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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nuggets Try to Make Late Push for Playoff Berth

Before this season began, Denver players openly spoke about winning 60 games and contending for a championship. Now, with 16 games to go, the Nuggets are trying to make a late push to get the eighth and final playoff spot in the very competitive Western Conference. They have won their last three games, all at home, by at least 22 points, albeit against weak opposition: Memphis, Seattle and a Toronto team that is floundering without the injured Chris Bosh. On Sunday, the Nuggets scored the fourth most points in a regulation game in the history of the NBA, blasting the Sonics 168-116. That total obviously established a season-high for this year, smashing the mark that the Nuggets had set against the Sonics on February 27 in a 138-96 win.

Denver Coach George Karl did pull his starters out well before the end of both of those games but it is fair to wonder what, if anything, the Nuggets were trying to prove. Yes, the Sonics are a bad team that has had their share of blowout losses but the Nuggets took it to a whole other level in those two games. This is not the old CBA where you get a point in the standings for each quarter that you win, nor is this college football where the pollsters give you a boost for blowout victories. You may recall that last season's fracas in Madison Square Garden was at least partially caused by the feeling among Knicks' players and coaches that the Nuggets were running up the score and hotdogging against them. Granted, this is the NBA, not grade school, and one could retort that if you don't like what the other team is doing then play some defense but it would be more impressive if the Nuggets could do this kind of thing consistently against good teams or, more to the point, if they were not on the outside looking in at the playoffs even after these blowout wins.

The Nuggets trail the Golden State Warriors for the last playoff berth by a game and a half--and they are not gaining any ground despite beating down some hapless teams: the Warriors went 8-2 in their last 10 games while the Nuggets went 7-3 during their last 10 games. The Nuggets play 10 of their last 16 games on the road, including a five games in seven days road trip that begins tonight in Detroit. The Warriors finish the season with eight home games and nine road games. These teams do face each other two more times--once at home and once on the road--so if the race remains tight those will essentially be playoff games for both teams.

One thing that those lopsided victories did for Denver is tidy up--or, one could cynically say, muddle--some of the Nuggets' team statistics. The Nuggets rank third in the NBA in scoring and they have the ninth best point differential. Point differential is usually a reliable indicator of a team's strength but as of today the Nuggets are the only team in the league that has a positive point differential but is outside of the playoff picture. Perhaps Karl will point to those statistics at the end of the season to "prove" how well his team played but if they cannot even grab the last playoff spot then those numbers really don't mean a thing.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:15 PM



At Tuesday, March 18, 2008 6:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For someone who is so sarcastic about the Nuggets, I can't believe you didn't even hint at a criticism of the inferior coaching staff. Meanwhile, about 85% of heavy duty Nuggets fans now blame the situation on that staff.

At Tuesday, March 18, 2008 8:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nuggets 1:

Actually, I thought that the last paragraph did at least "hint" at criticizing Karl; my point is that blowing out weak teams enables Karl to cite inflated stats suggesting that the Nuggets are better than they really are. In other words, if they don't make the playoffs then he can say, "We missed Nene but even without him we ranked third in scoring, had a good point differential," etc. I don't know whether or not Karl is deliberately doing this but there is something strange about these blowouts of weak teams in light of Denver's overall record. It's not like the Nuggets are a great team that is rolling over everyone; it's more like they are taking advantage of certain situations to inflate their stats as much as possible. Maybe this was just a "flow of the game" thing and I noted that Karl did take out his starters but this still seems odd to me.

At Wednesday, March 19, 2008 6:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I think you are exactly right; Karl as a head coach career builder and career survivor is a top performer. I think you hit the nail right on the head this time. Karl is getting as many routs as possible under his belt to make sure he is not forced to retire at the end of this year, when the Nuggets fail to make the playoffs, or are quickly eliminated in the playoffs again.


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