Fresh off an 86-83 defeat at home to the division rival Portland Trailblazers—who like Denver have numerous injuries in their frontcourt—the Nuggets sit at 6-6 overall (10th) in a highly competitive Western Conference. The loss was Denver's fourth in six games and they've only won two games in a row once in their first 12 contests.
Without Greg Oden and backup center Joel Przybilla, the Blazers are still one of the longest and tallest teams in the league and they out-rebounded the Nuggets 45-38 while dominating in the paint 40 points to Denver’s 16.
Last night’s loss to Portland was telling of how much Denver is missing Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Kenyon Martin, especially on the defensive end.
To bolster the Nuggets lack in size, they signed Shelden Williams and Al Harrington in the offseason and while their production has been a pleasant surprise (21 points, 12.4 rebounds per game combined), Denver is still struggling to find an identity. Williams has been the starting power forward all season, which has seen its share of ups and downs.
Chauncey Billups remains the leader on the court, but his play has continued the slipping that started in April’s playoffs. Billups’ 14.3 points and 4.5 assists per game are both lows since his first season in Detroit in 2002-03. J.R. Smith is once again noticeably at odds with head coach George Karl, playing barely over a minute in the last three games combined. Nene is playing like his same old self and Ty Lawson continues to grow.
The biggest surprise of the season has been Gary Forbes, who’s averaging eight points and three rebounds on a mere 16 minutes per game. And Arron Afflalo’s career highs in points (12.7) and rebounds (4.1) are putting him in the race for Most Improved Player.
As the team is feeling itself out and everyone new and old is trying to find their niche, not to be lost is the distraction of the possibility of superstar Carmelo Anthony leaving the Mile High City. The continuous questions about
Melo must be getting to his teammates and the uncertainty of his future makes focusing even tougher for everyone.
For a franchise that has been one of the best since Anthony’s arrival in 2003, with seven consecutive seasons of 50-plus wins and playoff appearances, Nuggets players and fans have grown used to winning.
And while this year’s team may be the most talented and deep Denver has suited during the Carmelo Anthony era, the numbers are pointing to the 2010-11 Nuggets being mediocre or even possibly worse.
As per usual, Denver is one of the best cities for homecourt advantage and the Nuggets are 4-1 at home, but only 2-5 on the road. The Nuggets are eighth best in scoring at 103.9 but they only score one more point than they give up (102.9) and they are 20th in defense. Denver is 6-2 when scoring 100-plus, but only 3-4 when their opponent scores 100-plus.
Denver is in the bottom half of the league in assists, at 19th with 20.4 dimes per game. And their 7.7 steals per game put them right in the middle of the NBA at 15th.
Again, the Nuggets lack of size shows as they are 17th in rebounds at 41.25 per, and 27th in opponent rebounds at 44.92 per game. And Denver has the worst block differential at minus-3.59 per game, meaning they get blocked three and a half times more per game than they block opponents.
Still, for a team whose future is up in the thin air, these Nuggets have beaten the LA Lakers (11-2), Utah (8-5), and Dallas (7-4) and have shown a fight, desire to win and an ability to roll with the punches as they play without two of their most important and valuable big men.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist actively seeking a career in journalism. Along with being the Denver Nuggets and a Denver Broncos Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com, Kurtzman is the CSU Rams Examiner and the Colorado/Utah Regional Correspondent for stadiumjourney.com.