By David “D-Wil” Wilson
Carmelo Anthony needs to assert himself and demand that in crunch time the offense is facilitated through him and he needs to assert himself on the practice floor and demand that his teammates commit on the defensive end of the court. Wednesday night’s disappointing 114-112 OT loss to New Orleans exemplifies Denver’s problems.
After last night’s game Nuggets head coach George Karl spoke briefly about his team’s problems:
“We’re cheating the game a little bit right now,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “We’re not giving enough focus and intensity to the little things. We just allow teams to have opportunities. Sometimes I feel like Santa Claus; it’s just gifts.
“We’ve got to win some games,” said Karl, whose team was outrebounded 57-46 and gave up three critical offensive rebounds during overtime. “I don’t know how we do it. Slow it down. Play some zone. Kill the monkey.”
With 5:37 left in regulation against the Hornets, Denver was up 97-85. The Nuggets scored only six points the remainder of the game. The points came from Nene Hilario, two free throws by a badly injured Allen Iverson who admittedly returned too early from his ankle sprain, and on a tip-in by Eduardo Najera. Anthony attempted only three shots – all jumpers – down the stretch and missed them all. In an astounding collective loss of concentration the Nuggets committed five fouls and turned the ball over three times in the final 5:37 of the fourth quarter.
So, other than Melo what’s the deal with Denver? First Kenyon Martin is out for the year and the oft-injured Marcus Camby, the Nuggets defensive stalwart in the paint is out with a strained groin. Iverson has missed the last week and a half with a sprained ankle and will probably forego the all-Star game to further rest his injury. With Anthony missing 15 games due to suspension, the trade for Iverson, and the injuries to Iverson and Camby, Denver, at present, lacks team cohesiveness.
Though the All-Star break will act as a welcome tonic for Denver, at 23-27 and with back to back games against Indiana and Milwaukee, a home game with Golden State, and then a final roadie at Minnesota, the Nuggets may well find themselves at 24-30 at the break with only 28 games remaining on their schedule and major questions to be answered.
How long will it take for the triumvirate of Anthony, Camby, and Iverson to gel with each other? How long will it take new point guard Steve Blake to know where each likes the ball? How long will it take the other players to take on different roles? Will J.R. Smith continue blossom with the big three on the floor at the same time? With a full lineup will the Nuggets find a defensive identity? Can Karl keep the team afloat mentally when Denver’s first three games after the All-Star break are at San Antonio, versus Utah, and at Dallas, which potentially means three losses in a row right out of the break? And the schedule doesn’t get any easier in the month of March. Denver plays seven of its 15 games in the month against teams with winning records; the good part is that only two of those games, at Detroit and at Phoenix are on the road. In April five of 11 games will be played against winning teams, and three of the five are on the road.
I had predicted that with the addition of Iverson Denver, in a master stroke, became the most dangerous team in the Western Conference in a playoff scenario. Now, it looks like the Nuggets will miss the playoffs. As of tonight there are six teams in the west with records over .5oo. Barring a sudden surge by an unforeseen team, that leaves Denver, the L.A. Clippers, Minnesota, Golden State, and New Orleans to fight for the final two playoff spots. None of the teams have an easy road left, but the Clippers, Timberwolves, and the Hornets have the fewest injuries to their respective players. Denver, on the other has 16 games total remaining against teams with winning records and with injuries and questions have the roughest road ahead of them.
A 40-win season, at this point, will be an accomplishment for the Nuggets. The final question is, can the NBA media perceive Denver’s’ present travails and give the Nuggets faithful hope for 2007-08, or will external pressure cause the Nuggets management to panic?
For more of D-Wil’s writing check out his blog Sports On My Mind.