Golden Nuggets: Commended or concerned?

Isaiah J. Downing-US PRESSWIRE

After getting off to a shaky start to the 2012-13 NBA season, our Denver Nuggets have strung together two separate four-game winning streaks to sit at 8-6.

As soon as I hit the "publish" button on last Monday's "Golden Nuggets" column, it dawned on me that I was being overly negative on our Nuggets. In that column, I was essentially condemning our Nuggets for limping to a 4-6 record through 10 games and playing un-Nugget-like in the process.

Maybe I jumped the gun a bit or maybe that column spurned a reverse jinx, because not only have the Nuggets won four straight games since Monday but the first of those four wins came at Memphis, arguably the toughest place to win in the NBA right now - just ask the Knicks and the Lakers, recent victims of the Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum.

When looking at the 2012-13 Denver Nuggets schedule, we all knew that the Nuggets would have to overcome some challenges throughout November and December, notably with 17 of their first 23 games being played on the road (often against tough competition, too). Looking broadly at the entire regular season schedule, most believed that if the Nuggets could tread water before the New Year - i.e. hover above .500 - then January could be used as a launching pad for this team.

With four straight wins behind them and a current 8-6 record, the Nuggets are doing exactly what many thought they would to date - tread water. So should we - as fans and followers - be commending this team or be concerned?

Let's start with the positives. The big road win at Memphis. The almost road-win at Miami. Winning four straight games in five nights. Responding twice with four straight wins after twice dropping three straight.

On the positive player front, Kenneth Faried is having an awesome sophomore season (I don't have the stat handy, but when was the last time a player selected 22nd in the draft was named Conference Player of the Week the following season?). New Nugget Andre Iguodala has been solid. And the other Andre - Miller - might be the NBA's best back up point guard.

The negatives to date are obvious. Two three-game losing streaks. And laying an egg against a soulless Orlando Magic team and laying another egg against an exhausted, Dwyane Wade-less Miami Heat team (in Denver).

The player negatives are more complicated. The real Ty Lawson still hasn't shown up, but when he does the Nuggets are almost assured of a W. JaVale McGee shows bursts of excitement but spends most of each game huffing and puffing last down the court (and not boxing out very well). Danilo Gallinari still can't shoot straight, and yet he's made most of the Nuggets big, game-ending or game-tying shots of the season so far. And Jordan Hamilton has gone from head coach George Karl's hopeful "Michael Redd" experiment to Karl's doghouse, even though he has demonstrated the ability to make open three's.

Oh, and Corey Brewer keeps shooting three-pointers ... but you gotta love the guy's nightly effort on the floor.

But while we can complain about the disappointing Magic loss and maybe that Heat home loss (as I wrote last week, it's hard to whine about losing to a defending NBA Champion, regardless of the circumstances), we can equally be pleasantly surprised by the win at Memphis and take solace in the Nuggets' victorious effort against a Timberwolves team at Minneapolis with superstar Kevin Love returning. The latter game falling into the category of "I wouldn't be shocked if they lost, but if this team is going anywhere it should win this game."

So by and large, I think the Nuggets should be commended for delivering an 8-6 record to date considering the tough scheduling (and lack of home games) thrown at them early this season. That said, I stand by much of what I wrote last week - that when Nuggets are suckered into a half-court, slow down game they're vulnerable ... and that should concern all of us who love this team.

If the Nuggets first 14 games have taught us anything, it's that our sample size isn't big enough to declare victory or defeat for how this season will turn out. We still need to see how the Nuggets perform with a more balanced schedule, how they handle the "supposed to beat" teams versus the "I hope they beat!" teams, and see if the Nuggets improve against opponents who don't play their up-and-down way by slowing the game down.

But if anything has me concerned beyond the Nuggets' play thus far, it's that the Thunder, Grizzlies, Spurs and Clippers all appear to be viable contenders for Western Conference slots one through four ... and the one team that's probably more talented than all of them, the Lakers, still haven't gotten their act together yet.

On to the links ...

Coach George Karl far from pleased with Denver Nuggets' 7-6 start - The Denver Post
Benjamin Hochman talks to Karl about the Nuggets up-and-down start.

Hochman: Coach Mike Dunlap doing well so far with Bobcats - The Denver Post
Former Nuggets (and Metro State) assistant coach Mike Dunlap is doing a great job in Charlotte. Proving once again that just hiring a former NBA player isn't always the best solution at head coach.

Second-half focus leading to success for Nuggets | THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE DENVER NUGGETS
Aaron Lopez writes about the Nuggets' second half successes this season.

A year later, NBA lockout looks even more like a charade - SBNation.com
Tom Ziller writes about the 2011 NBA lockout that ended a year ago. One thing that's different is that teams aren't complaining about losing money any more. But that's not because of the deal between the league and the players.

The controversial life and career of the Memphis Grizzlies' Zach Randolph - Grantland
Jonathan Abrams asks how can a man with such a troubled past be so beloved? Examining the Grizzlies' impregnable, impressionable power forward.

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