Game Notes: Hornets at Nuggets
CP3 can only carry a team so far.
It was 80s night at the Pepsi Center, and I just had one request: That Denver activates assistant coach Adrian Dantley. No such luck.
– When the Hornets go through that mundane event sometimes known as ‘layup lines,’ Chris Paul makes a beeline for the referees and begins working them over. Fifteen minutes before the tip. Smart guy.
– There’s no sign of Tyson Chandler, suspended after his cheap shot against the ‘Vanilla Gorilla’ Pryzbilla.
– At the other end, Chauncey Billups can’t go 16 seconds without hugging someone nearby or waving to a face in the crowd. Welcome home, kid.
– There’s absolutely no reason to report this, but according to the scoreboard Rocky, the Nugs’ mascot, is 102-1413 lifetime on mid-court shots. I’m not making this up; they even ran his 2008-09 stats as well. For the record, Rocky begins the night rocking the Dan Issel throwback.
– Paul’s pregame pep-talk with the refs did him good—he gets T’d up 34 seconds in. CP3 is guarded by Dahntay Jones, who seems bent on forcing him left. It’s almost to the point where Jones believes Paul simply can’t go in that direction, that’s how much he’s shading him there.
– Hilton Armstrong, benefiting from Chandler’s absence, gets 11 points in 6 minutes and there are seven people nationwide who are ecstatic that they picked him up off the waiver in their fantasy league at 5:37 this afternoon.
– During a timeout I can’t help but notice Chris Andersen. He’s as fidgety as a 4-year-old; perhaps the sign “Marry me Birdman” in the crowd has him perked up more than usual. Not likely.
– Carmelo Anthony spins off Peja Stojakovic for two—very pretty. For as good as Melo is from mid-range, he just might be better as a post-up player. And that’s saying something.
– Paul takes one off the board and goes the length of the floor for the score, leaving me openly yearning for him to push it more. Believe it or not, the Hornets average the fewest possessions in the League, which only adds to Paul’s legend; he’s averaging 21 and 11 in walk-it-up mode. What would D’Antoni do to this guy? I’m going to throw ’26 and 14’ into the ring.
– A Linas Kleiza flurry gives the Nuggets the early advantage, by five in fact—28-23 at the end of the first.
– Nene, saddled with foul trouble in the first, gets going. For as important as Chauncey Billups has been for the Nuggets’ success this season, you could make the case that Nene has been Denver’s MVP. He leads the League in dunks, he’s made the loss of Marcus Camby barely noticeable, and he’s awfully reliable in the post. When healthy, that is.
– James Posey has seemingly bought into his own hype and has taken bad shots on three straight possessions. Please remember this.
– Every time Melo scores the P.A. announcer shouts “Melo!” followed by the crowd barking “Hello!” It’s somewhat irritating.
– CP3 is back, and his team went from -5 to -13 without him. Perhaps one problem with this point guard world is that teams tend to be a tad bit reliant on these guys (think Nash in Phoenix, Williams in Utah, Paul in New Orleans).
– The Nuggets are—you might want to be seated for this—playing terrific defense, blocking consecutive shots on one possession. The crowd, as if witnessing a Halley’s Comet-like occurrence, gives them a standing ovation. Keep in mind we’re in the second quarter; no matter, Nugs up 54-34 and this one’s getting out of control.
– I just have to point out that I had a note scribbled that says “Does Paul shoot enough?” and hindsight has officially informed me to take a bow.
– With just under two minutes to go in the half, Billups is guarding CP3 for the first time.
– Speaking of Paul, he gets into a little pow-wow with Kenyon Martin, resulting in a Martin technical. For all the great qualities Paul has, his competitiveness and don’t-give-a-crap attitude are by far my favorites.
– Nuggets up 18 at the half, 58-40. Melo has 16, and I’m not even sure he’s sweating yet.
– Vanilla Ice is the halftime entertainment (80s night, remember?) and he gives us some Ice Ice Baby, prompting a heated discussion between two nearby fans as to whether this song actually comes under the category of ‘80s’ or not. (Note: Evidently the song was released in ’90, so I guess it doesn’t. Does that mean Vanilla Ice’s performance was a random occurrence, unrelated to 80s night?).
– Sean Marks and Ryan Bowen are two of the first Hornets out on the floor for the second half and approach the warm-ups with incredible vigor. Kindred spirits at work, people.
– Denver is 11-2 when Dahntay Jones plays more than 20 minutes this year, according to sources close to the scoreboard graphics. He responds to this juicy tidbit by scoring 8 quick points. An 18-point advantage turns into a 77-51 Nuggets lead and the exit sign suddenly has this warm and fuzzy feel to it. Denver is getting easy buckets, and it’s so bad for New Orleans that after Paul makes a runner he proceeds to bark at his teammates while getting back.
– It was as if at that particular moment, Paul suddenly decided if his guys can’t get it done, he’ll darn well do it himself. The live Paul experience reveals insight into how he’s so effective: He’s all about angles. CP3 gets into the lane, then backs into his man, runs to the open spot, surveys some more, navigates, finds space, either fires a bullet to David West at the top of the key or takes a half-step back for the jumper. It’s as aesthetic as one play in basketball can be. (I’m gushing).
– Anyway, Paul’s basically decided that he’s bringing the Hornets back and is giving his teammates the option to participate or not—they decide to join him. The lead shrinks from 26 to 17 rather quickly, and after Paul goes end to end in four seconds, culminating in a tear-drop over Andersen at the third quarter buzzer (giving him 24), we’re suddenly looking at a 12-point game. Call me stupid, I’m having a hard time believing how easy it is for him to get into the paint.
– When David West, awoken from his first-half slumber, hits a jumper to make it 83-80, he sprints to the other end of the floor with his finger raised to the sky as the crowd literally takes a collective grasp. A 26-point lead has shrunk to 3. Incredible. George Karl, never one to be stubborn (snicker), doesn’t believe this tidal wave warrants putting Melo back in. J.R. Smith, the most schizophrenic of players, gets hot. He hits a layup in transition, followed by a crazy rainbow that is called a long two. He scored 7 points in the game’s first 39 minutes, but adds 8 in the next three minutes, and Denver has breathing room.
– The Hornets somehow hang around though, and after Melo misses a bunny, Stojakovic hits a three in transition and we’re tired at 94. Now would be a good time to point out that Melo has 4 points this half.
– I’m thrilled to see Billups now wants a crack at guarding Paul; obviously CP3 is as well, he responds with a basket.
– When Posey hits a 3 to give the Hornets the lead, you could’ve heard a mouse pee on cotton in the Pepsi Center. But Melo hits a layup, and the crowd decides that with roughly three minutes to go it might be a good time to stand the rest of the way.
– Down 3 and still a half-minute remaining, Posey takes the most unnecessary 3 known to man, which essentially decides it. Well, that and Nene mugging Paul on the final possession, securing victory. Melo leads Denver with 22 while Paul goes for 30 and 11. Nuggets 105, Hornets 100 in a game both teams desperately wanted to lose.