Reflection pool: Some favorite things from a whirlwind season
It was a head-spinning 22 weeks.
From the day the Denver Nuggets training camp opened at Pepsi Center on Dec. 9 to the night the season finally ended at Staples Center on May 12, there was rarely time to breathe.
A 10-day training camp set the tone for what Nuggets coach George Karl liked to refer to as a “knuckleball” season. Denver welcomed seven new faces, survived two sets of back-to-back-to-back games, played an unprecedented nine-game homestand and ultimately reached the playoffs for the ninth straight year.
It can be hard to appreciate the nuances of the season while they’re happening, but now that I’ve had some time to process the happenings of 2011-12, here are some of my favorite things.
On Christmas Eve, Nuggets strength and conditioning coach Steve Hess burst into the media relations office and told me to grab my Flip camera.
It turned out that Rudy Fernandez, Danilo Gallinari, Al Harrington, Kosta Koufos, Timofey Mozgov, Nene and Julyan Stone wanted to film a music video.
Representing Spain, Italy, the United States, Greece, Russia and Brazil, the seven players had some fun dancing to the popular Brazilian song “Ai se eu te pego!”
It was a multi-cultural bonding experience that illustrated Denver's team-first philosophy.
Two days later, the Nuggets opened the season with a road win over the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.
|Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried.|
As the Nuggets were rolling through January with one of the league’s best records, rookie forward Kenneth Faried watched from the bench and waited patiently for an opportunity to contribute.
His trial-by-fire opportunity arrived when injuries hit Denver hard in February.
The Manimal, a relentless runner and rebounder, didn’t disappoint, averaging 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds in 46 games. He finished first among NBA rookies in rebounding, field goal percentage (.586) and PER (22.16).
With his contagious energy, soaring dunks and easy smile, Faried quickly became a fan favorite at Pepsi Center. I have a feeling that the fun is only beginning.
George Karl’s Hallway Chats
Franklin D. Roosevelt had his Fireside Chats. Karl has his hallway chats.
After meeting with the media following game-day shootarounds, Karl often would lean back in his chair and discuss politics, restaurants, baseball history and anything else that happened to come up in conversation.
The discussions were a great way for reporters to connect with Karl, and they illustrated why he is considered one of the most media-friendly coaches in the NBA. And after 24 seasons, few coaches have more stories to tell than Karl.
|Al Harrington and Andre Miller.|
On a team filled with 20-somethings, Al Harrington (32) and Andre Miller (36) were the veteran leaders who policed the locker room and taught many of their younger teammates the right approach to being a professional.
Both players often spoke up in the huddle during timeouts, and Miller provided some words of inspiration in the locker room during Denver’s seven-game playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers.
They backed up their words with strong play on the court, and they grinded through a condensed season that took it toll on even the most durable players. Miller played through a separated shoulder, while Harrington missed only two games despite suffering a meniscus tear on April 1.
The Start of Something Special
Down 16 points with 19 minutes left in their season, the Nuggets could have packed it in and congratulated themselves for reaching a point that exceeded most people’s expectations. Instead, they rallied on the road and took a fourth-quarter lead before falling to the Lakers in Game 7.
Yes, the end result was a first-round playoff loss, but the Nuggets gave every reason to believe that a new era of Denver basketball is upon us.
There are two other times in the past two decades that optimism surrounding the Nuggets has been this high heading into the summer. The most recent was after the 2009 Western Conference finals. Before that, it was the 1994 West semifinals.
The current wave of enthusiasm has the feel of 1994 when the Nuggets had a talented young nucleus of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, LaPhonso Ellis, Dikembe Mutombo and Bryant Stith.
Eighteen years later, Arron Afflalo, Gallinari, Faried and Ty Lawson are among the fresh faces with potential to do great things.
Can’t wait to see how they continue to grow in 2012-13.
Only four months until training camp.