Kiszla: Nuggets can't win title this way
Maybe we should throw confetti or hold a parade. In a 116-102 victory against Utah on Wednesday, the Nuggets tried something completely different: They gave a professional effort.
So let them eat Twinkies.
But please understand: Denver absolutely, positively cannot win a championship this way.
And team management knows it.
This season cannot end soon enough, because team officials privately admit this NBA franchise has much work to do. If nothing will satisfy Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke except being No. 1, then he faces the most difficult decisions he's had since purchasing the franchise a decade ago.
What will make it so hard?
But, in its soft heart, Denver is a basketball team that wants to win pretty. On a Wednesday night that gave a raucous crowd in the Pepsi Center one more chance to get up and dance, the Nuggets avoided elimination, but the beauty of the victory was no more than skin-deep.
NBA championships are won by players who are defensively sounder and mentally tougher than these Nuggets ever can be. True champions do not have trouble summoning a professional effort until the situation is win or go home.
"I think winning eases everything," said Anthony, who acknowledged the team had endured more than its share of drama while struggling in the series. "When you win basketball games, there is nothing that can be said."
Give you one guess at the identity of the lone team in the playoff field of 16 that has shot at least 50 percent from the field during the postseason. It's the Jazz, which also happens to the only team that has scored at least 100 points in every game of the opening round.
Those are the cold, hard statistics. "We know we have to play defense," interim Nuggets coach Adrian Dantley said.
Now here is one small, revealing scene that tells you that Denver might be as sweet as a Twinkie, but also full of fluff at its core.
It was halftime of Game 3 in Utah, with the Jazz on the way to a 2-1 lead in the series. J.R. Smith emerged from the visitors' locker room and began warming up his shooting arm, as players have done since the NBA's infancy.
But here's what was odd: Smith decided he would practice bouncing the ball in the basket. Not just once or twice. In a stunt indicating he might have a promising future as a team mascot dressed in a goofy, furry suit, Smith pounded the ball off the floor toward the rim at least a dozen times.
On the Utah bench, veteran coach Jerry Sloan and his Jazz assistants could barely suppress laughter as Smith made a joke of the warm-ups. This childish display did not go unnoticed by a Nuggets official, and it made him fume with anger.
So go ahead and scream your fool head off in appreciation for the thunder dunk by Smith in the fourth quarter, a slam that rattled the rim and stamped the exclamation point on Denver's victory in Game 5.
Smith represents exactly what these Nuggets are: fool's gold.
The mystery of how Denver begins the serious climb to legitimate championship contender starts on the bench.
Fighting cancer for the second time in five years, George Karl is a shell of the coach who has won more than 900 NBA games in his career. Anybody with a heart prays for his recovery.
But far too much attention has been paid to whether Karl could return to the Nuggets at some point during the playoffs. As a team insider told me, the bigger concern should be whether the 58-year-old coach will have recovered sufficiently to be in strong voice and work at top speed when training camp opens more than four months down the road.
In no way does Dantley appear to be the long-term answer as Nuggets coach.
But let's be honest: A.D. has been made a too-convenient scapegoat for a team still in imminent danger of being eliminated from the playoffs in the first round for the sixth time in seven years.
This is a players' league.
And it's abundantly clear. The Nuggets don't have the players to win a championship in this league.
I don't necessarily disagree with Kisz' assessment of the condition of the team, but I feel a little insulted that he's outright calling the current incarnation of the Nuggets failures after the squad took the Nuggets as an organization farther than they've ever been last year. On top of that, we've also had 7 straight playoff appearances and two consecutive NW Division titles.
I think Kisz needs to check himself before he wrecks himself. The evaluation of the team will come in due time. I think the Nuggets are with a few roster changes a championship squad, and may have been one this year had they not been derailed by a litany of injuries and Karl's cancer.
Man up, Kiszla. You make me ashamed to have you as a Nuggets writer.