82 grueling, physical, painful games. A season in which, after losing Karl, Chauncey, Melo, Kenyon, and Lawson at various points throughout the year, Denver still proved doubters wrong by winning just one fewer game than they did last year.
Lest everyone be so quick to shit all over this team for failing to show up last night, consider the following: the Nuggets were playing their 4th game in 5 nights. This game was also the second night of a back to back away - let us not forget that Denver was fortunate enough to draw a Western-conference high 22 back to back games this year. The Nuggets had not won in Phoenix in 6 years since Karl joined the team. Karl is still out with cancer, and it is obvious that AD had little experience coaching in playoff or pressure situations - now that he's had a taste, I think AD is going to understand the severity of getting the Nuggets' collective heads in the game. Finally, there are no back to back games in the playoffs. Both Denver and Phoenix (but especially Phoenix) have playstyles designed to feed off a tired team's mistakes.
Let me also say before I'm called out for it that I'm not excusing the drubbing we took from the Suns last night. It was a pitiful performance by the team on a national broadcast (thankfully, I was on Altitude all evening). There was clearly no game plan and no response to getting punched in the mouth by Phoenix. AD's rotations left a lot to be desired, but I'm sure they will be cleaned up.
For those of you giving up already, I say to you that you don't have the stones to stick with this team through the bad times. Yeah it's easy to cheer for the Nuggets when they win by 20, but how easy is it when they lose by 20? It's not. You can tell they are down. They are beset with a variety of ailments. And yet here they are, most likely in the 5 seed, with the second 53+ win season in a row. Anything can happen in the playoffs and to discount the Nuggets' ability to win a series, against ANYONE, is folly.
Nevertheless, I take a realistic approach to evaluating the Nuggets' chances - something you learn to do after following them for a while - and it's clear to me that barring some sort of Rocktober-esque run the Nuggets will not be making the Finals this season. I've accepted that by now (and most people who've followed the team closely probably have as well). Moving forward, Kenyon will continue to rehab his knee, Karl will recover from his cancer and Bird will finally have a chance to rest his creaky legs and wings. I'm okay with this.
While it obviously depends on what happens in the playoffs, the Nuggets are going to have to take a hard look at the roster. I sincerely believe that anyone not named the following:
is going to be a potential trading piece for the front office - and rightly so. I do not believe that J.R. Smith, Joey Graham, Nene, Johan Petro, Brian Butch, Coby Karl, Renaldo Balkman, Mailk Allen or Anthony Carter provide what the Nuggets are looking for in a team. I sincerely hope that Wark seriously evaluates all offers and looks at trading possibilities closely. The Nuggets two biggest needs are obvious: frontcourt depth and CONSISTENCY. As I've said in the past, I would gladly trade for someone who averages 5 points/11 boards rather than have a guy who could go off for 25 points one night and 5 points the next.
Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo alongside Melo are going to provide the fastbreaking offense the Nuggets have thrived on for years to come. There will more than likely be a rebuilding period for this team in the next few years and as long as the Nuggets keep Lawson, Melo and Afflalo on the roster, they will always be a threat to go deep into the playoffs.
I love my Nuggets, and you should too. They are and always will be my team. No matter what happens in this year's playoffs, let us never forget how blessed Denver has been as sports town and the success we are likely to enjoy for years to come.