The End For the Overachievers

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.

***

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

16 Comments

  1. zuraleura says:

    yo guys, what you need to understand is that the nuggets, without melo were thought of as essentially useless.
    they’re over achievers because no one who follows the nba truly believed they would maintain a consistent effort and would tank after the trading period ended.
    the fact that they took one game away from kevin durant and the thunder is an absolute proclamation of the sheer fact; the nuggets are proving that team defence and team offence fuel the success of a team, not the playings of one “apparent” super-star.
    nugget fans should be incredibly happy with the progress of the team, they rebuilt the team into a better, defence minded team

  2. greg says:

    Come on John S., yes the Nuggets were over achievers, but the Terminal Cancer formerly known as Jello, (oops I mean Mello), got SWEPT, yes SWEPT by the Celtics without a Perkins or Shaq! The Knicks have 2, yes 2, so called all stars and a coach who’s challenging that Bozo in Miami for the I don’t know how to coach in the East trophy.

  3. Blah says:

    “When the season began, the Denver Nuggets were waste-deep in ‘Melo-drama” – Its “waist-deep” not “waste-deep”. I don’t know how many times I’ve found grammatical mistakes in nba.com writing

  4. Jake says:

    Nice job Sixers and Nuggets those series were closer than they seemed. They made the Heat and the Thunder work.

  5. ROSE THE HEAT IS COMING!!! says:

    No more HEAT haters…hahahahaha

  6. choker says:

    i am a big fan of both of these teams

    I like about:
    SIXERS – iggy what else
    DENVER – JR smith

    i think losing is not a prob for both teams its a working progress hope that they will have a good and better future

  7. rhainner says:

    anthony or no anthony they can win the series by teamwork

  8. zach dangelo says:

    CHARLESS BARKLEY IS A STR8 MACK AND IF ANY OF YOU REALLY WANNA KNOW THE DEAL ON WHICH PLAYERS PLAY FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME AND WHICH PLAY STRICTLY FOR THE MONEY LOOK NO FURTHER THAN HIS GOLF SWING!!!!!!!! LOL

  9. blaire says:

    yeah..it’s really cool watching these guys play in the hard court..and ahmm really brings excitement and got a hoarsed voice after a while..well i just would like to thank a friend of mine who gave me the access..you too can try texting WEEKEND and send to 21534 this can help u feel the excitement into the world of NBA.

  10. OKCKD35 says:

    HAAAAAAAA, HAAAAAAAA, Nugget fans HAAAAAAAAAA, i remember a blog a few weeks ago about first round upsets, where everyone was picking the nuggets to beat the thunder, HAAAAAAAA, we just took 6 out of 7 from Denver. Go back and look at my statements before the series, am i a fortune teller? Everyone was saying the Denver bigs would dominate OKC’s, I thought Nene was going to dominate, he had what, one good game? How does it feel to see Nene have all of those shots and dunks rejected right back in his face? Hahahaha. What did i say? foul them and laugh as they miss free throws, sounds exactly like what happened, i am glad JR smith got to dance a little bit during their one win, Reminds me of Dwade dancing when he dunked on Perkins with his team down by 10 points. wonder if Felton was giving those smug looks out after the game last night? I dont think so! And also like i said, Noone can guard KD! and now you have seen that first hand. i thought this was going to be a series, not a 4-1 butt kicking, denver go find a star, washed up knicks players arent going to do it for you!

    • Birdmark says:

      Hey yo a**hle. No doubt KD is showing, he is one of the elite, but there aint no way that your going to downplay the nuggets. They gave you all a heart attack last night.

      • OKCKD35 says:

        i am downplaying the nuggets, no matter what all of you nuggets fans say we just took 6 of 7 from you. I will admit we got some home cooking last night, but not any worse than what denver got in game 4 to win their only game of the series, every point i made before the series was right, it was not an extended series and Denver has noone to go to in the clutch, they tried with Nene and he got sent home by Mr. I’ll block ya! The better team won as i knew they would. Nuggets are a good team, they just need to get rid of the inconsistend players, IE Birdman, JR Smith

    • Jake says:

      How did the Thunder take 6 out of 7 games from the Nuggets when they only played each other 5 times?

      • KD35 says:

        Because the Thunder won the 2 prior meetings a week before the playoffs…That makes it 6 from 7

  11. Gary says:

    Denver played really well last night and it really came down to the last shot. KD saved them and Westbrook almost lost the game for them. Hopefully he learns from this and doesn’t try to be the hero next round.