When our Denver Nuggets were slogging through November and December with one road game after another after another, it seemed as though we'd be much more concerned about out-competing Houston, Utah, Minnesota and Portland for playoff positioning than we'd be with Memphis, Golden State and Los Angeles (the Clippers, of course, not those selfish, self-imploding Lakers).
But after wrapping up January with a splendid 12-3 record (including home losses to Minnesota and Washington, no less) and kicking off February with a solid home win against New Orleans to complete a six-game winning streak ... and counting ... the Nuggets are serious contenders for the four-seed. And this fan is thinking bigger than that.
No, the Nuggets won't "compete for the division" as head coach George Karl proclaimed their goal to be at the start of training camp. But give Karl credit where credit is due - the January Western Conference Coach of the Month has his team positioned to compete for home court advantage in the first round by garnishing either the third or the fourth seed. With a little help from the Clippers - who have lost six of their last 10 - the Nuggets find themselves just 3.5 games back of that third position.
Suddenly, the Nuggets ceiling has gone from four to three.
Since taking the reins as Nuggets head coach in 2005, Karl's teams have had home court advantage in the playoffs' first round just twice - in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, Karl took full advantage of the Nuggets' two-seed and guided the team to a six-game Western Conference Finals series against the hated Lakers. And in 2010, Karl's Nuggets were on the Lakers heels late into the regular season until Karl was tragically struck with throat and neck cancer, forcing assistant coach Adrian Dantley to take over and, well, we know what happened next. Dantley squandered the Nuggets home court advantage over Utah and the Nuggets went home early yet again in the post-season.
With the NBA's seven-game series structure for all playoff rounds, it's rare (if both teams are healthy) for the team without home court advantage to overcome the odds against it and win a playoff series. Even more rare in a first round playoff series where lower seeds routinely get worked over at the expense of higher seeds. And while Karl has been justifiably criticized for being unable to get the Nuggets out of the first round more than once in his nine-year coaching tenure in Denver, it's not as if they've lost multiple playoff series while having home court advantage.
I see that all changing this season.
I see a Nuggets team - at present - that's not playing particularly well and yet they are winning games. At some point, this pattern of "winning no matter what" has to translate into something positive, like substantive wins against better teams on the road and delivering home wins on off nights. This month, every game on the Nuggets schedule is winnable (this isn't to suggest that they will or should win them all, mind you) with a nice balance of easy road competition and difficult home competition.
And with the low-scoring Grizzlies parting ways with their top scorer while the Clippers are beset by injuries to two of their top guards, don't be surprised if we're talking about a three-seed for Denver at month's end.
On to the links ...
George Karl glad to have Tim Grgurich back with Nuggets as consultant - The Denver Post
One of the NBA's more creative coaching minds has returned to consult with Karl and the Nuggets.
Timofey Mozgov draws praise from Nuggets even if he's about to leave - The Denver Post
Could the Nuggets really be trading Moz?
Is talented Nuggets' glass half full or half empty? - The Denver Post
Benjamin Hochman gives us reasons to feel good and not-so-good about our Nuggets.
Ability to adapt essential for NBA D-League players, coaches | THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE DENVER NUGGETS
Aaron Lopez catches up with Quincy Miller in Iowa.
Former Nugget Nick Van Exel's son receives 60-year sentence for murder - The Denver Post
The sad ending to a sad story surrounding Nick Van Exel's son Nickey Maxwell.