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Blog Entry

So wait, how far can these Nuggets actually go?

Posted on: April 3, 2011 2:50 pm
Edited on: April 3, 2011 6:37 pm
Posted by Royce Young

Nobody expected to be asking this question. I don't think even in his heart of hearts George Karl thought the Nuggets would be in the position for someone to ask it. More than a month after trading away the apparent franchise player, the Nuggets didn't dip. In fact, they did the complete opposite.

They rose.

You've heard the number a ton already, but I'll say it again: Since trading Anthony, Denver is an astonishing 15-4 and winners of seven straight, most recently with a terrific road win against the red hot Lakers. Again, I don't even the most optimistic people saw this streak coming. The feeling was the Nuggets made 50 cents on the dollar with the trade, getting quality pieces back but nothing comparable to Anthony. That's sort of the situation you face when trading a star. No matter the return, it's not as good as what you're sending out.

But the Nuggets clearly found something. They found a unit that works together, understands a philosophy entirely and has settled into roles and bought into a culture. There isn't a crunch time star to run things through. But there are a number of really solid players that are flourishing under Karl.

Not only are the Nuggets winning, but they've played every game well. They haven't really had a bad night. Their four losses were by a combined 15 points. And they came against the Magic, Heat, Blazers and Clippers. Yeah they Clipper loss isn't great, but it was at Staples where the Clips are 22-18 and have beat a lot of good teams. Not really a bad loss.

So the Nuggets have already accomplished the first goal, the one that appeared to be a longshot when general manager Masai Ujiri decided to finally cut ties with the Melodrama. They are going to go to the playoffs. Currently, the magic number is at one. A lone win or a Houston loss puts Denver in. And they are still in the rearview of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Northwest Division title and the four-seed in the playoffs.

Because that's where things have advanced to -- playoffs. No longer is it just about getting there, but now it's a new mission and a new question: Can the Nuggets actually make some noise?

It almost seems like we've all dismissed that as an option because of the lack of starpower. It's like people are saying, "Yeah the way they've played the last month is cute, but they aren't built for the postseason." But here's what wins in the playoffs: good basketball. And what do the Nuggets play? Good basketball.

On both ends, they've become a fundamentally sound unit that defends, moves the ball, cuts, runs and finishes. They are still scoring but instead if 60 percent coming from two players, it's now evenly distributed out among a number of guys. I think the toughest type of team to defend is one that have five, not one, players on the floor at a time capable of scoring. And not scoring as in making a bucket here or there. I mean capable of putting up double-digits consistently. George Karl deserves Coach of the Year consideration just for getting J.R. Smith to buy in to playing well with others. That honestly says it all.

Is this a team just built to contend for the Western Conference Finals? I mean, really? Well look at it this way: Most everyone the Nuggets play talk about how good they're playing and how scary they are. Put this group in a series where they need four wins and I don't think many teams would want to play them. They match up just about everywhere, have shooters, have two good point guards, have a big man that can rebound and score, have a really good bench and have an enforcer in the middle that adds toughness. They're built for anything.

One thing that makes a team more dangerous than anything is confidence. A belief in self, along with the 11 other guys on your team and the system you play in makes a team scary. It's how you see runs like what Butler has put together two straight years in the NCAA tournament. They believe in one another. They trust each other. And they just feel unbeatable, no matter what. Establishing that mentally was the top priority for Karl once the trade went through and he's absolutely succeeded.

The concern for them heading into the postseason is how they perform on the road where they're just 17-22. But Sunday's win in Los Angeles is a pretty good example of how they might be able to get over that. The Nuggets absolutely grinded one out versus the Lakers, playing hard nosed defense, by grabbing a couple key offensive rebounds and by moving the ball for good looks in crunch time. The Western Conference was already very aware of this Nugget team, but Sunday's win against the defending champs certainly raised a few more eyebrows.

But let's not get too carried away though. Winning in the playoffs isn't easy, no matter who you are or how well you're playing. You've got to beat a good team four times. That's tough, no matter how good you feel. And it will likely start versus the Thunder, a team that features a two-headed monster in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook plus ample size and toughness inside. Certainly, it will be a fun, but very difficult series.

The Nuggets are definitely capable of moving on though, but it's not like they're a favorite. It's not like most will give them much of a shot. Which means they'll be flying exactly where they want to be -- under the radar.

Since: Apr 9, 2009
Posted on: April 4, 2011 6:12 am

So wait, how far can these Nuggets actually go?


Since: Dec 20, 2009
Posted on: April 4, 2011 2:11 am

So wait, how far can these Nuggets actually go?

kisha21 are you a journalism student from Obamaville U?

Since: Dec 20, 2009
Posted on: April 4, 2011 2:06 am

So wait, how far can these Nuggets actually go?

Between cancer, Melo.....lockouts ....after all of this BS George Karl has taken the high road, all of the while dealing with cancer. Coach of the year in this mans opinion!!! you keep it up george.

Since: Aug 19, 2006
Posted on: April 4, 2011 1:59 am

So wait, how far can these Nuggets actually go?

this team now has a chance to be a team. they will be dangerous in the playoffs.
this team has a bad additue that you don't want to mess with.

Since: Dec 3, 2006
Posted on: April 4, 2011 1:12 am

So wait, how far can these Nuggets actually go?

The Nuggets have become a team to get really excited about.  I just hope they don't feel too much pressure when it comes to the playoffs.  Unless OK City falls apart, the Nuggets will not have home court advantage in any series, and that makes a difference.  The will also be lining up against a really good OK City team.  So it could be one and done this year.  Then again, they might get over the hump even without homecourt advantage. 

Most important for the Nuggets is to realize what they have accomplished since the trade.  Whatever happens in this year's playoffs is a bonus, and they shouldn't get down on themselves if they don't make it very far.  The key will be to get this team to really play well together next season, so they can get homecourt advantage next year, and then hopefully make a long run into the playoffs.

One last thing; the Nuggest are a very young team, so they have time. 

Since: Aug 25, 2009
Posted on: April 4, 2011 1:11 am

So wait, how far can these Nuggets actually go?

We knew that George Karl was a superior coach, but the job he has done since losing Camelo Anthony ought to put him into the Coach of the Year discussion and I'm not kidding. He held the Nuggets together through he whole trade drama and now that the cancer is gone he has managed to put together a group that can win pretty much anywhere. I suspected that the Lakers might be in trouble against Denver today and unfortunately I was proven correct.This is a group of guys who have really bought into the idea, as Mr. Young so correctly states. So, let's take a quick look at Denver since the treade and see what they have and what they can do.

It all starts at point guard, where the Nuggets have two of the better points in the League in former Tar Heels Raymond Felton and Tywon Lawson. Lawson is quicker and Felton is probably a shade more reliable running the offense but both of these guys can shoot, both can run the offense and both can defend (here again Felton gets a slight edge over Lawson simply due to his greater size). Ver few teams have that kind of luxury at the point and it is even more important that both of these guys have totally bought into Karl's system. of course, since George is himself a former Tar Heel, that probably doesn't hurt!

Aaron Afflalo and J.R. Smith man the shooting guard spot and while Afflalo is known more for his defense than his offense, he can certainly score when needed. Smith is a stone-cold scorer. Although he can be very streaky, he is one of the more dangerous streak shooters in the entire league - when he gets hot, watch out! The contrast betwen Smith's scoring and Afflalo's defense gives the Nuggets a wonderful change of pace and since Smith usually comes off the bench, very few teams can match the scoring he and Danilo Gallinari bring to the table. 

At the small forward, Denver has Wilson Chandler and the afore-mentioned Gallinari. Both of these guys can really score and since coming to Denver, Gallinari has moderated the Peja Stojakovic habits that had me a little worried about him. Chandler has played some great basketball and was a factor again today in LA against the Lakers. And while neither guy is a great defender, they have been active and have apparently bought into the team defense, meaning that although individually they might not be the best, they are not hurting the team - particularly Gallinari.

At power forward is the veteran Kenyon Martin. Although his scoring has decreased since his days in New Jersey, he is still considered one of the better defenders at his position in the league and he is always capable of stepping up and delivering big points. Behind him is Al Harrington - another guy who can really fill it up. And the Birdman - Chris Andersen, is the third guy off the bench, bringing enthusiasm, defense, rebounding, shot-blocking and thundering alley-oop dunks.

At center is the Brazilian Nene Hilario, known these days by his first name only. He provides a scoring, rebounding and defending center who has the skills and toughness to  to match up with guys like Andrew Bynum and even Dwight Howard. Behind him is Chris Andersen and the third guy on the depth chart is the Russian project Tomofey Mozgov, who rarely gets off the bench. 

Taken together, this is a dangerous lineup, possessing scoring, defense, rebounding and really without any significant weaknesses. They can be done in by overwhelming star power and the question of who is the go-to guy when they absolutely, positively have to have a bucket is still an unanswered question, but this is a team that even NBA super-powers like the Lakers do not really want to face in the playoffs. They present multiple matchup problems, and while I do not think they can beat a team like LA in a seven game series, they could certainly give them a real scare. If Denver ever gets a go-to closer, they could be battling it out with OKC for years to come in the Western conference once the Lakers' run finally ends. 

This year is interesting, especially considering the matchups. The Nuggets are probably going to meet OKC in the first round, and that will be a VERY interesting matchup. OKC has he star power, but Denver is so well-balanced that that series could go either way, in my opinion. And so they could very well make it into the second round, where they would probably face San Antonio. San Antonio's methodical offense and superior defense, not to mention the star power of Duncan, Ginobli and PArket might be too much for Denver, but on the other hand, the Nuggets may have the better bench, which will even things out. BUt I would expect the run to end in the second round this year. Next year, however, is another story.

Since: Oct 2, 2006
Posted on: April 3, 2011 11:05 pm

So wait, how far can these Nuggets actually go?

As a Knick fan, I knew the trade was a disaster for my team; the obvious corrollary is that it was a steal for Denver.  But I didn't think Karl would whip it together this quickly: hats off to him.

Since: Feb 19, 2007
Posted on: April 3, 2011 10:46 pm

So wait, how far can these Nuggets actually go?

I think they could win a series.

Since: Feb 19, 2011
Posted on: April 3, 2011 10:42 pm

So wait, how far can these Nuggets actually go?

Success for Denver is a great thing for the league. It shows that all these pre-arranged get-togethers that these players are scheming up is not the only way to win. It still may not be a way to win at all, anyway. The Knicks are still a joke, and Miami probably isn't winning anything either.

Since: Sep 14, 2008
Posted on: April 3, 2011 10:01 pm

So wait, how far can these Nuggets actually go?

It's nice to see how much time you have on your hands
I have 5 blog posts in two years...  How hard is it to click on a name and see where someone posted about the Nuggets??

Besides, I just love people spouting off about how they "know" things.  You know the Nuggets are going to lose in the first round. You know they were a more dangerous team with Melo and Billups.  They may have had more dangerous players, but think about your statement... You said TEAM.  They did not play like a team before.  A true dangerous team doesn't lose in the first round like last year.  When will people stop equating talent with teamwork???  History is littered with talented teams who didn't get it done...because they didn't play like teams.
Are UConn and Butler the most talented teams in the NCAA??  No expert would say that.
And who said they were a title contender?  Anyone saying that is just being foolish.  Who knows what will happen.
And, as someone else already pointed out, they didn't have the best record two years ago.  They finished 2nd to the Lakers.  Aren't you a Lakers fan?? How did that one slip your mind??
I enjoyed the conversation, but once every few months is enough.  That's how much time I have on my hands.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or