Behind the Box Score, where the Denver Nuggets can smile again

Denver 109, Detroit 97

These things always seem to write themselves. After three road games filled with nervous Nuggets attempting to do things on their own, over-penetrating and losing the first three contests of a promising season, the Nuggets returned home for a solid-enough win over a bad Pistons team. The ship isn't completely back to normal, defensive holes still abound, but the Nuggets are growing and re-learning how to find that "yo' turn, yo' turn, yo' turn"-touch that made them such an offensive juggernaut last season.

Nothing came easy, but the ball was moving more often, and Andre Iguodala (17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) did well to counter Greg Monroe's brilliant game (especially in the second half, 27 points and 10 rebounds with three blocks overall). This sounds like a slight, but Denver's whole attack felt improvised and piecemeal — and that's the point! That's why several analysts had this group pegged to go nuts during the regular season.

Detroit wasn't that far behind, mind you. Overall, point guard Brandon Knight didn't have a great game but his penetration and nine assists helped. Will Bynum, out of nowhere, came off the bench to act like an assist monster as well, registering eight assists, Jonas Jerebko remains very active and almost a leader in a sense, and Andre Drummond even hit a three-pointer during the first quarter.

None of this, happily for the home crowd, swayed Denver. The Nuggets still have a long way to go, but that's why we play 82 of these bad boys.


Chicago 99, Orlando 93

Scoring on the Chicago Bulls is one of those impossible/simple things. If you move the ball and attack, you can score on that team's defense even when Chicago makes all the right moves. If you attempt to go one on one? As it is with most teams, the offense fails. This is usually the case for any offense against any defense, but against the turning-into-legendary Tom Thibodeau Chicago Bulls defense? You have to move the ball, baaadly.

For huge parts of the first three quarters, the Magic moved the ball. The team recovered from an early swoon to attack all parts of a formidable Chicago defense, to try bounce-y passes and things that didn't involve fruitless post-ups and attempts at crossovers. It was a fun thing to watch, these Magic coming up big against another favored opponent; but by the fourth quarter Chicago seemed to crank things up an extra notch and force Orlando into their lesser instincts.

Along the way, after all the stops, Chicago's shots started to fall.  I'm sure all the defensive rebounds helped their momentum, but it wasn't as if the Bulls were flying out on 3-on-1s. No, it was the usual half-court, mid-range stuff from Luol Deng and Nate Robinson, coupled with brilliant work from Joakim Noah (20 points, nine rebounds, four assists, five blocks) and Taj Gibson (12 and five in 19 minutes with plenty of DEE-FENSE).

The Magic couldn't hang, though Arron Afflalo's Dwyane Wade-ish turn (28 points on 17 shots) was great to see. This team has no chance at the playoffs, but if they keep it up they'll remind every hardcore Orlando fan of the goodness that was the 1999-00 season.

Of course, the end was tainted by the years-long and decidedly stupid Chicago Bulls promotion that hands a free cheap cheeseburger to fans if the team eclipses 100 points. Why Steve Schanwald and the Bulls front office continue to mar the end of otherwise-fantastic wins with this secondary narrative is beyond me, but based on his work basketball has never been a primary concern for Schanwald, otherwise he and his staffers wouldn't be creating an atmosphere that leaves the loudest cheers of the night for the moments that don't matter — intentional fouls and free throw attempts in hopes of hitting the century mark.

Charged up, crowd favorite Noah attempted a three-pointer with seven seconds left and the Magic not attempting to foul, and as a result of the Chicago front office's continued insistence on promoting the sideshow over good taste (sometimes, literally), this resulted:

Nice move, Bulls brass. Another year of this mess? Why? There are other in-game milestones to choose from.


Oklahoma City 108, Toronto 88

An impressive defensive turnout for Oklahoma City, really amping things up on that end in ways we haven't seen in years prior. Giving up just 88 points is impressive enough, but pulling that off in the midst of high-pace action in the face of all sorts of capable offensive talents in Toronto is a sound early-season accomplishment.

Toronto's night was over well before Kyle Lowry painfully (and, some would suggest in light of how he sustained the injury, needlessly) went down after spraining his ankle. The Thunder overplayed on every pick and roll and Toronto seemed to have no answer for either the ball handler or eventual shooter facing those outstretched arms. I don't know if Toronto thought it was going to be in a shootout with OKC, but it hardly mattered — they didn't have the horses to keep up with the Thunder offensively even in the half court, and once Oklahoma City turned up that defensive know-how things were just about over.

Serge Ibaka was still out of place defensively, at times, but he was also a disruptive force hedging and finished with 17 points after missing just one shot in nine tries. He fouled out in only 22 minutes, but Hasheem Thabeet actually contributed with two blocks, 10 points, and five rebounds; and Eric Maynor's competence as a reserve is always appreciated.

Kyle Lowry's return to action will also be appreciated, whenever it happens. That cat has been beastly so far this season, and because I have little to add after that I'll just remind you that he was once traded in a deal involving Rafer Alston.

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