It has been a while since I mentioned bad losses and how the difference between a good season and a great season is avoiding bad losses.
Since it has been a while we better start off with what I mean by a bad loss. I define a bad loss basically as a loss to a non contending team. At this point in the season we know much more about the league than we did early on in the season. At the beginning of the season I considered the Nuggets home loss to New Orleans as a bad loss. Well, the Hornets are 20-9 on the road and are currently third in the west. In retrospect that is not such a bad loss after all.
For the purpose of this exercise a bad loss is a loss to any team that is not a western conference playoff team or any eastern team other than Boston, Detroit, Orlando and Cleveland. We will entertain two caveats as well. First of all, we will consider Denver a "western conference playoff team" although we all know right now they are number nine. Second of all, losing at Portland is not a bad loss. I will also throw out that losing at home to Cleveland or Orlando is not necessarily a good loss, but I do not think it could be considered a bad loss as long as LeBron and Dwight Howard were playing.
Here is a list of bad losses for the teams vying for playoff positioning in the west:
San Antonio Spurs – 4 (@ SAC, @ MEM, TOR, @ SEA)
Los Angeles Lakers – 3 (@ MIL, NJ, @ ATL)
New Orleans Hornets – 6 (IND, MIN, TOR, @ SAC, WAS, @ WAS)
Houston Rockets – 6 (@ MEM, @ MIA, @ SAC, @ TOR, @ PHI, PHI)
Phoenix Suns – 6 (@ ATL, @ MIN, MIA, @ LAC, @ MIN, PHI)
Utah Jazz – 10 (@ IND, @ NY, @ SAC, POR, @ ATL, @ CHA, @ MIA, @ SAC, @ LAC, @ MIN)
Dallas Mavericks – 9 (@ ATL, @ IND, @ MIL, WAS, @ TOR, @ SAC, @ WAS, @ NJ, @ PHI)
Golden State Warriors – 7 (@ LAC, @ NJ, @ IND, MIN, CHI, ATL, @ CHA)
Denver Nuggets – 8 (@ NY, @ LAC, IND, POR, @ CHA, @ ATL, @ CHI, @ MIL)
Records and winning percentages without bad losses:
Utah Jazz – 40-12 .769
San Antonio Spurs – 43-13 .768
New Orleans Hornets – 41-13 .759
Houston Rockets – 41-14 .745
Los Angeles Lakers – 43-15 .741
Dallas Mavericks – 39-14 .736
Phoenix Suns – 40-15 .727
Golden State Warriors – 37-16 .698
Denver Nuggets – 36-16 .692
Well what is the point of all of this?
I think this exercise tells us two things. First of all, we can see how teams maintain their focus against the dregs of the league. Los Angeles and San Antonio prove that they do not take teams lightly. On the other end Utah jumps from sixth to first if we remove bad losses from the equation. That is a pretty significant jump and it shows that Utah does not always take care of business.
The other important fact we can take away from this is who does the best in the tough games and the answer is Utah. They have the best record against the other western conference playoff teams and the contenders form the east.
We can also surmise which bad teams are the toughest against the best teams in the west. There are six losses out of the 59 listed above are at Sacramento and the Nuggets were a Linas Kleiza buzzer beater away from that being seven of 60. Obviously playing at Sacramento is still a difficult task as is shown in their 18-11 home record.
There are also six losses to Atlanta in the list and five of those were in Atlanta with Golden State losing the only home game to the Hawks.
Indiana is also up there five times, Toronto four and Philadelphia is up there four times.
However, this is a Nuggets blog so what does this tell us about Denver? First of all, Denver has not been much worse at collecting bad losses than the other western conference teams other than L.A. and San Antonio. Everyone other than those two have between six and ten bad losses. Denver is right in the middle of that group with eight. So as much as we get on them for being inconsistent, they do about as well as the teams they are fighting for a playoff spot with against the weaklings of the league.
We can also look at the Nuggets schedule and see that they have both games against Toronto and a road game with Philly coming up and all three are among the easier games they have in March. Well, even though they are considered to be easier games, they are obviously dangerous games. Even the easy games this month are against teams that do relatively well against the best of the west.
The other fact we can take away from this exercise is the Nuggets do not do very well against the best of the league. This is something we already knew though as they only have a 13-17 record against teams over .500. The bad news is 13 of their remaining 22 games are against teams with a record over .500. More bad news is five of the nine games against sub .500 teams are on the road. You will notice that six of the Nuggets eight bad losses were on the road so far this season.
If we shift from looking back to projecting we can see the Nuggets remain on the same pace they have been on all season. Every time I have looked at the Nuggets current performance and projected forward what they would end up doing over the remainder of the season I always come out to 49 to 50 wins for this team. If they can maintain their current winning percentage they will end up with 49 wins.
Well, I have stated that I do not think they can maintain that winning percentage through March as the schedule gets tougher so let’s be generous when looking at their final ww games.
As we already stated, the Nuggets have thirteen more games against teams with a record over .500, but only win 43% of those games. In the spirit of generosity and optimism let’s say the Nuggets will win six of their remaining 13 games against teams with a record over .500. Furthermore, in the same spirit, let’s say they will win seven of their nine remaining games against below .500 teams. That amounts to a record of...drum roll please...49-33.
Of course they could do better over those final 22 games, but they have not shown us yet this season to expect anything more from this team. Maybe 49 wins gets them past Golden State. Of course, maybe it doesn’t.
I heard an interview with George Karl yesterday where he said he challenged the team to play with urgency for the remainder of the season before the Phoenix game.
My question is what took so long? I have been pleading with this team to play with urgency all season long.
During training camp various Nugget players spoke of how important it would be to get home court advantage for the playoffs this season. Looking back at last season’s standings earning home court advantage for only the first round would require at least 53 wins. Unfortunately, they all seemed to believe this team would cruise to the best record in team history (the current best record is 54-28) with little problem.
Along with calling for a sense of urgency from the beginning of the season, I pointed out that minimizing bad losses would be absolutely necessary to achieve those goals because the rest of their games would be tough sledding. You can see what a difference two or three bad losses can make from the data above. I had hoped that losing games early on at New York and at the Clippers would have taught them the importance of playing with urgency every night.
We can all see that lesson has not yet been learned.
I do not like sounding so pessimistic all the time, but I have yet to find a reason to believe in this team.
Maybe they still can win at least 53 games, pass Utah and somehow end up with home court in the first round of the playoffs, they just have not shown us how they will do that yet.
The win against Phoenix was a solid win, but if they want to get where they claimed they wanted to go before the season started, they had better win again tonight against San Antonio.