We have been speculating all season about whether or not the Nuggets have it in them to be a championship contender.  The question will be answered over the next two months.  

Their next ten games are going to be brutal as only two of them could be considered easily winnable.  They are 5-5 in their last ten games which has left them only a half a game ahead of Utah for 9th in the west.  IF they go 5-5 over these next ten games, you can expect to see them on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

The really bad news though is in March, things are going to get really tough.  

Getting back to tonight, once again Carmelo is officially listed as questionable and he may or may not play as they roll into New Orleans to face the red hot Hornets.  

Chris Paul has made the leap.  He is an elite player in the NBA as proven by the fact that this team no one really has taken seriously is at the top of the heap in the west.  He is receiving many well deserved individual accolades.  He was just today ranked second in the MVP race in the Blogger MVP/ROY Rankings.

So far the teams have played twice, both clashes being in Denver, and each team has won once.  Both games were hard fought and they were not necessarily fun to watch.  The key to the Nuggets win against New Orleans, a 105-99 victory in game 22, was their ability to smother Chris Paul and David West on the pick and roll over the last few minutes of the game.  Short of that stretch the Hornets really outplayed them for most of the game.

The Nuggets must continue to play tough focused defense tonight in order to win.  They will not be able to jut turn up the heat on defense in the last few minutes and win tonight like they did back in December.  The Hornets are too good for that.

Defensively, I think the Nuggets matchup pretty well with the Hornets.  Carter can do as well on Paul as anyone.  Camby and Chandler are very similar.  Kenyon can guard West both inside and out as long as he realizes that West is very, very good and needs to be guarded closely at all times (it did not look like Kenyon had received the scouting report on West the last time they played).  Kleiza should be able to do OK with Peja Stojakovic.  The only defensive mismatch Denver may have to deal with is AI guarding Morris Peterson, but even though Peterson has good size he is not a threat to post up so AI should be able to stay with him on the perimeter.

I think the Nuggets are getting the hang of playing without Melo.  After they spent the entire first quarter against Dallas jacking up bad jumpers, they started trying to work for better shots and get in the lane.

Camby in particular was very aggressive and he did not settle for that horrid jumper that he loves to chuck skyward.  Camby has been unfairly lambasted for his horrible shooting performance, but I thought he played the way the Nuggets need him to play.  Since Melo went down Camby has become much more aggressive at attacking the rim.  Now we just need to get him to dunk it instead of trying to lay it in when he gets there.

Earlier in the season when the Nuggets were preparing to play the Hornets George Karl had a quote in the Denver Post that after watching film of New Orleans he was more impressed with them than even the Spurs.  He was ridiculed on the message boards, yes, I took part in the thrashing, but as the season has gone on Karl has been vindicated.  The Hornets are every bit as good as the Spurs.  In fact, in their previous game New Orleans ripped the Spurs to shreds in San Antonio outscoring them 60-35 in the second half.

The Nuggets have their work cut out for them, but it is work they can handle.  There is no reason they cannot go into New Orleans and get this win.