The Denver Nuggets have won the Northwest Division for the second year in a row, but an air of letdown still seems to be hanging over this team. Perhaps it’s because the Nuggets lost two of their last three games, winning the division on a technicality, thanks to the Phoenix Suns beating the Utah Jazz in the last game of the regular season Wednesday night. Another reason for the team’s somber mood is likely the fact that the players may not see coach George Karl again this season, as he continues to recover from neck and throat cancer treatments.
Acting head coach Adrian Dantley has had mixed results in Karl’s stead, with some questioning his lineup decisions and seeming lack of ability to get the most out of the players. The Denver Post writes that Dantley is in a tough position: If the Nuggets win, it’s because they were good before Dantley stepped in, and if they lose, it’s because he didn’t push the right buttons during the games.
Karl was originally pegged to be back for the end of the season, then his return was pushed to the first round of the playoffs, and no guarantees have been made that he will return to the bench at all this year. Complicating things was the 18-game absence of Kenyon Martin, which gutted the team of its best defensive stopper and a gritty attitude that has served the team well. Still, Dantley must soldier on and prepare for the first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz, starting Saturday night at the Pepsi Center.
The good news is the Nuggets have gone 3-1 against the Jazz this year and have a good chance in the series. Pro Basketball Talk thinks the Nuggets are contenders for a championship if Martin’s knee holds up over the next few weeks. Still, Jazz star point guard Deron Williams tells The Salt Lake Tribune the playoff match-up against the Nuggets is “destiny.”