SPORTS WATCH
Nuggets at the Top of Their Game Just in Time for Playoffs
by Gus Jarvis
Apr 26, 2012 | 999 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Before the New York Giants snuck into the NFL postseason, they weren’t the best-looking team in football, and they certainly didn’t seem to be Super Bowl champions. But the team’s play peaked at just the right time, and they ended up winning it all. I say this now looking forward to the upcoming NBA playoffs with high hopes that the Denver Nuggets will peak in the same way.

While I’d say Denver has been one of the most exciting teams to watch in this shortened NBA season, they haven’t always been the most consistent team. Injuries, lackluster performances and a tough division have sort of kept George Karl’s team from making the big national headlines. But the Nuggets have also shown a lot of promise, as well. When they are hot, they can beat any team on the road or at home.

The good thing right now, at least for us Nuggs fans, is that the team is timing it right. With the playoffs looming on the horizon, it looks like the Nuggets are peaking at just the right time. The question now is, how long the team can ride this wave of dominating basketball?

Denver has won six of their last eight games (not including Wednesday’s tilt against Oklahoma City) in some serious routs of some pretty decent teams. Last Saturday, Denver beat the Suns 118 to 107 and became the seventh team in the Western Conference to clinch a playoff spot. This was a particularly big game for the Suns. If they found a way to win, they only had to beat the Jazz to sneak into the No. 8 playoff spot. Instead, Denver, behind Ty Lawson’s 29 points and 10 assists, handed the Suns a heartbreaking loss to severely diminish their playoff hopes.

The Nuggets continued their domination on Sunday, when they simply beat the hell out of the Orlando Magic 101-74 at the Pepsi Center. It was such a dominating win, the Nuggets outscored the Magic 57-30 in the second half. (Perhaps Orlando has other, more pressing issues on their mind like Dwight Howard’s ongoing soap opera that makes LeBron James’ “The Decision” seem minor.)

The win over Orlando, which completed a season sweep over the Magic, put an exclamation point on the way the Nuggets have been playing. According to The Denver Post, in the last eight games Denver’s defense have allowed an average of only 95.8 points per games with opponents only hitting 46.3 percent of their shots. Combine that with the fact that Denver’s offense is averaging 107 points in the last eight games (five points higher than their season average) and there’s no wonder why the team has been dominating their opponents.

I remember when this NBA season finally got underway after the labor dispute and I (as usual) was really excited about the way the Nuggets were playing. They had youthful legs, they played with intensity and looked promising. I was very excited about this year’s team. Then injuries began to plague the team. Danilo Gallinari went down right when he was getting into the groove. All of a sudden, Denver’s play went downhill and it looked like it was going to be just another season of Denver Nuggets’ good-but-not-great basketball.

I was put down even more when Denver decided to trade Nene. Even Karl was depressed after that move. Since then, though, with Gallinari back on the court and improving his game, and the ever-impressive rookie Kenneth Faried, the kid they call the “Manimal,” becoming both a rebounding and scoring machine, Denver has been on the up and up. Lately, I can’t get enough of Faried. He’s soothed the departure of Nene over nicely. Denver likes to run the ball and play an up-tempo style and there are instances where you can see where the Nuggets are wearing themselves out, not to mention their opponents. Even when everyone is gassed on the court, Faried can bring the energy level back up. The guy knows how to hustle, and that’s why he will soon be a king of double-doubles. Man, I like to see that guy crashing the boards. Through April 19, according to NBA.com, Faried ranked first among NBA rookies in rebounds per game (7.4), field-goal percentage (.579) and was second in double-doubles (9) and third in blocks per game (1.02).

“It doesn’t happen very often that [rookies] play big-time part of the [winning] personality,” Karl told NBA.com. “I hope that Kenneth gets some glory and some love and some appreciation. I think he has earned it and deserves it.”

Denver currently holds the sixth seed in the playoffs and will have played Oklahoma City on Wednesday evening, and will then play Minnesota Thursday. Denver can secure that sixth seed spot with victories in Oklahoma City and Minnesota, or by winning one of those games in combination with a Dallas Mavericks loss. Right now, it looks like Denver may take on the Lakers, but depending how it all plays out, could face the Clippers, Oklahoma City or San Antonio.

Personally, I’d like to take on the Lakers in the first round. In the past I have dreaded having to go through the Lakers, but I think this year, it’s Denver’s best chance of making it to the second round. The Lakers have aged a bit, and with Denver’s exhausting up-tempo style, I don’t think they will be able to keep up, especially in a series. Denver has the ability to beat the Clippers in a playoff series, but I’d be pretty worried if they had to take on Oklahoma City or San Antonio, right off the bat.

I’d like to gain some momentum from a Lakers ass-kicking before Denver takes on one of those teams.

gjarvis@watchnewspapers.com or @gusgusj
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