Are the Nuggets for real?
(Sports Network) - The Denver Nuggets have found their game at the right time. They are playing winning basketball and appear to be headed into the playoffs with plenty of confidence.
All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson, who was acquired in a blockbuster trade from the Philadelphia 76ers on December 19th, are jelling the way the Nuggets had hoped they would when they added the Georgetown product to their roster.
Denver defeated the Los Angeles Lakers, 115-111, to take a 1 1/2 game lead over LA for the sixth spot in the Western Conference playoff race. Anthony finished with 33 points, five rebounds and five assists, while Iverson collected 24 points in 45-plus minutes of action.
With Anthony and Iverson providing the main fire power on offense, Denver head coach George Karl is looking to his other players to contribute in other ways. Athletic center Marcus Camby was a monster defensively and on the boards against the Lakers, as he pulled down a game-high 22 rebounds and blocked a game-best seven shots.
Reserves Linas Kleiza and Eduardo Najera made major contributions off the bench for the Nuggets. Kleiza scored 17 points in just 25 minutes of court time, while Najera netted 14 and pulled down nine boards in the victory over Los Angeles.
The victory over the Lakers extended the Nuggets' winning streak to a season- best six games. Denver is playing its best basketball of the season, and the victory over LA was a total team effort.
However, most likely waiting for the Nuggets, who still have not clinched a playoff berth, in the opening round of the playoffs will be either the Phoenix Suns or the San Antonio Spurs.
Denver is closing in on earning a berth to the postseason for the fourth year in a row. The Nuggets have been eliminated in the first round three straight years and are just 3-12 in that span.
Last season, Denver finished 44-38 and captured the Northwest Division crown. Even though the Nuggets were the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs, they did not have the home-court advantage and were eliminated in five games by the Clippers.
For the fourth year in a row, the Nuggets will have to open the playoffs on the road. While there is no doubt that Denver is playing great, defeating the Spurs or Suns four times in a best-of-seven series will be extremely tough for the Nuggets.
The Nuggets finished 1-2 against Phoenix this season, and are 0-2 against the Spurs. Denver will visit the Spurs on April 18th, which is the final day of the regular season.
The Suns would be a more favorable matchup for the Nuggets. Both teams simply try and outscore their opponent, while the Spurs excel on both ends of the court. Reigning MVP Steve Nash and All-Stars Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire will create matchup problems for Denver, but Phoenix' lack of defense would allow Anthony and Iverson to get out in the open court and keep their team competitive what would be a high-scoring, entertaining series.
Adding Iverson has made the Nuggets a better team. Things are starting to come together for them as a team, but they still are not in the same class of the NBA-best Dallas Mavericks, Spurs or Suns.
Yes, the Nuggets are on a roll. It's just not going to be good enough in a best-of-seven series against the elite of the Western Conference.DEN