Tough Times For Nuggets’ Fans
By Jeff Dengate
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SECAUCUS, NJ, Jan. 8, 2007 – "My ideal game is not one in which the Jets and Patriots are engaged in a sterling contest where Pennington and Brady trade coups and the final score is determined in overtime by an inspired play," unabashed New York Jets fan Adam Gopnik wrote for the Jan. 8, 2007 issue of The New Yorker. "It's one in which the Jets pull ahead, 35-0, in the first quarter and then coast to victory on a muddy field, as Brady slips and falls."

I quote Gopnik, despite his passion for a different game, simply because I could not have stated my own rooting interest any better. There's nothing I enjoy more than a good, old-fashioned thrashing of a Pistons' opponent. Okay, fine, maybe that comes a close second to settling in for classics like Some Like It Hot and The Apartment, but as far as modern-day entertainment options go, give me a one-sided affair on the hardwood.

So, it was with great anticipation that I flicked the dial over to the Pistons-Bulls game Saturday night, hoping to see Rip, ‘Sheed and Co. show their old anchor they could hold sway in the rough seas of the NBA just fine without his presence in the paint.

Oops.

Somewhere around the time I removed the final ornament from the Christmas tree, I again focused my attention on the game the Bulls had led by single digits when I set out to put an end to the pile of brown needles that accumulated in the corner of my living room.

Well, I had hoped for a blowout, didn't I? Serves me right, then, to see the Bulls up 20-odd points. Oh, this wasn't going to bode well for that Monday morning meeting I attend with a passionate — and trash-talking — Bulls' fan.

Sweet, sweet League Pass to the rescue. A few quick clicks on the channel-up button and I'm rapt in the Jazz-Nuggets duel out west, which Utah led 54-50 and was important for both teams hoping to take top honors in the Northwest Division.

Now we've got a ball game, ladies and gentlemen. I'll gladly watch Deron Williams (who just so happens to be on one of my fantasy teams) and Allen Iverson trade buckets, hoping the game's on the line and the ball's in A.I.'s hands.

Stealing my attention from the contest is the thought of what's to come in two short weeks, when Carmelo Anthony returns from his 15-game suspension to team with A.I. Seriously, can you picture the scenario now? Anthony inbounds, the ball ends up in Iverson's hands and the other team commits one of the cardinal sins in late-game situations by collapsing on the penetrating Iverson and forgetting about the inbounder. Iverson, at this point, has a few options: 1) Get to the rim for the game-winner. 2) Try to draw contact and hope for a whistle. 3) Kick it out to ‘Melo on the wing for one of those big shots like those (or more appropriate, this, this, this and this) still fresh in my mind from the 2005-06 season – including when he downed the Suns in triple-OT with gauze plugging a nostril.

But I digress. Back to the Nuggets-Jazz matchup on Saturday night. Entering the game, the Nuggets sat five and a half games back of the Jazz for the division lead, trying to stay above water without 'Melo. In truth, the Nuggets are sinking, bringing into the contest a 2-4 record with Iverson in uniform.

Saturday was the Nuggets' chance to make up ground and turn around their fortunes leading into one of the toughest stretches for the team this season. Instead, the Jazz put even more ground between itself and Denver, which now sits third, one-half game back of the Timberwolves.

So now, still short-handed, the team welcomes in the Bucks, who've been hot of late, winning seven of the last 10. They also host the struggling Spurs Wednesday (9 p.m. ET on ESPN) and the surprisingly dangerous, Yao-less Rockets on Friday (10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN). A quick look at the Spurs' January numbers makes you think San Antonio is bound to snap back to form and what better time than against the team with the longest current-losing streak in the league?

The Jazz, meanwhile, after facing the red-hot Mavericks on Tuesday, get the Sonics and Heat in a back-to-back set this coming weekend.

In other words, if Denver doesn't put some Ws on the board this week, it'll find itself in a big hole, just as quickly as it did Saturday night, after whittling down the Jazz lead to a single digit, 68-67, early in the fourth quarter.

To do so, the Nuggets are going to need solid contributions from somebody other than Iverson and the diminuitive Earl Boykins, who has tallied 20-plus points in eight of the nine games Anthony has sat out.

One such player is Yakhouba Diawara, who once again came off the bench for the Nuggets vs. the Jazz after starting the previous eight contests. If anything, you can call the rookie from Pepperdine inconsistent, as are most first-year players.

On Dec. 31 against the Lakers, Diawara missed all 11 tries in 40 minutes, finishing with a single point and five boards. Two nights later, in the loss to Philadelphia, he logged 42 minutes, connecting on half of his 16 shots, including 5-of-10 from beyond the arc, to end with 23 points and six boards.

In fits and starts, Denver will hang with the best in the league, as evidenced by its 30-point third quarter vs. Utah on Saturday, but without a consistent effort from the reserves called to action the team will struggle to hang with the NBA's elite squads much longer than 12 minute spells.

The Nuggets get some relief this week, however, as J.R. Smith is slated to return Wednesday, after serving the 10th game of his suspension tonight, and Marcus Camby could be back in action as early as tonight after sitting out with a right wrist sprain.

“I'm just hoping January 22nd, January 23rd comes around, we're OK," Nuggets coach George Karl told the Denver Post after Saturday's loss." I have a good feeling that we're going to be OK."

And I have a feeling Nuggets fans may then start quoting Adam Gopnik themselves.