Nuggets hold on for win over Grizzlies

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The Nuggets came out and for the first time in six games scored more points in the first quarter than the opponent. In fact, the Nuggets controlled this game from the get go and never trailed against Memphis. A close fourth quarter brought the Grizzlies close, but the Nuggets had enough of a cushion to take the win 109-105.

A strong first quarter from the starters was exactly what the Nuggets needed. Nikola Jokic came out strong and put up 7 rebounds and 7 points in the first quarter alone, and although he didn’t put much up more for points the rest of the game, his strong rebounding game allowed some of the other Nuggets players to score.

Will Barton for the second straight game scored over 20 points with 25 off the bench. He is cementing his case as a sixth man of the year and solidifying his position in the Nuggets future as someone to come out and provide energy every game. Barton led the Nuggets in minutes played as well with 32:56 of playing time. Taking that much time allows for the Nuggets, who play the second game of a back-to-back tonight, to play there starters for more minutes.

Emmanuel Mudiay came out and played a great game as well. At one point Muiday knocked down three straight three pointers in the third quarter and really pushed the Nuggets ahead. Muiday had 17 points overall, but he also turned the ball over 5 times. The shooting for Mudi was solid, but his ball protection got a little sloppy at times. The minutes he has earned has definitely allowed him to improve, but he is by no means at his ceiling. A good passing game from Muiday hasn’t happened in a while and he needs a game like that tonight if the Nuggets want to win again.

The Nuggets play a struggling New Orleans Pelicans team who is without their star player Anthony Davis. The game is winnable but will be tough coming off a game last night. The Nuggets are going to need a well-rounded performance from a few players otherwise they will get tired out. They also need to play smart and take care of the ball. Mudiay can’t have five turnovers again, but having another good shooting night will go along. Gary Harris also needs to be a scorer for the Nuggets and he certainly needs to put up more than 5 points like he did last night.

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Rockies Position Potential: Right Field

Rockies Position Potential: Right Field

Right field for the Rockies is occupied by my second favorite player and someone who my cat is named after. Cargo, or more formally known as Carlos Gonzalez, is that man. A true five star player when he is hot, Cargo returned to that form after a slumping, injury-riddled 2014 season. In the 2015 season Cargo got back to his ways of tearing the cover off the ball, and despite an atrociously slow start, hit forty home runs, was good for a slash line of .271/.325./.540, and was good for a bWAR of 3.1. It took a little bit of time for Cargo to get his rhythm back at the plate, but once he did, he was the player the Rockies knew he could be. When Cargo is hot, he hits bombs, he drives the ball to all fields, he hits all pitchers, and he carries the team to wins day in and day out. Cargo was hot for what seemed like the final four months of the season in 2015 and while his pace was seemingly unsustainable, he still managed to sustain it. Now, that is not to say he can put up those kinds of numbers over the whole year, but expect a much more consistent Cargo in 2016. And let’s not forget the defense Cargo plays. He can make the diving play, he covers a great amount of ground even though he is slowing down, and he has an absolute cannon for an arm. There’s also the fact that Cargo played 151 games last year, the most he has ever played in his career. That health should continue for Cargo and playing a full season will allow him to maintain some of his momentum.

Carlos Gonzalez: 2016 will be an uncertain year for Cargo and the Rockies. If he plays anything like he did in the second half of the year, the Rockies will almost be guaranteed to trade him away. While this isn’t exactly what I want because of my personal attachment to Cargo, it would be good for the Rockies depending on the return. The asking price for Cargo has always been high and I don’t expect it to get any lower. The Rockies are happy to hold on to him and if he isn’t producing early in the year, they can always hold on and wait for him to take fire and trade him in the offseason. Those are all hypotheticals though, lets talk 2016 numbers.

Cargo will hit 30+ home runs, he will have an average above .285, and he will play first half all-star worthy baseball. If you take the odd and injury filled season of 2014 out of the picture, Cargo has always put up all-star like numbers and has always been one of the most exciting left handed hitters to watch in the game. With the great season he will be coming off of, Cargo will have the confidence and timing he did before 2014 and will put up the numbers he has always put up. I have no doubt about it. Cargo will carry the Rockies for stretches of the season and he will hit some absolute bombs. There will be cold streaks scattered throughout too, but more often than not Cargo will produce, and he will produce as a clutch player as well. What I expect Cargo to get back to that he didn’t do as much last season is to steal bases. It might not be 20 that he put up for four straight years between 2010-2013, but it will be 10+ and certainly be more than the 2 he put up last year. I always have high hopes for Cargo and he often fulfills them, 2016 is no exception.

Cargo has always been a class act. Trade rumors surround him, but he handles those with class and he understands that baseball is a business. He loves playing in Colorado, but he also knows that if he gets traded then that’s just the way of the game. He doesn’t let these rumors affect his play however, and goes out everyday to play the game he loves with heart and hustle. Cargo can be a little cocky sometimes, like after he launches a grand slam to put the Rockies ahead (sorry, Nats fans) but he more than plays hard enough to earn that confidence. No matter if Cargo gets traded or stays with Colorado, I will always be a Cargo fan and will always follow him no matter the team he plays for. If he stays with the Rockies, he is a clubhouse presence and a great and terrifically fun player to watch. If he gets traded, the return is going to be great and it will hopefully yield a future star to enjoy. In the meantime, I will enjoy watching this beautiful left handed swing.

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Blues hand Avalanche a loss

Blues hand Avalanche a loss

The St. Louis Blues handed the Avs a crushing loss on Tuesday night in a game they won 3-1. The loss put the Avs behind 5 points to the Wild who handily beat the Blackhawks on the same night. For the Avs playoff hopes it was absolutely imperative that the Wild lose an that the Avalanche won, or at the very least that the Avs won to keep pace. Neither of those things happened and the Avs are once again falling out of the playoff race.

The first period started the story of night for the Avalanche as they went onto the power play less than 2 minutes into the first. It didn’t take the Blues long to convert the power play to a goal. David Backes scored his 20th of the season and put the Blues up 1-0 early in the first. The Blue continued to push the pace and control the game for much of the period.

The Avs would come back in the first to tie the game on a slick play by Tyson Barrie. Mikhail Grigorenko would take the pass from Barrie and shot it into the open net for the easy goal. It was just about the only scoring chance the Avs had in the first and they executed it well to earn some momentum going into the second period.

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The second period was much of the same from the Blues as they dominated for most of the period. Another power play goal for the Blues from Troy Brouwer put them ahead for good, but just for safe measure Vladimir Tarasenko put one away to put the Blues ahead 3-1. Tarasenko scored the goal on an easy giveaway from Chris Bigras who tried to pass the puck but couldn’t put anything on it as it went on its edge.

The Avalanche came out with some energy and desperation in the third period and outshot the Blues 10-3, but none of the 10 shots found the back of the net and the Avs lost the game. Overall, the Blues early domination and possession eliminated any chance that Avs had of winning this game. The Avalanche only got 11 shots in the first two periods and simply could not get anything going. Missing Duchene and MacKinnon, along with playing the night before, certainly played into the game, but a team in the position of the Avs needed to play with desperation and they just couldn’t score when they needed it or make the stops.

The Avalanche get a couple of days off before playing the best team in the league, the Washington Capitals, on Friday night. The game could see Duchene or MacKinnon back, and it is an absolute must win for the Avalanche if they want any hope for the playoffs. This season is essentially over though and the coaches should focus on getting Zadorov and Bigras quality minutes in hopes of preparing them for a hopeful next season playoff run.

Rockies Position Potential: Center Field

Rockies Position Potential: Center Field

Center field, the captain of the outfield and an ever important position. The Rockies have not had a center fielder as complete as Charlie Blackmon for quite some time and with the Beard in center and leading off, the Rockies are a team that is much, much more dynamic. Last year Blackmon played his first full season as the primary center fielder and he embraced the role as well as anyone ever could have hoped. Charlie had a great 2014, but he was scattered around the lineup and throughout the outfield. In 2015 he built off of that success and became a player who can start the Rockies off and gives them someone they can run out in center field everyday. Charlie took on the role of leadoff hitter with the approach he needed to, while also embracing other aspects of his game not so typical of a leadoff hitter. Charlie has some pop and he displayed that for the second straight year. In 2014 Charlie had 19 home runs and a slugging of .440. In 2015 Charlie was the primary leadoff hitter and still finished with 17 home runs. More importantly however were the extra base hits that he threw out consistently. Blackmon hit 31 doubles and 9 triples which led to an increase in his slugging by 10 points. He also was more patient embracing that leadoff role. Charlie walked 46 times for the Rockies and got on base at a clip of .347. This is a very respectable number for someone like Charlie who has good pop. The most improved and impressive part of Charlie’s game last year was his ability to steal bases. Blackmon finished with a team leading and career high 43 stolen bases. This was good for third in the National league behind only Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton. The Rockies are not a team to have a guy to steal that many bases, so Charlie doing it is really impressive and a huge strength for the Rockies at the top of their lineup.

Charlie Blackmon: In 2016, expect Blackmon to produce much of the same as he did last year. An average right around .290 is where Charlie will be, but expect some growth in his OBP due to an increase in walks. Charlie was paying his first full year as a leadoff man, so this year he will have a better understanding of what is needed of him and will be more patient at the plate. Don’t expect this to affect his power numbers too greatly as he should still put up 15+ home runs from the leadoff spot. Another 40 stolen base season is also something completely possible for Charlie and with getting on base more, he will get more chances to steal a base. Having DJ LeMahieu batting behind him will also allow Walt to run the hit-and-run and get some first to third advances by Charlie. The only thing that I would like to see change in Blackmon’s game is his strikeout numbers. Last year he struck out 112 times which is too many times for a leadoff hitter. Charlie can and will reduce that number this year. Aside from that, Charlie is a guy who, barring an injury, will play solid baseball every single day. He is an effective defensive center fielder with plus range and speed in the outfield and an above average arm for a center fielder. The Rockies made the right move not trading him in the offseason, and although they would have likely gotten a good return for him, he is a great fit and personality in Colorado and his beard is a fan favorite.

Charlie will be eligible for arbitration at the end of the year and will earn his first big money contract. I’m hopeful the Rockies can keep him on the team as he is becoming a sort of cult hit in Colorado and is certainly well liked around the clubhouse. He is no longer a young guy, reaching his 30th birthday in July, but this means he can fully embrace a leadership role in the clubhouse and mentor some of the young guys coming up in the Rockies system once they reach the bigs.

Nuggets lose to Mavericks 88-97

Nuggets lose to Mavericks 88-97

Denver lost to Dallas on Monday night in a game in which they turned the ball over 21 times while the Mavericks only turned it over 3 times. The major story of the game was obviously turnovers, but it was not necessarily stellar defense that caused them. The Nuggets played like the young team they are and simply beat themselves.

Every player that played more than 8 minutes for the Nuggets had at least one turnover. Both Kenneth Faried, in his first game back after missing six straight, and Emmanuel Mudiay had four turnovers apiece. Those turnovers were clearly costly and the Nuggets lack of care for the ball was just something that comes from a team playing too loosely and sloppily.

Some players on the Nuggets did have good game despite the tough loss. Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Will Barton, continued to state his case for the end of the year award and put up 23 off the bench on 7-14 shooting from the field and 5-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Barton continues to play as a great force off the bench and a consistent bright spot throughout the season. Mudiay, ignoring his turnovers, also played really well. He put up 16 points on a decent night of shooting, but also tallied 6 rebounds and 7 assists. A good, rounded game like this show some of Mudis potential to play as a star. If he can now cut down on the turnovers while still playing aggressively, he will develop into the player the Nuggets thought they were getting when they drafted him. Don’t get me wrong, Mudiay has played great all year, but he has a ways to go still.

Gary Harris was the only other Nugget to score in double figures with 13 points. It was yet another solid performance from Harris who has been an extremely consistent player all year long. The young core for this team is very solid and very promising and watching them put it all together is a pleasure.

The Mavericks played as a team fighting for a playoff spot as nearly every player showed up. Seven different players scored in double figures and the Mavs held onto the ball where the Nuggets couldn’t. Going into the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the Mavs had only turned the ball over once. They tripled that number in the final three minutes, but ultimately they had enough of a lead to seal the deal.

The Nuggets get a day of rest before getting back to the action against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Nuggets will look to win for the first time against the Grizzlies this season as they have lost the previous three games.

Avalanche hold on against the Predators

Avalanche hold on against the Predators

Colorado got back on track Monday night against the Nashville predators as they came out with the win 4-3. Three of those goals came in the first period and they Avs were able to hold on to the win as the Predators rallied back to make it a close game.

The Avs showed their grit right away with Jarome Iginla fighting Barret Jackman. The fight was an obvious energy booster and set the tone for the Avs early in the game, it was exactly what they needed to get going.

The scoring would start pretty quickly after the fight in the first when Nashville gave the puck away in their own zone. Blake Comeau got the puck right on his stick and was able to put the puck away on a wrist shot against Pekka Rinne. It was Comeau’s 12th goal of the season for the Avalanche and it was unassisted.

The next two goals for the Avalanche came with a little bit of puck luck. While charging towards the front of the net, Landeskog was able to knock the puck in past Rinne. The goal was reviewed and confirmed and took a lot of life out of the building. Comeau and Soderberg picked up assists on the goal and continued to show why they have been valuable pick ups for the Avalanche.

The next goal was very much the same. With Skille barreling towards the front of the net, McCleod passed the puck towards him and it was deflected in off of Skille. The goal was once again reviewed and confirmed and this time it completely took the life out of the building. It came only a minute and a half after Landeskog’s goal and also was the goal that sent Rinne to the bench.

Nashville wasn’t done fighting as Craig Smith scored a goal of his own before the period ended putting the game at 3-1 going into the second period. The second period saw no goals as both teams seem to be preparing for a tough third period. With the Avalanche being one of the worst teams in the league going into the third with a lead, Nashville certainly felt they had a chance to come back.

12:13 into the third period, Shawn Matthias would put the Avs ahead by three goals at the time with the eventual game winning goal. The Preds kept pushing the pace though, and would come back and score two goals. The first came from Colton Sissons 14:58 into the third period and put them down by two. Less than thirty seconds later defenseman Roman Josi scored his 13th of the year and put the Preds down by only one. Just as the Avs lead seemed to be slipping away for the nth time this season, they held on and Semyon Varlamov stayed strong. The Preds put 16 shots on net in the third and came close to tying the game up a few times, but ultimately the Avs earned the win and a desperately needed two points.

The Avs are still fighting for a playoff spot and as unlikely as it might be, they seem to be fighting hard still to get in. Some losses from Minnesota and winning out are what is needed for the Avalanche, but they are not mathematically eliminated yet so they should keep fighting. The Avs are on a back-to-back as they play the St. Louis Blues tonight. They are going to have to come out with some energy early and need to play a smart game as they will be tired. Anything is possible though and as long as there’s a chance its good to see Colorado fighting.

Nuggets lose big to Clippers

Nuggets lose big to Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers, behind a big performance from DeAndre Jordan, beat the Nuggets handily sunday afternoon with a final score of 105-90. With the win, the Clippers sealed their way to the playoffs for the fifth straight year.

The Nuggets competed early after a slow 0-6 start form the field, but ultimately could not hold off the Clippers and big man DeAndre Jordan. Jordan finished with 16 points, 16 rebounds, and 6 blocks in a great performance.

Emmanuel Mudiay struggled all game to put in any shots as he finished with only 4 points on 2-15 shooting. That kind of game is not something that should happen often for Mudi, but in only his first season games like this will occur. What matters most is how Mudiay rebounds in the next game. Tough games happen for everyone, but the great players come back and don’t let a bad game hold them down.

On a brighter note, Jusuf Nurkic played great for his second game in a row and showed again why the Nuggets believe him to be a part of their future. Nurk finished with 19 points and 7 rebounds in 24:12 of playing time. The Bosnian Beast has really come along since some middle of the season drama and injury issues. With the offseason coming quickly, the big man can get fully healthy and hopefully be a part of the Nuggets playoff run next season.

The starters for the Nuggets didn’t play well again, but the bench is showing to be a real bright spot in this season as they can come out and compete with teams day in and day out. Will Barton, DJ Augustin, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Nurkic are all great bench players who can come out and light up the score sheet and control a game at times. With the development of the starters like Nikola Jokic, and Mudiay, the bench will get some of the pressure taken off of them. With that, they can come out with energy and hopefully continue off of what a growing starter core starts games with.

An injured Kenneth Faried missed his sixth straight game with lower back problems. He was a game time decision on Sunday so he is getting closer to being game ready, but there is no reason to rush him back to action.

The Nuggets will be playing the second game of a back-to-back tonight against the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs are competing for the playoffs so the Nuggets will be playing spoiler on Monday night.