Prior to February 7th, the Nuggets were on a roll. With Chauncey Billups on board, they hadn't lost a single game to a sub-.500 opponent (home or road), had won 14 of 18 games and were barnstorming their way to a division title and second place in the Western Conference. On Friday, February 6th, the Nuggets walked all over the depleted Wizards 124-103 with the Nuggets starters barely getting a sniff of playing time in the fourth quarter. With their starters rested and the team playing great, a back-to-back walkover was in the works as the Nuggets traveled just a few hours north to New Jersey.
And then this happened; an embarrassing 44-point loss to the lowly Nets.
It was such a shockingly awful game that the Nuggets coaching staff, the players and us fans just wrote it off as an aberration. It was as if the spirit of Dick Motta's 1996-97 Nuggets squad had inhabited the bodies of the 2008-09 edition and jinxed us for the night. Little did we know, however, that that 44-point drubbing would be the harbinger of bad things to come and test the Nuggets resolve in unforeseen ways.
After the Meadowlands Massacre (how's that for a nickname?) the Nuggets rolled off two straight wins over a Miami and Orlando team already checked out for All-Star Weekend and then returned from the All-Star break to knock out the 76ers in Philadelphia by 12. Meaning, the Nets loss was just an aberration after all, right? Not so fast...
Soon after besting the 76ers, the Nuggets succumbed to their first three-game losing streak of the 2008-09 season, losing at Chicago and at Milwaukee (two bad teams) and then punctuating it with inarguably their most pathetic performance of the season, a 38-point home loss to the Celtics who were playing without Kevin Garnett.
As the Jazz and the Trail Blazers suddenly caught up with the Nuggets in the standings, the fans (me first and foremost) pushed the panic button and things only got worse. Yes, the Nuggets beat the Hawks and Lakers just days after the Celtics debacle, but next they would go on lose five of six, including a second three-game losing streak - including a loss to the atrociously bad Kings - just two weeks apart from the first!
Had the Nets loss cursed an otherwise magical season? No. But it did test the Nuggets resolve and character and they responded with their best basketball of the season.
Somehow, some way the Nuggets dug deep and rediscovered what made them special in 2008-09 in the first place. The tough, aggressive defense. The frenetic pace. Getting to the free throw line. The heart. They got their mojo back by rattling off five straight wins against five bad teams - including a 121-96 win against the Nets at Pepsi Center - and would go on to win 14 of their last 16 games (excluding the meaningless "sit down" game at Portland at season's end). And we all know what happened next: the best playoff run in NBA franchise history.
Back to those pesky Nets, if I remember that game you better believe the Nuggets coaches and players do, too. I don't foresee the Nuggets posting a 40-point victory tonight but as bad as last season's Nets team was, this one's worse. Put simply, when Yi Jianlian goes down indefinitely and that's a bad thing for your team, your team sucks.
Nets Stiffs: Yi Jianlin (even before he went down with an injury, he was shooting just 40.6%...which is good for him), Bobby Simmons (getting paid over $10 million this season...and we thought Kenyon Martin's contract was bad).
Nets Non-Stiffs: Chris Douglas-Roberts (further proof that being a winner in college means something, CDR is off to a great start now that he's been getting some playing time), Brook Lopez (averaging over 17 points and almost three blocks per game to start the season), Devin Harris (led the charge against the Nuggets in last season's Meadowlands Massacre).
Photo courtesy of AP: Jim Mone.