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The First Test

-Danny Neubert

When head coach George Karl announced last week that he had neck and throat cancer and would be undergoing treatment, many in Nuggets Nation assumed the worst. Aside from concern for Karl's health, the short term worry was whether the Nuggets would be able to maintain their tenuous grip on the second seed in the West with their fearless leader unavailable to coach some games.
The short answer is yes. I believe the Nuggets assistant coaches, led by Adrian Dantley, are more than capable of putting together a game plan to defeat the Golden State Warriors tonight and other teams later on down the road. Denver's eight-man rotation is still intact and AD has been around long enough to know when to put who in.
The top four players (Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Nene, and Kenyon Martin) are all healthy, and when that's been the case the Nuggets are 27-6. And let's be honest, as long as we have Chauncey out there directing the action, I have to like the Nuggets chances with or without Karl, especially against a team the Nuggets have already defeated 3 times this season.
Still, as we saw last week against the Wizards, this Nuggets team has an incredibly aggravating habit of playing down to the competition, especially on the road. Plus, the Warriors tend to play pretty well against us. Thankfully, accomplished Nuggets-slayer Corey Maggette will be out tonight, leaving Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry as the only real threats to pour in points.
I want the Nuggets to come out exactly as they did against the Boston Celtics on Sunday. Denver raced out to an early dominating lead primarily by sharing the ball and playing a smothering brand of defense, forcing turnovers that led to easy baskets. They looked for Nene early and often, a must for the big man's confidence. And most importantly, Carmelo Anthony played unselfishly, looking to pass first and finishing with 8 assists. When Melo is dishing instead of looking to score every time, the Nuggets can be unstoppable.
On a side note, what's the over/under on the number of disrespectful comments that the Nuggets will have to endure from the TNT commentators? I put it at 19.5, with 10 coming from the Chuckster alone. If the game is at all close, count on the TNT guys putting the Jazz, Mavericks and to an extent even the Thunder ahead of the Nuggets. It's unreal the lack of respect this elite (yes they are officially an elite team, even if they do lose to crappy teams once in a while) team gets from the national media. Also, pray that the Cavaliers/Celtics game ends at a reasonable time. Last time the Nuggets played on TNT, it was against the Spurs and the game didn't start until almost 9:00 because of the game that was on before.
Nevertheless, expect an entertaining, high-scoring game tonight. Hopefully the Nuggets can provide their ailing coach with an easy blowout victory instead of a back-and-forth nail-biter. Then again, that's not really their style, is it? However, rest easy, George, and get healthy; with Chauncey, Melo, and the Hall-Of-Famer Dantley at the helm, the Nuggets are in good hands.

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