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Nuggets, fans hunting for the Manimal

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Be vewy vewy quiet...

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

An old buddy of mine married his law school sweetheart one Fall about a decade ago. By November, he could tell something was awry, but couldn't put his finger on it. On Christmas Eve of that year, as they were dressing up to go out for the evening, she told him she wanted a divorce. Crushed, he assented, and then went for a long walk for the evening. By the time he got back, she was asleep.

It got really weird the next morning, when after she awoke and packed to leave - forever - she stopped on the way out the door to ask if he'd still care to exchange presents. In complete shock, he declined ... and she left.

This story gets semi-funny, I swear.

That night, my friend decided he needed his family, who were five states away. He climbed in the car and started to drive. Crossing Nebraska and Iowa in the midst of Winter, he drove in the cold with all his windows down, yelling at her at the top of his lungs....

"FOUR!!!"

"FOUR MONTHS!!!"

"FOUR F***ING MONTHS!!!!!"

He said it didn't get funny until he would have a car pull up alongside him, and he would lean out the passenger side to do the FOUR F***ING MONTHS math for all of them as well. Apparently there was a lot of swerving and evasive maneuvering involved after that.

When he came home two weeks later, he sat down and told me this story, and I laughed uncontrollably. Not at the pain of my friend, but at the sheer unadulterated glory of his meltdown. It's to his great credit, that he was laughing harder than I was.

Now, let's go hunting ...

When Kenneth Faried had his big putback dunk that tied the game with the Houston Rockets on the way to overtime on Wednesday evening, we witnessed one of the rare sightings of the Manimal from this quarter-past season. Faried's rebound and simultaneous slam were timely and fierce.

Faried skipped off the court, inciting the crowd, and beating his chest. Two seasons ago, in the same moment, I'd have believed it was a good sign of a win or a win to come, in overtime.

Oh, to wish for the same this year. This year, I saw the putback, saw that the team was fired up, but still struggling. On the court and as a unit. I realized how recently I'd seen that scene play out so differently two seasons ago, and was suddenly very angry. Not at them, just at the difference. There I was, yelling - proverbially down the highway:

"TWO!!"

"TWO SEASONS!!"

"TWO F***ING SEASONS!!!"

This from a guy who expected a return to the team of two seasons ago. And the yelling was metaphoric. Mostly. That last one may have slipped out. It sure made me realize how much I missed the guy I thought Faried was, as recently as his Team USA appearance this past summer.

Faried has been a less-regular sighting for the Nuggets this season, and as oft-quoted in articles on the topic of his struggles, the Manimal even less so. As always, in such cases of ego/alterego, one wonders what makes Superman don the cape. And when.

Amongst article after article after article...

(I've got 11 more of these, but you get the point. Message me if you really want that list.)

Amongst all those articles, a group of words emerges from Faried's quotes around this season's struggles:

"focus"

"pressure"

"expectations"

I don't have the opportunity a couple of my accomplished Denver Stiffs compatriots do, and do so well, but Faried seemed a tough interview from the time he arrived in Denver, at least for the Altitude cameras. That he seems to take the pressures of his newly signed contract as an expectation, and one he's not living up to, can only make him a tougher interviewee.

The through-line of these interviews seems to suggest that Faried feels that his new contract carries with it expectations, that he suddenly be more than what got him here in the first place: Energy, intensity, rebounds, and putbacks. It's as if he never realized his value has never been in being the primary option, but rather the insurance policy. If so, it's a shame he's changed those aspects of his game while searching for whatever fool's gold is buried in his own hidden expectations.

It's not as if the Manimal has vanished from the face of the earth. Ask one of this seasons' MVP mentions, Anthony Davis. The Manimal held his own with the ‘Brow, putting up 19 points and 8 boards vs. Davis' 18 and 9.

But that guy? The Manimal? He's been a scarce sight in Nuggets games this season. If it really is simply a matter of focus, pressure, and overinflated self-expectations as to whether or not he appears? Maybe just go back to being the guy that got you here. The cheering teammate whose relentless drive pushed everyone else on the floor to do better. Not the guy who is sure he's supposed to be the star. It was fun seeing the former at the end of that Houston loss the other night. A rare sighting. I miss it.

Nothing personal, Kenneth. Just like you, we've all been hunting for the Manimal.

But that guy has been vewy vewy quiet.