NBA AM: Peaking Nuggets Emerge As Sleeper
The hottest team in the NBA, at the moment, without a doubt is the Miami HEAT. The defending champions are on a sizzling 15-game winning streak dating back to early February and appear to be unstoppable in their quest to repeat. In the Western Conference, mainstream headlines revolve around the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers as potential challengers for the throne.
But are we missing a team who could make things interesting in the Western Conference once the postseason begins?
The Denver Nuggets routinely fly under the radar because unlike the aforementioned teams there isn’t a LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul caliber talent on their payroll. Nonetheless, the wins continue to mount under head coach George Karl.
The Nuggets (40-22) own the sixth-best record in the league, a mark which would place them second in the Eastern Conference, but as it stands today has the club ranked fifth in the West. The team is also on a six-game winning streak, which includes wins over playoff bounds teams such as Oklahoma City and Atlanta.
As it stands today, the Nuggets would face the fourth place Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs. However, the Nuggets are just one game behind Memphis for the all-important home court advantage and the Nuggets have been all but unbeatable on their home floor going 26-3 on the season and currently boasting an 11-game winning streak at the Pepsi Center.
The biggest knock on the Nuggets this season has been their inability to win on the road, posting a disappointing 14-19 (.424) record away from home.
The Nuggets appear to be peaking at the right time but whether they can turn this current momentum into postseason success without a true superstar talent on the roster remains to be seen over the coming months.
But we’ll at least get to see if the current play is a mark of a serious potential sleeper or one of just a good team who can’t reach the level of great. Over the next two weeks the Nuggets will face the Clippers, Knicks, Grizzlies, Bulls and Thunder.
All Eyes On Spurs’ Cory Joseph
The San Antonio Spurs have made a profitable living finding highly productive talent late in the draft when most experts believe the cream of the crop are off the boards. Since 1999, the Spurs have selected players such as Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Beno Udrih, Ian Mahinmi, Tiago Splitter, George Hill and DeJuan Blair with late picks.
This season, another one of those late-round selections will be put to the test. With All-Star guard Tony Parker out of the lineup for the next month nursing an ankle sprain, second-year guard Cory Joseph figures to have his number called more often in the rotation.
Joseph was selected with the No. 29 overall pick by the Spurs in the 2011 draft after playing just one season of collegiate ball at the University of Texas.
Joseph was in the starting lineup, replacing Parker, in the Spurs’ first game without the All-Star. Joseph posted eight points and dished out four assists in 18 minutes of action. The 21-year-old guard says as long as he plays within himself he’ll be fine.
“I’ve got to be Cory Joseph,” Joseph told Jeff McDonald of the Express-News. “I can’t do what Tony does. I just have to go in there and be myself.”
Joseph has played in just 41 career games as a professional and a 14-game stint in the D-League where he posted solid numbers.
Ginobili believes Joseph has the talent to maximize his opportunity but admits the road to replacing an All-Star will be a tough task to accomplish.
“It’s not the easiest thing to do,” Ginobili said of replacing Parker with limited experience. “You’ve been in the D-League for a long time, and you know you have this huge opportunity with Tony out for a month. So, you’ve got to be ready.”
The Spurs own the best record in the Western Conference but are just 2.5 games ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the standings.
Lakers’ Dwight Howard Just Rounding Into Form
The Los Angeles Lakers’ season to this point could be summed up as a disappointment. But as we enter the final stretch the Lakers are just 2.5 games behind the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Perhaps the last boost to enhance the Lakers’ postseason chances will be the health of center Dwight Howard.
Howard, an unrestricted free agent this summer, recently admitted that he could have sat the whole campaign due to his injured back but rushed back into action in order to pursue a title.
“Looking back on it, I could have sat out the whole season until now and starting playing now, but I just felt like we had such a great opportunity,” Howard told Mike Bresnaham of the Los Angeles Times. “Some of these guys, their windows for winning are very small, and I just wanted to get back and try to do whatever I can to help this team, knowing that I wasn’t in great shape. My body wasn’t all the way there yet.
“Sometimes I have gotten beat up for it, but that’s fine. I’ll take all those hits and I’ll keep moving. People watch games and they see me playing so they think it’s all good. It’s just a time thing. I’ve just got to keep going, keep pushing myself and it’ll get better.”
On the season, Howard is averaging 15.9 points, 12.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game in 55 appearances. The points are his lowest output since the 2006 campaign, while the rebounding is his lowest since 2007.