This is what we've been working for all season long; getting back to the playoffs to make a run for the title. Of course, getting to the postseason has become expected of the Nuggets, who have won every single Northwest Division title since I joined the league except one (2009) and have never missed the playoffs.
I suppose there's something to be said for my maintaining the continuity, years after the days of AI, Carmelo and Camby in Denver are gone.
But none of that matters as far as I'm concerned if we don't bring a championship back to Denver at some point during my tenure here.
I'll go with the standard preview from the usual mag.
"...The nearly-completely new Nuggets have their highest seeding in years and there's reason to believe that this might finally be the year for GM Jestor and his Denver boys. But by the same token, this team has seen its periods of drought, funks in which they couldn't even beat the New York Knicks, let alone the league's top teams they'll be facing in the playoffs.
This, too, is an interesting Spurs team, the days of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker long gone, creating a San Antonio franchise that is engaged in something of an identity quest of its own.
What an absolute godsend Kirk Hinrich has been for Denver this season. He runs the Nuggets offense far more efficiently than the ballyhooed Paulinho Buboltz did and he's also one of the team's most consistent players, averaging 15.2 points and 10.7 assists in the regular season. There's some questions about whether he'll stay in Denver, as his contract is too lengthy and too rich for the front office's liking, but he's a pure textbook passer with good shooting when he needs to and some excellent defense.
Julian Wright was trapped on the Hawks bench until Atlanta traded him to San Antonio early on in the 2010 season and he's been a starter ever since, albeit at SF, his natural position, prior to this year. He's definitely looked out of place at the point and is the weak link in the Spurs chain. On the other hand, he plays very good defense.
One thing that hasn't changed for Denver is the fact of an explosive, high-scoring SG, although this year it's not Ben Gordon, but Mateen Yeaton, the focal point of the blockbuster draft-day trade that resulted in wholesale changes to both Indiana and Denver. Yeaton's a huge SG at 6'8, 207 lbs and his size is a large part of how he muscled his way to averaging 1.8 blocks a game, along with a surprisingly high 5.2 rebounds. Throw in better than expected defense due to his stealing skills and of course, the scoring of 23.3 points a game and you have a player who's arguably the best-all around Nugget. The only problem is that he can be as inconsistent as Hinrich is consistent and if Yeaton gets cold, there could be trouble for Denver.
6'7, 237 lbs gives Joe Johnson and the Spurs the size needed to put a lid on Yeaton and Johnson's a much more naturally gifted defender than Yeaton is, with exceptional passing skills for a SG. While not even close to the shotblocker of the Nuggets' superstar, Johnson has comparable shooting skills, evidenced by his 21.7 points per game average. This matchup of titans, one young, the other veteran, will go a long way to determining the outcome of this series.
This position's split between Patrick Pastner, another part of the Indiana/Denver deal who has very good consistency, adequate defense and well-balanced shooting abilities the like of which haven't been seen in Denver since Carmelo Anthony at SF and Vince Carter, the still-effective 36 year old picked up at the deadline from the Detroit Pistons. Pastner gives the Nuggets better rebounding and defense, while Carter is more of an adrenaline boost on offense.
No such two-headed hydra exists in San Antonio, where 36 year old free agent pickup Paul Pierce is the clear starter at SF. Pierce is having his worst season in years, averaging just 17.4 points a game, but don't let that fool you into thinking he's done, because he's still a beautiful shooter who uses his veteran savvy and intelligence to decimate less aware opponents. He's also a proven clutch commodity in the playoffs, something that neither Pastner, who's averaged a modest 12 points a game in every postseason he's been in, nor Carter, who hasn't seen the playoffs in years, are.
Emeka Okafor is what he is, year in and year out: A phenomenal defender and shotblocker good for, on season's balance, 10-11 points, a shade below 8 rebounds and over 2 blocks a game. Like Hinrich, Okafor has a brutal contract that could see him get moved sometime in the near future, but for now, he's the Nuggets' blue-collar, unsung hero.
Shawne Williams is by and large a completely average player, though he does have an impressive inside shot. He averaged career highs of 12 points and 7.2 rebounds this year, his first as a full-time starter, but the general consensus is that he's going to get eaten alive against Okafor.
For the first time in his career, Dan Jacobson averaged a double-double with 10.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in this, his fourth season, after narrowly missing the mark the previous years. Jacobson is huge at 7'5, 290 lbs and a mammoth defensive presence. Although his scoring average doesn't show it, he made great strides this year in his offensive game. The biggest question mark is how he's going to hold up in the glare of the playoffs. He was horrible in 2010 with the Wizards and nondescript last year. Can this finally be his breakthrough postseason?
Hilton Armstrong is a much smaller (6'11, 235 lbs), much more diluted version of Jacobson, even though his 8.9 points and 10 rebounds suggests a closer affinity than their talent levels indicate. He's also been even worse in the playoffs than Jacobson's been, making this position battle an emphatic advantage for Denver.
Whichever one of Patrick Pastner or Vince Carter is the 6th man gives something the previous Nuggets teams lost after Chauncey Billups departed the team: a genuine offensive threat. The Nuggets front office is extremely high on 21 year old 3rd year big man Phillip Gill, though his discomfort with handling the ball will likely prevent him from ever being an elite center. Marcus Williams is a pass-first PG, another one of the Great Trade pieces, who quietly rose as the season went on to become one of Denver's key reserves. Steven Caspers is the defensive stopper, one who can surprise with the occasional outburst of points.
Tyrone Dotson, taken at 1.15 by the Wizards in the same draft that Gill went 1.10 to the Pacers, is, like Gill, a high-ceiling guy his front office raves about. Unlike Gill, he's much more polished and has been a very nice all-around 6th man and a free agent steal by the Spurs, one who should get much more than the pedestrian one-year deal the promising young forward signed the past offseason. Quincy Douby, imported via free agency from the defending champion Raptors, is a jolt of offense off the bench and Paul Millsap provides the rebounding boost, something that Denver doesn't have. However, in counterpoint, the Spurs don't have a pure passer, nor do they have a defensive stopper.
On paper, this should be a blowout for Denver, possibly even a sweep. However, given the mercurial nature of this Nuggets squad, such lofty expectations should not be gambled on. Far more likely is that Denver pulls out the win, but will struggle some in getting it.
Prediction: Nuggets in 6
Heh. At least they're predicting us to win.
High-energy atmosphere. Opening playoff game at home, the whole works. Should be a nice game, right? Kirk Hinrich scores 26, Dan Jacobson puts up 16 points and 13 rebounds, Emeka Okafor 10 points and 11 rebounds. We also hold Shawne Williams to 0 points and Hilton Armstrong to 2 points. So you're thinking we won big, right? Wrong. Paul Pierce rips us apart for 26 points, the same amount Joe Johnson hits us for and their bench makes up for the suckiness of their starters, as Tyrone Dotson scores 15 and Quincy Douby, the most maddeningly clutch player I've ever had the misfortune to watch, adds 11 points for the Spurs and so San Antonio steals away the win.
Final: San Antonio 96 Denver 89
We were pissed about the opening game and Larry Brown reminded our boys to take care of the fundamentals and everything else will fall into place against a team we should be owning. So what do we do? We go out and crush them with hard-nosed defense, frustrating them all night long. The offense is taken care of by Kirk Hinrich with 22 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds and a steal and Dan Jacobson continues to show improved postseason play with 13 points and 11 rebounds. We definitely needed this victory and we got it convicingly.
Final: San Antonio 73 Denver 95
This, in my opinion, is one of the most critical contests of the series, as it's in San Antonio and a win for us here would be a huge differencemaker in momentum. Joe Johnson sends my stomach churning when he blitzes us for 36 points and Shawne Williams narrowly misses a double-double with 19 points and 9 rebounds. But Dan Jacobson betters Williams with 21 points and 9 rebounds, Kirk Hinrich scores 22, Patrick Pastner continues to look more comfortable every game, scoring 20 in this one and our own bench comes through this game as Marcus Williams scores 14 and Phillip Gill yanks down 10 boards to secure the crucial win.
Final: Denver 105 San Antonio 98
Win here and we've got them on the ropes. Lose and it's back into the dogfight. Mateen Yeaton finally awakens with 24 points, just missing the double-double with 9 rebounds. Patrick Pastner is fully warmed up now and scores 22. Kirk Hinrich plays floor general well with 17 points and 13 assists and Dan Jacobson is definitely looking like a new playoff man this series with 15 points and 11 rebounds. The Spurs just can't answer us as Joe Johnson has a horrific 5-for-23 night and their best players are Shawne Williams with 17 points and 13 rebounds and Paul Millsap with 13 points. I still plan to go get Tyrone Dotson in the offseason, though.
Final - Denver 101 San Antonio 89
Toronto swept the Magic and every other series is at 3-1, including some shocking potential upsets that I won't report on at the risk of being a spoiler and a jinx. I'll jot them down if and when they occur.
I'd love to just win the series right here at home and put the Spurs away. But it looks like we left our hearts in San Antonio as we shoot an ugly 39.8% as a team, Emeka Okafor perversely choosing this game to be our lone highlight with 17 points and 16 rebounds. On the Spurs end, Shawne Williams keeps his nice series going with 14 points and 10 rebounds and Hilton Armstrong of all people is Player of the Game with 14 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks. Yeah, it was that kind of game. Quincy Douby continues to be the Robert Horry of this generation with 11 bench points. Damned disgusting loss.
Final - San Antonio 92 Denver 80
Just two of the series were completed after Game 5 with favorites winning in both. Dallas earned a date with either us or San Antonio in the next round by beating Utah and much to my disgruntlement, the Pacers knock off Milwaukee to advance as well.
Now that we know our opponent, we -have- to win. I don't want us drained after a seven-game marathon against the relatively refreshed Mavericks. It's another scrappy, knock-down battle in San Antonio. Joe Johnson scores 21 to lead both teams, Hilton Armstrong gets 12 points and 14 boards and Quincy Douby plays the little reserve dagger role again with 13 bench points. Mateen Yeaton out and out stinks up the joint with a 3-of-13 night and I'm sweating it out, but Vince Carter, fully healed and starting again at SF, leads the team with 18 points, Kirk Hinrich just misses a double-double with 12 points and 9 assists and Patrick Pastner adds 12 points back in his 6th man role. But the real hero of the game and its official award-winner is the man who has made this series his own personal redemption story. Dan Jacobson wins Player of the Game with 13 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 blocks and 2 steals and we win too, gaining a measure of redemption for ourselves as a team.
Final: Denver 91 San Antonio 81
I'll admit, I'm more relieved than ecstatic at winning the opening round. The matchup will be a lot tougher in the next round against Jonte Jones and that whole Dallas crew, but maybe we can pull it off.
Miracles do happen, after all.
Such as the Grizzlies upsetting the Timberwolves in six games.
And the 76ers stunning perennial playoff powerhouse Charlotte in six as well.
And the greatest miracle of all.
(8) Sacramento 4
(1) L.A. Lakers 2
2006 Golden Scribe Nominee
2006 Golden Scribe Winner
Best Non-Sport Dynasty: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)
Rookie Writer of the Year
Dynasty of the Year: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)