Next Trick For Nuggets Is Winning Consistently

(Chris Humphreys/USA Today Sports)

(Chris Humphreys/USA Today Sports)

There was disappointment by the Nuggets after the game. They knew they blew a winnable game against a great Blazers team. They outplayed their opponent for most of the night. They knew this was about them more than what their opponent did.

The Nuggets haven’t had a signature win this season. A win against an elite team would have meant they have something good going. A win against a Blazers team that blew them out at the Pepsi Center last month would have shown how far they have come. That’s why there was disappointment.

The Nuggets took a 105-103 loss to the Trail Blazers last night at the Pepsi Center after Blazers center Robin Lopez hit a game-winning layup over J.J Hickson with 1.3 seconds left of regulation.

Give the Nuggets this. They did not blame fatigue from playing a back-to-back game after playing Monday night at Utah. That could have been an easy thing to do after watching them look tired in that fourth quarter. It shows they are not satisfied with just coming close and giving an elite team all they could handle. That attitude has not existed before with this group.

Maybe these guys are getting it. They know it’s about showing toughness by persevering in winning back-to-back nights. It’s about knowing how to play back-to-back nights. It’s about not giving in to stamina. That’s probably why they were more frustrated more than anything. That is part of a growing process for a young team. In a way, they are still learning how to play winning basketball.

After 18 games, we don’t know what the Nuggets are. It’s clear they are not that bad as they showed to start the season. We don’t know if they are a playoff team.

After a six-game losing streak, they have won eight of 11 to improve to  500 at 9-9. That’s an accomplishment in a way since I did not think they would be .500 this soon after a 1-6 start.

It’s easy to understand why no one thought the Nuggets would be this good. Ty Lawson was struggling. Their big men were getting outworked. They weren’t playing defense, and based on watching them last year, they struggled to play defense. After the Blazers blew them out  last month at the Pepsi Center, the question was whether or not the guys quit on Nuggets coach Brian Shaw.

The Nuggets surprised me for sure. It’s even surprising Shaw played a role in this turnaround by getting his players to work on their defense and play defense at games.

Still, it remains to be seen if the Nuggets are a playoff team. This start is nothing more than a small sample size. Give them credit for playing well, but this team shouldn’t be judged for what they did the last few weeks. And to be fair, no one should have judged them after a poor start.

The Nuggets need to sustain this good play for months, not weeks. Then, we can figure out what they are about.

It’s going to come down to what Ty Lawson does. He dictates whether the Nuggets win or not with his play. He has to be a game-changer like Damian Lillard is for the Blazers every game.

The Nuggets have done well in the last few weeks because of Lawson’s excellent play. He provided offense, and he played good defense. He made shots down the stretch. That’s what the Nuggets want out of their point guard on a game-to-game basis. They know his potential, and that’s why they have faith in him. They want to build around him.

Lawson put the Nuggets in a position to win last night by scoring 24 points and getting 13 assists. If he can figure it out, maybe the Nuggets can contend for a lower-seed playoff spot. They could even win a playoff game.

It comes down to consistency, and the Nuggets have yet to see that from their point guard in his career. He has to show he can be reliable every game. Maybe his good stretch could be a start of something. Shaw has been hoping forever.

It’s also going to come down to their defense. They have to defend if they have a chance to win games, especially against Western Conference teams. During this great stretch, they gave up an average of 97 points. That’s the goal Nuggets coach Brian Shaw wants his team to give up every game.

Shaw knows his team’s offense can be inconsistent, so he needs his team’s defense to set the tone in their wins.

Their defense down the stretch was why the Nuggets were able to hold on to a 103-101 victory over the Jazz on Monday, and their defense down the stretch last night was why they couldn’t hold a lead against the Blazers in their loss last night.

It remains to be seen if the Nuggets can be effective on defense. It’s easy to do this against mediocre to bad teams as the Nuggets have demonstrated. The trick is to do this against a team like the Trail Blazers or any elite Western Conference teams, which is something they have yet to do.

The Nuggets deserve credit for turning this around. They have made themselves watchable, which is something no one could have said last month.

Still, there’s so much work to do.

The Nuggets haven’t accomplished anything to say they have turned the corner.

All they have done is pique a Nuggets fan’s interest about whether or not they can keep this going.

Contact or Follow Leslie Monteiro: @LightRodWriter

Leslie Monteiro

Leslie Monteiro

Leslie is a contributor for Lightning Rod Sports. He covered high school sports in Bergen County out in North Jersey, and has written op-ed columns on sports such as Bleacher Report and NY Sports Digest.

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