The Denver Nuggets have been an impressive collection of talent for quite some time. Carmelo Anthony remains one of the league’s premier scorers, Nene’s reliability is criminally underrated and J.R. Smith-the very personification of this volatile unit-is dynamite in sneakers; wildly unstable, yet effectively explosive. Unfortunately, the same carefree demeanor that’s allowed them to fill up stats sheets and highlight reels has continued to define them in moments that demanded far more poise. Plainly put, they’ve never been considered a contender because they’ve never been able to get out of their own way. So it was particularly amusing to see them move at such a deliberately slow pace as they set about picking the Wolves apart.
Despite the visitors obvious intentions, our boys proceeded with business as usual to predictably varying results. Postgame, Kurt Rambis was asked to comment on his unit’s 8 scant turnovers, yet neither coach nor scribe acknowledged that such supposed ball control was actually due to unconscionably poor shooting: the Wolves attempted 95 field goals and made just 39% of them. This however, didn’t keep us from witnessing an entertaining affair in which both teams tried to wrestle victory out of their own hands. The Wolves gave the game away early, the Nuggets tried to give it back, but we-being such gracious hosts-refused to take it.
But first, Kevin Love, who enjoyed his formal introduction to Wolves fans as an All-Star and more importantly, played like one. Yes, we’ve all grown quite accustomed to his prodigious boardwork and marksmanship, but on this night, I found his misses more encouraging. In what has become an increasingly rare moment, Kevin found himself isolated on the low block with Kenyon Martin. Back to the basket, Love spun baseline, pivoted back towards the rim and lost his defender with a spry up & under. He didn’t score. Minutes later in the same spot, this time guarded by Nene, he quickly drop stepped into the lane with a nimble hook. He didn’t score. Such progress shouldn’t be lost on us though. The knock on Love has been that he’s easily flustered and lacks the skill set of a prototypical big man. This confident display, in addition to some uncharacteristically strong defense-denying KMart position and intuitively drawing a charge on Nene-are sure indicators that Love’s All-Star candidacy won’t be such a hot button issue in the future. Our boy is growing.
Our team isn’t. This isn’t a shallow criticism, just an honest state of affairs. There have been incremental improvements from a few pups; Pekovic is slowly finding his footing, Bassy isn’t the only one who believes in his jumper anymore and Jonny Flynn is inching towards mediocrity, but cohesiveness still eludes us. Especially when it’s needed most. Towards both the end of the first half and the final buzzer, a lead was in sight. The Wolves clearly sensed the urgency of the moment, yet instead of operating patiently and purposefully, they apparently believed the answer was to move even faster.
Michael Beasley was most notably excited tonight. Not in the charmingly silly manner that we’ve often seen, laughing at opponents and rhythmically clapping along to prompted chants, but with a snarling competitiveness that evoked expletives with every mistake. There were plenty to choose from. I suspect it was inspired by the presence of another DMV (D.C./Maryland/Virginia) native in Carmelo Anthony, just as he seems to get up for his showdowns with childhood friend Kevin Durant, but regardless it was an aggressively erratic showing. He opened with off balance pull ups, runners and fades that didn’t fall before settling into more productive 15 foot banks and timely spot up shots from his preferred spots on the wing. Unfortunately, these possessions inflated his confidence in what wasn’t working. He ended the evening having made just 7 of 20 shots, more than a few of those misses coming in the latter stages of each half.
Surprisingly, the most steadying performance on such an up and down night was from Corey Brewer, whose inspired play kept this contest from slipping away on numerous occasions. His most memorable contributions came during a frenzied sequence in the third quarter: after missing an elbow jumper, Brewer sprinted back on defense and pinned Al Harrington’s layup against the backboard before drawing an offensive foul on the ensuing put back attempt. After a burst of energy that would leave several players winded, he recovered a botched alley-oop and calmly sunk an 18 footer. When that jump shot is the slightest bit dependable, Brewer is undoubtedly the Wolves third best player and at times, its most important.
Though Carmelo proved too much for him on this evening, Brewer is still a formidable defender, which is an essential component of any playoff hopeful. There are a bevy of talented guards in the West and Corey is capable of corralling them all. We’ve already seen him effectively guard the likes of Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili, Monta Ellis and Russell Westbrook this season and he’s still learning. His contract is due to expire at the end of the season and even with such admirable traits, he isn’t likely to command much on the open market. Why management would consider letting him go at all, much less for a pitiable ransom of Anthony Randolph and the remains of Eddy Curry is beyond me.