Things are looking up for Ty Lawson and the Nuggets. - USA TODAY Sports
The Denver Nuggets are on pace for 50-plus wins and a potentially exciting playoff run. But you wouldn't know it if you only followed the sports media in Denver.
When did the folks who cover the Nuggets here in Denver become such Debbie Downers?
If you didn't actually watch the Nuggets play, you'd think that their head coach is a lazy bum, their management team is content with mediocrity, their starting two-guard isn't worth the dollars bestowed upon him, their general manager is "misleading", their backup center is hopelessly clueless and they have no prayer of winning a championship this season ... or ever, for that matter.
Oh, and while we're at it, the Nuggets alternative home jerseys suck, too.
But I guess this fan is feeling suddenly bullish on this band of Nuggets players and you should, too.
If anyone who covers the Nuggets in this town is an authority on "going negative", it's me. After all, I'm the muckraking jerk who launched firegeorgekarl.com in 2008 (can you believe it has been five years already?!) and this season I've again been critical of George Karl's coaching style (on more than one occasion) and move-the-goal-posts-excuse-making, this team's innate ability to blow games against crappy opponents and fourth quarter leads against good ones, and I have openly questioned whether or not our veteran backup point guard does more harm than good.
But after seeing our Nuggets handily best the surging Lakers on Monday night, take care of business in Portland on Wednesday night and complete a terrific week by eking out a thrilling victory against the Thunder on Friday night, I'm not seeing what the naysayers are seeing. Instead, I see a team that's not only capable of grabbing a Western Conference four-seed, but could ride that seeding all the way to the conference finals (but not beyond, let's not get crazy here). And I'm not the only one.
Here's how ...
Even though the Memphis Grizzlies are riding a hot hand and are admirably holding onto the four-spot (1.5 games ahead of Denver), 15 of their final 25 games are on the road and include a grueling at Portland / at Los Angeles Clippers back-to-back and a doubly grueling at Denver / at Utah back-to-back. Hope the bears from The Bluff City have fun with that.
Denver, meanwhile, will be playing 13 of their final 22 games at the Pepsi Center. And with the exception of a brutal at Chicago / at Oklahoma City back-to-back, the Nuggets remaining few back-to-backs are very winnable. Moreover, the Nuggets already lead the season series over the Grizzlies 2-1. Should the Nuggets beat Memphis in Denver (and they should) on March 15th, Memphis would have to finish a full game better than Denver to secure that four seed. To quote Lieutenant Frank Drebin: "Uh, Nordberg... that's a pretty tall order."
And it could get crazier from there.
Should the Nuggets secure the four-spot, I'm confident that they can deliver a first round series victory - something they've disappointingly done just once during their impressive 10 consecutive years of playoff participation. A first round series victory would then set up a second round playoff series against the winner of the one-versus-eight matchup, likely to be the Spurs or the Lakers (you just know the NBA is going to flat out fix games if necessary to get the Lakers into the playoffs). And whether this is myopic fan optimism talking or just good basketball sense, I'm also confident that the Nuggets could best either the low maintenance, aging Spurs or the high maintenance, aging Lakers. (On that note, the ankle injury sustained by the Spurs point guard Tony Parker on Friday night is actually bad for Denver. Because the Spurs will use Parker's injury to tank their way into a two-seed to avoid the Lakers in the first round, meaning the Nuggets will face the Thunder in the second round and with that my conference finals optimism goes out the window!)
When I think about the Nuggets I don't see the negatives. Instead, I see Wilson Chandler making a huge difference since he has been back from injury: in the 19 games played by Chandler since his second return from injury, the Nuggets have won 15 (that's a 79% winning percentage). I see a head coach that finally has the pulse of his team and is getting them to play together. I see two players I've been down on in the recent past - Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari - capable of making game-winning or game-tying shots (it's incredible that the Nuggets beat the Thunder Friday with Gallo shooting 2-7 and having virtually no positive impact on the game). And I see a team that out-dunks, out-runs, out-hustles and out-rebounds the opposition on a nightly basis from now until season's end.
Now, I agree with my friends in the local media that it's a long shot - a real long shot - for this or any Nuggets team in my lifetime to compete for (and nevermind actually win) an NBA Championship. The NBA's structure virtually guarantees that a small market team cannot compete for a title unless it a) drafts a superstar, b) has much success with the superstar, and c) has ample success early in the superstar's career, thus inducing the superstar to stay put and not jump to markets in Los Angeles, New York or Miami. (See the Spurs with Tim Duncan and the Thunder with Kevin Durant as the only two examples in the last 33 years of NBA history where the superstar has stayed with the team that drafted him ... and the jury is still out on Durant.)
But to the notion of the Nuggets being huge long shots to compete for a title this season I say, so what? So the Nuggets probably won't win the NBA title (again) this season, does that mean Masai Ujiri was supposed to blow up the team before the trade deadline? So it's highly unlikely that the Nuggets will win a title while being located in Denver, does that mean Josh Kroenke is supposed to move the team to Los Angeles in the off-season?
Again, maybe I'm a myopic fan but I've always believed that making the playoffs - and with as high of a seed as possible - at the very least puts a team in position for something exciting to happen. Just look at the 2010-11 Grizzlies or the 2011-12 76ers if you don't believe me: two eight-seeds who bested the one-seed and moved on to seven-game second round series against championship-caliber opponents. Couldn't the Nuggets do something even more special from the fourth spot in the Western Conference?
I guess my macro point is, even though the local media presents many valid points about the Nuggets unlikely chances of winning a championship this season, some balance is in order. Because other than the 2008-09 Nuggets that marched all the way to the conference finals, these 2012-13 Nuggets represent the franchise's best chance of competing deep in the playoffs in some time.
So let's enjoy the run while it lasts. And if you want to pick on a hapless local team, look east from Pepsi Center to the outfit playing at Coors Field.
On to the links ...
George Karl leading unlikeliest of contenders in Denver Nuggets - Ian Thomsen - SI.com
Ian Thomsen writes that the most exciting team in the playoff races is the lone contender that lacks star power and experience. Thomsen points out that the Nuggets have gone 20-7 over the last two months and they show much less fear than they create in their opponents.
Kiszla: Nuggets coach George Karl has cushiest job in the NBA - The Denver Post
Mark Kiszla argues that Coach Karl gets a free pass here in Denver and is thus able to manage expectations to his own benefit.
Mile High Sports | Mohrmann: Nuggets content being mediocre
Dan Mohrmann writes about his disappointment with the Nuggets doing nothing before the trade deadline.
Nuggets opt for continuity, stability at NBA trade deadline | THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE DENVER NUGGETS
Aaron Lopez explains why the Nuggets stood still at the trade deadline.
Save the Date - 3/19 March Madness Stiffs Night Out!
On Tuesday, March 19th we're going to kick off March Madness by watching the Nuggets take on the Thunder in Oklahoma City at 6pm from Jake's Food & Spirits. Free appetizers and 2-for-1 drinks will be served.
We will be distributing NCAA brackets for $10, with all of the proceeds going to the Denver Hooperz, a local non-profit that provide after school basketball programs to at-risk youth. Prizes - including Nuggets tickets - will be given out to bracket winners. Also, the Colorado Sports Guys (Nate Timmons and Ross Martin) will be live podcasting throughout the event - and it's Nate's birthday!