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Game 3 Thunder vs. Nuggets: Attitude adjustment...

If the Nuggets are to win Game 3 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, we need to see a substantial attitude adjustment from the coaches, the players...and the fans.

Enough with the defeatism, the pessimism and the woe-is-me-ism, we have a basketball game to play on Saturday night.

And a big one at that.

History, as we all know by now, isn't on our side. Only 14 teams in NBA history have come back from an 0-2 deficit to claim a seven-game series victory. And since the NBA expanded to a best-of-seven first round playoff format in 2003, only one team slotted fifth overcame an 0-2 deficit to win the series when in 2005 the fifth-seeded Washington Wizards took down the fourth-seeded Chicago Bulls in six games. The 2006-07 Utah Jazz, technically slotted fourth but without home court advantage, also pulled off this mighty feat, defeating the fifth-seeded Houston Rockets in a seventh game at Houston after being down 0-2.

So while the odds aren't in Denver's favor, to suggest that a comeback is impossible is an unsubstantiated stretch. Like we saw in that Wizards/Bulls series and witnessed again in 2006 in the Dallas Mavericks versus Miami Heat NBA Finals, a post-season series can turn on a dime. All the team down 0-2 needs to do is win that third game at home, and suddenly it's a series again.

In the case of Nuggets versus Thunder, winning that third game is going to be a tall order. And I mean that literally. The Thunder used their newfound length - thanks to their astute mid-season acquisitions of Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed who have made Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison better - to clobber the Nuggets on the boards and shoot over the Nuggets diminutive guards in Game 2. Out-rebounding an opponent by 23 boards is unheard of, and that's exactly what the Thunder did in Game 2. But watching that putrid performance by our Nuggets, I couldn't help but feel that it was the Nuggets lack of energy and effort rather than their lack of height and length that cost them all those rebounds. After all, the same Nuggets team - one exhibiting better energy and effort, mind you - was out-rebounded by a mere three caroms in Game 1.

With that in mind, I foresee Game 3 coming down to a few key factors each deserving their own discussion...

THE FAN FACTOR

As displayed by The Pessimistic Nuggets Fan in this morning's "Golden Nuggets," the attitude around here, on local radio and among those I've been speaking to regarding the Nuggets sucks. If we end up down 0-3, I'll be there with you. But unless that happens, those arriving at Pepsi Center on Saturday night better have a Thunder-esque attitude and enthusiasm for their home team. Lest we forget that this Nuggets team survived the destructive Melodrama and a tough end-of-season schedule while integrating an entirely new roster to win 50 games for the fourth consecutive season. And they did it with pure class and made basketball in Denver worth watching again.

These Nuggets - and their coach - deserve our boisterous support on Saturday night. If they play with great energy, have a good game plan and just can't make their shots, cheer anyway. If they play without energy and their game plan resembles whatever the hell happened in Game 2, go ahead and boo. But instead of assuming the worst before tipoff, we need to assume that the 18-7 Nuggets will be on that floor and not the 0-2 Nuggets.

(And if this ends up being another "I'm bringing my girlfriend to her first game all year and am leaving midway through the fourth quarter to beat traffic" games I'm going to be really pissed off, because our Nuggets will need as many real basketball fans as they can get their hands on.)

THE J.R. SMITH FACTOR

If it's true that Nuggets head coach George Karl and mercurial backup shooting guard J.R. Smith are "on the same page" entering Game 3, then we could be in for a thrilling evening. I'm not a huge J.R. fan, but given the Game 2 hole the Nuggets quickly found themselves in, I'd have played J.R. the entire second half. With J.R., the Nuggets would either have lost by 50 or two, but by benching the kid they had no chance given how cold their offense was all night.

Going into Game 3, if Karl wants to get the fans on his side he should consider starting J.R. and giving Chris Andersen ample minutes, too. J.R. and Bird are the darlings of Pepsi Center and will do more to energize that crowd than the rest of the team combined. Yanking J.R. after a few bad minutes isn't going to fly on Saturday night among the Pepsi Center faithful.

THE COACHING FACTOR

Speaking of coaching, I thought Denver Stiffs reader "slader" summed up the George Karl versus Scott Brooks duel perfectly in a comment left in yesterday's post by our resident statisticians, The Unitary Executives...

After the trade Karl tried to keep everyone guessing, saying that it was hard to plan for the Nuggs because even he didn’t know what they were going to do. He then stretched the rotation a little (when forced to by injuries) and everyone said WOW they’re deep.

I have the feeling Scott Brooks didn’t fall for this act. He knew GK would go back to the players he trusts and try to play small and fast. So Brooks planned to double Nene and dare Kmart to shoot. He planned to crash the offensive boards against a weak rebounding front line. With AAA out and JR pre-emptively in the doghouse, he planned to clog the lane and dare the Nuggs to beat them from outside without 2 of their best shooters.

This was all clear to see and Karl adjusted for none of it.

When I last spoke with Karl in person - at the Kroenke Sports Gala a few weeks ago - Coach Karl assured me that the Nuggets would play everyone in this series, bucking the playoff mantra that coaches are supposed to tighten their lineups. And while listening to a mic'd up Karl work his Nuggets huddle on TNT in Game 1, I loved how he was preaching to his guys to never rest and that he'd use up all his timeouts and subs if he had to in order to keep them fresh and energized out there. I just loved it (like I've previously said, I thought Karl coached a great first 46.5 minutes in Game 1).

And yet in Game 2, Karl went conventional with a seven-man rotation of guys he allegedly trusts, like Al Harrington and Raymond Felton, and Brooks exploited them by protecting the rim and playing big. It's frightening to think that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could each have average games (by their illustrious standards) and the Nuggets could still get pummeled. But this had a lot to do with Karl refusing to counter with his bigs Kosta Koufos and Birdman (Timofey Mozgov allegedly wasn't ready to play health-wise), or his energy guys like J.R. and Gary Forbes.

It's time for the master to defeat his student and I look for Karl to use his full repertoire of players, big and small, in Game 3 to confuse and disorient the Thunder. Remember, there was a time when the Nuggets were considered the deepest team in the NBA. So why not use that depth now?

THE ENERGY FACTOR

Depth segues us nicely into the key factor for Game 3: owning the energy of the game. The Nuggets dictated the pace of Game 1 and somehow Durant and Westbrook were able to match it with 72 points combined. Great offense always beats great defense and sometimes great shooting by the opposition is just out of your control. But the Nuggets can control their pace, especially at altitude with a full roster to work with (including the welcome return of Arron Afflalo).

I want to see Ibaka, Collison, Perkins and Mohammed gasping for breath all night and in need of an oxygen machine.

THE ATTITUDE FACTOR

And, finally, the attitude factor. I'm tired of Karl justifying close losses as being "okay" because the team played hard and the refs blew a call with a minute to play. I'm tired of Nene not getting angry. I'm tired of Kenyon Martin espousing his thoughts on his coach's strategy to the media. I'm tired of K-Mart, J.R. and Birdman pouting on the bench because they're not getting enough minutes. And I'm tired of Nuggets fans having a defeatist attitude. Enough.

I don't care how well we all think the Nuggets played in Game 1 because we lost that game. Period. And the footage of Game 2 should be sent to the eternal dustbin of history never to be seen again.

George Karl and the Nuggets need to play Game 3 like they have something to prove because, frankly, they do. The Thunder have cleaned our clocks in four consecutive games. Karl has a surprisingly mediocre 8-6 home playoff coaching record at Pepsi Center. And Nene, K-Mart, J.R. and Wilson Chandler need to justify why we should pay these guys millions to come back next season.

Combine all those factors with being down 0-2, and the Nuggets have been pushed into a corner they must fight out of.

They're competing for more than a playoff victory, they're competing for their pride.

I'll be sitting in Section 148, Row 18. I can't wait.

GO NUGGETS!