"... This is a tough stretch and we're above and beyond where I thought we'd be. I thought 16-16 would be great ..."
Did anyone else have the Nuggets penciled in for 16-16 with almost 40% of the 2012-13 NBA season completed? If you thought the Nuggets were going to compete for a top-four seed in the Western Conference you didn't. And most of us (except Nate!) certainly didn't have the Golden State Warriors - a team that's about as young as Denver but without Denver's playoff experience, coaching expertise and franchise stability - sitting at 21-10 after 31 games. More on them shortly.
I'm the first to point out that the NBA schedule makers royally screwed the Nuggets with 22 road games versus 10 home games to date, in addition to an overdose of back-to-backs and four-games-in-five day stints and 18 games played so far with just one day of rest. The scheduling - combined with the Nuggets youth (depending on current NBA rosters, the Nuggets rank somewhere among the NBA's five youngest teams) - has given the Nuggets a convenient excuse to claim 17-15 as a reason to celebrate.
But it's not working on me.
I'll address the traveling excuse first. With a private plane, an on-staff masseuse, nice hotel suites, prepared meals, and a full time training and conditioning staff and equipment manager, virtually everything is done for the modern NBA player to make travel easier and then some. I remember former NBA star Dominique Wilkins telling me about the multitude of back-to-back-to-backs he had to play ... while flying coach (sometimes with stopovers) and staying in crummy hotels with a roommate. Try bringing a jersey chaser back to your hotel room when you have a roommate. And yet 'Nique had no problem guiding his Atlanta Hawks to 50-win records in a brutal Eastern Conference throughout the 1980s. So I just don't buy how "grueling" the NBA schedule is. If anything, road trips should galvanize a team as we saw only one year ago with the 2011-12 Nuggets.
And regarding the youth and inexperience excuse, the Nuggets currently rank fourth as the NBA youngest team with a roster averaging 24.6 years of age. But the 23-6 Oklahoma City Thunder average 24.8 years, the 19-8 Memphis Grizzlies average 25.3 years and the aforementioned Warriors average 25.2 years, with a 3.7 seasons of experience average that equals Denver's. And that includes the 32 year old Richard Jefferson who rarely ever plays.
While the Nuggets apparatus (and their defenders in the Denver media) has been whining about their scheduling woes and inexperience, the young Warriors have quietly amassed a substantial winning record, including an impressive six road wins as part of a seven-games-in-10 days stretch from December 5th to the 15th. In that span, the Warriors bested the Heat, Nets and Hawks on their respective home floors.
And about the Nuggets being saddled with 18 games on one day of rest? The Warriors to date have had 17 such games. The Nuggets are 12-6 on one day of rest and the Warriors have struggled at 10-7. But it's on zero days of rest (i.e back-to-backs) where the Nuggets are struggling and the Warriors are earning their multi-million dollar paychecks. Of the Nuggets' eight games on zero days of rest, the Nuggets are a mere 3-5. Meanwhile, the Warriors have had nine games on zero days of rest and they stand at 6-3.
Guess which one is the franchise that's so dreadful, they've only been to the playoffs once since 1994?
How the Warriors could be 21-10 while the Nuggets are 17-15 is perplexing. Granted, the Warriors have had four more home games than Denver and have played against the Leastern Conference four more times, as well. And that could be the win differential right there. (It should be noted that the Nuggets are 2-1 against the Warriors this season, as well.) But weren't the Warriors supposed to be Western Conference also-rans while the Nuggets were supposed to be contending with the likes of the Clippers, Grizzlies and Spurs for the Western Conference's second or third seed?
There are a few key differences between the two teams that I believe explain the win differential to date.
First, the Warriors point guard play is far superior to Denver's. When Nate and I ranked the top NBA point guards back in September, I had the Nuggets' Ty Lawson (ninth) one spot behind the Warriors' Stephen Curry (eighth). While I'd keep Curry (who's having a career year in his fourth season) at 8th, I'd drop Lawson (also in his fourth season) three spots - behind Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio and rookie Damian Lillard - due to his uninspired, erratic play to date. And you can't use the "Ty Lawson is only 25" excuse when Curry is "only" 24, Irving is "only" 20 and Lillard is "only" 22.
Second, the Warriors can shoot and the Nuggets can't. The Warriors rank fifth in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage while the Nuggets rank third from last (which actually surprised me, I was convinced that the Nuggets were dead last). So when an opposing team lulls the Warriors into a half court game or the Warriors are gassed and can't run, at least they can make open shots.
And finally, having missed the playoffs every year except one for 18 years, the Warriors seem to be playing for something bigger whereas the Nuggets aren't respecting the regular season as they should. I guarantee that the Nuggets early season losses to the 76ers, Magic and Suns will bite them in the ass when it comes to playoff seeding. Remember those losses if the Nuggets start on the road in the 2013 post-season.
To recap, there's no question that the Nuggets have had their most arduous schedule ever to start an NBA season and I don't think anyone expected them to be 10 games over .500 at this point. But to suggest that 17-15 is "above and beyond" when other in-conference teams are winning more games under similar circumstances is an insult to those of us who buy tickets.
So when 2013 arrives, I want these pampered gazillionaires to jettison the excuses and start winning basketball games.
On to the links ...
Nuggets Journal: JaVale McGee still has work to do before George Karl will trust him - The Denver Post
Coach Karl recalibrates his expectations for the season and talks about his best center's inconsistencies.
Nuggets Mailbag: If the Nuggets can't shoot, what next? - The Denver Post
Benjamin Hochman fields Nuggets-related questions from the fans.
Carmelo Anthony adamant he and Knicks teammate Amar'e Stoudemire can win together - Yahoo! Sports
Amar'e Stoudemire is expected to return Tuesday. Will he help or hurt the Knicks?
Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler hopes to return Jan. 13 - The Denver Post
Just in time for the trade deadline!
Mile High Sports | Nuggets get ready to enjoy home sweet home
The Nuggets have been banking on their January home stand all year. Now it's time to deliver.