Going into the post season, the Nuggets looked to be a team that could beat any opponent thrown in front of them – any opponent except the Thunder.
Before the playoffs started, the Thunder won three straight and then took that momentum right at the now-young Nuggets team and won three more. After each one of those heartbreaking playoff losses, all I can say is I wish the Nuggets had drawn Dallas in the first round. Or Portland. Or New Orleans. Hell, I would rather play the Lakers in the first round. Anyone but the Thunder. This is not to say all those other playoff teams are bad, it’s just to say that Oklahoma City is playing so damn good right now. If they continue to play this well, I honestly don’t think there is a team that can stop them.
For those Nuggets fans out there, hopefully you are reading this the morning after another Nuggets win on Wednesday night in Oklahoma City to stay alive for a game six. I know the Thunder desperately wanted to win that game on Monday night in Denver to get some much needed rest in preparation for the next round.
I am hoping Denver can take the rest of the series one win at a time, but if they don’t and are forced out of the playoffs in the first round, it won’t be the end of the world for Karl, the team or Nuggets fans. Yes, I will be disappointed their playoff run has ended, but it won’t hurt as bad as it could.
I guess this is me saying my glass is half full when taking a loss, but I think we can all plainly see that the Nuggets are a great team and will only improve to be an even greater team in the next couple of years. With the Carmelo Anthony/Chauncey Billups trade, the Nuggets took a strong foundation of fast-paced basketball and made it even better. With just a little more aging and working with Karl, this is a team on the up and up.
Just from observing Karl’s expressions in this difficult series against the Thunder, you can see the man isn’t frustrated with his team. Yes, he may be frustrated at the great play of the Thunder but he doesn’t seem frustrated at the way his team is playing.
Can you imagine how Karl would look if Denver still had Melo and company and were down three games to one against the Thunder? I guarantee he would be more frustrated with his team rather than the opponent. With Melo, the team always exhibited promise that never came to fruition. That promise rested solely on the shoulders of Melo. With young superstars like Ty Lawson, Nene, Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari, the team’s promise looks great, and it’s spread across the entire team, so when one has a tough night scoring, all is not lost.
Karl sees what this team can be, and this playoff experience, win or lose, against a team like the Thunder, will only season the team even more. Already, in his second year, Lawson is learning to be a leader in the post season. Take Monday’s 105-101 win for example. Lawson finished with a team high 27 points, three assists, gave up only one turnover and went a perfect nine-for-nine from the free throw line. According to The Denver Post, it was Lawson’s best game in his budding NBA career. Facing elimination, it was a perfect time for Lawson to step up and play hard.
The same goes for Gallinari to some extent. While he’s a bit more wide-eyed and prone to stupid mistakes, when Gallinari bucks up and plays at a high level, he’s a real force on the court to deal with.
In his first playoff series in the NBA, Gallinari started off the series like he almost didn’t belong by consistently missing shots and making mistakes. On Monday, though, he turned that around, when he scored 18 points, going six-of-13 shooting, and cashing three three-pointers. The 22-year-old shows some real promise of being an outside shooter as well as being physical when driving to the hoop. He’s not a great yet but with a little more time, especially in must-win situations, he will become another force to deal with.
The pieces are in place for the Nuggets to be NBA Champions. It may not happen this year but its in Denver’s future. Hopefully the team can bring it sooner rather than later as the clock is ticking on Karl’s coaching career. After Karl, who knows what will happen.