Never before have I been so heartened by someone else's disheartened words. This is my first year writing about the Denver Nuggets for the Denver Stiffs, and my first time writing about something that's quite so near and dear to my heart. And as amazing and educational an experience as it's been thus far, it's always hard as a fan to find the good things in the midst of such a difficult season. And so, knowing I'd be writing up the game recap tonight against the Portland Trailblazers, and admittedly anticipating a loss (forgive me, Stiffs), I was trying to figure out what to talk about before the game even started, as the losses mount, the words start to fail in describing failure. And then my esteemed colleague Jeffrey Morton wrote a preview today that started a little something like this:
I've spent an inordinate amount of time this morning wracking my brain trying to figure out what the heck to write. This season has been so depressing that it's been hard not to contribute to the negativity surrounding the team. A series of calamitous injuries, uninspired play, questionable coaching and rotations, ill-fitting players and everything else has made watching games an complete chore.
And sometimes all a person needs is to know you're not alone in this world. Thanks for echoing my thoughts today, Jeffrey. It made me think about other times I wandered through some tough seasons with the Denver Nuggets and the hopes I took in the 1997-1998 Nuggets, and took hope in an 11-71 season in tidbits like breaking double digit wins, and our only back-to-back wins of the season (our first in a year of play). Looking for positive that season was truly searching for needles in a haystack. Only that haystack was more like a turd stack. And still I loved even those Denver Nuggets, described on Yahoo last year as "possibly the worst team in NBA history".
Remembering that year reminded me of how good we have had the last 10+ seasons (that brutal year finally got us on a path towards Carmelo Anthony), and that there are always positives to be taken out of any game. With that spirit, I vowed to look hard for positives in tonight's game, and thankfully, there was lots of good to see...
The Nuggets came out of the gates hot from the perimeter, and kept themselves in the game for the first six minutes with solid outside shooting from Randy Foye and Wilson Chandler early. Unfortunately, that outside shooting abandoned them quickly, defenses stiffened on both sides, and the Nuggets took a while to start putting the ball down low in offensive sets. Once the Blazers stretched that 3 minute stretch into a double digit lead, Denver and Portland exchanged runs throughout the game, the Nuggets kept them within distance, never getting closer than five, or further than 14. Every time the Nuggets started to fall apart defensively they collected themselves. Every time they started missing ill-conceived shots, they started driving the lanes or dumping the ball down low and getting better shots. And so, with 27 seconds left in the game, the Nuggets found themselves fumbling a possession which could have made it a one-possession ballgame, against one of the NBA's best teams this season, playing both of their stellar talents in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. Heart, effort, and resilience were a key part of tonight's game, and I hope that Brian Shaw is pleased with tonight's game. In the end, the Nuggets were in the game until the closing seconds, and that's a lot more than most expected tonight. Final score, the Nuggets fall to the Portland Trailblazers 102-96.
I've been a detractor this season, so I want to give credit where it's due, and J.J. Hickson played hard and meaningful minutes in tonight's game coming off the bench. J.J. had 4 solid defensive plays under his belt before scoring his first points, and those from taking what the offense would give him. Here's hoping his transition to backup PF continues to pay the dividends it has the past couple of games. Kenneth Faried also showed signs of life several times on defense tonight (yes, there were still miscues, but it was not nearly as one-sided as it's been). Randy Foye is a pro's pro. He was lambasted by many after his poor early season start (including by me), and was pressed into many forms of unexpected service, playing injured and out of position for a lot of the season. During that time, he's never stopped giving great effort on both ends of the court, and has routinely been the one voice on the court calling for players to pick it up. He had another solid night tonight, sharing the scoring lead of 16 points with Faried and Evan Fournier (who had a solid night of his own, adding 7 boards and 4 assists). Wilson Chandler made an appearance with 14 points, including keeping Denver in the game early, and Darrell Arthur had his best game since the infamous groin incident, adding 12 off the bench.
Tough to call anyone a stiff tonight, given that even the guys who didn't put up huge stats played hard. Timofey Mozgov and Quincy Miller were largely ineffectual stat-wise, and still were not huge negatives in their time on the court.
I hate to say I am reasonably excited by this loss, but... I think that's what I'm saying. Now looking at the game threads, I may be saying it to three of you, but... What say you, Nuggets Nation? What did you like (or not like) about the game tonight?