The NBA playoffs are moving ahead full force with many of the "usual suspects" such as the L.A. Lakers and the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls ... unfortunately my Nuggets are no longer deep in the competition. Last night ... April 27 ... the Denver Nuggets lost the Round 1 series to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 97-100 defeat. The series went four games to one (4-1).
Regardless of this unfortunate turn of events, I will be a Denver fan until the day I die even though I live more than 1,300 miles away. The "Nuggets" got their start in 1967 when an American Basketball Association (ABA) charter franchise intended for Kansas City was rerouted to Denver because the "Paris of the Plains" could not provide a suitable basketball arena. The team was initially dubbed the Denver "Rockets," which was kind of confusing because the very same year the NBA expansion team called the San Diego "Rockets" began playing. The Denver team had a slow start and failed to play in any championship series. However, the roster was strong and fan support built steadily. In 1974, the team was beginning negotiations to join the National Basketball Association (NBA) and team execs opened a contest to rename the team. The winning entry ... "Nuggets" ... was submitted as a tribute to both the 19th century gold and silver mining boom in the Colorado area and a former "Denver Nuggets" basketball that played in the '40s and '50s. The new "Denver Nuggets" officially joined the NBA in 1976.
Initially, the new Nuggets were represented by Maxie miner, a weathered miner who "discovered" an ABA basketball while panning for treasure. In 1990, Maxie was retired and replaced with Rocky the Mountain Lion, an energetic feline who became the seventh official NBA team mascot. Over the years, Rocky has performed his incredible somersault slam dunks and backwards half-court shots at more than 800 Nuggets games. And because of his ferocious loyalty to the game and his unparalleled community involvement, Rock was inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame in 2008.
But back to the topic at hand ... the playoffs. In regular season play, the Nuggets performed well against most adversaries, ending the 2010-2011 season 50-32 in the overall standings. The team's 50 victories placed it fifth in the Western Conference behind the notable L.A. Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, and Dallas Mavericks, and second in the Northwest Division just behind the Oklahoma City Thunder.
For roughly seven months this season, fans on hand at the Pepsi Center (where home Nuggets games are played), at host city venues, and ... like me ... in front of their television sets were treated to the incredible athleticism and on-court poetry of Arron Afflalo, the power and often-untamed maneuvers of Chris Andersen and J.R. Smith, and the consistency and resilience of Nene and Danilo Gallinari. But in the end it just wasn't enough.
During the first round of play against the Thunder, any number of problems occurred that the stats bear out. Poor free-throwing for one thing ... in one game, the Nuggets gave up 15 points in bad shots from the foul line. Hell, I could have made at least half of those ... maybe more. There were also just some poor matchups between Denver and Oklahoma City ballers. I think what frustrated fans the most was that in every playoff game the Nuggets had the lead ... sometimes a sizable advantage ... only to flounder and lose momentum.
What I won't concede is the point that some critics and analysts made ... that Denver performed poorly because of "the lack of a clear superstar." It would be too easy to blame the losses on the pre-playoff trade of Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks. Yes, his 20+ points per game average would have been an asset, but players like Gallinari and Afflalo quickly stepped it up and provided the team with the leadership and motivation it needed.
In my humble opinion, the Nuggets had too many outstanding players. When Gallinari is on, he is ON!! And when Andersen and Smith have built up a head of steam, get the $&*# out of their way or suffer the consequences!! During playoffs, the team simply didn't mesh well with the basics and the energetic styles of Thunder players like the amazing Kevin Durant, the cunning Eric Maynor, and the nimble Russell Westbrook took full advantage of each and every Nugget weakness.
POINT OF RANT: There's always next year ... so watch out Spurs!! It will be raining "Nuggets" in 2011-2012!!!