Note: This is a break from our normal format of Golden Nuggets. However since both Andy and I are posting previews today we figured we would treat this column as the Golden Nuggets without the links. As always if you find a link please post in this thread and also any general topic discussion (or, if my column sparks a debate...hopefully).
The Nuggets have bags packed for a late Sunday date with the newly cocky Oklahoma City Thunder. Here is their checklist.
1. Health: This will be the biggest factor in the Denver Nuggets ability to stay competitive with the Thunder. The Nuggets were missing three players when they played these last two games with OKC who, it seems, will all at least be playing at some time during the series. This is good news for the Nuggets. Ty Lawson tweaked his ankle during last night's game with the Jazz, but we were assured during the broadcast by Melvin Hunt that it wasn't serious. That is good. The Nuggets need all hands on deck for this rumble in the heartland.
2. Center: Take heart Nuggets fans. We won't be seeing Al Harrington at center anymore (lord willing). That lineup with him a center was so atrocious that I contemplated tearing off my clothing and rolling in ashes. Yes, I take my self punishment biblically. Seriously though, it was the "Big Al at Center" lineup that killed the Nuggets in both games last week. Despite appearances to the contrary, in the second game, the Nuggets starting five outplayed the Thunder starters. It was when the bench, lead by Big Al as the tallest player at center came in that the Nuggets got run over. This will not happen again. With the emergence of Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov (who will hopefully be back for the series) the Nuggets now have a height advantage over the Thunder that they can exploit if they so choose.
3. The "Perkins" factor is overrated: Let me say this unequivocally - Kendrick Perkins is not the reason Nene was "neutralized" last week. People need to understand Nene has been missing free throws right and left for the last month. If Nene hits most of his free throws during the first matchup last week with the Thunder the Nuggets WIN. Perkins gets far too much credit for being a tough guy when he's a liability on offense and does very little (comparatively) in the way of rebounding. Serge Ibaka is of much greater concern to the Nuggets than is Perkins. Unlike Perk he can actually score and has quickness to spare...his Achilles heal wasn't playing. Which brings us to...
4. Birdman: There's two players in the NBA that are annoyed by Chris Andersen. Lamar Odom and - Serge Ibaka. When the Nuggets played the Thunder in Denver last week I knew before hand not having Bird was going to hurt. While I normally hesitate to say that Bird is a key factor in ANY Nuggets game, when it comes to the Thunder he is very key. Not only does he provide energy, but he also annoys the crap out of Ibaka by just being Bird. Sometimes that happens. When Andersen get's high up for a block and arrogantly swats it away, some players don't like that. Ibaka, I've noticed, is one of them. Why? Who knows. Beyond that, having Bird in the lineup prevents that horrific "Big Al at Center" lineup that was foisted upon us last week and he gives the Nuggets a big time boost. (He seemed to play well with Koufos in the Jazz game, lets see if Karl goes to that at all if Moz can't play)
Prediction: Nuggets in 6. Call it blind optimism. Call it a hunch. Who knows, I just feel the Nuggets (if all hands are on deck) are too deep for the Thunder. In actuality all you need to stop is Russell Westbrook. Kevin Durant will get his points, but beyond that their offense is much like the Nuggets with Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony. Everything funnels through those two. You take one away and play solid defense on Durant you can win. I write a column called Weekly Optimism because as a lifelong fan of the Nuggets I always believe there's a chance the Nuggets will win. Go ahead and mock me for the pick, I will gladly take my lumps if I'm wrong. I don't think I am however.
Special Comment on Kobe Bryant
As most of you know, Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for his homophobic slur at referee Benny Adams in the Lakers game two nights ago. Various media types have excused this away as "heat of the moment" comments. Let me be perfectly clear so no one can mistake me...
On the basketball court, Kobe Bryant is an ugly human being. While I'm at it, Kenyon Martin did something similar a couple years ago. There's absolutely no excuse for that in any place in society. Kmart apologized to Mark Cuban over that and the two have patched things up. I happen to have met Kmart several times, and I find his comments out of character, yet at the same time it's hard to reconcile what Kmart said. Unfortunately, however, Kobe's outburst is not out of character. They are very much a part of what I've seen of him on the court. I've sat at Nuggets games and have seen and heard him hurl all manner of horrible abuse on officials that would make you blush. It's who he is. While I can respect Kobe as a player, I can't in good conscience justify his actions. If Bryant was anyone else he would have been suspended several times for the way he talks to officials. I don't believe Kobe Bryant is homophobic, in fact I think he could care less. What was surprising was the venom with which he said it. As if he was wildly screaming just because he was angry and wanted to hurt Adams. That was disturbing.
Along with the Tim Hardaway homophobic rant a couple years ago, this recent incident compounds what is well known (as documented by former NBA player John Amaechi) that there's a culture of intolerance within American Sports. Yet, I'm not here to get on my soapbox and pound the pulpit about how things must change. People understand there's a problem, and until people get the wherewithal or the impetus to change things, you will still have incidents like this. Yet, it WILL change.
Many of my fellow Stiffs know how something like this would affect me personally. I'm secure in who I am. I don't care who knows it and quite frankly it doesn't define who I am. I never think about being different until things like this happen. I was very upset by this for a very long time, but I was brought out of my seething by remembering that most people could care less. Most people aren't that narrow minded. Most people aren't - well - Kobe Bryant. Things will change eventually and I have every confidence it will. In the mean time, watching the Denver Nuggets will remind all of us that there's something damn good about basketball that can lift us all up. The Nuggets have come here to chew bubble gum, and to kick ass...and they're allllll out of bubblegum.
As my friend and fellow writer Nate Timmons would say: BOOM!
To my fellow Stiffs. Thank you for indulging me on this subject.