Nuggets march through one of toughest months on schedule
When the Nuggets coaching staff reviewed the 2010-11 NBA schedule, the month of March resembled a Edgar Allen Poe novel.
It held an unmistakable sense of foreboding.
The March docket included road games against Western Conference heavyweights Utah and Phoenix, a killer four-game trip to New Orleans, Atlanta, Orlando and Miami and home games against 2010 playoff qualifiers Charlotte and San Antonio.
“I don’t think you’d put March as a month of 10 wins,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “We thought we could have a losing month.”
Under Karl, losing months are about as common as an Egyptian cobra roaming the Bronx.
Denver went 7-8 in March 2007 and hasn’t been under .500 for a calendar page since.
With a 14-point victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, the Nuggets finished March 2011 with an impressive 10-3 record and extended their streak of consecutive winning months to 24.
Based on Denver’s record alone, Karl should receive strong consideration for Western Conference Coach of the Month. The argument becomes even more compelling when you take a broader look at the overall picture.
The Nuggets were still operating on the fly after acquiring five new players in the Feb. 22 trade that sent Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the New York Knicks.
Injuries to starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo and rotation players Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari forced Karl to use four starting lineups, yet Denver won in Phoenix for the first time since 2004 and won their 10 games by an average of 18 points.
“We’ve been talking about it for a long time,” said Nuggets center Nene, who averaged 14.8 points and nine rebounds in March. “When you play the right way, play together, pass the ball, play defense, those are the basics of the game.”
Denver was dominant at the Pepsi Center in March, winning all six of its home games by an average of 23.3 points. With routs of Charlotte, Detroit and Toronto, the Nuggets became the first team in 16 years to win three consecutive home games in a calendar month by at least 30 points.
“(Karl) always does a great job,” Sacramento coach Paul Westphal said. “I think he’s getting the most out of his talent – and he has a lot of talent. It’s no surprise that they’ve done well.”
The Nuggets (45-29) need one win to clinch a playoff spot for the eighth consecutive season, and they are 2½ games ahead of New Orleans and Portland in the race for the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference.
Holding the Hornets and Trail Blazers at bay will be difficult.
After facing the Kings again in Sacramento on Friday, the will play four games against three of the top teams in the West – the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder (twice) and the Dallas Mavericks. Three of those games will be on the road.
On paper, it looks like a daunting April.
In reality, it's simply another opportunity for Karl to make a run at coach of the month.