On paper, the Denver Nuggets have the chops to take on any team in the NBA and win. But professional basketball is played on hardwood, not on stat sheets, and this Nuggets team has a bad habit of losing games it shouldn’t. That tendency was on display last night in New York, as the Nuggets dropped a crucial game against the Knicks 109-104.

The Denver Post notes that the Nuggets finished the game with just 15 assists, a sure-fire recipe for disaster for a team that does best when it looks for the extra pass and the open man.

“The way that we play, we’re not going to beat many teams when we have 13, 14, 15 assists,” says point guard Chauncey Billups. “It’s just not going to happen. It’s not going to cut it.”

The team will need to get straight for tonight’s game against the Boston Celtics, a much better squad than the Knicks. The Nuggets can’t afford to drop another game, as the Dallas Mavericks won last night and are now tied with Denver for the second spot in the Western Conference (via NBA.com). The Utah Jazz are just one game behind the Nuggets and Mavericks, and the Phoenix Suns are only two back.

The Nuggets could come off the current road trip at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff heap if they don’t shape up, and they’re going to have to do it without their head coach. The New York Times reports that George Karl may not return until sometime during the playoffs. Karl, in the fifth week of intense treatment for neck and throat cancer, was rushed to the hospital Sunday with blood clots in his leg and lungs, although he is reportedly doing better now.