On March 10, 2009 I wrote the following:
With the stink bomb the Nuggets dropped on us the past couple of weeks they have almost completely destroyed any chance of earning home court advantage in the playoffs. I have a difficult time envisioning a scenario where they catch the Spurs, Jazz or Hornets. Plus with the loss last night they have lost the season series to the Rockets making it even more difficult to surpass them in the standings. In order to earn home court advantage the Nuggets would have to overtake two of those four teams. At this point almost any best case scenario we can construct leaves the Nuggets playing either the Spurs, Jazz or Hornets in the first round. Because of that I am afraid there is little hope of Denver reaching the second round.
Needless to say with the Nuggets up two games to none against Dallas and heavy favorites to advance to the Western Conference Finals I think I can find it in me to admit I was wrong. I had not forgotten about my inaccurate analysis and thought I owed you all an explanation. Today reader Fats emailed me and asked me to detail what has changed since that dark March day and I realized it was time.
If we rewind back to March 10 the Nuggets were in the midst of a terrible slump. They had lost eight of their previous 11 games to teams like Milwaukee, Indiana and Sacramento. They were drubbed in Chicago by 17 and lost by 38 to the Celtics at home. Out of their three wins during that stretch one was a one point home win against Atlanta where the Hawks overcame a 17 point third quarter deficit and Flip Murray missed a short runner at the buzzer that would have won the game.
Another win was against the Los Angeles Lakers and as impressive as it seemed at the time was made to look fluke-ish based on the story the surrounding games told. Considering the Lakers did not get into Denver until four in the morning due to a late Thursday night TNT home game against Phoenix the night before the win lost some of its luster.
It was really the loss to Sacramento that seemed to sum up the Nuggets’ apparent demise. The Nuggets allowed the Kings to shoot 51.3% and their perimeter defense was nonexistent resulting in a plethora of open looks from behind the arc with resulted in Sacramento converting 14 or their 29 attempts from distance. I was still ready to give the Nuggets the benefit of the doubt if they could rise to the occasion and notch a home win against the Rockets the next night, but after falling behind by 19 in the third quarter their late push was not enough to earn the win.
It is also important to look at what the other teams in the west were doing at the time. New Orleans was still thought of as a strong team. Tyson Chandler had returned from injury and the Hornets had just run off seven straight wins. They looked like the team many observers thought could challenge the Lakers before the season.
Utah, likewise a preseason favorite, appeared to have righted the ship as well. They would win their twelfth straight game that night. The Spurs were playing well without Manu Ginobili and we did not yet know Manu would be out for the season. They appeared to be a lock for the second seed.
Portland had also passed the Nuggets in the standings and looked strong as well while Dallas was only a half a game behind Denver and they were surging too.
Denver was riding a six game road losing streak and any hope for advancing out of the first round seemed to be tied to capturing home court advantage and that accomplishment looked to be as likely as peace in the Middle East.
If we look at what transpired since then my projections were not far off although the teams I feared, Utah and New Orleans, proved to be paper tigers. I started the post proclaiming the Nuggets were about to embark on the easiest portion of their schedule. Even before the season I wrote that if they could just hang around up until the middle of March they should be able to make a move in the standings. On March 10 I still expected Denver to win 52 games, I just did not see any way it would result in a top four seed.
Honestly, I was only off by one game. Had Denver finished with 53 wins they would have faced off with the Rockets in the first round without home court advantage. As well as the Nuggets are playing right now, I am not sure they escape that series victorious. Houston is playing very well and I think Denver really needed that home court edge in their first couple of games to exorcise those old demons.
So that was the lay of the land when I wrote the Nuggets off on March 10. Now we need to look at on the court changes.
To see what Denver was doing wrong during that pathetic stretch in late February and early March you can go back and look at this post from March 11. Primarily the issues were a lack of running, poor shooting, stationary offense that was isolation heavy that resulted in fewer easy buckets, poor perimeter defense and a big decrease in their advantage from the free throw line.
It is not difficult to look over that list and realize things have changed pretty drastically since then. Denver is running and earning easy baskets, their offense is flowing and they are dominating the paint against Dallas, Billups and J.R. Smith have been shooting lights out from three point land and Melo and Nene are doing efficient damage at the rim. Of course, the biggest difference has been a focus and tenacity on defense that was absent during their 3-8 stretch.
Without the lightweight schedule following the loss to the Rockets on March 9, I firmly believe Denver is sitting at home right now. Relatively easy games including home tilts with Oklahoma City, the Clippers, Nets and Wizards with a road game at Memphis mixed in allowed Denver to rebuild their confidence and see that they might still have something to play for. After that five game winning streak Denver then went on the road and played the Suns very tough in a 115-118 loss, but responded by defeating the Hornets and Mavericks in their arenas over the next two games.
The Nuggets were now back in first place in the Northwest Division as Utah started their fade and Portland was unable to keep up, although they did close the season on a 10-1 streak. The Nuggets were the third seed, tied with Houston and only a game and a half behind the Spurs who now knew they would be without Ginobili.
I closed that March 10 the sky is falling post begging Denver to prove me wrong. Have they ever and thank God for it.
Someone buy this man a soda
John Hollinger has a great article wondering why the Nuggets are not garnering more attention. I do not think Denver is flying under the radar as much as Hollinger thinks, but it is encouraging to hear national media members proclaim Denver as legit contenders.
Mavs news wrap
For a collection of news from the Dallas perspective head on over to Mavs Moneyball. Wes includes a quote from Kelly Dwyer properly lambasting Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Chris Webber for their verbal assassination of Dirk for talking about Kenyon, Nene and Birdman playing defense on him.
Today’s history lesson
Like Jacobim Mugatu I feel like I am taking crazy pills
Am I the only person in the world who noticed the Nuggets defense in game two was far from stellar?
Fun with photos
The Chris Andersen Files has some great pictures up showing Dirk and Mark Cuban in various states of inebriation. Plus unlike my rambling screeds the posts there do not take long to consume.
Nuggets at the movies
The wild and woolly site Low Posts introduces their own take on the upcoming Quentin Tarantino vehicle Inglourious Basterds called Innuglious Basterds.
Brad Miller is not amused
The NBA set the bar for suspensions for contact to a player’s head very low by suspending Rafer Altson for this:
Where Dampier Happens
Another “Where Amazing Happens” spoof featuring a Mav (hat tip to Mavs Moneyball)
I forgot two things
Bill Simmons makes his case to be GM for the Timberwolves and all I can say is it is sad this will not happen (thanks to Ball Don’t Lie for the link) because it would be too sane. Denver is the dunkingest team in the league. Any and every slam dunk stat you could hope to see (thanks to Eric to Roto Evil for the email tip).