The Denver Nuggets just completed a disastrous stretch where they actually lost five games in only nine days. I understand how physically demanding such a stretch is and how the Nuggets were short handed playing without Kenyon Martin in three of those games and Anthony Carter in four. Those are all just excuses. Denver has managed to play very well other times during this season while playing six games in nine days. What matters is at a time in the year where other teams are raising their level of play (Utah, New Orleans, Portland and San Antonio all come to mind) Denver is playing as poorly as they have all season.
I have two reactions to tonight’s loss against the Houston Rockets. First, I would argue while many fans are waiving the white flag the season is not over. The Nuggets have now completed one of the most difficult portions of their schedule and while they are floundering they have a great opportunity to collect themselves and go on an immediate five game winning streak. Their next five games are comprised of contests against the Thunder, Clippers and Nets at home, a road game against the Grizzlies and then they return to Denver to play the Wizards. A five game winning streak will put them right back at 20 games over .500 where they were when this debacle first began in Chicago. If they can rebuild some confidence and recapture the efficiency on both ends of the floor which made them such a strong team the first three and a half months of the season 52 or 53 wins is still well within reach. With the talent on this team and with the schedule providing them with a plethora of winnable games I feel very good guaranteeing that the Nuggets will make the playoffs.
While the season is not over my second reaction following the loss to the Rockets is, well, the season is over. 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. (The one caveat I will add is if the Trail Blazers manage to crash the party and earn a top four seed and end up matched up against Denver in the first round. I would welcome that series no matter who has home court advantage. However, I do not see Portland finishing that highly in the standings as a likely outcome.)
What is most alarming is the Nuggets seem to be at a complete loss as to why they are losing games. After dropping last night’s contest to Houston Carmelo Anthony is quoted as saying, “I can’t really pinpoint what’s going on.” If they want to figure out why they are losing all the Nuggets need to do is throw in some game film of their home win against the Jazz or of the second half in Philadelphia and then put in the tape from last night. The differences will be obvious and they all revolve around mental focus and the desire to do what is necessary to win. Do not get me wrong, Denver has played very hard in the fourth quarters of both the Kings and Rockets losses, but that is not enough. We are 65 games into the season and they do not seem to have figured that out.
You may be thinking to yourself that I am panicking and am way out of line. Let me say this. I do my best to stay on an even keel on this blog and remain consistent in my coverage of the team. I try to remove emotion from the equation and give thoughtful analysis. The season is long and it is not always easy to keep from getting too high when things are going well or too low during tough stretches such as this one. I sat on this post for at least 12 hours since writing it trying to decide whether or not I wanted to publish it. What it came down to is this is my honest assessment of the current situation and if it is what I truly believe, I would be cheating both myself and you all by not posting it. After all, I proclaimed last season that the Nuggets would lose in the first round again after the fifth game of the campaign. If I was confident that I was not jumping to conclusions at that point in the season I should fell alright arriving at the same determination in March this season. What the Nuggets have displayed for us since the All-Star break is all the proof I need to see.
Of course I have been wrong before and I hope I am wrong now. There is still over a fifth of the season remaining and things can change quickly. Look where Utah was fifteen games ago and where they are now. The same thing can happen for the Nuggets. As I have said over and over the schedule is still set up in their favor, but they have to step up and earn wins. Teams like Sacramento are not going to just roll over and thank Denver for blessing them with the honor of their presence. The opportunity to claim home court advantage and win the Northwest Division title is still there as long as the Nuggets take every second of every game seriously from here on out. I just wish I thought they had it in them.
Prove me wrong Denver, I beg you.