Apr 062005
 
Authors: Bob Fernandez

In a column in the Oct. 26 edition of the Collegian, just prior to the start of the NBA season, I claimed that the Nuggets were "ready to go toe-to-toe with (the) NBA's elite." I also suggested that Denver "looks like it has the talent and chemistry to compete for a championship."

Up until late January, I couldn't have been more wrong. The Nuggets were far from elite. In fact, they were NBA bottom-dwellers.

The Nuggets got off to a disappointing 17-25 start and went through two head coaches before George Karl took the reins Jan. 27.

When Karl took over, even he admitted that it was probably too late for his team to make a serious run at the playoffs. His team must've received the memo.

Since Karl took over, the Nuggets have steamrolled over their competition on the way toward a 25-6 record under their new coach and a 42-31 record overall, going into Wednesday night's game against New Orleans. Karl's 25-6 record is the best record ever by a coach who took over an NBA team during the regular season.

The Nuggets have turned their fortunes around by playing unselfishly. They have forced opponents into tough shots and have been dominating late-game situations.

The Pepsi Center played host to the NBA All-Star game Feb. 20, and since then the Nuggets themselves have been playing like an all-star team.

Since the All-Star break, the Nuggets have the best record in the NBA, at 18-2 prior to Wednesday's game, are second in the league in scoring with 106.9 points per game, are outscoring opponents by an average of 10.5 ppg, and are first in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage at 41.3 percent.

Karl received back-to-back Western Conference Coach of the Month awards in February and March, and the Nuggets, barring a huge collapse during the season's final eight games, look like a lock for the playoffs, which are set to begin in two weeks.

Prior to Wednesday's game, the Nuggets held the seventh seed in the Western Conference, just two wins short of being tied for the sixth seed, which at the moment is occupied by the Houston Rockets.

In most cases, playoff success is largely determined by matchups. If the Nuggets are unable to finish any higher than the seventh seed, then they may have trouble getting past a first-round matchup against likely first and second seeds Phoenix and San Antonio.

However, if Denver can lock up the sixth or even the fifth seed, they'll likely face the Seattle Supersonics or Dallas Mavericks in a series that would be Denver's for the taking.

Seattle has struggled lately and looks like it may stumble its way into the playoffs. The Sonics are primarily a one-dimensional jump-shooting team, and if an opponent can force them to take tough perimeter shots, which the Nuggets have been doing to opponents lately, then they are very beatable.

The Mavericks are a lethal team on offense, but they may not have the defense needed to win a seven-game series against the Nuggets, who are nearly as good offensively, but much better defensively.

In the playoffs, anything can happen. Just ask the Detroit Pistons, who after finishing with the sixth best regular-season record in the NBA last year weren't widely considered to be strong championship contenders, but got hot late in the season and used their momentum to carry them to an NBA title.

The Nuggets are just as hot as the Pistons were last year, and under the right circumstances – a first-round matchup against the Mavs or Sonics and a less than 100 percent Tim Duncan – could end up shocking the NBA, much like the Pistons did last year, by getting to the Finals and competing for an NBA Championship ring.

Bobby Fernandez is a senior technical journalism major. He is a sports reporter for the Collegian.

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