First of all I let’s get something straight. Even after dropping a game at home to a very shorthanded Utah Jazz team in my mind the Denver Nuggets are still the favorite to win their first round series with Utah. However, I am done looking at this team through the perspective of what they can do and from now on I am only concerned with what they have done. They have successfully destroyed my sense of optimism about what they can be.
The arrival of the second season did not prove to be any kind of magic elixir that erased 82 games of up and down play and I will no longer operate under the assumption or hope that any single event can automatically cure this team from its ailments all of which can be summed up in one word, inconsistency.
Game two produced three different phases for Denver. Initially we saw the first half team that was way too laid back and proved to be ineffective ultimately giving up a big run to close out the first half that basically cost them the game. The second half brought a maniacal swarming defensive effort that triggered a run successful enough to demolish a 14 point lead and eventually earn a 102-98 lead with under four minutes remaining. From there Denver collapsed committing two offensive fouls, and one truly offensive foul, Carmelo’s silly sixth foul. Add in some unnecessary three point attempts when the Nuggets were scoring in the paint all night long and we discover that 20 minutes of good to great play is not going to make up for the 28 minutes of absent minded defense, misapplied physical aggression and some shots born out of what can only be described as a hero complex that hounds a couple of Denver’s guards.
In the end their inconsistency put them in a difficult spot and in the end produced some big mistakes. The loss has cost them home court advantage and any mental edge they may have had due to the Jazz dealing with the losses of Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer.
The fact is inconsistency has hounded Denver for years, and this year, in a season where every game was supposed to be an important step towards earning a high seed to help propel another postseason push, Denver remained wildly inconsistent. Then again it might be said their inconsistency was consistent as evidenced by the gap between their performance against playoff teams versus their performance against sub .500 teams. Despite the fact Denver has a veteran laden team they continue to flounder mentally.
That inconsistency is born of having inconsistent players. You can never be sure of what you are getting from night to night from key cogs like Nene, Chris Andersen and the king of inconsistency, J.R. Smith. Denver can go from a well oiled machine scoring points in bunches to a gaggle of dudes who simply launch the first jumpers that presents itself. And they can do so for inexplicably long stretches at a time. Probably the only thing you know you will get night after night is Arron Afflalo will bust his butt every play defensively when he is on the floor, Carmelo will score at least 20 points and J.R. Smith and Chauncey Billups will combine to shoot well over ten threes whether they are falling or not. How do you build a team around that? What kind of identity can a inconsistent group produce?
Now consider Utah. They might have nights where their shots are not falling, but you know you are going to get a hard fought smart game from Deron Williams. Carlos Boozer is going to take high percentage shots and rebound. Paul Milsap will throw his body around and rebound. Kyle Korver will at least work hard defense and earn open jumpers. The team as a whole will run their sets and follow the instructions Jerry Sloan provides for them.
The fact that Denver’s style over substance is backed by such tremendous talent they have a good shot at defeating the team that simply goes out and does their thing night in and night out. However, regardless of their superior talent Denver’s EKG like performances put them at risk of ending this season with the greatest sin in sports, unmet potential.