1. Crunch-Time Hero? Nuggets Better Than That
LOS ANGELES -- On the night the NBA announced this season's All-Star starters, two teams with very different roster compositions squared off at Staples Center -- one star-studded cast, the other a deep collection of complementary skill players.
The Los Angeles Clippers will field two starters in Orlando -- Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Meanwhile, you have to scroll down the vote tallies to find any Denver Nugget who received a substantial number of votes. Nene finished fourth among centers in the West, while Danilo Gallinari finished ninth among Western Conference forwards.
Denver might not have a certified superstar, but they've built the NBA's second-ranked offense on the strength of their component parts. That efficient attack was humming on Thursday night as the Nuggets demolished the Clippers 112-91 only four nights after a tough four-point loss to Los Angeles at the Pepsi Center.
"In a lot of ways, I feel it was the best game we played all year," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "What we wanted to get done, we got it done pretty well."
For those concerned that a team like the Nuggets can't prosper without the presence of a go-to guy who can create shots in crunch time, here's a solution -- eliminate crunch time altogether. As Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey once said, "Good teams don't win close games -- they avoid them." The Nuggets gracefully put the game to bed in the third quarter, when they outscored the Clippers 32-16 and stretched the margin to 19 points entering the final frame.
"We don't do it one way," Karl said. "We kind of do it with a lot of guys taking over for a period of time."
Had the Nuggets needed a scorer in the clutch, they had an extremely capable one in Gallinari. Coming off an atrocious shooting night at Memphis on Wednesday, Gallinari bounced back and torched the Clippers for 21 points in 26 minutes, along with six rebounds and four assists against only a single turnover. He was deadly from long range, draining all five of his attempts behind the arc, denied his counterpart Caron Butler on several isolation plays and continues to leverage his lethal outside shot by putting the ball on the floor and attacking the basket.
"In the Memphis game before we played L.A., I wasn't using my legs a lot," Gallinari said. "Coach had confidence in me and puts the ball in my hands a lot. I am just trying to be aggressive and make plays. I just wanted to come out tonight and use my legs and get in the flow of my shot."
In a conference stacked with outstanding forwards with longer résumés, Gallinari might be on the outside looking in for a spot as an All-Star reserve, but he's starting to build a reasonable case. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 20-plus leads the Nuggets. His production is on par with the likes of a
As has become their pattern, the Clippers got off to their typical jackrabbit start, leading 32-19 after the first quarter. But after the reserve unit took over in the second, the Clippers sputtered and never recovered. As the Clippers grew more desperate to find clean looks at the basket, the Nuggets' defense became increasingly rugged.
"There's a psychology to physical play," Karl said. "I think the aggressive team gains advantages."
Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo drew the thankless task of guarding Chris Paul, but bodied up on the Clippers' All-Star point guard, holding him to 15 points and 9 assists. Although Paul hit six of his nine shots, he never exerted the kind of control he's been imposing on opponents since his return from a hamstring injury eight days ago. Afflalo pressured and crowded Paul out on the perimeter, unafraid to unleash a push here and there.
"[Paul] is used to playing in a nice comfort zone," Afflalo said. "I just wanted to keep him out of the paint. That was just a personal thing for our team -- not let him dictate the offense so easily."
The most theatric moment of the evening came during the first minute of the third quarter when Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov was determined not to well get Mozgoved again by Blake Griffin. As Griffin rumbled down the right edge of the lane courtesy of a screen from Paul, Mozgov met Griffin at the rim to challenge the dunk. Griffin's attempted throwdown clanked off the back of the rim and he was sent flying to the floor -- staying down for a good minute.
"Andre Miller said next time go in there and try to put him on his behind," Nuggets big man Al Harrington said. "Not try to hurt him or anything, but a good foul. It was definitely a statement for how we were going to play the rest of the game."
At the time of the foul, Denver led by six, but that lead would stretch to 27 midway through the fourth. The Nuggets controlled the pace, something they do as well as any team in the NBA -- superstar or no superstar. They ran out on virtually every Clippers miss -- and there were plenty of those after the first quarter. The Nuggets have a pair of opposite-pace point guards in Miller and Ty Lawson (as Karl characterized them, "a pocket quarterback" and "speed quarterback," respectively). Denver's big men are all agile, and most of them can shoot the ball and defend perimeter players on a switch, if need be.
Whether all that will be enough to serve the Nuggets in a deep playoff series that might demand individual heroics will continue to be a hot source of conversation around the NBA. There are intelligent people on both sides of that superstar debate -- those who feel you can win without one, and others who believe that minus a superstar, you're just pretending.
For the time being, Karl falls squarely into the former camp. He's tried to reach the promised land in Denver with a marquee shot creator. Now he's following the other path.
"Everyone wants to talk about making shots at the end of the game," Karl said. "The game is about defense, savvy, intelligence, teams as much as it is about a great player making a great shot."
2. Rose, Bulls Avoid The Losing Habit
NEW YORK -- As his teammates celebrated and got dressed around him in a jovial postgame locker room, Derrick Rose patiently explained why the Bulls were so hell-bent on winning Thursday night. He spelled out the Bulls' credo in the process.
After getting crushed on Wednesday night by the Philadelphia 76ers, Rose was determined not to let that happen again on Thursday against the New York Knicks. So he did something about it -- to the tune of 32 points, 15 in the fourth quarter, and 13 assists in a 105-102 win over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
"We hate losing," Rose explained. "We have winners on our team. Where when we lose, the next game for sure we know that that team is going to get our all that [next] night."
The Knicks found that out the hard way while trying to stay in front of the 23-year-old MVP. Rose sliced and diced the Knicks all night. Most importantly, as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau pointed out, Rose tried his teammates involved early, then seized control of the game late. With Luol Deng (wrist) and Rip Hamilton (thigh/groin) sidelined, that's the approach the Bulls have to take on most nights. Yes, they got contributions from a lot of different people, but it was Rose who took over the game when the Bulls needed it most in the fourth quarter.
"It says a lot about our team," Thibodeau said of squeaking out the win. "For the most part, this team will play hard every night. The thing to me that was disappointing about the Philly game was just the turnovers. But I love the resiliency of our team. The resolve of our team. The bounce-back ability of the team. We got great leadership from Derrick today and all our guys. The thing about this team is I think we have a team of leaders. It's not any one particular guy, it's a whole group of guys."
3. Daily Dime Live Rewind
Relive and note all the chatter, memes and Photoshops of Thursday's Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
Derrick Rose, Bulls: Playing 40 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back, Rose had a spring in his step, even late. Rose had 15 of his points in the fourth quarter, always having the answers whenever Melo and Amare tried to take charge. The reigning MVP finished with 34 points and 13 assists in a 105-102 win over the Knicks.
Utah's bench: Playing the second game of a back-to-back, the Jazz probably could use a spark from their second unit. Instead, it was Dead Battery City, with the reserves going 4-for-19 in a 119-101 road loss in Oakland.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"That shot normally falls for me."
-- Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire, on his 3-pointer from the top of the key with 11.9 seconds remaining that would have tied the game. He's a career 25.9 shooter from 3.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
So/dig this,@joshselby2,played a great trick on me 2day,called front desk 2day!And told them 2bring me 5mouthwahes,5 touthbrushes 5colgates— Tony Allen (@aa000G9) February 2, 2012
5. Mozgov's Revenge
6. NBA Video Channel
7. Claw Power
ATLANTA -- Call Memphis' 96-77 rout over the Hawks an eye-of-the-beholder game.
Some will take it as a sign of the West's superiority to the East. Others will write it off as one of those nights that has been unusually frequent in the post-lockout, schedule-compressed NBA.
A few will take it as proof that the Grizzlies, despite a modest 12-10 mark, are more than capable of making the West playoffs even without Zach Randolph.
And still others will see a signal that Atlanta -- which is 13-0 against sub-.500 teams and 3-7 against those above -- doesn't belong in the rarefied air its 16-6 start suggested.
On one thing we can all agree: Memphis beat the living tar out of Atlanta on Thursday, going up by 24 through three quarters and leading by as much as 30 in the fourth before a burst of cosmetic scoring by Jannero Pargo -- much of it at the expense of his younger brother, Jeremy -- made the final margin a bit more respectable.
The Grizzlies were at their pestering best on defense, producing 11 steals and 21 fast-break points in the first three quarters before a low-pressure, half-court coast through the fourth, but the real surprise was the layup drill they spawned on offense.
By the end of the third quarter Memphis had 50 points in the paint and the Hawks had 55 points total. The Grizzlies repeatedly carved up the Hawks for layups, and when those shots missed they beat Atlanta to the boards; Memphis had 15 offensive rebounds. Backup center Jason Collins sprained his elbow in the first quarter and likely will be out for a while, further depleting the Hawks' small frontcourt.
"They just out-toughed us," said Hawks coach Larry Drew, who was fearing a letdown game coming off a five-game road trip and had his worst fears realized. "That team just manhandled us. [They] played with a physicality, and we were a step slow. Teams that scrap like that, you have to match it."
Bizarrely, the Grizzlies left their starters in for much of the fourth quarter despite being up by 29 points and having a back-to-back in Oklahoma City on Friday. Point guard Mike Conley played 40 minutes. Worse yet, it forced fans to wait until the final 4:17 for the much-anticipated Pargo versus Pargo duel.
8. Grand Night
Andre Miller and Chauncey Billups each played the 1,000th regular-season game of their careers when the Nuggets and Clippers met at Staples Center Thursday night. It was only the second game in NBA history in which two players both participated in their 1,000th career game. The other occurred on March 10, 1998, when Charles Barkley and Kevin Willis, both with the Rockets at the time, each reached that millennium milestone against the Mavericks.
Miller has missed only four games since he made his NBA debut in 1999-2000. Only four other players in NBA history missed four or fewer games at the time of their 1,000th career game: A.C. Green (missed only 3 games), John Stockton (4), Karl Malone (4) and Bill Laimbeer (4).