HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Give the Denver Nuggets credit for being realists.
They’re not going to spend the next two months chasing the pipe dream of chewing up the San Antonio Spurs’ eight-game cushion and winning the Western Conference’s top spot in the playoff chase.
Instead of trying to do the impossible, the Nuggets have set their sights on the very realistic goal of passing up the Memphis Grizzlies for the fourth spot behind the Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers. Nuggets coach George Karl is the man responsible for this pragmatic approach. His team has won five straight games and is in a great groove right now.
But Karl knows that this is not the time for great (and generally supersized expectations). As Karl explained to Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post, focusing on the team directly in front of them is the best plan of action for his team:
The Nuggets’ goal is singular and sincere. With 22 games left, they want to surpass Memphis in the standings and grab the fourth playoff seed in the Western Conference.
It’s likely that Nuggets vs. Grizzlies will be the No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup in the West’s first round of the postseason, but home-court advantage is up for grabs.
After their 108-82 victory Sunday at Orlando, the fourth-place Grizzlies are 39-19.
“I think it’s going to take at least 51 to 52 wins to get to No. 4,” said coach George Karl, whose Nuggets are 38-22 heading into Monday’s home game against Atlanta. “It might take more.
“But I’d probably take 52 and take our chances. And I’d like the tiebreaker with Memphis. I’d take 52 and the tiebreaker.”
The Nuggets are aware of the Ides of March. Memphis comes to Denver for a March 15 matchup, the final regular-season meeting of the teams. Denver leads the season series 2-1.
The Nuggets, the NBA’s third-youngest team, have only nine more road games. They have 13 left at home, where they are 25-3.
Twelve of their 22 remaining games are against current playoff teams, the toughest stretch coming when Denver hosts the Carmelo Anthony-led New York Knicks on March 13 and the Grizzlies two days later, followed by road games against the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder on March 18 and 19.
“This team is not afraid to play the best teams. In fact, they like to play the best teams,” said Karl, whose Nuggets knocked off the Thunder 105-103 in a Friday thriller at the Pepsi Center. “I think the team is understanding that the playoffs aren’t that far away.
“Right now we’re in a good place to make another step. We need to tighten our defense up and not have mental lapses and continue to grow.”
This is a refreshing dose of sensibility at a time of year when players, coaches, teams and their fans are big on making bold proclamations about what they have in store for the final weeks of the regular season and into the playoffs.
The Nuggets have figured out exactly who and what they are and play like it on a nightly basis. If they catch you at their home, the Pepsi Center, they’ll run you out of the building.
So it should surprise no one that Karl has his team locked in on earning home-court advantage for a first-round series.
Their prospects in that first-round series between the No. 4 and No. 5 seed changes dramatically if they are have (or don’t have) possession of home court.