It might not seem sensible...
Still, the Nuggets would be well served to duplicate their game plan from Sunday's 107-103 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in game one of their playoff series in the next matchup tonight.
The first game gave credence to the idea that this series is largely the Nuggets' deep cast vs. Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Durant and Westbrook combined for 72 of OKC's 107 points, while Nenê led the Nuggets with 22. However, five Nuggets scored in double figures, while only one Thunder other than the big two, back-up point guard Eric Maynor, hit double digits. More importantly, Durant and Westbrook shot a lot of jumpers, and they'd be hard pressed to repeat their efficiency in that area.
Westbrook went 12-23 from the field and Durant was 13-22. For two players who shot 44 and 46 percent respectively from the field during the regular season, Sunday's shooting performance was an aberration. More encouraging are the shot charts for Durant and Westbrook. The two combined to make only four shots within three feet of the rim.
While Durant made fifteen trips to the free throw line, Westbrook took only five foul shots. As George Karl has said, the Nuggets will be happy if Oklahoma City's stars take that many jump shots again. The formula for defending these two is fairly simple; keep them out of the lane and off the free throw line. If they make contested jump shots, so be it. The Nuggets would do well to play them the same way and hope they don't combine to shoot 56 percent again.
The Nuggets need to cut down on the number of open three-pointers they give up to keep the Thunder from shooting 47 percent from downtown again. It is also unlikely, we hope, that the Nuggets will get worked by the refs again. The NBA announced on Monday what everyone watching the game with a functioning set of eyes saw on Sunday -- referees Steve Javie, Zach Zarba and Bill Kennedy should have disallowed Kendrick Perkins' go-ahead basket with 1:05 left because it was goaltending.
But the Nuggets can't blame the entire crunch-time meltdown on the refs. Danilo Gallinari made Denver's last field goal with 3:06 left in the game, and the team added only two free throws the rest of the game. The Nuggets' score-by-committee approach may doom them if no one steps up at the end of the game to take control of the offense.
Of course, the Nuggets would have had more margin for error late if they had made free throws early. Apparently, the entire team decided to see what percent it could hit from the line if every player closed his eyes. The answer was 63.6 percent. If the Nuggets shot around their season average, 77 percent, they would have had five more points on the board. They lost by four.
On the encouraging front, Nenê seems to show no lasting effects from banging knees with Kendrick Perkins in the third quarter, and he surely leads the league in dunking in Perkins' face. Who knew a surly-looking hunch-backed seven-footer was all that was needed to bring out the beast in Nenê we've been waiting for all these years?
Although Nenê missed practice Monday, he should start. Point guards Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton also sat out practice, but should be good to go. As for Arron Afflalo, not so much. He's out tonight with a hamstring injury and game three is up in the air. As Nuggets.com's Aaron J. Lopez reports, Afflalo will base his decision on how the series is going. Translation: If the Nuggets lose tonight, Afflalo could attempt to come back earlier.
The Nuggets sure could use his defense on Westbrook and three-point shooting after knocking down only 25 percent in game one. But he tried to return early three times at the end of the regular season, only to re-aggravate the hamstring each time.
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The rotation is down one man, but the Nuggets still have plenty of bullets to fire at the Thunder. The defense did a good job of denying Durant from even touching the ball down the stretch. A better strategy than forcing him into tough shots is to not allow him to get the ball at all. Playing physical as Durant tries to run off screens could prevent him from getting in a rhythm.
But the Nuggets don't need to re-invent themselves. Hit some more free throws, defend the three better and hope that two of the game's ten best players don't prove their worth quite so convincingly. In a series as even as this one, that constitutes a sound game plan.
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