When the season began, the Denver Nuggets were waste-deep in ‘Melo-drama, expected to deal their star sooner rather than later. With trade speculation never dying down until Carmelo Anthony was finally traded after the All-Star break, George Karl somehow managed to coerce a 32-25 record out of a team with a star that didn’t want to be there.
Then, with most pundits believing they would quickly drop to lottery status, the Nuggets were even better after the trade, improving dramatically on defense.
In the end, they finished higher in the standings and won one more playoff game than Anthony did. But in a cruel twist of fate, they were eliminated because their opponent had the go-to guy, as Dave Krieger writes in the Denver Post…
For a team that was all about playing the right way, it’s an unhappy truth: This time of year in the NBA, the best player on the court usually wins.
Monday night, after the Nuggets won their only game of their first- round series against Oklahoma City, coach George Karl dared to suggest his point guard, Ty Lawson, had been the best player on the floor.
Arguably, in that game, he was.
But the best player in the series was not debatable, and when the Nuggets threatened to make it interesting by rediscovering their shooting touch in Game 5, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant took over.
Like it or not, superstars not only define the NBA, they determine its champions.
When the season began, Doug Collins was wondering how his Philadelphia 76ers would score points. And when they lost 13 of their first 16 games, it looked like another lost season with a mismatched roster in Philadelphia.
But then Collins found a way for his team to succeed on both ends of the floor, despite the lack of a go-to scorer or an interior defensive presence. With a 41-41 record, the Sixers were the second-most improved team in the league, even though their only free agent addition was Tony Battie, their only trade acquisitions were Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni, and their Draft pick (Evan Turner, taken No. 2 overall) was somewhat disappointing.
The Sixers were better than a .500 team, but they simply got the wrong first-round matchup.
Kate Fagan has the story from Miami in the Philadelphia Inquirer…
There is much good on this roster. And Collins, as all good coaches do, revealed that good. There is bad, too – of course. There are pieces missing and heavy contracts with soft numbers.
There is work to be done, but at least now the evaluation is over, and at least it came with a bonus trip to the NBA playoffs.
“The growth was enormous by this team,” said Sixers power forward Elton Brand, who finished with 22 points. “It’s obvious we’re not far away from being a top-notch team.”
In the end, the Sixers were just first-round fodder. But if you had asked any fan if they’d take the above scenario – down one basket, on the Heat’s home floor, with a chance to push a Game 6 and return to Philly – they’d take it.
To a man – and woman – they would.
These are two overachieving teams with lots of questions to be answered this summer. But for now, let’s appreciate what the Nuggets and Sixers — led by their Coach of the Year candidates — were able to accomplish this season.