After Monday night’s home 104-88 win against the Atlanta Hawks that marked 11 straight home wins and Denver’s fifth straight win overall, I am not going to make any playoff predictions or tell you how great Denver’s playoff run is going to be. Everytime I try that in this column, the Nuggets find a way to prove me wrong and lose four or five straight.
What I will tell you is that this Nuggets team is the most exciting Nuggets team I’ve ever seen. Coach George Karl’s way of winning with what is the third-youngest team in the National Basketball Association is to make a track meet out of the game. And maybe a track meet is not a good enough analogy. It’s probably more like a marathon sprint. Constant fast break points will wear any team down, especially in the high-altitude zone of the Pepsi Center, and that is what the Denver Nuggets do best.
To comfort myself while my wife is finishing law school, I listen to a lot of sports talk radio while I am at home. On one of those radio shows, broadcast out of Los Angeles, a constant topic is the Lakers, and the dismal season they’re having. As of Monday, they were just a game above .500, and still looking to secure the eighth and final playoff spot. But since the All Star break, it seems the Lakers have turned over a new leaf, actually winning more games than they have lost. This begs the question: Have the Lakers have changed enough for the better to make not only the playoffs, but even a run late into the playoffs? It’s all they’re talking about, on the L.A. sports radio show.
I bring this up because the Lakers were on a roll, and then they had to face the Nuggets, who currently hold a playoff spot, on Feb. 25. The L.A. commentators knew the day before the game that the Lakers were in trouble. It was a game of old versus young, and on top of that, the old Lakers would have to play a marathon sprint type of game in Denver’s thin air. Were the L.A. sports radio heads right to worry? Absolutely.
Denver won, 119-108, in a game that had every Lakers-head spinning. Denver sprinted the court and dunked the ball all night – In fact they had 78 points in the paint that evening. They outscored the Lakers 33-3 in the fast break. It didn’t matter who it was driving the ball – Corey Brewer, Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee or Andre Igoudala – everyone was getting good dunks throughout the evening.
The highlight of the night came right at the end of the game, when Igoudala threw up an alley-oop to Faried, who then took it out of Dwight Howard’s hands in mid-air and slammed it home. It was a Nuggets game that even had the Lakers saying wow.
“It's tough to neutralize speed, especially when they're very good at what they do,” Bryant told ESPN after the game. “Yeah, their speed. Their speed got us. They got out on transition, got easy buckets. Kept the pressure on us. We had to labor for opportunities; think we might have had two fast-break points. Contrast that with 33. It's crazy.”
OK, so the Lakers are old, and they were playing in a back-to-back game that would tire any team. So I asked myself, how could the Nuggets do what they do with one of the best teams in the NBA when Oklahoma City came to town last Friday?
While OKC proved to be a much tougher team to beat than the Lakers, Denver’s marathon sprint style was on once again. In a tied game, Ty Lawson drained a jumper to go up by two with .2 seconds left in the game: It was a big-time shot for the young point guard.
The story of this 105-103 win was Denver’s bench, led by Brewer and Wilson Chandler. They went on a 16-0 run in the first half to pull Denver back from a sizable deficit. By the end of the first half, Denver’s bench outscored OKC’s bench 36-4. By the end of the game, Denver’s bench scored a total of 71 points. The game proved Denver not only has a starting lineup of track stars, but also a bench full of track stars who can score points, and score those points fast.
Obviously, with a home record of 26-3 on the season, home court advantage will be key to the Nuggets making it past the first round of the playoffs. To do that, they will need to win on the road in the regular season, even though most of their remaining games will be at home. A particularly tough stretch will come in mid-March, when they will have to take on the Knicks at home and then hit the road three days later to play back-to-back games at Chicago and Oklahoma City. I’d love to be able to take two out of three of those games.
Home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs isn’t that far of a stretch for the Nuggets. As of Tuesday, they were just two-and-a-half games behind Memphis in the fourth spot. If they can keep Memphis in their sights, the Nuggets have a shot in the playoffs.
But there I go again, making predictions about the Nuggets playoff future. I honestly don’t know if the Nuggets are a mature enough team to make the NBA Finals or not. They certainly have some very, very good teams ahead of them in the Western Conference. We Nuggets fans shouldn’t worry about that now, though. While we don’t exactly know if the Nuggets are the best team in basketball right now, we do know they’re the most exciting team in basketball right now.
We should all just sit back and enjoy the fun.