With Ty Lawson out of action for a third straight game with a right heel injury, coach George Karl's team could never get its up-tempo offense running. The Nuggets trailed by nine points after the first quarter, then 21 points by halftime.
Lawson was hardly the only thing missing from Denver's offense. Other than Danilo Gallinari—24 points in 33 minutes—the Nuggets regulars struggled to find their rhythm. Kenneth Faried, 13 points, and Wilson Chandler, 11 points, were the only other Denver players to reach double digits.
But there are plenty of reasons to consider this bump in the road a far greater anomaly than Denver's torrid stretch.
For starters, the loss of Lawson cannot be overstated. He's spent the last month challenging the assumption that Denver lacks a star player. In his last 18 games, Lawson has averaged 21.8 points on 52.4 percent shooting and 6.9 assists (via Basketball-Reference.com).
There are going to be some dangerously exaggerated claims stemming from this game about the team's struggles away from the Rockies. And the team's 17-20 road record on the season won't help stymie those critiques.
But six of Denver's 15 wins came away from home. The Nuggets rattled off a 10-point win at the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 19. That win was the second game of a road back-to-back set, following a grueling 119-118 overtime victory against the Chicago Bulls.
Karl's masterful manipulation of his rotation allows him to send waves of fresh bodies at the opposition.
Only three of his players average more than 30 minutes per game, and none average more than 35. The unrelenting pressure that this creates on opposing defenses has afforded the Nuggets a league-best 57.6 points in the paint per game (via TeamRankings.com). The next closest club in paint scoring is the Sacramento Kings, which averages just 45.9.
This also allows them to force the opposition into playing Denver's style of basketball. The Nuggets will run at every opportunity, be it a forced turnover or even a made basket. Their 19.6 fast-break points per game (via TeamRankings.com) is best in the league, as is their 18.1 fast-break points per game on the road.
The thin air of the Mile High City exacerbates the challenges the Nuggets present to their opponents. But having a roster full of gazelles—plus Andre Miller—will leave teams gasping for air regardless of venue.
Granted, the Nuggets would love to have home-court advantage for at least one playoff series. They still have a one-game edge on the Memphis Grizzlies for the fourth seed in the Western Conference, courtesy of Memphis' 107-94 loss to the Washington Wizards on Monday night.
But do yourself a favor—don't write this team off in the postseason even if they have to win one on the road.
Teams don't just stumble into a 15-game winning streak. It takes a wealth of talent and the right mind at the helm to reach this level of success.
The Nuggets have both of those things...and one of the brightest futures in the league.
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