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Playoff race and a little perspective

April 9th, 2004 by aswitzer

I’ve been running NuggetsHoops since 1995, and I’ve been a die-hard Nuggets fan since 1992 when I first bought season tickets with my girlfriend (now wife) and some friends high up in the rafters of McNichols. As many of you know, the Nuggets shocked the NBA in 1993, becoming the first 8th seed to knock off a 1st seed. (Seattle Sonics) We had enough people sharing season tickets that we didn’t get to go to a game in the first round. I watched the improbable comeback down 0-2 in the series from various sports bars in Denver. The entire city got behind those Nuggets – Robert Pack, Reggie Williams, LaPhonso Ellis, Brian Williams, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Dikembe Mutombo and more… and when Mutombo hauled down that final rebound to secure the victory in game 7, Nuggets fans were estatic.

Next up were the mighty Utah Jazz, with a then young Karl Malone and John Stockton. The Jazz went up 3-0, but Nuggets fans, and more importantly the Nuggets players did not give up. When the Jazz visited the Nuggets here in Denver on May 19, 1994 for game 6, suddenly just up 3-2 in the series, I finally had tickets. The game was a tight one the whole way, and we stood nearly the entire game, yelling and dancing in the aisles as the Nuggets made play after play. They won that game 94-91 to send the Jazz back to Utah for a game 7. I have never had more fun at any sporting event anywhere than I did that night. I was totally hooked. The Nuggets mighty playoff run finally came to an end – 81-91.

The following year, Nuggets basketball was the must-have ticket here in Denver. The Nuggets sold out each and every home game the entire year, and made the playoffs again. Few remember this year when compared against the previous year, because there was no magical run as we were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. The team was prematurely dismantled and year after year, different GM’s, coaches and players tried to rekindle the magic of 1993.

Fast forward to the 2003-2004 season.

A young and inexperienced GM by the name of Kiki Vandeweghe began working on the Nuggets roster – clearing cap room by trading or waiving some popular but high-priced or ineffective players. Yet another rebuilding cycle. Would it turn out any different than previous attempts? Kiki was a former Nugget player who contributed to their success in the 1980’s. Like Dan Issel did for a short while, Kiki vowed to return the Nuggets to respectibility and claimed he had the plan to do it. A little luck is also required along the way, and after surviving a dismal 17 win season the Nuggets got some in the draft thanks to a lottery ping-pong ball, and Joe Dumars of the Detroit Pistons.

Enter the era of Carmelo Anthony. A rookie of tremendous talent that somehow has surpassed lofty expectations and helped lead a new cast of Nuggets back from the bowels of the NBA basement. Take a look at the 1999-2000 roster and compare it to the 2003-2004 roster. Ryan Bowen is the only carry-over as the roster was nearly completely rebuilt. Kiki signed a gem free agent in Andre Miller, and then picked up valuable cast-offs and veterans in Jon Barry, Voshon Lenard, and Earl Boykins. A quartet of free agent guards that brought talent, heart, skillls, speed, and leadership to a young, young team. With young Brazilian sophomore Nene, and Marcus Camby and Rodney White arriving via trades the previous year, the Nuggets had their cast.

Pre-season predictions were timidly optimistic. Sports writers and columnists agreed that Nuggets would be an improved team that could reach 30 wins – nearly double the previous year, in the tough Western Conference. Everyone was excited, including myself. Give this squad a year together and get the rookie Carmelo some playing time and we could really have something here.

Just as Melo surpassed even the highest predictions for his first-year impact in the NBA, so did the Nuggets. The previous year’s win total was passed in the second full month of the season – as the Nuggets were 18-11 on December 26th. Merry Christmas! They didn’t stop there. Shortly after Carmelo scored a career high of 39 points, the Nuggets entered the All-Star break 31-23 – 8 games above .500 and sitting in the heart of the Western Conference top seeds.

Suddenly, everyone was talking about the Nuggets being a lock for the playoffs and the 30 win prediction was surpassed and forgotten. The Nuggets came back to earth, and began playing .500 or worse basketball in February and early March. Suddenly the Nuggets were barely above .500 and the once mighty lead over 9th place Utah and Portland dwindled to nothing. The season was being to eerily look like a few previous teams led by McDyess and Van Exel that showed flashes of glory and then faded away.

But Melo is no ordinary rookie. In a turning point road win on March 12th in Milwaukee, Carmelo led the team to victory with 31 points and a career high 9 assists. He has the ability and attitude to will this team to victory, and on the rare occasion that he has an off night, there are enough other talented players on this team to pick up the slack. In another key win just a few nights later against Utah, Miller led the team with 24 points and 11 assists. Despite the fact that Melo is still just 19 years old, and only had one year at the college level – the result of that one year (leading the Orangemen to the NCAA title) was a contributor to the polish and confidence that he brought with him to the NBA.

With only 4 games left in the season, anything could happen. The Nuggets have some tough games left and could barely miss making the playoffs. They are not just fighting against the past 9 years of their own futility, but 15+ year streaks by both Utah and Portland of making the playoffs. If the Nuggets miss the playoffs, is the season a failure?

Yes and no. It would be a major bummer and disappointment to miss the postseason after coming so close, but it is no reason to give up on these Nuggets… their future is too bright.

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5 Responses to “Playoff race and a little perspective”

  1. Wavatar Rod Auen Says:

    I am doubled up on Playoff tixs,
    for the April 24th game, 2 seats
    club level,section 240,Row, I bought them on ticketmaster for
    total of $203.00 for the pair.
    Email me if interested or my cell
    GO NUGGETS!!!!!!!!

  2. Wavatar KJ Luettger Says:

    They need keep Earl Boykins in. Even though he is short he is a heck a defender and a playmaker too. Plus he can put up good points too. His energy never seems to fade.

  3. Wavatar Eric Versace Says:

    I agree, they need to start Earl Boykins, because Andre Miller is hurting the team…

  4. Wavatar Jerry Moses Says:

    Your whining team is finished. It is over Friday night. The Wolves have played like *%#* and still we are up 3 games to 1. Thanks for coming.

  5. Wavatar Cassandra Corathers Says:

    After reading Rather good ideas on your Blog. I like. thank you for providing such lovely content

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