Are the Denver Nuggets Wilting Under the Bright Lights of Their Offseason Hype?
In a season where NBA teams seem bound to make all so-called "experts" look like doofuses, the Denver Nuggets are trying to take the hype that built up during offseason and throw it back into everyone's face.
Denver played Miami in its most closely contested matchup of the season so far, losing 119-116 thanks to a four-point play from Ray Allen with the clock winding down. A deep three from Danilo Gallinari nearly tied it up, but it ended up clanging off the front of the rim.
What's the big problem with Denver? Is it just gradually working its way into form or is there something deeper agitating this team?
The Nuggets have come out to start the season 0-3, with losses coming against Miami, Orlando and Philadelphia. While the loss to Miami shouldn't cause too much concern, the other two losses might be a little bit more upsetting.
In three straight games, Denver was abused by big men while struggling to push the pace in the style that it so thrived on a season ago. The opposition was led by Spencer Hawes (16 points), Glen Davis (29 points) and Chris Bosh (40 points), all of whom are capable of knocking down a mid-range jumper.
Whether it was discipline or that the Nuggets were flat-out outplayed in their first three games, it seems obvious that there is something wrong with this team.
Even if it can't be pinpointed, it was easy to watch this team over the past few days and realize that the players didn't feel "right" out of the gate.
What's most shocking about these first three games of the season has to be that the Nuggets scored fewer than 90 points twice, something that happened only four times all season long in 2011-12. Even further, their 75-point game against Philadelphia would have been their lowest-scoring game of the 2011-12 season by a full six points.
It's easy to point to the things that could have slowed them down along the way. Denver started the season on the road against two completely revamped teams and then had to go into Miami to play the defending champions. If anything, the schedule was set up for it to struggle out of the gate.
Perhaps, however, Denver is struggling with the lofty expectations that followed it around after trading for Andre Iguodala.
Basketball Prospectus' beautiful computers picked this Nuggets team to be the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, a conference top-loaded with the star-packed Lakers, consistently terrific Spurs and Western Conference champion Thunder.
While not everyone out there was picking an upset atop the conference, there were quite a few people that looked at this team's depth and thought, "Damn, they're deep."
For a team that's reliant on three young players, all of whom were just extended with multi-year, multimillion dollar deals, with a veteran leader in Andre Iguodala who isn't the most vocal of players, perhaps the pressure is getting to them.
JaVale McGee, Ty Lawson and Gallinari all shot below 41 percent in the first two games and just didn't live up to the expectations that they set themselves up for last year.
There is some good news from the loss to Miami, however. McGee and Lawson both played well for the duration, while Gallinari hit a big shot or two down the stretch (ultimately missing the biggest shot).
On top of that, Kenneth Faried finally came alive. The Manimal, on whom they relied for energy and big-time rebounds all last season, came out of the gate with eight points and 12 rebounds in the first two games. He put up 22 points and 12 boards against the Heat.
This team may wrestle with the idea that it could end up winning the Western Conference with a bit of luck, but in order to actually win the Western Conference, the Nuggets need to put the entire idea out of their minds and just play basketball.
George Karl is a great coach who knows how to deal with players and their emotions (just look at what he's done with McGee). So while this team hasn't fared well right off the bat, it does have the ability to turn it around and start stringing some wins together.
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