The Nuggets are reeling, scuffling, sputtering or whatever other word conveys that they aren’t playing good basketball. Since the All-Star break, Michael Malone’s team is 4-5, a very pedestrian record.
But it’s not just that they’re losing; it’s also how Denver is losing, and to what teams, that is of concern. In the last week alone, the Nuggets have lost to the worst team in the Western Conference (Golden State) and the bottom feeder in the East (Cleveland).
That’s a sign of a team that has lost its way. Once appearing to be among the legit contenders in the West, Denver now looks like a wayward group that is floundering down the stretch.
Prior to the All-Star break, the Nuggets had a chance to close within two games of the Lakers for the top seed in the conference. Currently, they’re 7.5 games back of Los Angeles.
But that’s not even the worst news. After all, the No. 1 overall seed always seemed like a pipe dream. But Denver has fallen out of the No. 2 spot, which is a big blow to their playoff chances.
The second round of the postseason figures to produce a match-up between the Nuggets and the Clippers; at least that’s how the seeding currently looks. For Denver to have much of a chance in that series, they’d need to have home-court advantage; right now, they’ve given up that position to Los Angeles.
And the slide down the standings might not end there.
The Nuggets are currently just one game ahead of the Jazz for the fourth seed, a tenuous position at best. Meanwhile, the Thunder (2.5), Rockets (3.0) and Mavericks (4.0) are all within striking distance of Denver down the stretch.
In other words, there’s a very distinct chance that Malone’s squad doesn’t even have home-court advantage during the first round of the playoffs. That would be a disastrous scenario.
If the Nuggets hope to avoid that fate, however, they need to start playing better. That goes without saying.
More specifically, Denver needs to turn things around in the next two-plus weeks. The upcoming fortnight brings multiple tests, providing very little margin for error:
Tonight – vs. Milwaukee
Wednesday – at Dallas
Friday – at San Antonio
Sunday – at L.A. Lakers
March 18 – vs. L.A. Clippers
March 20 – at Oklahoma City
March 22 – at Toronto
March 23 – at Chicago
March 25 – at Miami
The Nuggets catch a bit of a break tonight, however, when they host the Bucks. The best team in the East will be without Giannis Antetokounmpo, as the All-Star rests his injured knee. But it still won’t be an easy test.
Meanwhile, the rest of that slate is simply brutal. Seven of the nine games are against current playoff teams, with five of those match-ups on the road.
Can Denver win these games? Yep. They’ve already proven this year that they can beat anyone, anywhere. But the team that went into Milwaukee and won on the second half of a back-to-back, or the group that rolled into Utah and won with a roster of seven healthy players, seems like a distant memory.
The Nuggets that had moxie and swagger are gone. At least for the moment. They’re currently a rudderless ship, aimlessly making their way through games without any fire, passion or intensity. They’re lifeless and listless.
Denver is currently in a bad rut. And if they don’t get out of it soon, they’re once-promising season is going to disappear.
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