George Karl has been more angry than happy as of late with his Nuggets and their play.
Do you hear that sound?
It's the sound of the Nuggets plummeting from the top of the West to barely hanging onto a playoff seed like a boulder falling from a precipice of a Rocky Mountain.
Be it injuries, fatigue or the lack of a go-to guy, Denver's energy is dwindling, as their determination has diminished for one reason or another.
Some blame George Karl's lineup choices, and they have been questionable.
Instead of promoting backups to starters when starters are injured, Karl has decided to keep his bench group together and mix up the starting five night to night.
To wit, the Nuggets have had five different starting lineups over this five-game losing streak, though the bench has outscored opponents 43.2 points per game to 36.8 over that span.
What it amounts to is the fact that the Nuggets have not been playing at the mile-high level they were to start the season—when they began 14-5 and were the No. 1 team in scoring, points in the paint, fast break points, assists and No. 2 in steals.
Denver has dropped off to 94.4 PPG (9.3 less), 45.2 points in the paint (4.8 less), 17.8 fast-break points (3.2 less), 20.6 assists per (2.8 less) and 7.0 steals per (2.0 less) in the losing streak, playing only mediocre basketball rather than energetic, entertaining and explosive ball that was blowing teams away, night in, night out, to start the season.
Have the Nuggets just become fatigued?
This team is one of the youngest in the NBA. If they're tired, the others must be even more so, meaning that can't be the excuse.
Can the Nuggs not compete due to a litany of injuries over the last few weeks?
Denver is supposed to be one of the deepest teams in the league, and that is being tested now, as they fall to good and bad teams alike.
What it all amounts to is the Nuggets needing someone else to step up now that leading scorer Danilo Gallinari is out for up to one month with a fractured bone chip in his ankle.
Nene is supposed to be the veteran leader. He's in his 10th year as a pro baller, but he doesn't lead the young Nuggs on the court. He's not vocal, unless it's to argue a call to the refs, and Nene doesn't have that killer instinct to take over games when his team needs him to.
The powerful power forward has averaged only 11.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in his last four games—all losses—when the Nuggets need him closer to a double-double every night.
So many argue that Nene is one of the best big men in the game, though he's never made an All-Star game and won't again this year.
Ty Lawson wants to be considered among the best point guards in the game, but he's too passive at the moment to be placed in their tier. Lawson has played well over the losing streak, averaging 14 points and a great 7.8 assists per game. But he isn't seizing the opportunity to push Denver through the injuries and fatigue and win them some games at the end with his pure athleticism.
Lawson is the point guard of the future, but it's unclear if he can lead today.
Arron Afflalo has been disappointing all season, falling off in literally ever stat category across the board. Maybe it's the pressure of his big contract—or the fact that sitting out to argue the details of said contract could have impacted his training and being NBA-ready physically—but Afflalo hasn't improved as he had in his three previous years as a pro.
And Afflalo seems to have so much potential, but he can't find his groove; his inconsistency is hurting the team.
Denver could certainly use Nene, Lawson and Afflalo picking up their collective games offensively and defensively, and if just one of them stepped up on a nightly basis, the Nuggets could be winning some of these games they've been losing as of late.
Yes, the season is less than halfway over, but the Nuggets are in jeopardy of falling out of playoff contention and seem completely lost on the court.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist actively seeking a career in journalism. Along with being your Denver Nuggets Featured Columnist, RIch is the Denver Broncos and CSU Rams Examiner. Kurtzman also writes for Blake Street Bulletin, Stadium Journey and Mile High Hoops.
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