Two Bad Losses in a Row
Cub scouts the daily hoops scene.
by Cub Buenning
–A short two-game road-trip for the Denver Nuggets got off to a bad start with a disheartening loss on Wednesday night to the L.A. Clippers. Matters worsened considerably last night, as the Nuggets outdid even the previous night’s anemic performance with an abysmal 122-102 loss at the hands of the Sacramento Kings. So how does one team break 100, shoot over 50 percent from the floor and still get punked by 20 by an inexperienced team battling for the prime spot in the League’s basement?
Defensive issues ultimately undid the visiting Nugs, as they really couldn’t corral one member of the Kings’ roster. Tyreke Evans looked like the player of last year and DeMarcus Cousins, Omri Casspi and Carl Landry shot a combined 17-29 from the field. While it would be easy to say that, with Kenyon Martin forced to sit out the second leg of a back-to-back, the Nuggets’ interior defense was sure to suffer, head coach George Karl wasn’t using that excuse. “I’m really kind of blown away by our performance. Sometimes I think we need to think about playing harder,” Karl said.
Two straight nights of coaching criticism didn’t keep the team’s star, Carmelo Anthony (26 points), from piling on after last night’s debacle: “Tonight was an embarrassing loss; that’s all I have to say about that.”
–Last night was a pretty quiet one in the college hoops ranks. No real shockers to report and the one individual game of note was the Cincinnati Derby between the Bearcats of UC and their cross-town rivals from Xavier. Losers of the last three in the series, the still undefeated ‘Cats were not to be denied, grabbing an early lead and cruising to an easy 20-point win. Cincy native Yancy Gates “beasted out” for his best game of the season — a performance that I expect more of, as I think Gates has a chance to be one of the Big East’s best frontcourt players. Like a certain Brazilian center who plays pro ball in Denver, though, consistency has been the issue.
For several of you, this will be the first introduction to San Diego State’s sophomore forward, Kawhi Leonard. The 6-7 225-pound power forward (which he won’t be at the next level) has been one of the main reasons for the undefeated Aztecs’ claim as the “best in the West.” Extremely active in both the open floor and the halfcourt, Leonard is a slasher who likes to get inside the paint and is still working on his perimeter jump-shooting (easily the most curable weakness once you become a pro — JUST ASK MJ). The Riverside-native has always had an uncanny “nose for the ball” whether it’s bouncing on the floor or caroming off the rim. A 10 board/night guy since he stepped on campus, Leonard is tenacious and, at the same time, intelligent. His catch-and-shoot needs some improving and his consistency from the college three-point line has been a concern in recent games. To his credit, though, the 19-year-old is a capable playmaker and at times can become a bit too unselfish.
More than any year before this, I look forward to how the Mountain West will compete in the NCAA Tourney. Specifically, it will be interesting to see how Leonard matches up as the Aztecs make a Final Four push. While currently ready to be drafted (mid-to-late first round) and compete at the next level, I strongly would encourage Leonard to stay one more year to continue to work on his “small forward skills.”
**Check back this weekend, as I will be in Boulder tomorrow covering the CU Buffs’ Big 12 opener with the Tigers from Missouri.**
This post was a segment of Cub’s blog at milehighsportsview.blogspot.com. The Mile High Five is a daily portion of his blog that covers several aspects in the world of Denver and national sports and pop culture.