First off, sorry if I've been a bit MIA lately but I've been traveling on business throughout the weekend to my current location by way of Las Vegas. And no, I didn't bet on the Nuggets on either Friday or Saturday night (and I didn't bet on the Heat or the Hawks, either, I'm not a Benedict Arnold). Saturday's game in particular was a downer as I was sitting in the sports book with the most diverse collection of Nuggets fans you'll ever meet, including a number of teenagers from China who were huge Carmelo Anthony fans but definitely weren't old enough to be in there. So if you see some commenting that's somewhat unintelligible, it might be from some Chinese teenagers I met in Vegas, so please go easy on them.
Where were we? Oh, right, two straight losses. Bad losses.
Readers of this blog know I'm all about principle over results. Meaning, the Nuggets could go 0-82 for all I care, as long as they play the right way. (Well, I'd care a little if they went 0-82 but at least they'd have a record. The most disappointing part of the 1997-98 Nuggets season was that they actually won 11 games, three too many to secure their place in NBA lore but still less than the Broncos won that year.)
The recent 8-point loss at Miami (and it was never that close) and the 25-point debacle at Atlanta aren't push-the-panic-button worthy but should certainly be concerning to Nuggets fans. When you lose that badly back-to-back it means the team was either a) unprepared, b) was prepared but the players didn't listen (meaning they weren't prepared, I guess) or, c) the team was prepared, the players listened but several (read: everyone but Chauncey Billups probably) went out all night in Miami the night before the Heat game and then doubled their pleasure by partying in some Atlanta clubs the following night given that the Miami-to-Atlanta flight is only an hour and a half long. I'm guessing it's the latter option as no team should be this flat this early into the season, tough road trip or not, even sans Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith.
After their disastrous performance against the Hawks, Nuggets head coach George Karl delivered one of his patented CYA (cover your ass) quotes: "Anytime you go on a six-game road trip, if you can win half your games or more, it's a great success, and we have a chance of doing it." Since when is losing half your games and getting a split against the mediocre (at best) Bulls and the depleted Bucks considered a "great success"? Really? You could argue that you did what you were supposed to do, but I wouldn't call it anything near a "success".
I think Karl is missing the point, so we'll go back to that whole "bad losses" thing. How many games you win or lose on this or any other road trip ultimately won't matter if the game isn't being played the right way. The Nuggets won 50 games in 2007-08 playing the wrong way and got humiliated in the playoffs (remember, in the NBA you just have to win 75% of your home games and 50% of your road games to win 50 games). Last season was the complete opposite and we were all enormously proud of the results. And thus, what Karl should be saying is something like: "we disrespected the game of basketball on Friday and Saturday night, we didn't play like professionals, I won't tolerate this and, for now on, when we travel to a fun destination I'm locking all the players in their rooms for the night and the fire marshall can sue me."
Going back to 2007-08, the Nuggets have lost three straight at Atlanta and one-of-three at Miami. But one of those victories at Miami came against the 15-win Heat in overtime which the Nuggets won by a point and former Nugget Mark Blount posted an 18/13 on us. (It should be noted that the Nuggets won routinely at Miami and Atlanta before Allen Iverson arrived. Meaning A.I. probably took his teammates out to the best possible night clubs in those cities when they played together and now they can't resist going back.)
So blame the travel, the missing players, the possibility of clubbing, Karl's lack of a sense of urgency (I don't blame him, it's early), whatever you want. And yes, we need to move on, put these losses in the rear view mirror and start winning games again. All I ask is that we - the fans, the players and the coach - not be blind to the fact that these weren't just losses, but exceptionally bad, poorly executed, sleeping-on-the-job losses.
Luckily for us, Milwaukee's night scene sucks...especially on a Tuesday.
Photo courtesy of AP: Gregory Smith