If you were to describe the Nuggets’ season so far in a single word, it would be tough to come up with a more appropriate one than ouch.
Ever since the Golden State Warriors steamrolled last year’s squad in the playoffs, it’s been nothing but painful news for the boys in powder blue. They lost their coach, general manager, and best defensive player—and that was before the 2013-14 campaign even began.
The Nuggets tipped off this season sans Danilo Gallinari. Last fall, it looked like their second-best player would make it back from a knee injury well before this year’s playoffs. (He hurt it last April.) But then we found out a few weeks ago that he needed a second surgery, and now he’ll have to hustle to be ready for a run in 2014-15.
Then a few weeks into this year, JaVale McGee, whose prospects for a breakout season had Denver fans salivating, was sidelined with a stress fracture in his leg. It was only supposed to cost him a few months. That is, until last week, when the team announced he likely will also miss the rest of the season amid reports that the perpetually enigmatic center hasn’t exactly been attacking his rehab regimen.
The McGee bummer landed right after bench sparkplug Nate Robinson tore his ACL, knocking him out for the year, and right before the Nuggets’ lone All-Star candidate, Ty Lawson, broke a rib. Thankfully, that setback should only keep Lawson on the shelf for a short while.
All this happened as new coach Brian Shaw was spending the first portion of the season working out his rotation and dictating his preferred style of play. What it means is that for now, the Nuggets will be scraping by without their three best players, and four of their top eight.
That the team currently has a 24-26 record while playing in the brutal Western Conference is virtually miraculous. (Although the Nuggets are in the West’s 10th spot and thus out of the playoffs, their sub-.500 mark would be good enough for a 7-seed—two games out of the #3 slot—in the J.V.-level East.)
It’s an unwritten rule that players and coaches rarely blame injuries for subpar performance, but few teams could lose this many impact players and still manage to break even. Unfortunately, there’s only so much the remaining players, thrust into more prominent and unanticipated roles and minutes, can accomplish. So if the hurts don’t subside, the Nuggets’ losses will mount.
Making the playoffs this year already seems like a long shot, but as I’ve noted before, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. The NBA Draft this April is expected to be among the deepest in years, and landing a good lottery pick this time could mean a future star will be in Denver by Halloween. If the veterans return healthy—and particularly if McGee can discover his maturity gene—the buzz the team had, and lost, should start humming again.
Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.