In early November of 2012, after our Denver Nuggets lost on the road to a pair of pathetic teams in Orlando and Philadelphia followed by a close loss at then-NBA Champion Miami, I wrote the following:
Come April, when the Nuggets are fighting neck and neck with their Western Conference cohorts for a three, four or five seed in the playoffs, it will be losses like these that head coach George Karl and his Nuggets players will wish they had back.
Well, that edition of the Denver Nuggets finished with an NBA franchise-best 57 wins and a three-seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.
Point being, don't read too much into the first three games of an NBA regular season.
That said, it's hard for Nuggets fans not to feel a collective come down after two straight losses following Wednesday's thrilling opening night road win in Houston (although somewhat less thrilling since seeing the Rockets become the first team in NBA history to drop their first three games by 20 or more points in each one). I watched the Nuggets' beat down over the Rockets alongside 75 or so fellow Stiffs (as part of our frequently hosted Stiffs Night Out game watch parties), and based on the reaction of the crowd throughout the game you'd think we had just ascended to our franchise's fourth Western Conference Finals. (As an aside, my friend Dan in Portland - a Trail Blazers season ticket holder - texted me after the Nuggets beat the Rockets and his Blazers' emphatic victory over the New Orleans Pelicans saying: "See you in the WCF!!" And now Dan's Blazers are 1-2 themselves.)
But just a few days later - after dropping two games by a combined 41 points total - the euphoria from Wednesday has dissipated and reality is already setting in.
82 games long, an NBA regular season is the ultimate marathon. Teams go on winning streaks, losing streaks and often just trade wins for losses along the way. Entering the regular season, the Las Vegas oddsmakers had the Nuggets at 26.5 wins and most of the "experts" who cover the Nuggets here in Denver had them finishing somewhere between 10th and 12th in the brutally competitive Western Conference. So a 1-2 start shouldn't be a cause for panic among Nuggets fans. Instead, we should look at the opening night victory against the Rockets as a bonus win, the Friday night loss (at home) to the feisty-yet-inexperienced Minnesota Timberwolves as a bad loss and Sunday night's blowout loss at Oklahoma City as a somewhat predictable loss. In other words, the Nuggets are exactly where they should be through three games.
But three games into the 2015-16 NBA season, we're already seeing the signs for why Vegas had the Nuggets at a sub-30 win total during the preseason and why even the biggest homer Nuggets pundits here in Denver (including myself) didn't have the Nuggets sniffing the playoffs in 2016. They are as follows ...
While maybe - just maybe - the Nuggets could compete for a low-end playoff seed if they resided in the Eastern Conference or the NBA went to a much talked about one-through-16 playoff format, as long as this version of the Nuggets are Western Conference denizens they're likely to have more off nights than "on nights". After seeing the Minnesota Timberwolves dismantle the Nuggets on the Pepsi Center floor on Friday night, it's clear that they must be taken seriously. Very seriously. A vastly improved Timberwolves squad leaves only the Los Angeles Lakers and the aforementioned Blazers as the only supremely weak Western Conference teams ... and we'll see how the 0-3 Lakers handle the Nuggets at Staples Center on Tuesday night.
As we've long worried, the Nuggets can't shoot straight and through three games are among the NBA's four worst teams by shooting percentage. And as long as the Nuggets are misfiring on their jump shots, opposing teams will just sit back on defense, dare the Nuggets to shoot, clog the lane and take away easy scoring opportunities for Denver.
3) WHO'S THE GO-TO GUY?
A problem that has been festering in the Nuggets locker room ever since Carmelo Anthony departed years ago has been the "who's the man?" question. Entering this season, Nuggets fans have been hoping that it's either Danilo Gallinari or rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. Or maybe a combination of both, as the Oklahoma City Thunder have successfully done with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But the assertiveness and confidence exhibited by both Gallo and Mudiay in Game 1 of the season has given way to tentativeness. If the Nuggets are to get even 30 wins, they'll need a big season from their starting small forward and point guard.
One has to believe - as I do - that the Nuggets will be much more competitive as the season goes on than they've been since opening night. But the Western Conference doesn't allow for any "nights off" and the sooner these young Nuggets realize that, the better.