Nuggets enter 'must win' mode from here out
As the Nuggets entered the Portland game on March 5th, I went through their schedule and found a couple interesting points. Denver in their final 21 games would face 11 games with teams still battling for the playoffs. Now with 18 game remaining Denver has 9 games against teams battling for the postseason.
I predicted Denver to go 17-4 in their final 21 games ... with the losses to both the Jazz and the Kings (I marked those as wins originally) that changes the Nuggets reality to probably a 15-6 record at best to close out their last 21 games and a finish of 55-27.
I have not entered panic mode because both Utah and Portland have tougher roads to travel. Each of those teams face 13 games against playoff hopeful teams the rest of the way (four more than the Nuggets.)
What I do worry about is Denver playing down to their opponents. The Nuggets, after losing to both the Jazz and Kings on the road are now just 17-17 away from The Can. It looked for awhile like Denver would finish above .500 on the road this season, but that is now in jeopardy. Good teams win on the road and with Denver battling for home court now in a first round series, I'd feel a lot more confident if they could put together some games on the road.
This 82 game season is starting to resemble a lot of Nuggets games. Come out hot, go into jump shot mode, then hold on to your lead, and eventually have to come back from behind. Troubling times for the Nuggets' faithful.
Denver 40-24 (23-7 at home)
Houston 41-23 (14-17 on the road)
Denver will now face the NBA's other hottest team. The Rockets are 10-2 since losing Tracy "I'm injured again" McGrady for good to microscopic knee surgery. McGrady hasn't laced 'em up since February 9th and the Rockets couldn't seem to be playing any better.
Speedy point guard Aaron Brooks has looked so good the Rockets dealt Rafer Alston at the trade deadline and haven't looked back. In his last five games Brooks is averaging 15.2 points ... nearly 5 points higher than his season average of 10.8 ppg. In their three previous meetings Brooks has recorded:
- L 104-94 in Denver: 15 points, 4 assists
- W 108-96 in Houston: 18 points, 6 assists
- W 115-113 in Houston: 9 points, 1 assist
Brooks has been a thorn in Billups' side just as any other quick point guard can be against Billups. Denver will be trying to tie up the season series tonight at The Can (2-1 Rockets). This is a very important game for the Nuggets. They need to earn a series tie and they need to keep pace with the surging Jazz.
I still do not know how the Nuggets earned two HUGE wins over the Lakers and Blazers, yet drop games like they did against Utah (up 19 at one point) and to the league's worst team with that Kings stinker last night.
The Denver Post's Jim Armstrong's take on how missing KMart has hurt Denver.
Opposition: The Dream Shake
- In his last two games Renaldo Balkman has played 44 combined minutes and grabbed 24 rebounds (9 offensive rebounds)
- In the Nuggets win over the Blazers they recorded 27 team assists ... in their last two losses to the Jazz and Kings they recorded 24 combined team assists (pretty easy to see why they lost those two games ... it's a team sport - act accordingly)
- Francisco Garcia poured in 19 points off the bench for the Kings - Garcia (23rd overall pick) was passed over by the Nuggets in the 2005 draft ... Denver instead selected NBADL King Julius Hodge 22nd overall - it never made sense to me that when Denver was looking for a pure shooter they drafted a guy who couldn't shoot over a pure shooter like Garcia ...