Denver: Golden Nuggets or Fool’s Gold?
“They’re kinda unpredictable, man.”
The understatement of the year. Calling Denver “kinda unpredictable” is akin to describing Shawn Bradley as “kinda tall and skinny” or Kobe’s tattoos as “kinda ugly”. Take any two diametrically opposite ideas and apply them to their season and you’ll have an apt description. Peaks and troughs. Zeniths and nadirs. Day and night.
To describe their season as “rollercoaster” would still fall short of the reality. If their season were a rollercoaster, it would have performed a triple loop-the-loop backwards, derailed, re-railed and made Bzdelik sick more than once. That’s not intended to be hyperbolic either; it’s been a hell of a ride. Unfortunately, it could be inferred from last night’s game at Minnesota that they want to get off and go home now. Colorado should be praying that’s not the case.
The gift and the curse.
Denver started off the year with talent, drive and expectations. What hurt them was that they exceeded those expectations very early on, and with that came higher goals and increased pressure. The 12-6 start and first place in the Midwest started to spark some old-school SGCP: spontaneously generated crowd phenomenon. Fans in the Rockies started to come out of the caves to see what was so big that it was diverting attention from The Broncos and Avalanche. #15 jerseys were becoming a common sight in the city.
What resulted was the shift: the Nuggets could no longer enjoy the low-pressure atmosphere in which any improvement would be seen as acceptable. Now the air in the Pepsi Center was as thin figuratively as it was literally.
For a minute it looked like they were holding on tightly enough. Then came the All-Star break. Then the slump. Only five of the next seventeen outings resulted in a W for the young Nuggets, who lost their lustre and, more damagingly, their swagger. The lack of oxygen finally looked to be getting to them, as Nenê’s rebounding became steadily worse, the ugly hand of injury fell on Camby’s back once again and Andre Miller forgot how to pass. It took weeks of desperate thrashing to keep their heads above water and the perpetual motion of Earl Boykins and the resurgence of Marcus Camby to push them back into playoff contention.
Monday 12th April 2004.
Judgement Day. Do-or-die time. Now-or-never. There are a thousand clichés which could apply to their playoff-clinching game versus the Kings. What wasn’t clichéd, however, was the outcome, as the Nuggets beat all the odds not by overcoming the Kings, but by toppling them without the usual stellar input from Anthony, who was suffering heavily from a migraine and even lost sight in his left eye for a period in the second half. Somehow this group of neophytes, NBDL call-ups, has-beens and never-weres pulled together to hustle, sweat and pray their way to a 97-89 victory over Sacramento, widely regarded as one of the league’s best teams.
Was that a golden performance, a flashback to the days gone by, or possibly a foreshadow of the great times to come? Or was it nothing more than Fool’s Gold, an outwardly dazzling spectacle, but ultimately without substance or value? You may as well flip a coin; it’s as likely to pick the correct answer as anyone.
Let’s put game one in Minnesota down to inexperience and view it as a learning process for the young fellas, as it would be for any other fledgling squad. With that behind them, what is in the future, near or otherwise, for Denver? Only time will tell. Could it be round one, ’94 all over again? Perhaps. Could we see 17-65 again? Who knows?
All that Denver fans can be sure of for now is that they can’t be sure of anything. My advice for them until they’re settled? Strap yourselves in and hold on.
It’s gonna be a hell of a ride.