Just a few weeks ago, the Denver Nuggets seemed to be a lock to win the Northwest Division and, for the first time since the glory days of Alex English, make a deep run in the NBA playoffs.
But after losing eight of their last 11 games (including games to bottom-dwellers Indiana and Sacramento,) the Nuggets are in a freefall and in danger of slipping out of the playoff picture altogether.
If the Nuggets are to restore themselves, they will need a healthy Kenyon Martin. Since Marcus Camby was jettisoned, Martin has become the defensive cornerstone.
His absence due to an injured back, and inconsistent play since his return is, unquestionably, the largest factor in the Nugget freefall.
Currently sixth in the standings, the Nuggets are looking at a first round matchup against Utah or Portland (whichever team wins the division.) Oddly, if they can get back to the top of the division they would likely face... Portland or Utah.
Assuming Denver has a healthy Martin, I like Denver's chances against either opponent, regardless of which team gets the home-court advantage.
Chauncey Billups' playoff experience will keep the team grounded and focused. And his defensive tenacity will help control the explosive Brandon Roy.
Nene's emergence in the middle this season, combined with Martin give Denver the interior presence to hold their own inside against Carlos Boozer and company in Utah.
Feeding on Billups steady hand, I expect Carmelo Anthony to emerge as a dominant playoff force this season.
The Nuggets should make it out of the first round this year.
If Kenyon Martin can just get healthy.