Trips to the foul line not coming so freely for Nuggets

Denver ranks 19th in free-throw attempts after leading NBA for five straight seasons
by Aaron Lopez

When the Denver Nuggets attempted 28 free throws Monday night in Memphis, it represented a season-high.

That used to be just another night at the office.

Starting with the 2007-08 season, the Nuggets have led the NBA in free-throw attempts for five straight years. Through the first 11 games of 2012-13, they rank 19th in foul shots per game (22.2).

Denver hasn’t changed its attack-first, attack-second philosophy, so what’s behind the sudden drop in trips to the foul line?

Nuggets coach George Karl believes defenders are being given more latitude than in seasons past. Inside the restricted area, a defensive player is allowed to make contact with the opposition as long as he jumps straight up.

“It¹s more physical than it was last year,” Karl said. “We have to make some adjustments there. But I don¹t think we can change our offense."

When they do get to the line, the Nuggets have been unable to capitalize, shooting a league-worst 66 percent. Denver did make 20-of-28 (.714) foul shots in a big road victory against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night.

“We were celebrating shooting 70 percent from the free-throw line,” Karl said with a smile. “We’ve got to get better at making shots – and I think we will once we win games. Confidence comes by winning.”

History says the Nuggets will get better from the foul line.

Danilo Gallinari (.756 this season) is a career 85.2 percent free-throw shooter, while Ty Lawson (.545) shot 78.5 percent in his first three NBA seasons. Only former teammate Arron Afflalo attempted more free throws than Gallinari and Lawson in 2011-12.

So far this year, Kenneth Faried leads the team in free throw attempts (51). The frequent trips to the line are a by-product of his league-leading 5.7 offensive rebounds per game.

Faried had 13 points and 13 rebounds – seven offensive – against Memphis and has now recorded seven double-doubles in the past nine games.

As a team, Denver finished with 21 offensive rebounds, which matched Memphis’ output on the defensive boards. It marked the fifth time in team history that the Nuggets had as many or more offensive rebounds as the opposition had defensive.

“They came out and just outworked us,” Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said of Faried and the Nuggets. “They played harder, got loose balls – and offensive rebounds really killed us, especially when it counted.”

The Nuggets (5-6) will try to replicate that effort when they wrap up a three-game road trip Wednesday in Minnesota. After facing the Timberwolves, Denver returns to Pepsi Center to play consecutive home games for the first time this season.

“Our guys, most of the time, have showed a big heart,” Karl said. “We have a tough schedule and we can’t complain about it. We just have to go play games and win as many as we can.”