SACRAMENTO, Calif. – “Andre Iguodala has really been the glue to the team,” Andre Iguodala was saying Tuesday night in the visitors’ locker room. “Without him, I don’t know where they would be. I hope they realize that.”
It was a joke, another moment of good spirit in what was already a feel-good run by the Nuggets that stretched to six wins in a row with the 120-113 victory over the Kings at Sleep Train Arena.
Oh, and they do realize it.
That is the serious take-away, and not just from Tuesday. The Nuggets pretty much know where they would be without him, or at least what they would be had Iguodala not been acquired from the 76ers in the trade that sent Dwight Howard from the Magic to the Lakers and Andrew Bynum from Los Angeles to Philadelphia.
Denver would be good enough to be in the playoff picture, as was the case last season, but probably not good enough to be a threat beyond throwing a scare into one of the top-seeded teams, as was also the case last season while taking the heavily favored Lakers to seven games in the first round. Denver would be a fun bunch of scoring but lack the defensive presence required to truly become a postseason factor.
The Nuggets are 40-22, fifth in the Western Conference and three games out of third, because they have gone from 23rd in shooting defense in 2011-12 to tied for 11th in 2012-13.
“We thought he would fit our system extremely well,” coach George Karl said. “I think he’s gone far above and beyond at the defensive end of the court of doing what we want him to do. I have been surprised at offensively, the speed of how we like to play has confused him at times. But it’s not a problem. It’s just something that he’s got to get better at. We’ve got to help him get better at it. And I think we are.
“I don’t think there’s any question in my mind: I have confidence that hopefully in a playoff game he’ll have a big night and win us a game because of his offense as much as being whatever you want to put him in. I put him in the top 10 defensive players in basketball. That’s so much of what we need. We need that. We need to think defense more. We need to have pride in our defense more. Whatever improvement we’ve made in that area, I think he’s got to get most of the credit.”
In what has turned out to be a blockbuster that led to uncertainty – Will Howard find health and happiness in L.A.? Will Bynum find health and the court in Philly? Will the rebuilding Magic find their way back to relevance? – Iguodala in Denver has been unquestionably positive.
He may opt out of the final season of his contract, but every indication is that he would do it to re-sign a long-term deal, not to leave. He may be having adjustment moments on offense, but is still a weapon who must be respected.
There is little sign of blockbuster-induced uncertainty.
“I’ve probably had about two or three good games, like real Andre Iguodala games, this year,” Iguodala said. “I haven’t had many. I haven’t been able to be in attack mode as much as I’ve wanted to be. But it’ll happen. I think the main thing is not to really press.”
He thinks it will happen in the playoffs. He thinks everyone will realize the one big name from the trade who is working out.
“I noticed it,” Iguodala said, needle at the ready. “I’m not really surprised. It’s just something I pride myself on as a basketball player, having that knowledge, being the guy who can go to any situation and make the situation better for that team.”
The Nuggets’ situation is already better, with the possibility of more gains to come in the postseason. It is impossible not to realize that.