Your Denver Nuggets travel to Memphis to face the Grizzlies this evening. It will be their third straight tilt with a contender. They’ve won their last two – a game at home versus the Lakers and one on the road with the Dallas Mavericks, who they simply blasted last night. Danilo Gallinari led the Nuggets with a career-high 39 points, making seven of eleven from three-point range, spoiling Dirk Nowitzki’s return from knee surgery.
The Nuggets held Dallas to just 85 points. They forced them into hurried jumpers, defending the paint as well as we have seen them all season. Most importantly, the Nuggets did not use the fact that they played on the road as an excuse for coming out flat. Tonight they face another brutal back-to-back, the type that has vexed them early this season. If they can somehow go into the “Grindhouse” and topple Memphis, seats will start filling up on the bandwagon very quickly.
As rough as their November and December schedules were, January and February look like a cake walk. Over the next two months they’ll be sleeping in their own beds before seventeen games and traveling for only ten, most of them in mid-February. The pressure is on the Nuggets now to begin racking up victories and climbing in the Western Conference standings.
As critical as fans (myself included) have been of the Nugs’ somewhat inconsistent start to 2012, they will emerge from the early portion of the season above .500. That’s something of an accomplishment considering their schedule was the toughest any team has faced since 1985. Still, there are problems to resolve. Late in games the Nuggets have looked lost at times. While there has been improvement, it remains a major concern.
Gallinari was George Karl’s closer last night. When Dallas pulled to within five points in the third quarter, Gallo extinguished their hopes and dreams by draining bucket after bucket, allowing the Nuggets to pull away again. As Scott Hastings pointed out on Altitude’s post game show, you could sense the air coming out of the Maverick’s balloon then. Gallo lacks the kind of consistency he needs to play the go-to role on a nightly basis. He’s also the subject of trade rumors. Andre Iguodala was also money last night, but has shown the same lack of predictability.
In a Western Conference that features such teams as the Clippers, the Thunder and the improving Lakers, Denver will need to know who can be counted on in the clutch. So long as they play with a lead they’re fine. It’s when an quality opponent is playing them close or from ahead that the Nuggets run into problems. The fourth quarter has been particularly troublesome for the Nuggets, which is something that must get solved.
It is possible that fans and critics have been too hard on the Nuggets thus far. That’s the assertion of Mile High Sports Magazine’s James Merilatt who’s usually known as a bit of a negative Nelly. Merilatt thinks that we need to be less quick to judge the Blue and Yellow. He’s probably right. If they don’t take care of their business between now and February 28th he will have been wrong.