The Denver Nuggets have a mission ahead of them next season. The franchise is faced with battling the NBA’s Western Conference for 82 games in order to return to the NBA playoffs.
The Nuggets are setting out to prove that last season, the team’s first postseason-free season in 11 years,was a fluke.
Ten consecutive years in the playoffs marked an amazing streak for the Denver Nuggets franchise. Those years were littered with 50-win seasons, scoring titles, division championships, regular season accolades, and the continuous talk of being a “contender”.
Being a contender wasn’t enough to remedy that nasty, sour and bitter taste we all had in our mouths after watching the team collapse in the first round of the playoffs, though. It’s gross thinking that in all those great seasons, the Nuggets only made it to the second round of the playoffs once.
It’s a bitterness that just lingers in your mouth, and comes alive when you move your tongue around your teeth. How could a team that had home court advantage multiple times in the playoffs, a top scorer, a seasoned coach, and a good bench only win TWO playoff series?
No single factor caused the Nuggets to consistently fail in the playoffs, and different seasons brought different disasters. No matter if the collapse stemmed from Kenyon Martin blowing up on George Karl in 2006, or from being too young against the Lakers in 2012 — we sat there, year after year, speechless on our couches and bathing in disappointment. God, that bitter taste stinks.
Nuggets Nation didn’t really know what rough was until the team lost in the first round loss to the Jazz in 2009-10. To this day, the bitterness of that loss is exploding on my taste buds.
It was rough because we had dreams of a championship in ’09-10, and we saw a team capable of winning one. However, at the end, it felt like that team never got it’s fair shot at being the best.
The 2009-10 season was the Nuggets best shot at the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The team headed into the season after an appearance in the Western Conference Finals, and they had all the pieces to truly be a contender.The Nuggets were loaded. They had a top-10 player in Carmelo Anthony playing with fire, a floor leader in Chauncey Billups (riding a streak of seven straight conference final appearances), a great defensive guard in Aaron Afflalo, and the confidence that comes from almost making the finals a year prior.
That concoction made the ’09-10 Denver Nuggets a force. The team’s 32-15 record at the All-Star break was second best in the Western Conference, and George Karl got named head coach of the Western Conference All-Stars because of it.
By the All-Star break, the team had already put together five separate four-game winning streaks, and even beat the Spurs in San Antonio twice — a rarity for the franchise.
Boy were they fun to watch in the first half of that season. They played like a team who demanded respect after finally breaking through the first round of the playoffs.
Those Nuggets were winning at home, they were winning on the road, they were winning through Chauncey Billups’ 3s, Carmelo’s turnaround jumpers, Kenyon Martin’s oops, and a lot of great team basketball. I was CONVINCED the team was headed straight back to the Western Conference Finals, if not the NBA Finals.
Then, it all came crashing down. On Feb. 16, 2010, George Karl announced he had to leave the team to fight throat cancer. The teary-eyed announcement the coach made, with Melo, Chauncey, and fellow cancer survivor Nene Hilario behind him, remains one of the most vivid images of my Nuggets fanhood.
It was a sad day for Colorado and the NBA.
The tears couldn’t stop the games from being played though, and the Nuggets lost their way. Chauncey’s 3s were bricks, Melo’s turnarounds were out of the offensive rhythm, Kenyon Martin’s oops were more like whoops.
The team fell all the way to seventh place in the West before ending the season with the fourth-best record.
It wasn’t the same team, though. It felt like two complete separate seasons, and it really seems like the ’09-10 Nuggets never got their shot at proving they were the best.
The team proceeded to dish up some bitter disappointment by losing to the fifth-seeded Utah Jazz 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs. Adrian Dantley (the interim coach) managed to prove that — yes — there is actually someone who coaches worse than Karl in the playoffs.
It went from so beautiful, to so sad and ugly, so fast. No season sums up the 10-year playoff streak better — the Nuggets showed signs of absolute brilliance in ’09-10 and then followed it up with bad luck, chaos and a total collapse.
The recipe left us unsatisfied and dreaming of how a second consecutive season making it past the first round of the playoffs would have turned out.