As previously discussed, the three game confidence building home stand could not have been more of a success. Now things get really tough again before they get really, really tough over the last 11 games.
These happy home games may end up amounting to nothing if Denver does not have a successful road trip this week. Up to this point the Nuggets have done very little to prove to us that they can go out and win four, or even three games on a five game roadie. To this point in the season Denver is 2-8 in back to back tilts on the road. Their only two wins came in November at Washington and at Indiana and it is not like all of those losses were quality losses. They dropped games to the Knicks, Charlotte, Atlanta, Chicago and Milwaukee which comprise the bulk of their bad losses all season.
There is hope in the way the Nuggets played against Toronto and Seattle. They appear as if they may have had an epiphany. Perhaps someone actually showed them the standings (although we know it was not George Karl who as usual is afraid to challenge "his" team) and they realized that there is a chance they will not make the playoffs after all. Perhaps, they just took advantage of a team nearing the end of a disappointing road trip without their best player and one of the worst teams in the NBA in recent memory.
No matter the reason for this metamorphosis, it is encouraging to see Denver play the way we have all been begging them to play all season and in two games in a row no less. They have run nonstop, there has been plenty of motion on offense with a sudden cornucopia of cutters and they have showed a better commitment on defense (look at how they defended Anthony Parker in the Toronto game).
This is the formula that they should have been using all along. It makes you wonder what has taken so long. I realize it takes hard work to play at that level for 82 games (I would have been happy with 72) a season, but isn’t winning more fun than being mediocre? Doesn’t winning make that extra work well worth it?
I will once again point back to all the talk in the preseason of how important it was to get home court in the playoffs. Is there any doubt that if they had played every game as they played in their last two that they would be further up in the standings and probably be looking at home court in the first round, if not the second and third?
Nevertheless, it does seem like the light has gone on and they just might be willing to put forth the effort to run and defend. The bad news is they are look at the dreaded five road games in seven nights stretch. They will not be easy games and pushing the pace over those five games will take a true commitment.
Just looking at the records, Denver should go 4-1 or at worst 3-2 on this trip, but if you judge these teams by their records you will be making a mistake. (Well, I guess you have my permission to judge Memphis by their record. They are atrocious.)
They start off at Detroit and due to the fact that they will be very fresh and they will only get more and more run down as the trip drags on, it is almost a must win game. Detroit is a tough matchup though as they play at a much slower tempo than the Nuggets. Denver plays at the fastest pace in the league with a pace factor of 101.9 possessions a game. Detroit is the slowest paced team in the league at 90.1 possessions a game. The Nuggets will have to make a concerted effort to run against Detroit and it is possible to get them in a faster paced game if you try hard enough.
The next night the Nuggets face the Sixers in Philly. It will be the first time AI has ever played in that city as a visitor. He did not handle his first game versus the Sixers very well (10-24, seven turnovers and an ejection) and it is possible he will not handle his first game in Philadelphia very well either although to be fair he has had much more time to process it than his first game in Denver versus the 76ers.
How Iverson reacts is not the only thing to worry about. Worry about the Sixers too. They are good. They have won 15 or 19 and nine of their last 11. That includes wins against Dallas, Orlando, at Phoenix, at Detroit and against San Antonio. A loss in Detroit could very easily be followed up with a second one in Philadelphia.
Next up is New Jersey who just beat the Cavs and Jazz in their last two home games and they are looking to get in the playoffs after suffering through a very difficult six game losing streak which involved a five game Southwestern Conference road swing.
After that is the rematch with Toronto who will have Chris Bosh back and you better believe they will be looking to bounce back from their blowout loss in much stronger fashion than Seattle did. Add in the fact that Toronto has enjoyed frequently manhandling the Nuggets when they roll into the Air Canada Centre and this is another game that should cause some concern for Nugget fans.
The second back to back set in a week brings Denver to Memphis. No matter how poorly the road trip has gone or how worn out the Nuggets are this game should be a W. No matter what.
What made the Nuggets so great against Toronto and Seattle was that they did not approach the game with their typical "We’re the Nuggets" attitude that has gotten them where they are today, which is a game and a half out of the playoff race. If Denver plays with the same focus on running and defending for the rest of the season, they will absolutely make the playoffs, and will be a dangerous team to face once they get there.
On the other hand, if they revert back into "We’re the Nuggets" mode after their last two impressive wins, they will be lucky to win two games on this trip and any chance of participating in the playoffs will be in extreme jeopardy.