistance. The end result is that the baseline on the low block is available and also the player shading at the high post can at times have his man beat him to the hoop on a cut.

This partly explains how Denver’s opponents are able to manufacture 22.3 shots per game at the rim (19th in the NBA) and make 64.8% of those attempts (sixth worst in the league).

The Warriors and Nuggets should be able to get up and down the court tonight, however Denver is better equipped to handle a shootout than Golden State is, given their efficient offense. The team that best controls the backboards should come out a winner.

Denver game notes: Chauncey Billups (knee) and Nene (illness) are both listed as day to day.

Golden State game notes: Acie Law and Lou Amundson are both Out.

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