Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Moving down

Mike Montgomery won 26 straight games to start the season last year at Stanford, so celebrating three victories in a row seemed like a strange notion for Golden State's first-year coach.

His players did it for him.

Mickael Pietrus scored a career-high 24 points off the bench and the Warriors won three straight for the first time this season, beating the injury-depleted Denver Nuggets 104-101 on Monday night.

``I'm very happy,'' Pietrus said. ``The most important thing for me is the team and the way we're playing right now.''

Jason Richardson added 18 points and seven rebounds for the Warriors, who hadn't won three in a row since getting seven straight from March 15-28 last season.

Andre Miller had 21 points and a season-high 14 assists but missed two free throws in the final minute for the Nuggets, who extended their season-long losing streak to six games and lost their eighth in nine. Nene added 19 points and nine rebounds, and Marcus Camby had 16 points and 12 boards and received a scare when he landed hard on his wrist on a third-quarter breakaway.

Earl Boykins missed a desperation shot at the buzzer in an attempt to tie it for Denver, which played without star forward and leading scorer Carmelo Anthony and forward Kenyon Martin because of injuries.

``We're not here for a moral victory,'' Camby said. ``We came here to get a win. Despite who we did or didn't have out there, the guys we did have played hard and competed. It's tough not playing with the two best players on your team, but we've been battling injuries all season and guys have found a way to step up.''

The Warriors rallied in the final period after going cold in the third and getting outscored 32-22. They hope to put a solid 48 minutes together soon.

``We're real close. We're getting there,'' Richardson said. ``We want to build a winning streak, and we have the opportunity to build one.''

Richardson's two free throws with 6:25 left pulled the Warriors within 87-85 and Pietrus gave Golden State the lead the next time down the floor with a driving layin. Murphy scored at 5:22 and Richardson had two straight baskets to cap a 15-2 run.

``Games can take a turn very quickly,'' Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik said. ``That's what happens when you don't make shots and turn the ball over.''

Golden State, which led by as many as 14, beat Sacramento on Sunday to end an 11-game losing streak in Arco Arena.

Cliff Robinson made three 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 14 points, five assists and four rebounds for Golden State. Troy Murphy added 16 points and 16 boards, and Derek Fisher had 15 points.

Anthony missed his fifth straight game, but expects to return Friday when Denver hosts Philadelphia in its next game. The Nuggets opted to sit him out another day so Anthony will be assured of having two good practices on his ankle before Friday's game.

Martin, the team's second-leading scorer, was sidelined as a precautionary measure because of a mid-back strain on his left side. He was listed as day to day.

Richardson picked up his second offensive foul with 4:51 left in the first quarter, then immediately was hit with a technical for arguing and went to the bench. He didn't return until 5:49 before halftime. Coach Mike Montgomery spoke before the game about playing his stars fewer minutes early so they'd be fresh in the fourth quarter.

The Nuggets opened the game by making 9 of 16 shots, but Golden State's second team sparked the Warriors with a 14-6 spurt to start the second quarter on the way to a 40-32 lead. But Nikoloz Tskitishvili scored seven straight during a 9-2 run to end the half and pull Denver within 53-46 at the break

This loss brings us to 0-6 in the last 6 games.We have been really struggling and all of us are hoping that Michael Cooper can turn this team around. Let's see if Mr. Cooper can get things together and get a solid line up going. Go Nuggets!

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Struggling Nuggets fire Bzdelik

by Associated Press, from
Jeff Bzdelik was fired Tuesday as coach of the Denver Nuggets, who are on a six-game losing streak and struggling despite the addition of Kenyon Martin this season.

Assistant Michael Cooper was appointed interim coach.

"Right now, I really felt the team needed a change," general manager Kiki Vandeweghe said. "Sometimes it's nothing the head coach is doing wrong. It's just that a change of voice sometimes is the positive."

Bzdelik is the first NBA coach to be fired this season. Denver was expected to move near the top of the Western Conference after signing Martin, an All-Star power forward. So far, however, the Nuggets have been hurt by injuries and inconsistency.

The Nuggets started the season without power forward Nene and have used 10 different starting lineups, with star forward Carmelo Anthony missing the past five games with a sprained ankle.

Shooting guard Voshon Lenard, Denver's only legitimate outside shooting threat, was lost for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon in the opener.

Denver opened the season 2-5, won 10 of its next 12 games and has lost eight of its last nine, dropping to 13-15 after a 104-101 loss to Golden State on Monday night.

And it wasn't just the losses — it was the way the Nuggets were losing.

Denver lost six games by at least 14 points and was lethargic in several others. The Nuggets have struggled defensively, particularly inside, and that has prevented them from utilizing their fast-break offense, one of the keys to their success last year.

The low point came in a nationally televised 19-point loss to Cleveland on Dec. 3. Bzdelik said he wasn't sure which team was going to show up from game to game and even questioned whether his team was in shape — suggesting the Nuggets may have been tuning him out.

"I didn't feel like the team was responding the way we had hoped," Vandeweghe said. "These things don't happen overnight, it's an evolution. I can't pinpoint when this trend started, but it started a while ago."

Bzdelik was a longtime assistant and scout under Pat Riley in Miami and New York before getting his first head coaching job with the Nuggets in 2002. Though Denver struggled to a league-worst 17-65 record in his first season, Bzdelik was credited with turning the Nuggets into a hardworking, defensive-minded team.

A roster overhaul and the addition of Anthony made all the difference last season. The Nuggets improved by 26 games to 43 wins - the sixth-best turnaround in NBA history — to reach the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

Through all the success, Bzdelik wasn't able to get any security from the front office. General manager Kiki Vandeweghe refused to give Bzdelik a contract extension last season and it seemed the only reason he was back this year was because of a contract clause that called for his option to be picked up if the Nuggets reached the playoffs.

It was a situation that may have had Bzdelik, 73-119 in just over two seasons with Denver, looking over his shoulder.

"Do I think I'm responsible? Yes, I take responsibility," Vandeweghe said. "At the end of the day I take responsibility for all the things that go on here. These are my decisions and some of them are not fun decisions to make."

Cooper, a member of the Los Angeles Lakers' "Showtime" teams of the 1980s, coached the Los Angeles Sparks to two WNBA championships and a finals appearance in four years before joining the Nuggets as an assistant this season.

"This is tough, but my goal now is to get us playing a little better," Cooper said. "We'll concentrate on defense and just try to continue the winning ways this team ended last season and sort of started with at the beginning of the season."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Green Sparks Sixers Past Nuggets

Things were looking pretty blue for the Philadelphia 76ers until Jim O'Brien inserted Willie Green.

Green scored 13 of his season-high 17 points in a seven-minute span of the second half and sparked a stunning turnaround as the 76ers roared back from an 18-point deficit for a 110-102 victory over the Denver Nuggets, their third straight win.

For most of the first three quarters, the 76ers looked lethargic and sloppy, allowing the bigger Nuggets to dominate around the rim and convert turnovers into easy baskets. A one-handed alley-oop slam by Carmelo Anthony capped a 19-6 surge and gave Denver its largest lead at 77-59 with 3:46 left in the third quarter.

That brought out the boo birds at the Wachovia Center and prompted O'Brien to make mass substitutions including Green, who has had a yo-yo second season. Named the starting shooting guard in training camp, he lost his spot, regained it, then lost it again.

Having not played the last two games, Green looked like a colt let out of the barn. His exuberance picked up the defense and led to some badly needed offense as he scored eight points in a 17-4 run that closed the quarter.

"Coach O'Brien said something to me today. He just told to me to not get down on myself and stay ready," Green said. "AI (Allen Iverson) was always staying in my ear. He told me to keep working and stay sharp because my number is going to get called. I was able to go out and have a pretty good game."

"It just says a lot about who he is as a person and as a basketball player," Iverson said. "The stage was set for him to come in make major things happen. Not getting the opportunity to play and then all of a sudden when he gets a chance to play, he gave us the lift that we knew he always could."

It was more of the same in the fourth quarter as Green drilled a 3-pointer and jumper as part of a 12-0 burst that gave Philadelphia the lead for good. Allen Iverson and rookie Andre Iguodala added fast-break baskets that made it 92-86 with 8:19 left.

The stunned Nuggets made four free throws but got no closer. Iverson made a pair of jumpers and Iguodala sank a 3-pointer to cap a 9-1 burst for a 101-90 lead with 5:04 to play. It was at least a two-possession game thereafter, and Green capped the win with four free throws.

"Green just totally changed the entire game in terms of his desperate energy," Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "He was just not going to be denied and his team followed him. It came at a point where we were celebrating. We exhaled and they dug in. Therein lies the story. The game is 48 minutes long and you have to play 48 minutes. We got a little comfortable and full of ourselves."

Green had been averaging 7.6 points per game and had not scored in double figures in December. He made 4-of-5 shots and 8-of-9 free throws, but more important, the Sixers outscored the Nuggets, 51-25, for the 16 minutes he was on the floor.

"I knew that I had to get in there and create some energy," Green said. "If anything, I was going to dive on some loose balls, and foul somebody hard. Anything, just to get a spark on the team. You don't know when your number will get called so, you have to be ready. It's part of being a professional. I was just watching, observing, learning from my mistakes. Then I went out there and played my heart out."

Iverson had 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and Iguodala scored 16 points for Philadelphia, which was swept by Denver last season.

Anthony scored 29 points and Kenyon Martin added 25 for the Nuggets, who fell to 2-2 on their season-high seven-game road trip.

"That was the worst loss of my life," said Nuggets guard Greg Buckner, a former Sixer. "We definitely got too comfortable. The Sixers wanted it more, I guess. They had all the momentum, we just couldn't stop it."

The Sixers played without forward Kenny Thomas, who had flu-like symptoms. The Nuggets were without center Nene, who had a bruised right hip. As a result, Denver was outrebounded, 44-36, and surrendered 20 second-chance points.