DENVER — Ho hum.
The Denver Nuggets won by double digits.
They broke the 100-point barrier.
Does it sound like the Denver Nuggets are bored? They might be after Sunday’s 114-103 win over Milwaukee. It was their third straight win, the 11th in their last 12, and the sixth time in seven games they scored more than 100. The one time they didn’t, they beat San Antonio in Texas.
“Our confidence is high right now,” Carmelo Anthony said. “We feel we can play with anybody in the NBA playing the way we’ve been playing the last 11, 12 games.”
In their turnaround the last six weeks, the Nuggets don’t resemble the slow, plodding team that limped to a 17-25 start. Under George Karl, the Nuggets have not only been celebrating the century mark more than Willard Scott, they have taken control of the battle for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Their two main rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves, need help
from other teams if they want to catch Denver, which can now realistically set its sights higher. The Nuggets trail Memphis by 21/2 for seventh, and Houston by 31/2 for sixth in the West.
“Anything’s possible,” said Anthony, who scored 15 points against the Bucks. “We win games, things happen, we’ll be in good shape.”
The Nuggets expected to do well on this March home stand, which still has three more games to go. Denver is 8-1 this month, with a chance to improve to 11-1 if it can sweep this week’s games against Washington, the Lakers and Sacramento.
“There’s a little bit of a pressure on us to win all these games,” Karl said. “About a month ago we thought this would be our stretch to really catch up to everybody, and now we’re trying to protect the lead. I don’t know, maybe I’m just too intense or stressed because we’re doing a good job and we’ve got three more games left, but I would like to see us be more consistent defensively. I’ve been really harping offensively to move the ball and play together and swing it.”
The players are listening. In the last three games the Nuggets are averaging 116.3 points, and Karl’s mantra that standing around on offense is equivalent to heresy has sunk in.
“Each game we’re learning, learning to play with the pass instead of holding the ball, like coach has been preaching,” said Kenyon Martin, who had 19 points Sunday. “We’re learning, which it’s all about, and continue to get better at that. We’re scoring a lot of points; we’re moving the ball pretty well.”
Still, the Nuggets can slip occasionally. They led the Bucks, 74-56, with 9 minutes, 10 seconds left in the third quarter, only to see Milwaukee cut it to a five with 2:47 left in the period. They cranked it back up to 14, but early in the fourth the Bucks were within six. These near collapses happened despite having to listen to a fiery Karl in the first half.
“He told us that at halftime, that he was overdoing it yelling on the court,” Anthony said. “We told him to take it easy, we’d take care of that.”
They did, and now they’re 35-30, the Nuggets’ best mark after 65 games since the 1989-90 season.
The Nuggets finished 43-39 that year, the same mark they had last season. Karl said 44 wins should be enough to hold off the Lakers and Wolves, and if Denver keeps playing this way, nine more wins shouldn’t be a problem.
“When we’re scoring 100-plus points it’s really hard to beat us, especially on our home court, running the way we’re running,” Anthony said. “We’re controlling everything right now. We’ve got to take care of our home games the rest of this week. The Lakers coming in, it’s going to be a dogfight.”
It probably won’t be boring, either.