For the Denver Nuggets, things have been difficult lately.
Their superstar, Carmelo Anthony, was held out of several weeks worth of contests with ankle injuries, head coach George Karl made his second stint of cancer public, and the Nuggets have struggled.
In February, Denver only went 7-5 overall. Since March began a week ago, the Nuggets are 2-1, including a dominating two game winning streak.
On Wednesday, against the surging Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver imposed their will and were up as much as 40 points (106-66) before cruising to a 119-90 victory.
Then last night, the Nuggets were again too strong, as six players scored in double digits and Denver won again 122-114.
In both games Carmelo Anthony was MVP-like, combining for 64 points, 14 rebounds, and nine assists. When the Nuggets were struggling before, it was partly due to Melo’s sad shooting on the court.
But, other factors, like the announcement Karl made about his throat and neck cancer, and injuries have hurt Denver as well.
Sure, as of now Karl is still on the sidelines, and he’s only missed two games due to his cancer treatments, but the whole situation is still a distraction. And, as the treatments become more frequent, Karl will likely be forced from the sidelines for weeks on end.
While his coaching staff is strong, missing Karl could have dire consequences on this team made up of robust personalities.
There have also been injuries, which is part of the NBA that every team must deal with over the course of a punishing 82-game season.
Melo sprained an ankle that kept him out over two weeks before the All Star break. Chauncey Billups pulled a groin forcing him from two weeks as well. Now that both the Nuggets stars are at full strength though, the complimentary players are falling like flies.
Chris “Birdman” Andersen has had tender ankles all season long, and taking a fall against the Lakers on Feb. 28 hurt his lower back. Backup point guard Ty Lawson injured himself by falling in that game as well, but the small guard landed on his left shoulder.
While Birdman has been able to fight through the pain, Lawson has been sidelined for the last three games.
Undoubtedly, the biggest and most crucial injury though has been Kenyon Martin’s knee tendinitis that has kept him out of numerous games already this season. But now it looks as if the injured knee is a more serious problem than tendinitis, as it was announced that Martin has a partial tear of his patella tendon that may need surgery.
According to nuggets.com beat writer Aaron Lopez, the MRI is in and the Nuggets are waiting to determine whether or not the veteran power forward will need surgery.
Lopez tweeted, “K-Mart to meet with doctors Monday. MRI on left knee being reviewed this weekend. He will not play Sunday vs Portland.”
Monday will be the day the surgery decision will be made, and if Martin’s knee must be repaired it could spell dire consequences for Denver.
K-Mart is the Nuggets key defender, and one of only three big men that Karl uses on a nightly basis. While Denver center Nene is solid, no one plays as physically as Martin, especially on the defensive end.
Last night versus the Pacers Karl started Joey Graham in Martin’s place, which worked with mixed results. Graham is quicker than K-Mart, and his cutting to the hoop made for some easy buckets. Then again, Graham is much lighter, and would be eaten up by bigger players like Pau Gasol, Carlos Boozer, or Dirk Nowitzki.
If Karl decides to start Birdman in place of Martin, it leaves his bench smaller and void of the energy Andersen brings on a nightly basis.
One thing is for sure, if Martin has to sit down the stretch or during a playoff run, both Graham and veteran backup Malik Allen will get playing time. And while both a decent players, neither has the intensity or skill to replace what K-Mart brings night-in, night-out.
The Nuggets front court strength, or lack thereof, has already been a tipping point for many that say they are still not ready to win a championship. Without Martin, Denver’s chances to win that elusive first championship will drop dramatically.
So for now, all eyes are on Martin’s MRI, and all thoughts are mile high hopes that the Nuggets' backbone can continue to play for this special basketball team.
Rich Kurtzman is a Colorado State University graduate and freelance journalist who specializes in Colorado Sports. Along with writing here for NFLTouchdown.com, Kurtzman is the Denver Nuggets Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com and the Colorado State Rams Examiner for examiner.com. You can follow Rich on twitter and become a fan on facebook to read all his pieces.