Akshay Manwani Freelance writer based in Mumbai

In an attempt to rid himself of the perils of performance appraisals, Akshay ventured into the world of freelance writing where he combined his twin interests of sports and cinema. He has since contributed to The Caravan, BCCI.tv, Business Standard and Man's World, among other publications. He has followed the fortunes of the NBA since the early ’90s, an experience that has given him extraordinary moments of joy in an otherwise mundane existence.

All season long, Akshay will cover the League from the point of view of a basketball expert living in India. Follow him every week on NBA.com/india!

These Nuggets Look Good

While the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers have grabbed everyone’s attention in the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies have been distracted by trade talks and the Golden State Warriors have driven everyone into overdrive over their vastly improved performance this season, the Denver Nuggets have made an almost unnoticed march northwards.

Yes, three months into the 2012-13 season and George Karl’s team is sitting pretty at sixth place in the West, is on a four-game winning streak and is only two games adrift of the Grizzlies for the fourth spot. How did we miss ’em, some may ask?

It’s a logical question that follows after Denver’s seven-game, heart-breaking loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2012 playoffs and its subsequent acquisition of Andre Iguadola that sent Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington to the Orlando Magic in the offseason. But with a 17-15 start in the first two months of the new season, Denver was stuck in the middle of the pile among the Western Conference teams and there was little reason to follow this franchise on a possession-by-possession basis.

But we should have tuned in because the first two months of Denver’s regular season schedule was most tasking. They played 22 of their first 32 games on the road in, practically living on the road in the months of November and December. Since January 1, though, when their schedule turned for the better, Denver has gone 11-3 and has taken down the likes of the Clippers, the Warriors, the Thunder and the Indiana Pacers. Even now, the Nuggets have played 25 games on the road, a number matched only by the San Antonio Spurs. Meanwhile, all other four teams placed above the Nuggets have played fewer games than Denver on the road.

Make no mistake, Denver is a solid team. They rank among the top five in points scored, among the top five in field-goal percentage, second in assists-per-game, among the top five in free-throws attempted, number one in grabbing offensive rebounds and are among the top five in shot-blocking. There may be some weaknesses like poor 3-point shooting (among the bottom five in the league) and last in the league in free-throw shooting, but overall they are a quality team, which reflects in their sixth-placed standing in the Western Conference.

The problem, however, with Denver is that they lack a genuine superstar player. Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos, Andre Iguadola and Andre Miller may be local favourites in Denver and solid players on the whole, but don’t draw fans to the seats like LeBron James or Kobe Bryant do. The one player who was expected to do big things for Denver, JaVale McGee, has become a more regular appearance on Shaqtin’ A Fool instead. And that may prove Denver’s big stumbling block this season. For to truly contend for a championship, any team must have at least one superstar on their roster, who is capable of leaving his stamp on the game when it is in the balance. In the last 20 years, the only team that managed to win without a legit superstar was the Detroit Pistons in 2004.

But George Karl won’t be complaining yet. Having just notched up his 1100th career win, Karl’s immediate concerns would be to get Denver to the fourth spot in the West standings so that the Nuggets may at least enjoy home-court advantage in the opening round in the playoffs. Also, if they can add a 3-point shooter before the trade deadline, that would make the Nuggets a more versatile scoring team. And who knows what happens from there?

Maybe these Nuggets will be a truly appetizing option come playoff time.

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