In theory, the Nuggets and their fans got exactly what they wanted tonight: a two-seed going into the playoffs with a first round matchup against a banged up New Orleans Hornets team and a possible second-round matchup against a banged up San Antonio Spurs team.
But after getting blown out by the Trail Blazers in Portland after playing poorly against the league's worst team (the Sacramento Kings, while playing their third game in four nights) on Monday night, I must confess that this fan's confidence isn't as high as it should be for a 54-win team. And yet I'm not panicking, either, and think we'll figure out a way to beat the Hornets.
Given that the Rockets/Mavericks game was no longer in doubt before tip off in Portland, losing to the Blazers isn't the biggest deal in the world. But after a season full of "big bang" moments, I just thought it was unfortunate that the Nuggets ended it with a whimper...and a 3-18 shooting night from Carmelo Anthony, a 4-10 night from Chauncey Billups and a 2-7 night from J.R. Smith. That being said, I have to admit that I was yelling at the TV screen: "Karl, sit the starters!!" with just two minutes played in the third quarter. So I can't complain too much that the reserves turned a minor blowout into a big blowout by the time the game was over.
We'll get more into the playoff matchups and analysis in the days to come. Before signing off for the night, I want to leave you all with one thought: thank god the Nuggets never lost to the Timberwolves and Thunder this season!
Nuggets/Trail Blazers Preview...
Give the NBA schedule makers credit because there are three crucial Western Conference matchups tomorrow night, the outcomes of which will dictate the playoff seeding as the night goes on. Of interest to Nuggets fans, of course, is our matchup with the Trail Blazers in Portland. But we'll be keeping a close eye on the New Orleans at San Antonio game as well as the Houston at Dallas game. In case you're still uncertain about how this can all shake out, here's the breakdown...
...if Denver wins, they retain the two-seed in the Western Conference regardless of what happens in the other games.
...if Denver loses (and thus Portland wins), but Houston also loses, Denver retains the two-seed, regardless of what happens in the San Antonio game.
...if Denver loses (and thus Portland wins) and Houston wins, Houston takes the two-seed with Denver dropping to the third-seed, also regardless of what happens in the San Antonio game.
...if Denver loses (and thus Portland wins) and Houston and San Antonio both win, Denver still retains the third-seed with Portland finishing fourth and San Antonio fifth.
...if Denver loses (and thus Portland wins) and Houston loses but San Antonio wins, Denver retains the two-seed with San Antonio moving into the third spot ahead of Portland (fourth) and Houston (down to fifth).
But as Nuggets fans know, we're playing for more than just the two-seed. The Nuggets have the opportunity to secure their all-time NBA franchise regular season record of 55 wins. What will be interesting to see is that when the outcome of the Houston/Dallas game is no longer in doubt (around the end of the first quarter while the Nuggets are in Portland) and if Houston somehow loses, will Nuggets coach George Karl continue to play his key players heavy minutes? As a fan, I'd love to see the Nuggets secure that franchise record (and perhaps send Portland and the rest of the West a message that the Nuggets can win anywhere). But as a matter of practicality, I wouldn't blame Karl for resting his key players so they're as fresh as possible for the postseason. After all, Kenyon Martin still has lingering back and rib problems, Nene has a sore hand, Dahntay Jones has a shoulder contusion and Carmelo Anthony recently recovered from the flu.
If I were Karl, I'd ask Trail Blazers head coach - and Karl's former point guard - Nate McMillan to tell the Rose Garden score board operators not to show the score of that Houston/Dallas game during the first quarter of the Nuggets/Trail Blazers contest. Karl needs his Nuggets coming out focused (i.e. the opposite of the way they started the Kings game on Monday night), not score board watching. And, as noted above, McMillan's Trail Blazers have much to play for as well.
It's going to be a furious fight to the finish in Portland on Wednesday night. Maybe we'll get lucky and see Chris Andersen plant another "Spalding" logo on Rudy Fernandez's face.