“A problem is a chance for you to do your best.”

-Duke Ellington

Edward Kennedy was a musical prodigy. The son of two pianists himself, he grew up in a place and time that even with several societal cards stacked against him in life’s deck, he became a composer and musician that historians now agree allowed him to “transcend genre” and actually become a larger part of the fabric of American history.

Wait, Edward Kennedy? Teddy? Little brother of JFK? Who knew? Well no one, actually. That’s actually not the Edward Kennedy we’re speaking of. “Kennedy” was actually this gentleman’s middle name. His last name was actually Ellington. Edward was a dapper dresser, even as a very young man, and his friends had taken to calling him “Duke”. Duke had grown up in an era where several challenges faced him on his path to becoming arguably the most prolific composer in the history of Jazz. But given his creative genius, Ellington had a knack for tackling the hurdles in front of him with imagination and brilliance, from his composing and playing to his career arc and demanding leadership. Duke Ellington saw problems as opportunities to create something that hadn’t existed before. A problem is a chance for you to do your best.

Your Denver Nuggets have certainly had a season full of chances to do their best, as they take the All-Star break to grab a deep breath and try to heal up from being the most-injured team in the league this year. The “problem” of trying to figure out who was going to fill in the latest hole or shift in the roster ended up being one of the team’s strengths. But that constant fluidity has also made it next to impossible to establish a solid rhythm.

In the face of all of those challenges, this Nuggets squad brings a .684 (39-18) winning percentage into All-Star weekend, which is the highest percentage they’ve ever carried into the break. Improbably, one of the youngest and most-oft-injured squads the team has ever fielded has also set the bar for pace at this point. Even more incredibly, the amount of time the team has played to their fullest capabilities has been sporadic at best, rarely having hit on all cylinders.

At their best, the Nuggets are their fourth quarter defense, all hustle and grit and time making the other team “feel them”.

At their worst, they are their first quarter defense, which resembles a Sasquatch, in that it’s often heard of, but rarely seen.

At their best, the Nuggets are a kaleidoscope of passing, with the third-highest team assist ratio in the league. All-Star center Nikola Jokic’s style of play seems to be more contagious than chicken pox at daycare, with every player ramping up their passing.

At their worst, they are inattentive with the ball, giving up points off of sloppy turnovers that expose their already creative defense. To their credit, they have finally worked hard enough on this stat to be in the bottom third of the league in both turnovers and turnovers-per-100 possessions for the season.

At their best, the Nuggets are the scrapping, clawing, find-a-way squad that has pushed themselves to one of the top two seeds in the West through 70% of the 2018-2019 season.

At their worst? Worst keeps getting less bad for this team. Led by All-Star coach Michael Malone’s mantra to embrace their failures and improve every day, this group actually seems to want to look at their imperfections, and seek ways to translate them into strengths. With Mile High Basketball, the floor seems to be rising right along with the ceiling. Mike is teaching his team to fight through their weaknesses. Speaking of fight, I get the feeling this ref might have felt Coach Malone a little.

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A week to reflect and take a deep breath, Nuggets Nation. The road from here only gets tougher, but who is willing to bet against this team after the depth they’ve already shown? Their worst habits in game 57 were less worrisome than the “worsts” still on display coming into the season. Their best? For this historic Nuggets team, their best is yet to come.

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