Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hey Hey, My My - The Denver Nuggets will never die!‏

I'll bet you had no idea that Neil Young was a HUGE Nuggets fan, did you?

Hey Hey, My My. The Denver Nuggets refuse to die! All apologies to Neil Young, but I stole and slightly modified his song because it does seem Nuggets refuse to go quietly into the offseason. As the NBA moved into the Conference Finals round, I didn’t like Denver’s chances all that much just because they historically have been worked by the Lakers. The Lakers were the presumptive Western Conference Champion at the outset of the playoffs, and I didn’t see anything through the first two rounds that made me really believe that the Nuggets could take them. I had the Lakers winning the series in five, but then a funny thing started happening. The Nuggets decided that they were going to compete with the Lakers. That’s a development that I hoped for, but wasn’t sure was going to happen. Let’s review how we got where we are…

Game 1
The Nuggets biggest regret right now has to be Game 1. They led by 7 over halfway through the final quarter, they outplayed LA the whole evening, and had they been able to get an inbounds pass in, chances are great that they win the game. If they are able to win Game 1 they likely would be up 3-1 in the series right now, and be much more likely to take the series. Game 1 hurts so much because it’s a game that they should have won. They wasted a gigantic effort from Carmelo Anthony and frittered away a game that was theirs.

Game 2
Game 2 was when they showed their true grit. Trailing by 14 in the second quarter and looking like they were going to fold like a chaise lounge, they tightened things up before halftime, and were able to gut out an impressive win thanks to the second consecutive humungous effort from Melo along with the first Linas Kleiza sighting of the postseason. Game 2 started Denver believing, the Nuggets had stolen away both home court advantage and serious series momentum from the Lakers. The idea that the Nuggets just might win this thing was no longer far fetched, it was possible.

Game 3
Game 3 hurt because the Nuggets did just about everything right, but they shot like bad guys trying to shoot Rambo…lots of shots fired with nothing hitting it’s target. They only shot 39.3% overall and only 18.5% from the three point line. If you’re going to beat the Lakers, you need to shoot better from downtown than 5-27. If they had gone 8-27 (which is still a miserable 29.6%) they win the game. The Defense was very good, but no one other than Chris Andersen had a good game. When Birdman is a solid role player, the Nuggets are in good shape. When he is their best player on a given night, chances are good that the game will be a loss. Despite a terrible game from most everyone but Bird, they were still able to fight and claw all game, and they actually held the lead most of the game, but in the fourth quarter you could feel the game slipping away due to the subpar night from most of the major Nuggets and the fact that Kobe Bryant was doing Kobe Bryant things (41 points, and all the big plays at the end).

Game 4
Monday night was a must win for Denver. If the Nuggets fell into a 3-1 hole to the Lakers, all hope was lost, and we would be doing the postmortem on the season today. The Nuggets could not afford to drop another game in Denver, and they came out playing like they knew it. Despite the second consecutive subpar offensive night from Melo, the Nugs ran away with the game thanks to a spectacular effort from JR Smith who in only 28 minutes provided 24 points, 2 Rebounds, 4 assists, 2 Steals and only 3 turnovers. His swagger was too much for the Lakers and Kmart, Nene, and Birdman were monsters on the boards coming down with 15,13, and 14 rebounds respectively. The Nuggets owned the paint and outrebounded Los Angeles 58 to 40 and this game was never in doubt.

Where do we go from here??
So now here we are, tied at two games apiece four games into the series, and I’m not sure the importance of Game 5 can be overstated. I only see this series ending one of two ways. I think the Nuggets will win it in six games or the Lakers will take it in seven. I don’t think the Lakers are going to win another game in Denver, and I don’t think the Nuggets can win a game seven in L.A. So yes, sports fans, I believe that whoever wins game 5 will be going to the Finals.

These two teams seem very evenly matched. The Nuggets’ advantages seem to be that they are a better team, they seem hungrier, and they seem more talented overall. The Lakers’ advantages are that they have the best player (Kobe), they have more experience in these big game situations, and they have home court advantage.

If I had to gamble the house on an outcome, I’d probably put my money on the Lakers in seven, but thankfully no one is going to require me to put my home on the line, and I am very hopeful for my more desired outcome of Nuggets in six. No matter what happens from here on out, the real winners are basketball fans, who are seeing some fantastic basketball. This series is a total tossup right now, and I believe in the Nuggets chances, they can win! I put the odds at about 51% chance for the Lakers 49% chance for the Nuggets. If you had told me at the beginning of the season that I would be giving the Nuggets that kind of odds to win the West, I would have laughed at you. No matter how this next week of basketball goes down, this season is a success, now it’s just a matter of seeing how successful this season will be.

It’s better to burn out than to fade away. No matter how this series ends, no one is going to say that Denver faded away. Go Nuggets!

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