Digging Around in the Nuggets’ Psyche

The Denver Nuggets are showing signs of frustration, both individually and collectively, and it is to their detriment.  We all saw Nene lose his cool on Louis Amundson.  I wish I could post some video showing what had been going on between the two leading up to Nene’s meltdown, but my DVD recording of the game somehow came up empty.

Ultimately, to me it does not matter what Amundson did or did not do Nene cannot respond the way he did.  I do not care if he went Reggie Evans on Nene’s undercarriage what he did was unacceptable.  The really sad thing is Nene got away with his little head butt.  Had he left it at that no harm done, but it was not enough.  He had to drop his elbow on Amundson’s noggin too.

Amundson was not content with Nene getting kicked out of the game, he wants to set up a futon and move into Nene’s head full time.  He kept needling Nene after the fact calling him a “fake tough guy” and even a “dirty player” in an interview with Chris Tomasson of In Denver Times.

“I’m playing hard and with a lot of energy, and Nene took exception to the fact that I was going to play physical back with him,’’ Amundson said. “I play hard, but he was playing dirty the whole game. He was elbowing me. … He was hitting me in the head and the neck.’’

Once again I am as upset as you I do not have video of what was really happening, but I believe Nene has let the frustration of missed calls build inside him over the season to a point where after every play he is looking at the referees in disgust.  He has to let it go.  Where has all the complaining and glaring gotten him?  After a while you are only hurting yourself.  I have written it before, but if you make a scene after every play it makes it easy for the ref to ignore you.  If you are more judicious with your protests it will make a much stronger point.

However, even more important than Nene’s fractured relationship with the officials is that he allowed that frustration to provide the fuel for his actions last night.  Amundson may have been the recipient of the tantrum, but he was the just the spark that ignited the primed frustration based fuel. 

Tonight the Nuggets face the Hornets in a game that will be even more difficult than the one they lost in Phoenix and there is a possibility they will be facing the Hornets without Nene.  If Nene ends up being suspended I am guessing a big reason for it will be his reaction to the flagrant foul call when he tried to get in Bill Spooner’s face.  Of course as Scott Hastings pointed out on the broadcast Spooner certainly did not try to avoid a confrontation almost reveling in Nene’s reaction to the call.  Regardless of whether or not Spooner welcomed the confrontation Nene must control himself.

Should Maybyner end up missing the Hornets game the Nuggets’ chances for a win fall from unlikely to get ready to play Dallas. 

Nene is not the only Nugget in the news for flipping his lid.  Linas Kleiza has been fined $25,000 for going off on an official or officials.  At this time there are no details.  The report states that the confrontation occurred after the Wizards game.

I may have a blank DVD of the Suns game, but thank God I do have all of the Nuggets/Wizards tilt on a DVD so I went back and checked to see if I could see anything.  Dahntay Jones shot two free throws with 11 seconds left and Kleiza was paying no attention to the officials and seemed quite docile.  Following the final horn Kleiza paid his respects to countryman Darius Songailia and the last I saw him he was turning to walk to the locker room near midcourt.  There was one official who was potentially in his path, but a few seconds later when we get a shot of the entire court I could not locate Kleiza, but he was definitely not lingering on the floor and there was no sign of the referees either. 

Once again whatever frustration Kleiza felt was most likely due to the fact he has not hit a non sky hook three point shot in a couple of weeks.  Fortunately for the Nuggets the only problem is Kleiza might continue his downward spiral, but as long as his minutes keep shrinking, no harm done.

Above and beyond these two incidents I am seriously concerned about the mental state of this team and I am not only talking about the players.  George Karl has been up to his old tricks downplaying the importance of any single game or series of games.  The Nuggets “stated goal” for the three game road trip is to win two of the three games. 

What on earth is wrong with saying our goal is to win all three games, take advantage of the way the Spurs have opened the door for us to challenge them for the second seed and take the second seed for ourselves?  I would love to hear my team talk like that.  It would fire me up.  This may sound a bit wacky and forgive me for thinking such ridiculous thoughts, but maybe that type of attitude might even spill over into their play on the floor.  Instead of coming out flatter than the back tire of Charles Barkley’s scooter maybe, just maybe, they would be fired up to meet a challenge instead of lulled into a false sense of security.

I strongly believe organizations win championships and as long as the Nuggets are managing risk by aiming for ten win months or hoping to split these games or those games the players will never be pushed to excel and mediocrity will rule the day.

This team has always been a little too content with itself.  Last year the reasoning was “So what if we are only the eighth seed and have to play the top seeded Lakers, we won 50 games and that makes us a special team.”  Never mind the fact that on average there are six 50 win teams in the Western Conference every season.  How special is that?  If you end up in the top 40% of something is it a cause for celebration?  In fact the Nuggets were not even that good.  They were eighth out of 15 teams, but the season was still seen as a feather in the organization’s plucked cap.

If someone told me I was in the top eight out of the 15 Nuggets blogs on the Internet I would not be patting myself on the back even if I had just made my first post the day before.  If my daughter tells me I am in the top eight dads of the kids in her class I am not going to tell everyone how there were a lot of great dads I had to compete with.

We have talked at length about how Denver has struggled after the All-Star break.  Let me put it in perspective for you.  Out of the nine teams vying for a playoff spot in the west Denver has far and away the worst record.  Thanks to their five game winning streak against the Thunder, Clippers, Nets, Grizzlies and Wizards (woo-hoo!) Denver is 9-9 since the break.  Utah is 14-3, New Orleans is 14-5, Houston is 15-5, Portland is 12-8 and even the Mavs (13-7) and Suns (13-8) have better post break records.  The Spurs are the only team who is close to slumping as badly as the Nuggets and they are still 11-8 even though Manu Ginobili is out and they have been resting Tim Duncan.

The Nuggets are practically in a dead heat with the six teams fighting for the three up for grabs home court positions and they are the only team who is in a state of disarray.

After the loss to the Rockets I proclaimed I believed the Nuggets were heading for another first round exit.   With their sloppy play over their five game winning streak and then the loss in Phoenix last night I still stand firmly behind that post.

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  • BeefySwats

    I too have noticed the fragility of the Nugget’s commitment to mental fortitude. Carmelo and JR picking up stupid technicals, Nene letting players get under his skin, KMart being an idiot, and worst of all, Karl once again seeming completely emotionally detached.

    Karl’s attitude has spread to the other players. “So what if it’s another game, we’re in the playoffs and as long as we play .500 ball nothing to worry about”.

    Of all of the criticisms levelled at Karl, both deserved and undeserved, it is the one that he is too uninvolved with and unable to connect to his players that has the most credence to me.

    How any coach could possibly be content with his team continually failing to do ANYTHING in the post-season 5 straight season in a row is beyond me. I realize following Karl’s hip surgery and Coby’s cancer treatments he re-evaluated his approach to basketball, but come on. He no longer recognizes the importance of attitude. The Nuggets absolutely NEED to prove that they are capable of stepping up, locking down, and listening to their coach.

    But it’s hard to blame them for not doing that when their coach isn’t saying much of anything at all.

  • RyanSev23

    It has always been said a team takes on the attitude and demeanor of their coach and in the Nuggets case that is a bad thing.

    You can see through their lazy defensive habits (switching screens all the time), and their sense of content that Karl is not pushing them to be great but to rather just get by as a nice team in the NBA.

    When you mention Karl saying, well hey if we can take 2 of these 3 games we’ll be OK, it actually makes me want to puke. That is the worst attitude I have ever heard from a head coach of any sport. Way to send a message. I can’t remember how many times I heard Karl make similar statements last year. To put that message out to your team tells them it is acceptable to lose and that they can come and play nonchalant for one night. Would Bill Belichick ever tell his Patriots team with 3 tough road games coming up: hey how about you guys just try and win 2 of these. what do you say?

    It is for that very reason I don’t think the Nuggets will ever come close to realizing their potential with Karl at the helm. As Sir Charles Barkley would put it, he’s turrible that knucklehead.