As the playoffs draw near the thing you want most from your team is for them to start getting on a roll. It's sort of tricky because you don't want your team to peak too soon, but you also don't want things surrounding your team to look bleak either ... and that's sort of how things are looking for Denver right now.
Earlier this season when the Nuggets were smoking the best teams in the NBA and losing to the occasional door-mat, things looked as we wanted them to. Coming off a trip to the Western Conference Finals a lot of people assumed the Nuggets were going to get right back there this season. Most veteran players will tell you the toughest part of playing with younger players and losing the ultimate game is that the young guys just don't realize how difficult it is to get back to say the NBA Finals or even the Conference Finals.
As this season went along it looked like the Nuggets, with the additions of Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson, were headed right back for a deep post-season run. BUT ... shit happens. Shit like Andrew Bynum falling on Ty Lawson's shoulder and keeping the talented rookie on the sidelines for an extended stretch ... that keeps continuing because of either injury or Dantley's trust in Anthony Carter. Shit like Kenyon Martin's battered knee ligaments giving out on him once again ... causing him to miss the rest of the regular season and perhaps the playoffs too.
Our fairytale season has suddenly turned into a nightmare and the Orlando Magic helped keep that nightmare alive this evening. The Nuggets, after losing today 103-97 in Orlando, now limp into Dallas tomorrow night for their biggest regular season match-up to date ... winner assuming control of the second seed out West thanks to a regular season tie-breaker affair.
The problem today in Orlando ... J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson. After Vince Carter went down in the first two minutes of the game with an ankle injury, Redick stepped in and played the next 46 minutes without taking a break. The former Duke guard shot his way to 23 points on 8-15 shooting on the same day his alma-mater made a return to the Final Four for the first time since 2004.
Not to be outdone, Redick's teammate Anderson went for 19 points on 7-8 shooting, but he did the bulk of his dirty work from beyond the arc going 4-5 from deep where he was rarely covered. It continues to amaze me that the Nuggets continue to lose track of three-point specialists and give dead-eye shooters exactly what they need ... room to freaking shoot. Anderson burned the Nuggets again and again, yet still was allowed to take aim.
Denver and Orlando traded baskets for much of the first half and it wasn't until the third quarter that one team began to separate itself from the other. It was the Nuggets who came out of the locker room on fire and took a quick 59-52 lead in the opening minutes of the second half. Denver even stretched their lead to 10 points before a quick scoring Orlando team battled back and quickly erased that lead. Entering the fourth quarter it was still anyone's game tied at 77-77, but the Nuggets went into "me" mode and the offense shut down.
With three-minutes left in the game and the score 95-90 in favor of Orlando, the Magic finished the game with an 8-7 basket trading and boring ending. The Nuggets continue to have just an overall lack of pizazz ... the team just doesn't seem to have that aura of special around it right now. K-Mart and Lawson definitely completed this Nuggets team and without them the team isn't an elite one. We saw all season how missing a key cog spelled trouble for the Nuggets and now with two cogs out I just don't see this team being able to hold on to the second seed.
The good news ... Denver doesn't need the second seed to make it back to the Western Conference Finals, but they will need to take a page out of Stella's book and somehow get their groove back. As excited as I am to see the bench get opened up a little bit, it's also not a good thing to have to depend on guys who are playing on one-year contracts.
I keep pinching myself and hoping that I'll wake up from this Nuggets nightmare ...
Without George Karl, Kenyon Martin and Ty Lawson the Nuggets will struggle over these next nine games as they have for the past week or so. Adrian Dantley is finding out first hand what it's like to try to overcome the wear-and-tear of an NBA season and he's struggling to put the right pieces on the floor.
- Malik Allen turned in a season high 10 points in 18 minutes ... all his buckets coming in the first half.
- Billups continues to log heavy minutes playing 35 today as Lawson continues to collect time on the bench.
- The Nuggets were just 8-11 from the foul line today. 11 attempts?!?!
Photo courtesy of AP Photos: Reinhold Matay