This being the first night of Passover, I suppose it's fitting that the Nuggets are wandering aimlessly on their current road trip akin to the Hebrew people wandering aimlessly in the desert over 3,000 years ago.
For the uninitiated, Passover is a week long Jewish holiday that commemorates the Hebrew people's escape from slavery in Egypt and the Exodus that followed. While I'm not a religious person by any stretch, the Exodus tale is one of my favorites from the Old Testament for metaphorical purposes. As the story goes, after Moses frees the Jews he ascends up Mount Sinai to get further instructions from god (or something like that). In Moses' absence, the Jews erect a golden calf and make offerings to it - violating one of god's central tenets - and are to be punished by "wandering" for 40 years in the desert. In other words, soon after receiving their newfound freedom, the Jews spoiled it and a generation would have to be wiped out as a result.
While it's an admitted stretch to compare the plight of the ancient Hebrews with our Nuggets, it appears as though our Nuggets, too, are spoiling their newfound freedom right before our eyes. George Karl certainly didn't run the team like an Egyptian tyrant, but I think it's safe to assume that interim head coach Adrian Dantley brings forth a looser, and perhaps too free, atmosphere that's simply not working.
As the Denver Post's Woody Paige aptly pointed out the other day, as a general rule assistant coaches are meant to be close to the players and act as intermediaries between the players and the head coach, who can often be confused with dictators or drill sergeants. We as fans might get frustrated with Karl's lack of visible aggressiveness and fight during games, but I can assure you he's anything but timid and tame in practice and in that locker room. Simply put, Karl can be a stubborn hard ass and the results speak for themselves. Dantley, on the other hand, appears to be too much of a players' coach.
Tonight, the Nuggets and their wasted freedom face their most important game of the season when they play the Mavericks at Dallas. I'll be at the obligatory Passover seder, and thus won't be able to watch this game live (to those who I might be eating with tonight, you've been warned: I will be sneaking peaks at my phone routinely during the service). As is customary during a seder, the youngest participant will ask four questions based on the following macro question: "Why is this night different from all other nights?" I couldn't think of a better question to ask in regards to the Nuggets current plight. So, let's answer the question, shall we?
Tonight's game is different from all other nights because if the Nuggets lose, Dallas will hold a one-and-a-half game lead over Denver and own the season series tiebreaker. Meaning, if Denver and Dallas were to finish tied at season's end record-wise (as Nuggstradamus has predicted at 54 wins apiece), the Mavericks would get a higher seed and thus home court advantage should the two teams meet up in the second round of the playoffs. We don't need to get biblical about it: this is a big @#$%& game!
Like our Nuggets, the Mavericks haven't been playing all that well lately, losing four of their last 10 games. But of all the teams in Western Conference not named the Lakers, it's these Mavericks that I fear the most. Thanks to an astute trade deadline acquisition of Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, the Mavericks got bigger and better in a hurry, vaulting almost immediately into the race for the Western Conference's second playoff seed.
When we last saw the Mavericks, they were on the wrong end of a 127-91 drubbing by the Nuggets at Pepsi Center. But I put no stock in that victory whatsoever considering the Mavericks were coming in off a back-to-back and the Nuggets had been rested and waiting. That game also took place before Butler and Haywood arrived.
Dantley and his players are taking a pounding from the media and the fans. They can erase a lot of doubters by pulling off their biggest victory of the season tonight. Should they lose, their newfound freedom might be spoiled for good.
SCOUTING THE MAVERICKS...
-Erick Dampier: The Mavericks' King Stiff is owed $13 million next season and can no longer get a sniff of playing time thanks to Haywood's arrival.
-Matt Carroll: Further proof that all you need is a great agent and a sucker owner to get a good deal in the NBA. Carroll and his 1.7 ppg on 33.3% shooting will be on Dallas' books for over $3.5 million a season for three more seasons.
-DeShawn Stevenson: Long one of my least favorite NBA players, the Wizards had to force the oft-troubled, poor shooting Stevenson onto the Mavericks in order to get the Butler and Haywood deal done.
-Dirk Nowitzki: The Mavericks lone super star has - when healthy - scored less than 20 points just 15 times all season. Most curiously, four of those sub-20 point games have come in the Mavericks last four outings. Is Dirk getting worn down?
-Caron Butler: Opposite of Stevenson, Butler has long been one of my favorite NBA players, if for no other reason than I still hold Kiki Vandeweghe personally responsible for not drafting Butler over Nikoloz Tskitishvili in 2002. Butler getting to play alongside Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry is borderline criminal.
-Jason Kidd: Recently celebrated his 37th birthday with 26 points, 12 assists and six rebounds in a hard fought win over the Clippers.
Photo courtesy of AP: Tony Gutierrez