A day after Nuggets head coach George Karl acknowledged that "Four is our goal", the Nuggets inched ever closer to that much sought after playoff position by resoundingly defeating the Houston Rockets and getting news out of Memphis that their star small forward, Rudy Gay, would be shipped to Toronto ... effectively raising the white flag for whatever playoff chances Memphis had prior to today.
For the second time in eight days, the Nuggets ran away from the pesky Rockets. And even though the Nuggets tried yet again to give away a fourth quarter lead, the Rockets didn't want to accept it and the Nuggets ended up with their fifth-straight victory and 11th win in 13 games.
Leading the way - and continuing to cement himself as "the go-to guy" in Denver - was Danilo Gallinari. Coming off a stellar 27-point performance against the Indiana Pacers, Gallo replicated that production again with another 27-point outing. And had the Nuggets needed more Gallo late in the fourth, one has to believe that the Italian small forward was on his way to a 30-plus performance.
For about three quarters, the outcome of this game seemed very much in doubt. Especially when Houston found themselves up eight points (85-77) with just a minute to go in the third quarter. But by the time Houston got to 88 points well into the fourth quarter, the Nuggets had scored 19 ... thanks to a feverish pace, a pair of threes from Gallo and an assortment of aggressive, attack-the-basket plays that had to make Coach Karl happy. In fact, Karl's offensive philosophy worked so well so fast that the Nuggets almost gassed themselves out and allowed the Rockets to creep back into the game and cut the lead to six on a few occasions.
But unable to crack the six-point barrier (even though the Nuggets gave the Rockets ample opportunities to do so), Houston eventually traded baskets with Denver allowing the Nuggets to complete the victory with an eight point lead.
As excited as we should be about the Nuggets fifth-straight victory, we should be equally excited that the Grizzlies are parting ways with Gay. Say what you want about Gay (I know a lot of Denver Stiffs readers did NOT want the Nuggets to trade for the talented-yet-expensive small forward), but he's a rangy, impact player who can make a big shot. In Gay's place will be NBA Champion Tayshaun Prince (who still has some game left in him) and youngsters Ed Davis and Austin Daye.
In the long run, this could be a good deal for Memphis. But immediately, this drastic shakeup puts the Nuggets and Grizzlies (and possibly the Warriors) on a collision course for the fourth-seed. With 35 games to go, we as Nuggets fans get to go on a thrill ride as the Nuggets actually have a legitimate shot at home court advantage in the playoffs' first round ... something we desperately need.
And now that Coach Karl and his players have something realistic and tangible to shoot for, I suspect we'll see more focused and better play for the remainder of the season. Unless, of course, Nuggets vice president Masai Ujiri decides to shake up his roster with a chemistry-altering trade of his own.
Non-Stiff(s) of the Night
-Danilo Gallinari: We used to say that the Nuggets go as point guard Ty Lawson goes, but now I'm thinking that the Nuggets go as Gallo goes (which has a better ring to it, anyway). During this recent spate of Nuggets victories, Gallo has been tearing it up. And in the two games he mightily struggled (at Oklahoma City and home against Washington), the Nuggets lost.
-Kenneth Faried: Despite another foul-plagued night, Faried celebrated his inclusion in the NBA All-Star Weekend rising stars with a 19 points / 9 rebound game that was amazing for its efficiency (6-8 from the field, 7-8 from the free throw line).
Stiff of the Night
-Carlos Delfino: Instead of injecting some production off the Rockets bench, the Argentinian small forward made just 2 of his 7 field goal attempts, all threes, and he finished with a team worst +/- of -10.
Unlike many of the Nuggets victories during this recent torrid winning affair that the Nuggets have embarked upon, I actually thought the Nuggets played well tonight (you couldn't say that about the Indiana game ... or the Portland game ... or the Cleveland game ... or the Orlando game ... alright, alright, I'll stop being so negative).
Even though the Nuggets gave the Rockets a glimmer of hope late in the fourth quarter when the lead got cut to six, this one didn't have the "they're going to blow it again" feel that the Indiana or Portland games had.
And thus, the much anticipated January that we as fans were dying for when the Nuggets slogged through the road in November and December has concluded with the Nuggets standing at 29-18, on pace for 52 wins and catching up quickly to Memphis.
Things are looking bright in Nuggets Nation right now.
For the opposition's take, please visit: The Dream Shake (their recap is up!)