Playoff ruminations ...

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

As we wrap up the best first round in NBA Playoff history, here are some thoughts on Round 1, Round 2 and an assortment of other NBA-related topics ... including the Nuggets' future.

Wow. Did that just happen?

Five seven-game series. Eight overtime games. Several buzzer beaters.

I've spent the last two weeks re-arranging plans just to watch these games.

The only thing missing was our Denver Nuggets participating in an 11th-straight postseason. But next year awaits, right?

Having been dormant here at Denver Stiffs during these two thrilling playoff weeks, here are some off-the-cuff observations I've been meaning to share with our fellow Stiffs ...

... the 2011-12 Denver Nuggets were better than we've given them credit for. Remember that team? The one that went toe-to-toe with the Los Angeles Lakers in an exciting seven-game grudge match? The one that resulted in JaVale McGee potentially becoming a salary cap albatross? Well, it just so happens that that team featured no-longer-Nuggets Nene Hilario (who was traded at the 2011 trade deadline for McGee), Al Harrington, Andre Miller and Chris Andersen ... all of whom are having a positive impact on the 2014 NBA Playoffs. Throw in the since-departed Arron Afflalo (due to the Andre Iguodala trade), and it's fair to speculate "what if?" had that team been held together. Without the constant deck shuffling that's taken place in Denver these past few years, would a squad today featuring Ty Lawson, Afflalo, Nene, Miller, Harrington, Andersen Danilo Gallinari, Corey Brewer, Kosta Koufos, Timofey Mozgov, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried be on the outside looking in at the NBA Playoffs? Quite the opposite. They'd be the team that nobody wants to play.

... recently watching the must-see "Bad Boys" documentary on ESPN, got me thinking about that 2011-12 Nuggets squad. Not that that the 2011-12 Nuggets had the talent of the mid-to-late 1980s Detroit Pistons because they weren't even close. But what struck me while watching that documentary was how patient the Pistons organization was with it's core roster and head coach. It certainly helps when you have a Hall of Fame backcourt like Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, but Lawson and Afflalo aren't exactly chopped liver. Starting in 1983-84, that Pistons squad appeared in nine consecutive playoff series. But it got bounced out of the first round in two of it's first three playoff outings - in an Eastern Conference who's competitiveness rivaled today's Western Conference - and didn't fire a coach, trade a key player (until Adrian Dantley got moved for Mark Aguirre in 1989) or "blow the thing up" for a draft pick. Instead, the core was kept together as the team incrementally advanced through the playoffs each season. In 1987 they broke through to the Eastern Conference Finals and lost. In 1988 they broke through to the NBA Finals ... and lost. And in 1989, good fortune finally smiled on those Pistons and they won their first of back-to-back championships. Sometimes, there's something to be said for patience when you have a good thing going.

... the Washington Wizards aren't really going to the Eastern Conference Finals, are they? Are they? Just months ago, I had the Wizards pegged for former Nuggets head coach George Karl's next coaching destination. After all, Karl had coached for now-Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld while Karl was in Milwaukee. And Karl, who specializes in turning potentially great point guards into actually great point guards, would have been great for the Wizards' John Wall. But with Wittman ably guiding the Wiz to a first round playoff upset of the Chicago Bulls and on track to give the Indiana Pacers all they can handle in Round 2, it's certain he'll be back on the bench next season.

... speaking of the East, you think the Brooklyn Nets are regretting their end-of-season "mini tank" right about now? For the uninitiated, the Nets purposely sat their core players for regular season Game #82 against the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers to draw the inexperienced Toronto Raptors in Round 1 rather than face the seasoned Bulls - who bested the Nets in seven games a year ago - thinking the Raptors would simply be a speedway to Round 2. Well, not only did the Raptors take the Nets to the final seconds of Game 7 but the Miami Heat - the Nets' Round 2 opponent - breezed by the Charlotte Bobcats, allowing Dwyane Wade to get healthier by the day. Oh, and meanwhile on the other side of the Eastern Conference bracket the Pacers almost lost to an Atlanta Hawks team that won 38 games. So instead of playing an imploding Pacers squad in Round 2 the Nets will draw a Heat team looking to make history. Looks to me like LeBron James is heading for consecutive NBA Finals appearance number four in about three weeks.

... which will make my pre-season prediction of Miami Heat versus Los Angeles Clippers for the NBA Finals half right when the Heat get there. The Clippers? I still like their chances. They overcame the Donald Sterling fiasco and a feisty Golden State Warriors squad to get into Round 2 against an Oklahoma City Thunder team that just got the crap kicked out of them by the always brutal Memphis Grizzlies ... who were quite less brutal in their Game 7 thanks to Grizzlies' forward Zach Randolph getting himself suspended (idiot ... probably cost the Grizz the series). Despite not having home court advantage, I like the Clippers' depth much more than Oklahoma City's. Regardless of the outcome, Clippers versus Thunder will be THE series to watch in Round 2, because ...

... the Portland Trail Blazers will soon find out that San Antonio is the place where upstart playoff dreams go to die. Just as they did to last year's Warriors, the 2008 Hornets, the 2007 Nuggets, Suns and Jazz, the 2006 Kings, the 2005 Nuggets and Supersonics (may they rest in peace), the 2004 Grizzlies, the 2003 Suns, the 2001 Timberwolves and the 1999 Lakers, the Spurs specialize in devastating young, inexperienced playoff teams. So have fun with that one, Terry Stotts.

... while we've got the Blazers on our mind, about 20 games into Damian Lillard's rookie season I suggested that I'd rather have Lillard than Lawson on my roster any day of the week. A comment that was met with outrage and ridicule from several of my fellow Stiffs. I'll accept your apologies now and just know that there's no hard feelings.

... could Brian Shaw be the first 36-win coach in NBA history to (allegedly, potentially) garner interest in his services from three other NBA teams? Let me rephrase that: could Brian Shaw be the first coach in NBA history to win 21 fewer games than his predecessor (with a somewhat similar roster) and garner interest in his services from three other NBA teams? That appeared to be the case this past week as Shaw was rumored to get interest from his former mentor Phil Jackson in New York, his former mentor Larry Bird in Indiana and the franchise that brought him three rings as a player and two as a head coach in the Los Angeles Lakers. I really like Shaw, and maybe I'm too colored by the Nuggets' colorful past as an up-tempo team (that's won nothing ... literally, nothing), but if Shaw were to go back to LA or take the Knicks job (one presumes Frank Vogel is now safe in Indiana having made it to Round 2), I'd be advocating for departing Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni to come to Denver. Not only is D'Antoni a class act, but his seven-seconds-or-less offense would thrive in Denver. Absolutely thrive. D'Antoni's offense combined with the legalization of recreational marijuana would make Denver the place to be among NBA free agents.

... I felt bad for our friend Masai Ujiri's Toronto Raptors as lost a Game 7 heartbreaker 104-103 at Toronto to the Nets earlier this afternoon. Not only do I remain a big fan of Ujiri's, but I didn't want to see Brooklyn's aforementioned "mini tank" and their buy-a-playoff-series model come with any sort of success. Moreover, the thousands of Toronto fans who had gathered outside the Air Canada Centre would have been much more appreciative of a Raptors victory than any bandwagon Nets fans are going to be. Oh, well, good guys rarely finish first anyway. Interestingly, in just one season under his stewardship Ujiri's Raptors are shaping up to be similar to the Nuggets squad he left: lots of good parts, but no great parts.

... back to the Spurs, and I won't make any friends in Denver by saying this, but they absolutely amaze me. Watching them utterly destroy a hot Dallas Mavericks team in Game 7 made me wonder why this Spurs team has only five NBA Finals appearances to show for itself since Tim Duncan's arrival in 1998. How did they possibly allow the Thunder to best them in 2012 and the Grizzlies to do so in 2010? You take away Kobe Bryant and his five rings / seven NBA Finals appearances since 1996, and the Spurs are a true dynasty. 17 consecutive playoff appearances and two series away from a sixth NBA Finals appearance. Simply amazing.

... if the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs have taught me anything, it's that our Nuggets need two things next season if they're to have any chance of succeeding: an identity and toughness. Their "sometimes we run, sometimes we play half court" shtick won't work and their front line (sorry, Mozzy) are paper tigers. Back to those 2011-12 Nuggets for a moment. That team had the right mix of veteran leadership (Harrington and Miller), athleticism (Lawson, McGee and Faried), stingy, tough defenders (Brewer, McGee ... amazingly, Afflalo) and scorers (Lawson, Gallo, Afflalo). I didn't realize how much I missed that team until I watched this year's playoffs.

And if you look at the eight teams remaining in the NBA Playoffs right now, each has an identity. A heartbeat. The Nuggets lacked that this past season and I hope the organization from Tim Connelly through Evan Fournier are paying attention to what success looks like in the NBA Playoffs.

Because just like those Bad Boys Pistons of nearly 25 years ago, it comes with more than just wins and losses. It comes with personality.

*****

SAVE THE DATE FOR TUESDAY, MAY 20TH
DENVER STIFFS NBA DRAFT LOTTERY HAPPY HOUR

5pm
Jake's Food & Spirits
3800 Walnut Street
Denver, CO 80205
(303) 295-3800


2-for-1 on all wine, well and draft beer as we watch the Nuggets
get TWO chances at a top-three lottery selection.

*****

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