You’d think the Denver Nuggets would have wanted to bounce back after a tough loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday by beating an inferior Phoenix Suns team last night in Phoenix. At the beginning of the game, it looked like they were on track to do just that, going up on the Suns by as much as 13 at one point early in the second quarter. But then the wheels fell off, and the Suns poured it on to take their own 13-point lead by halftime (via The Denver Post).

The Post points out it was the fourth game in five days for the Nuggets, but with the loss last night and a win by the Dallas Mavericks, Denver has dropped to third place in the Western Conference, just one game up on the Utah Jazz for fourth and Phoenix for fifth, according to

Last night was a case study in what’s wrong with the team: very little passing on the offensive end, slow defensive rotation, and terrible shot selection. Chauncey Billups calls the team’s defense “discombobulated” and is frustrated the Nuggets couldn’t make the necessary adjustments when Phoenix went into a zone defense.

It’s unclear whether the Nuggets, now losers of two consecutive games, are just in a brief rut or are displaying a disturbing lack of focus heading into the playoffs stretch. One thing is clear, however: They need to pull it together quickly, as coach George Karl is going to miss more and more time in the coming weeks for cancer treatments.

Karl’s situation could end up being a distraction for his team, but Sports Illustrated believes it shows that Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke has a heart. Many coaches aren’t receiving long contract extensions right now because the league may face a lockout in the 2011-2012 season, and Kroenke could have easily decided not to give Karl anything at all after this year. Instead, he awarded Karl $4.5 million for next season despite a shaky health prognosis.