Playoff Perspective: Denver Nuggets

"Playoff Perspective" provides a look at the Rockets' possible playoff opponents from the opposing blogger's point of view.  Each team, from Dallas to LA (as the chances of us playing Phoenix aren't very probable), will be represented.  On today's edition, Jeremy Wagner (formerly of Pickaxe and Roll) of the excellent TrueHoop blog Roundball Mining Company gives us his take on a Rockets-Nuggets first round match up.

What advantages do you think the Nuggets would have over the Rockets in a playoff series?

That is a really good question. Typically with most teams you can say Carmelo Anthony is a player that deserves a lot of defensive attention and when he is firing on all cylinders (attacking the basket, hitting his jumper, passing out of double teams and hitting cutters in the lane) he can cause a defense to collapse nearly by himself. The Rockets are a unique opponent with two players who can match Melo's physical talents all by themselves in Shane Battier and Ron Artest.

This season Melo is averaging only 15.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists on 38.6% shooting against the Rockets. If he is neutralized the Nuggets lose their biggest advantage. Melo has raised his postseason performance each year until last season against the Lakers. I expect Melo to have a good series even if he is matched up against Battier and Artest night after night. He has always shown the ability to adjust to what a defender is doing to him as the series progresses. The Nuggets have played the Spurs twice in the previous five postseason series and by the end of the first series Melo had figured out Bruce Bowen and in the second series he absolutely dominated him. The Spurs actually started covering Melo with Michael Finley to give Bowen a chance with someone else. If Melo can make that kind of progress against the "Big Two" of the Rockets, I would like the Nuggets' chances.

Apart from Melo the only player that I have yet to see any team match up well against is J.R. Smith. This season J.R. is averaging 18.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists on 46.2% shooting including 60.0% from behind the arc in four games against Houston. Last season J.R. was the Nuggets best player in the postseason sweep at the hands of the Lakers and I have no reason not to believe he will not repeat that performance no matter who Denver matches up against this year.

Another advantage Denver possesses is the ability to run. We have seen Yao Ming get winded quickly in Denver and as a result he has lost some minutes resting on the bench because of the fast pace.

The Nuggets also have a big advantage in experience at the point with Chauncey Billups long and impressive post season resume. Having someone like Chauncey running your team as opposed to Aaron Brooks or Kyle Lowry has to count for something, right? If not then the Nuggets may be in trouble.

Nene really struggled in the last meeting against Yao, but if he can get Yao faced up on the wing, Nene is quick enough to get to the rim and negate some of Yao's length. Generally if either Nene or Yao can get the other one in foul trouble it can really help his team out.

Disadvantages?

The number one disadvantage for Denver is Yao Ming. The Nuggets really have no one who is capable of guarding Yao in the post. Nene has the girth, but not the length. Chris "Birdman" Andersen has more length, but lacks the thick bottom Nene has. I was afraid Yao was going to kill Andersen during the Martin Luther King Day matinee in Houston he was slamming into him so hard. The Nuggets have also had Kenyon Martin cover Yao, but in that situation the spirit is willing, but heart and desire only counts for so much with a physical mismatch of that proportion. The wild card is Johan Petro. He has the length and has shown the ability to hold his ground in the post. I am not sure if Karl would use him in the playoffs, but he is a better defensive option on Yao than Birdman or Kenyon.

Chauncey may have a hoard of experience compared to Brooks, but Brooks has given the elder statesman fits with his speed. In a game earlier this season Billups tried to back Brooks down into the post and show him what it is like, but Brooks was so quick Chauncey could barely dribble the ball in order to back him down.

The Rockets ability to hit the three also has caused the Nuggets a great deal of consternation over the past couple of years. Either through drive and kicks or passing out of the post the Rockets almost always seem to be able to get open looks from beyond the arc on Denver.

Would home court advantage affect your chances greatly, marginally, or not at all?

That is another good question. The Nuggets have been in five straight postseasons, but they have never had home court advantage. Even the season they won the division and were given the third seed they had to open on the road against the sixth seeded Clippers.

The dirty little secret about the Nuggets in the postseason is that they have not been able to win at home or on the road. The Nuggets are 2-8 at the Pepsi Center during that five year stretch and they are riding a five game postseason home losing streak.

Even so I think home court advantage will be a big deal for Denver. In the past they simply have not had a competitive enough team to earn home wins. This team is different and I think it will give them a big shot of confidence to have home court advantage for the first time.

However, even if they do not have home court advantage they are a strong enough road team to win a series without it. 

Compared to the other possible match ups, how confident would you be in your team if they faced the Rockets in the first round?

The Rockets would not be one of my preferred matchups, but riding a five year stretch of futility you can understand that I am a little gun shy when it comes to calling any team out. I will say the two matchups I would love to end up with would be either Portland or Dallas.

I would put Houston in a grouping with New Orleans and Utah as teams the Nuggets would basically have a 50/50 chance against. Perhaps in any of those matchups the deciding edge would be home court advantage.

If the Nuggets and Rockets do face off it will be interesting to see which team can exorcise the first round demon and actually win a playoff series. Even though the Nuggets current playoff appearance streak is at five and the Rockets is only two Houston has still managed to win more postseason games in those two trips (five) than the Nuggets have in their five (four).

Thanks again to Jeremy.  Want to know more about the Nuggets?  Check out Pickaxe and Roll or Roundball Mining Company.

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