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Denver Nuggets 14-game win streak. How they so good?

Stashed in: Basketball, Colorado

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Zach Lowe of Grantland writes:

There's long been a general skepticism around the league about whether the Nuggets, so exciting and so dominant of late, can translate their regular-season success into true title contention. Three questions drive that skepticism:

1. Can they score in the clutch?

2. Can they score in the half court?

3. Can they defend well enough to beat elite offenses four times in seven games?

Denver has now won 14 straight after an improbable comeback against Philly on Thursday night that had George Karl telling Grantland this morning, “I woke up a lucky, lucky guy.” And though the schedule during that stretch has featured plenty of rest, close calls, and bad teams, it's also brought a handful of showdowns with the Western Conference’s elite — including two wins over the Thunder.

Denver has played top-five-level ball on both sides of the floor during this stretch — sort of a necessity for any 14-game winning streak. But dig a bit further, and watch the tape, and there are even more encouraging signs a real contender might be developing in the Rockies: The Nuggets are scoring well in the half court and destroying teams in crunch time.

A shorter answer comes from my friend Tom:

Best trade of recent years was 'Melo for half of the Knicks.

Nuggets play like a team.

There's just more flavor now in Denver’s half-court game. They’re using more wing/point guard screens at the start of possessions in order to catch defenses off guard and create mismatches — a tactic the Lakers used against Denver in the playoffs last season:

Karl has Denver using much more screen-the-screener action, where the big man setting a high screen for Lawson (or for Prof. Andre Miller, PhD) will take a pick from another Denver player on his way to setting that high screen. Another tweak on that action: plays on which a big man will set a down-screen for a shooter along the wing and then sprint up to set a high screen for a Denver point guard. Watch Kosta Koufos do this on the left side of the floor, and note how far his man (Kendrick Perkins) falls behind the play in helping on that first screen:

There are also plays in which one Denver player will sprint up as if he’s going to set a screen, only to dart back down into the paint as Denver’s other big man comes up to set the “real” pick for Lawson or Miller:

“There’s no question we’re trying to get more clever in our five-on-five game,” says Karl. “It’s very difficult to play the way we do and execute in [the half court]. We have some pick-and-roll stuff that we execute fine, but we’ve needed to add some motion stuff and some movement to kind of be more clever.”

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