We all know the Denver Nuggets have been here before. Since drafting Carmelo Anthony in 2003, they have made the playoffs for eight straight seasons and, besides 2009, all have ended in bitter disappointment.
Now the Nuggets, who once again charged down the stretch to solidify the No. 6 seed, face the Los Angeles Lakers. They've been here before too.
After a major let down in Game 1, in which the Nuggets looked flat-out over matched against Kobe, Bynum and company, the Nuggets found rejuvenation in game two by playing their style.
They aggressively attacked, ran and out-rebounded the Lakers, only to fall just short of an upset and stealing home-court advantage away from the 16-time NBA Champions. However, a valuable lesson was learned Tuesday night: the Nuggets knew they could win.
On Friday night, Denver dominated early and held on late (as has been the song too often this season) to a convincing 99-85 victory before the home crowd in Denver. But, since they were unable to steal a victory on the road in the first two games, the new theme must be to protect their home court as they did in Game 3.
The last two games have provided a significant blueprint for the Nuggets to advance against the more experienced, and older Lakers squad. If they stick to it, they can and will win this series in seven games. The keys to the next four games go through these three players.
Lawson all but disappeared in game one, and the Nuggets' tempo and score showed it. As Ty goes, so go the Nugs. He came out in Game 2, attacking to a team-high 25 points on 11-17 shooting to accompany seven assists, as he helped fuel a late rally and secure a moral victory (if there is such a thing) for Denver.
He lost none of his moxie in Game 3 while dominating the first half, finally coasting to another 25-point, seven-assist effort, leading the Nuggets to their first W of the series.
Lawson must keep his foot on the gas at all times. The pace and creativity that he brings makes him a very difficult matchup for the Lakers to defend once he sneaks into the paint. The Nuggets will not win a half-court game against Bryant, Bynum and Gasol.
Therefore, they must keep the ball moving, and the best person to do this is Lawson.
A surprise late-season trade allowed the Nuggets to ship a passive Nene in exchange for a vibrant, young seven-footer in McGee. George Karl has not provided JaVale with consistently substantial minutes this season, as it always takes trust to crack his lineup, but JaVale has been the difference in the last two games.
He's long, blocks and changes shots, rebounds and runs the court better than any big man in the league. Couple this with his prowess and surprising post moves, and McGee has been able to turn in back-to-back strong efforts nabbing 24 boards and blocking nine shots, to accompany 10 points per game.
I'm not sure of the Nuggets' plans for the offseason (and won't speculate until this season is over), but they are a different team with McGee in the lineup. He has been the answer in the middle that has warranted big minutes and the more Karl plays him, the better chance the Nuggets have of stealing this series. I think his play thus far is too good for Karl to turn a blind eye. With McGee in the lineup, the Nugs are dangerous.
Picking from the the 22nd slot, no one knew the Nuggets would uncover a gem, let alone a Manimal. Faried has wowed everyone throughout the year, and should get consideration for rookie of the year (he won't win, Kyrie Irving will).
The first playoff challenge of his adolescent career was no different. Faried has been nothing short of phenomenal, averaging 12 points and 11 rebounds, while showcasing the spectacular hustle plays that earned him his unique nickname.
Faried has harassed an older Pau Gasol up and down the floor, making plays at both ends. His effort and enthusiasm throughout the game often sets the tone as much as Lawson. If Faried can continue to stay in Gasol's grill, while producing the same consistent output, the Lakers may falter.
Using these three players to drive the tempo and exploit the youthful advantage, the Nuggets have every chance of not only taking this series all the way, but winning it as well.
In order to do this, Karl must trust in what is working for this team instead of leaning to heavily on his veterans. As many Nuggets fans know, winning streaks are not easy to come by in the playoffs, especially against a seasoned team such as the Lakers.
But playing their game can bring the Nuggets out of their usual first round woes and revamp the Mile High City.