The Nuggets pulled off another road win and I now expect Denver to make the playoffs.
You are probably thinking to yourself that I have lost my mind. The win in Toronto was really that big of a deal was it? Well, combine the fact that the Nuggets have shown some backbone on their road trip and another even bigger development that happened in Dallas yesterday and I think Denver is playoff bound. As I am sure you have all heard by now, Dirk Nowitzki is out indefinitely after spraining his ankle and knee against the Spurs.
Denver is a game and a half behind Golden State for the eighth spot, but only two games behind Dallas for the seventh spot.
I made the mistake of burying the rockets prematurely when they lost Yao Ming to injury and may be about to make the same mistake with Dallas, but the difference is there is no one in Dallas who is capable of stepping in and replacing Dirk. Really, there is no player in the league who is like Dirk. On top of that, Nowitzki was playing his best ball of the season since the Kidd trade, but Dallas was still basically a .500 team since that point despite Dirk’s best efforts. The question becomes, how bad will they be now without their best player?
I could see Dallas closing out the season 4-8 if Dirk is not on the floor. Denver plays Dallas at the Pepsi Center on Thursday. If Denver wins, they would win the season series and should Dallas fall apart and finish 4-8, the Nuggets would only have to finish the season going 6-6 to make the postseason. With the schedule easing up a little in April, I think the Nuggets are a shoe in for at least seven and probably eight more wins. Even if Dallas goes 6-6 the road to the playoffs should be much easier now.
Of course, Dirk seems to have a good track record of being a quick healer and he is tough enough to come back and play before he is fully healthy. If Dallas’ season is going down the tubes, you better believe he is going to rush back in an attempt to salvage it.
Other Observations From Game 70:
- Well, I guess I have not really made any observations about Game 70 yet. I have not had the chance to see much of the game due to my family’s Easter celebration, but I did see the bulk of the second half. Once again the Nuggets showed some resiliency as they had a couple of opportunities to throw in the towel late in the game. Earlier in the season they probably would have folded in a game like that. At this point in the season a win is a win and yesterday was a good win.
- I was impressed with how Melo played on offense. He was very aggressive going to the basket, but when he realized he was getting rejected on a regular basis (the box score only shows three blocks against for Melo, but I think they should do a recount) and he was not getting to the line he made a smart adjustment. In the past he has tended to start shooting 18 or 20 footers in that situation. Yesterday, he shifted to pull up jumpers from 10-12 feet. If there is one area of his game he does not utilize enough it is that quick short jumper off the dribble.
- Kenyon Martin has been playing tremendous basketball on both ends of the floor in the second half of the season. He clearly enjoys the challenge of guarding all star players like Chris Bosh and Tim Duncan. Kenyon made a couple of big plays down the stretch and I really think he as much as anyone has become the Nuggets emotional leader.
- In the third quarter when Altitude displayed the two teams assist totals up until that point in the game and Denver had 12 I said to my nephew that apparently the Nuggets were not running much. Well, they ended up with eight fast break points for the game. They were also outscored in the paint 40-34. Toronto outshot the Nuggets 50% to 48%. Then considering this game was on the road where Denver has certainly struggled all season, it was a very uncharacteristic win for Denver. I think that is a good thing though as Denver needs to prove that they can win even when they are not able (or willing) to run and are not just piling up easy hoops in the paint.
- I threatened to have a scathing post about Marcus Camby today or tomorrow, but he turned things around just in time. He managed to pull down 15 rebounds for only the third time since the All-Star break while at the same time refraining from shooting as he had only four shot attempts. Much better than the 14 he chucked up in New Jersey. If Marcus is back to playing the way he needs to, Denver will be much better off.
- AI was amazing ending up with 36 points on only 16 shots. He mixed in three pointers with forays to the rim very nicely. AI is shooting 54% from the floor and 57% from three on the road trip.
- The bench did not put up amazing numbers, but they proved to be effective again. J.R. had a hot first half, but he, Linas Kleiza and Eduardo Najera combined for only 20 points and nine rebounds. However, they all had a plus/minus rating of +12.
- Speaking of Smith, he had 14 first half points and got the starting nod in the third quarter. Anthony Carter had an uneventful game and Chucky Atkins has seen his minutes drop as he has been on the floor for only 13 minutes over the previous three games. J.R. may be winning Karl over a little bit with his improved play over the past month or so. With both AI and J.R. having the ability to bring the ball up the floor, J.R.’s size and shooting ability, Carter and Atkins may continue seeing a decrease in their minutes.
With a win in Memphis, which should be a foregone conclusion, Denver is looking at a 3-2 trip that had they played a little smarter in Philly in the closing minutes this could have easily been a 4-1 trip. On top of that, Denver may very well reach 50 wins and end up in the playoffs. What was looking like a disastrous season just a few days ago, may turn out to be only a disappointing season.