Denver Nuggets: Free-throw shooting could be team’s demise

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Clank and clank again.

The Denver Nuggets struggle from the free-throw line. They throw up bad-looking bricks. Some shots barely hit the rim. And those statements may be being too nice about it.

The team shoots a terrible 68.9 percent, which ranks last in the NBA. The Los Angeles Lakers are right above them in the rankings and they have Dwight Howard. When the Nuggets go to the foul line, head coach George Karl and fans hold their breath. It has made plenty of games closer than they needed to be because even some of the team’s best foul shooters like Andre Miller, Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson miss free throws in crunch time.

Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets shoots only 62 percent from the foul line. (Photo by Howard Cheng/Creative Commons)

If the Nuggets are going to go anywhere in the NBA playoffs, this has to get better in the last 23 games.

A prime example was on Wednesday, Feb. 27, against the Portland Trail Blazers. Miller was fouled late in the game with Denver holding a slim one-point lead. Miller, who is actually the team’s best shooter at 84 percent, only made one-of-two and gave the Trail Blazers a chance to tie with a 2 instead of forcing them to hit a 3. LaMarcus Aldridge missed and the Nuggets held on for a 111-109 win to move to 37-22.

The Nuggets may be able to survive against non-playoff teams in the regular season while struggling down the stretch at the line. A lot of those game are too close for comfort because of missed free throws. In the playoffs the Nuggets may not be so lucky.

Karl doesn’t play Kenneth Faried or JaVale McGee down the stretch at tines because if they are fouled it could end being an empty possession. Both also sit for defensive reasons at times, but Karl sees them as liabilities at the line. These are two of the Nuggets most explosive players in the paint. A lot of the dunks could turn into 3-point plays with better free-throw shooting.

The biggest offender from the line is shooting guard Andre Iguodala, who actually tied his season-high with 29 points in the win over Portland but shot 5-for-10 from the line. The veteran is a career 72 percent shooter but this season he is shooting a terrible 57 percent. To use a golf term, he has the yips at the line.

Iguodala will be in the game down the stretch in the playoffs. There is no way he will be on the bench. With the amount of money he is being paid and the possibility of a new contract, he has to get better.

Lawson, Gallinari and Miller all shoot more than 75 percent but even they have missed freebies in close games. These are players the Nuggets need to step up. Especially in the playoffs.

Is it a matter of more practice? Probably not. These guys are pros and can probably make 100 in a row in an empty gym. This has to get better with experience in the situation. The players will be at the line and it will be time to make them.

Karl, Nuggets fans and the rest of the team will like to hear more swish and swish in the playoffs.