Springtime in Colorado is unpredictable with t-shirt and short-worthy temperatures in the 60s one day, and a foot worth of sloppy, wet snow the next.
Not having George Karl or Kenyon Martin has already taken a toll on Denver and it could end with devastating effects.
Karl’s cancer has been the elephant in the Nuggets locker room for the last month, no doubt distracting the players, while K-Mart’s knee injury has weakened the Denver defense.
George Karl’s cancer diagnosis was tough enough for the team, many of whom were in attendance for their coach’s press conference. The emotional presser showed the NBA head coach at his most vulnerable, as does this piece that goes into detail pertaining to Karl’s cancer treatments.
And while their coach’s battle with the disease may have galvanized and built character for the Nuggets, his presence and authoritative voice are already being missed.
From the Denver Post , “It’s really hard,” players' leader Chauncey Billups said. “You lose your leader on the team in George. You lose his voice, you lose his presence. A.D. and those guys are doing a wonderful job, but it’s just different.”
“It’s tough just not hearing his voice. He’s our leader,” veteran guard Anthony Carter said. “[Adrian Dantley] and the assistant coaches are doing a great job. But it’s still not the same without George, because George can get his point across a little bit more vocally than A.D. […] we miss George and hopefully he’ll be back soon.”
Unfortunately for A.C., Billups and other Nuggets players and fans, the Denver Post’s Benjamin Hochman reported Tuesday that Karl will likely be out until the playoffs .
Some, like ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser are questioning whether or not the Nuggets wheels have completely fallen off. And while his co-anchor Michael Wilbon didn’t take it that far, he did express concern for Denver’s team.
“Not only is [Karl] an excellent basketball coach, but he’s an enormous personality,” Wilbon said on PTI Thursday afternoon.
Kornheiser continued, “[Dantley] is not their head coach. Players get used to listening to their coach.”
It’s telling when two seasoned veterans in Billups and Carter are missing the guidance of their head coach, so what does it mean for the many younger players on the team?
Karl has been in Denver for over five years now, and he’s impacted every one of the Nuggets players on this current roster.
Kenyon Martin included.
K-Mart was in the middle of playing his best overall season in the Nuggets powder blue and yellow when his knee tendinitis turned into a partial patella tendon tear.
Karl calls Martin the “defensive quarterback” for Denver, who regularly instructs teammates and calls out the other team’s offensive plays.
But beyond K-Mart’s basketball I.Q. that could qualify him for Jeopardy, he’s a great basketball player.
Martin is at once like a genius and a matter of seconds later the goon.
He’s the enforcer, the intimidator, the Nuggets' most physical defender by far.
Further than that, K-Mart is Denver’s best defender, bar none.
He can body up the biggest, and stay with the best during crunch time. Martin is often charged with just that task, being their key defender during the stretch in a game, and he’s absolutely been missed down the stretch run of this waning season.
Denver is currently diving in the standings, on a three-game losing streak, the losers of four of six overall.
In the 11 games since Kenyon Martin last played (Mar. 3), Denver has given up an average of 103.7 points per game, more than a point higher than their season average. That includes point totals of 114 (Pacers) and 108 (Grizzlies) in wins, and 125 (Rockets), 109 (Knicks), and 113 to the Celtics Tuesday night. No offense to any of those team’s fans, but none of them are scoring machines.
In fact, every single one of those teams scored more than their season averages—some by double digits.
Without K-Mart, the Nuggets have been downright sloppy on defense, with almost no effort given on that end of the floor.
The big problem is that Martin won’t be back until mid-April, around the start of the playoffs, and he’ll likely be rusty when the games begin.
And now, Denver (47-25) still has three games remaining on a daunting late season five-game roadie. With Toronto (Fri. 5:00 p.m. MT), Orlando (Sun. 4:00 p.m. MT), and Dallas (Mon. 6:30 p.m. MT) to finish this trip, the Nuggets could end up 0-5 and down into the sixth spot in the Western Conference.
Denver is in third, tied with Utah in record but ahead in the season series, and they are only three games ahead of Oklahoma City in sixth.
Add in the pressure of missing backup point guard Ty Lawson for a month, who is just now returning and still needs to get back into the swing of things.
J.R. Smith, Arron Afflalo, Chris “Birdman” Andersen, and now Adrian Dantley, have all had much more pressure placed upon their shoulders this year, as they’ve been challenged to perform at even higher levels than before.
Plus, Carmelo Anthony has played with the pressure of the chance of winning the MVP, until recently.
After going to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 25 years last season, the hopes were more than a mile high for the Nuggets to win a championship.
Now, those hopes seem completely and utterly dashed as the pressure has gained weight, momentum, and is storming down those Rocky Mountains like an avalanche towards Denver.
Sometimes pressure forms diamonds, and other times, just coal.
Update: The Dallas Mavericks lost Thursday night to the Portland Trailblazers 101-89. Therefore, the Nuggets moved back into the second position in the West, tied with both the Mavs and Jazz at 47-25. Denver has already won the season series with Utah (3-1) but are tied with Dallas (1-1) making their meeting Monday even more meaningful.
Rich Kurtzman is a Colorado State University Alumnus of the Communications Department and a freelance journalist. Along with being the Denver Nuggets Featured Columnist here an B/R, Kurtzman is the Denver Broncos FC for NFLTouchdown.com and the CSU Rams Examiner for examiner.com.