Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.

No, I don’t need a drink. Although after the Denver Nuggets game against the Charlotte Hornets last night, I suppose a drink or five wouldn’t have hurt anyone.

In his exceptional novel Ella Minnow Pea, author Mark Dunn spins a “progressively lipogrammatic epistolary tale”. What that means for those of us (me) who need a few less syllables in their cerebellums is this: Dunn writes an engaging and humorous novel while slowly but surely using less and less of the alphabet to do so. The primary challenge of the book’s characters (SPOILER ALERT: skip to next paragraph if you plan to read the novel) is to find a pangram which is shorter than typing class favorite, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog”. The opening sentence of this piece is their eventual discovery.

I remember being amazed by the book, not only as an exercise in restrictive writing, but also being charmed by the narrative. I cannot remember for the life of me if or when Dunn ditched the letter “D” in the story. Somehow, the book came roaring to mind last night as I was thinking of missing D, and how long it’s been since it was last spotted in Env… Denver.

The Nuggets started a four-game road trip last night with a demoralizing loss to Charlotte, a game in which the Nugs were down by 27 points at one point, and included this in-the-closing-seconds phrase from the Hornets radio crew, “It feels like the Hornets have been up by 20 all night”. Good god.

There were many things wrong last night, and Ryan Blackburn details them well in his recap last night, with several more raised in the conversation that follows. The Nuggets are figuring out a number of things at the moment, with their Ferrari offense in the garage and up on the rack, and some understandable reconfiguring with another talented player in the mix in Paul Millsap. Young star Nikola Jokic has had a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t opening quartet of games across his stat line with nights of no points and nights of 17 points. Nights of no assists and nights of eight assists. It’s not just the two stars meshing. There have been bench troubles. Struggles for most every player on the roster at one-or-many points in the early going on the offensive end. A top-tier offense is not just key to the Nuggets grand plans this season, it’s possibly the sole plan. And yet…

One other notable omission from your Denver Nuggets program for far too long is Defense. How long? Well, let’s do it this way… Here’s the last ten seasons…

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Those numbers might irk the defensively-minded coach Michael Malone, as he’d originally hung his hat on a defensive philosophy on his arrival. It’s been five years since Denver cracked the top half of the league’s defensive rankings, and nine since they rode a solid defensive-offensive combo to the Western Conference Finals. Defense in Denver has been rarer than a Pittsburgh steak, and it’s not as if the data doesn’t say where you need to land if your hopes are high. Here’s another ten of interest:

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There’s a decided lack of crossover between those two lists, with the only numeric overlaps coming with two championship teams that starred LeBron James. If the Nuggets real desire is to finish a season at the top of the heap one of these years, it would seem a fair question to wonder how Denver can turn a group of players that is primarily made up of minus defenders into a top-10 defense with playoff hopes.

The tinkering with the offense is frustrating after what looked to be possible at the end of last season. But there are very good pieces there to work together, and hopefully they will before Nuggets Nation suffers a blue-and-gold pulsing aneurysm.

But a great defense keeps you in games where your shots are not falling, simply because the other guy’s shots probably weren’t falling, either. A great defense gives you a better shot at the playoffs and beyond.

But let’s not worry about a great defense just yet. That’s a long ways off. Let’s talk about a good defense, dear Nuggets. Hell, an average defense. 48 consecutive minutes of average defense. Maybe. Please? In a crawl/walk/run scenario, you may still be dribbling, dealing, and debating at the starting line.

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