Finally. While many in the U.S. were tuned in to see who would be our president for the next four years, the Denver Nuggets finally pulled out a complete victory, playing well from start to finish and closing out the Detroit Pistons 109-97 at the Pepsi Center. This prevented them from dropping to 0-4 for the first time since the lockout-shortened 1998 season (and we all remember how bad the '90s were for the Nugs).
After two abysmal performances to open the season against an Andrew Bynum-less Sixers team and a rebuilding Orlando squad, the Nuggets showed some life against Miami, only to fall on a dagger by Ray Allen with 6.7 seconds left.
This was the type of game we expect the Nuggets to turn in night in and night out this season—six players in double figures, 20 plus assists, strong rebounding and decent defense. However, it also did come against the Pistons at home, a team that is one of only two without a win thus far this season (the Wizards are the other).
Hopefully the early season jitters are behind this team and they will start their climb to relevance in the always competitive Western Conference. With nine of their next 13 games coming on the road in November, this feat will certainly not be an easy task.
This begs the question: If the Nuggets stumble this season, will George Karl be shown the door?
The success under Karl has definitely been mixed as he has taken them to the playoffs in all eight seasons that he has coached Denver, but only emerged from the first round once. For his career Karl seems to enjoy a plethora of success in the regular season, but his teams often stumble once they reach the postseason. He has only taken a team to the finals once in 1996 and lost to an unstoppable Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls team.
Karl's story is inspiring. He has battled back from cancer twice since joining the Nuggets in 2005, and always returned to the bench, but inspiring stories don't win championships.
This is not to say that the Nuggets have an inside track to a championship by any means, what with the incumbent champion Heat improving, and the Lakers making two huge acquisitions in the offseason of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. If you add in San Antonio's seemingly ageless team and the always-tough combination of Durant and Westbrook in Oklahoma City, you already have a steep hill to climb with little room for error. This is why those first two games were so perplexing.
Despite these obstacles, with all of the brilliant moves made by Masai Ujiri to build a solid core that could hang with any team in the NBA, will he and Josh Kroenke stand by and watch another early exit from the playoffs?
Denver may be the deepest team in the NBA from top to bottom. They have built this core to compete for a championship in a league in which parity is so rare. If they fail to make significant strides this season, will Karl take the fall? My guess is that with the long-term investments the team has made in many of its players, Karl will have a short leash, where nothing but a first-round playoff victory will save him. For Nuggets fans I hope this is the case because another first-round exit, with this team, is simply inexcusable.