Surging Nuggets surprising everyone but themselves
Adopting an All-For-One, One-For-All mentality, the Denver Nuggets have been the surprise story of the NBA over the past four weeks.
Ten wins in 14 games, including eight by double figures.
Gritty road performances and consecutive home victories by 30, 40 and 33 points.
Balanced scoring, sound fundamentals and a genuine desire to get better.
Anyone who says they saw it coming together this quickly might be stretching the truth, but Nuggets coach George Karl and his coaching staff never understood the doomsday predictions that became so popular following the Feb. 22 trade of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.
“The gossip of the trade was one-sided – celebrations in New York and we just got the scraps,” Karl said. “We never felt that way. We felt we had a helluva chance to be a good team.
“Play hard, play together and stay together has kind of been the theme and good things have happened. There’s a spirit, an enthusiasm. There’s an intensity, an energy. Every day it’s fun to be around. It’s a good place.”
Newcomers Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari all have made a significant impact in their first month with the Nuggets, while 7-foot centers Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov provide the Nuggets insurance in the frontcourt.
Chandler is averaging 14.3 points and 5.6 rebounds while playing the type of defense that makes coaches do cartwheels on the inside while keeping a poker face on the outside.
Gallinari is averaging 16.2 points and 5.2 rebounds while bringing a fearless mentality at both ends of the floor.
After being a starter for nearly his entire career, Felton is averaging 10.1 points and 6.7 assists while serving as the backup to Ty Lawson, the former University of North Carolina recruit whom he showed around the Chapel Hill campus in 2006.
“I hope the guys that came here feel how much we like them,” Karl said. “All of them are better than I thought they were.”
Lawson certainly has been impressed with his new teammates during Denver’s rise from seventh to fifth in the Western Conference since the All-Star break.
“I don’t think anybody thought we’d move up in the West,” Lawson said. “I think we’re a big surprise to most teams. We’ve got potential stars, especially in Gallo. He scores in so many ways. He’s big, he can post up, he can shoot and he gets fouled a lot.”
While Gallinari, Chandler and Felton are entrenched in the playing rotation, Koufos and Mozgov provide value as well. Mozgov scored five points Monday against Toronto, while Koufos grabbed three rebounds and blocked two shots. Their size could prove invaluable if the Nuggets run into a team such as the Los Angeles Lakers during the playoffs.
As of now, the Nuggets are four games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for first place in the Northwest Division and fourth in the West. Denver has two games remaining against the Thunder and probably needs to win both to have a chance to secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
“I think they probably have too much of a gap on us, but let’s try to scare ‘em,” Karl said. “Let’s try to get into a position where those games in the first week of April (mean something). You never know.”
REMEMBERING ACKERLEY: Near the end of his tenure in Seattle, Karl had his differences with SuperSonics owner Barry Ackerley, but Karl credited Ackerley for taking a chance on him when nobody else would back in 1992.
Ackerley, who owned the Sonics from 1983-2001, died Monday after suffering a stroke over the weekend.
“The Ackerley family was very good to me,” Karl said Tuesday. “Seattle was a great run in my career. We had some battles. In the same sense, my career was probably saved by Barry Ackerley’s decision to allow (general manager) Bob Whitsitt to hire me. There weren’t a lot of people on that list that were going to hire me.”
INJURY UPDATE: Felton practiced Tuesday and said he will return for Wednesday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs. He missed the previous two games with a sprained left ankle.
“I’m ready to get back and get started,” Felton said. “(Athletic trainer) Jim (Gillen) thought it was a good idea that I sit out. Sometimes you have to listen.”
Denver shooting guard Arron Afflalo did not practice and likely will be out until next week as he recovers from a strained left hamstring.
ETC: The Nuggets are the first team since the 1994-95 Utah Jazz to win three home games by at least 30 points in the same calendar month ... Felton and Chandler were planning to attend the University of Colorado's NIT quarterfinal game against Kent State on Tuesday night.