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Mile High Sports

The Nuggets becoming deadly from long range

DENVER-The Denver Nuggets are finally feeling it from three-point land. In Denver’s 120-94 victory over the Orlando Magic Friday, the Nuggets remained scorching hot from deep. The team is shooting 43.3 percent from three-point range over their recent five-game winning streak, and averaging a league leading 12.2 threes made during the same span.

Maybe, the Nuggets, along with the weather, are finally starting to defrost after an ice-cold month of December that saw them shoot 31.6 percent from beyond the arc, and sink just 6.6 threes per-game.

The fact is that the Nuggets have gone from one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the NBA during the month of December to one of the best in the young month of January. That’s a huge jump, and according to guard Evan Fournier, it’s a product of the team playing together and sharing the basketball.

“It gives you confidence, of course,” said Fournier, who has shot a whopping 64.7 percent from behind the arc in the Nuggets past five games. “The passing game was great, I had a lot of wide open looks, so it make the work a lot easier.”

The numbers back up Fournier’s assertion that Denver is sharing the ball better than ever during their latest stretch. The Nuggets assist ratio (the number of assists a team averages over 100 possessions) has jumped up to just over 20 per-game during their winning streak, second in the NBA behind the always unselfish San Antonio Spurs.

Head coach Brian Shaw, channeling coaching mentor and zen master Phil Jackson, talked about the team’s balance during Denver’s winning stretch.

“It’s just a rhythm. When we had the eight-game losing streak we couldn’t find the can and the ball wasn’t going in for us,” Shaw said. “Everything’s in balance right now, from how each of the players feel about themselves and what they’re doing out there on the floor to what we’re going out there on the floor in terms of Ty coming off attacking off the pick and roll, our bigs rolling hard. They have to address their rolls. When they take that away, we’ve been knocking down the shots, when they don’t take it away we’re getting rolls for dunks and things of that nature. We’re in a harmonious place now.”

Denver may be striking the right balance on offense, but it’s helped too that the shooting guard Randy Foye has finally found his stroke after a rough start to the season. Foye is shooting 54 percent from deep over the Nuggets past five games.

Foye shot 41 percent from deep last season with the Utah Jazz. That number is down to 36.6 percent this year with the Nuggets, even including his strong showing of late.

Of course, everything that Denver does on offense is keyed off point guard Ty Lawson’s ability to penetrate opposing defenses. And with Foye acting like his old self and the addition of Fournier to the rotation, the Nuggets now have the shooters on the court to spread the floor. That leaves opposing defenses in a tight-spot, as they’re not sure whether to collapse on point guard Ty Lawson’s drives or stay with Denver’s suddenly dangerous outside threats.

And the Nuggets win-streak and hot shooting has coincided with Shaw’s squeezing the rotation down to nine players. He thinks the increase in minutes has helped Lawson, and all his players, get into the flow of the game.

“He (Lawson) has definitely been more aggressive, and part of that is he’s been able to play a lot more. His minutes are up. Obviously going from an eleven man rotation to an eight or nine man rotation all the starters are playing more minutes. I think they’re in a better rhythm, and just feel better about themselves.”

The Nuggets might be playing their best basketball of the season, but can they keep relying on their torrid shooting from three to win games?

Probably not to the extent that they’ve been recently. 30.6 percent of Denver’s points have come from threes over the past five games, a number that would lead the league over the course of a whole season.

Chances are that’s not sustainable, but riding that wave of hot shooting has helped to turn the team’s season around after a rough end to 2013. And there is no doubt that the Nuggets, using a tightened rotation, have found their offensive balance, and that it has translated into a better overall attack.

So even when the threes stop falling at a league-leading rate, Denver’s offense will remain aggressive and, Shaw hopes, effective.

“We play the right way, we play with the right energy, we continue to share the ball,” Shaw said. “We can beat anybody.”

Zach Marburger is a staff writer for Mile High Sports. He can be reached via email at zmarburger@milehighsports.com or on Twitter @BurchBurger.

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