The Denver Nuggets limped into the All-Star break losing their final 4 games by a combined score of 479-369, a margin of 110 points. The average final score during this embarrassing stretch was 119-92. The average margin of victory was 27.5 points. I don’t care how many injuries a team encounters during a season, there is NO excuse for an NBA team to lose 4 in a row by an average of 27 plus points. These are professional basketball players we are talking about here. What are the reasons I saw as I watched these debacles unfold over the last week? Let me give you my take on this dissappointing Road Trip across the Eastern Conference.
As all Nuggets fans are aware, the team has been decimated by injuries to key players this season. Before the season even began they knew they would be without their 2nd best player, Danilo Gallinari for at least half the season. Then after only playing in a handful of games, Center JaVale McGee goes down with a stress fracture in his leg and we now know that neither he nor Gallo will be back at all this season. Then their Point Guard, and best player, Ty Lawson cracks a rib and needs to sit out for a few games, which thrusts backup Nate Robinson into the starting lineup. Robinson plays well in the first game after Lawson’s injury and the Nuggets come away with a win. Then more disaster struck as in his second game as a starter in place of the injured Lawson, Robinson goes down with what has now been diagnosed as a season ending knee injury. Most teams in the NBA would have a tough time maintaining a competetive Roster with these kinds of devastating injuries and the Nuggets showed that their roster is not as deep as we thought. Players like Evan Fournier, Jordan Hamilton, Quincy Miller and Anthony Randolph are forced to play significant minutes in the absence of the array of Nuggets starters who show up on the injury report. Fournier is a very serviceable, and someday may be a very good, player. But in Hamilton, Miller and Randolph you have nothing more than players who should fill in for starters in short spurts to give the regulars a blow. Randolph has been in the League for over 5 years now and has never been anything more than maybe the greatest “Garbage Time” player in the history of the League. Miller has potential but is nowhere near a regular NBA type player yet. In Hamilton, you have a player who shows signs of becoming a very good “2″ guard but is inconsistant and his effort has been questioned in the past. With these four playing significant minutes, and in some cases, starting, the Nuggets will have a tough time competing for any playoff spot for the rest of the season.
Now let’s talk about the coaching of this depleted roster. Understanding that Coach Shaw is a rookie NBA Head Coach, that does not excuse the Nuggets lack of motivation nor does it explain why tactical changes have not been made to accomodate the talents of his remaining players. During the 4 game losing streak that nearly set records for futility on any road trip in Nuggets history, the team looked lethargic and unorganized. This falls on the coach. All season long we heard the Denver Broncos talk about the “Next man up” concept when they were hit with injuries. Each of those players for the Broncos rose their level of play and helped the team get to the brink of a Championship. Much of this was due to changes in philosophy of the coaching staff to match the talents of the fill-ins. I don’t see Shaw doing this with his team during this difficult and injury riddled season. The style of offense has not adapted to the players on the floor and it appears that he has not lit this team up in practice, at halftime or during the game to re-energize and motivate these players to over-achieve and help the team to at least be competitive. I can handle the fact that the injuries have depleted the roster and the team will lose games as a result, but I can’t understand the WAY the team is losing these games. Getting blown out in 4 straight games, 3 against teams the Nuggets should be competitive with even with the injuies, is unacceptable and needs to be remedied.
I hope that with the time during the All-Star break to look back on the 1st half of the season and more specifically, the last 4 games, the Coach and the team can return from the break and show the effort, desire and tactical changes that are needed to be competetive for the balance of the season.