While the Nuggets fly under the radar, Ty Lawson says they're as good as anybody in the league, including the Heat.
By CHRIS TOMASSON FS Florida
DENVER -- The
Denver Nuggets recently had a 15-game winning streak. But nobody paid too much attention since the
Miami Heat were in the midst of a 27-game spurt.
It would figure. For a team with the NBA’s fourth-best record, the Nuggets sure do fly under the radar.
But leave it to point guard
Ty Lawson to let it be known how good they are.
Lawson vows the Nuggets (50-24) “can get to the NBA Finals" and win. Never mind if their Finals foe could be the mighty Heat.
“I think so,’’ Lawson said when asked if the Nuggets could beat the Heat for the title. “They beat us twice early in the year when we weren’t really in sync. We were still trying to find ourselves. So I feel like if we play them now it would be a better game and we could actually beat them.’’
Denver did give the Heat two good games in November, but lost 119-116 at Miami and 98-93 at home. So what makes Lawson think the Nuggets could turn the tide if the teams meet in the Finals?
Lawson is getting ahead of himself considering many would deem it a successful season if the Nuggets simply win one playoff series. They made the postseason the previous nine years, but only got past the first round once.
But Lawson is at least right about the Nuggets’ teamwork and all the weapons they have. Denver is the deepest team in the NBA, with nine players averaging 8.3 or more points, including six between 11.7 and 16.7.
Lawson, who averages team highs of 16.7 points and 6.9 assists, is the engine that makes it go, although he has missed four of the past five games due to a torn right plantar fascia. Lawson is hopeful of being at least close to full strength for the playoffs and Nuggets coach George Karl said “most people are fairly optimistic he’ll be fine.’’
If that is indeed the case, the Nuggets are the Western Conference team nobody wants to see in the first round. Since an 11-12 start that featured 17 games on the road, the Nuggets have gone 39-12. They’ve won their last 18 games at the Pepsi Center, raising their home record to an NBA-best 33-3.
Nevertheless, the Nuggets don’t get much publicity. One reason is because they don’t have a superstar. The only player on the team ever to have been to an All-Star Game is Iguodala, a forward who made his initial appearance last season with Philadelphia.
“It’s just the nature of the game sometimes, being in a small market,’’ Iguodala, Denver’s all-everything guy who averages 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists, said of the Nuggets flying under the radar. “That can help you sometimes. It keeps you hungry… I’m focused on the playoffs and trying to contend for a championship… We’re capable of beating anybody.’’
Even the defending champion Heat?
Unlike Lawson, Iguodala wasn’t about to go there. But the Nuggets this season are 3-1 against last season’s other finalist, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Nevertheless, the Nuggets often toil in relative obscurity. But Karl doesn’t mind.
“I definitely like it,’’ said Karl, 61. “I’ll be honest with you, I’m getting too old to talk with (the media) all the time. More under the radar, I think. In the same sense, it seems like we get criticized sometimes for being a good team. It just drives me crazy a little bit… Whatever you want to pick (that the Nuggets face criticism for). We’re not a top-10 defensive team. We’re too young. Whatever you want to say. We don’t have a closer.’’
Karl believes the Nuggets have multiple guys who can make big shots at the end. Among them are their version of the Big Three in Lawson, Iguodala and Gallinari, a forward who averages 15.2 points.
Karl, though, has heard the criticism about how the Nuggets can’t win in the playoffs without a superstar. They haven’t had one since
Carmelo Anthony was traded to New York in February 2011.
“The only thing we can do is be successful in the playoffs and then everything will stop, the commentaries will go away,’’ Karl said.
When it comes to the regular season, Karl keeps on winning. He’s now won 50 or more games in five straight full Denver seasons, the 66-game lockout season of 2011-12 excluded.
Karl is the sixth-winningest coach in NBA history with 1,124 wins and is closing in on fifth-place Phil Jackson, who totaled 1,155. But Karl, like his players, often doesn’t get a national spotlight while toiling in out-of-the-way Denver.
“I don’t think he gets enough credit for the numbers he puts up year in and year out and the way he adapts (to different personnel),’’ Brooklyn Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said of Karl. “I think (the Nuggets are) very good. They’re one of the elite teams in the league.’’
The only NBA teams with better records are the Heat (58-15) of the East and San Antonio (55-18) and Oklahoma City (54-20) of the West. But the Nuggets rarely get mentioned in the same breath as the latter two even though their 17-3 record since the All-Star break is better than the Thunder’s 15-6 and Spurs’ 13-6.
“I like being under the radar,’’ Lawson said. “I like being the underdog. It’s been like that since I got here (in 2009).’’
But if the Nuggets end up playing Miami in the Finals, Lawson wouldn’t think of them as an underdog.