Despite the disappointing losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers (who did Nuggets fans a solid on Tuesday night, beating the laughable Knicks and sending them to 5-15) and Boston Celtics, it's hard to be too disappointed with a 4-2 record after six straight away from The Can. At the end of the game against the Wizards, Nate Robinson told Scott Hastings that the team knows they should have gone 6-0 but will take 4-2.
I like that attitude a lot better than shooting for .500 on the road.
The loss at Cleveland was at least understandable as a game on the second night of a back to back, against a team with an imposing frontcourt - that's probably the worst possible scenario for this team to face. Cleveland uniquely matches up with Denver this year in ways that would cause the Nuggets problems even if they were full strength. The loss at Boston was a lot less forgivable, given a day of rest and prep time. Brian Shaw was reportedly so furious at the team's effort that he did not enter the locker room with the team down by 20 at halftime.
It worked. Randy Foye roused his teammates, and in the next two games the Nuggets bounced back and reeled off two ugly, gritty wins against the 76ers and the Wizards without Ty Lawson carrying the team. Typical of Eastern Conference basketball, both games were ugly (sub-43% on field goals) and turnover filled (31 turnovers in 2 games) - and yet the Nuggets still managed to win on the strength of their depth. In their last two wins, the Nuggets bench outscored their opponents' benches 88-28, without their All-Star caliber starting point guard, starting power forward, and former starting center. In fact, Denver's bench is now the second highest scoring in the league, only a few PPG behind the Lakers.
This team is a chimaera. Whether they are scoring 75 or 117, the Nuggets have shown they can play up, down and in-between with almost any team in the league. They've shown the capability to run and gun with the best offenses and grind it out with some of the league's strongest defenses. Of the team's eight losses, let's not forget that two of those losses were by two points, and no loss has been by more than 15. In most cases, the Nuggets have been close with their opponents all game, and have had opportunities to win in several of their losses that simply didn't materialize. While it remains to be seen whether or not the Nuggets will (or should) make a move with their current assets to acquire an upgrade at a position, the team has once again exceeded the expectations of doomsayers.
Of late, Ty Lawson (left hammy) and Kenneth Faried (thigh contusion) have clearly been impacted by their extended trip away from the Pepsi Center and the fatigue of playing seven games in 11 days. Fortunately, they've got a great team behind them, full of guys willing to step up and lead the team to good play even without Faried or Ty - or Danilo Gallinari, or JaVale McGee - supplying their significant talents. They will again be challenged by a close to 2013 that features games at home against the Thunder (time for revenge!!!), surprising Phoenix Suns (who have already beat Denver), the mole-filled Warriors, and the South Beach LeBrons (Heat). That's without mentioning away jaunts at the Clippers in Flop City, and a quick back-to-back away at the Pelicans less Anthony Davis and a Grizzlies team less a functional offense.
Ty's motor has been temporarily taken offline for a tune-up, and I sincerely hope that Faried is using this three-day break to get his right at the shop. Both players rely on their high-energy athleticism to sustain their games, and long road trips can sap their reserves.
Those reserves, once seemingly redundant, now loom large in the Nuggets' playoff push through the next 51 games.