By Shawn Clarke, Contributing Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Denver Nuggets have about two months and 31 games to keep their playoff streak alive.
It can be done.
In what has been a disappointing season leading up to the recent All-Star break, the Nuggets feel they still have some fight left to make a push toward the playoffs.
But there's one problem: Playing in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
At 24-27 and six games off the final postseason spot in the West, the Nuggets were able to rest and meditate on the course of the first 51 games during this past weekend's festivities in New Orleans.
"No better time to just have a break and have everybody get away from each other for a few days," Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said last week. "Hopefully (we can) recharge and re-group and get ready for the second half."
Like a feather in the wind, the break is over and now Denver gets back to business. Shaw has experienced a bumpy ride as head coach of a Nuggets team plagued by injuries, lack of production, a below-average defense and some off the court issues (thank you, Andre Miller).
The Nuggets, who have been playoff participants in each of the last 10 seasons, are 28th in opponents' scoring (104.5 ppg) and teams are shooting 45.2 percent, which isn't so bad. But when you're scoring (103.0 ppg) less than what you're allowing, it's no wonder Denver is in its current state.
In their last four games, the Nuggets have been beaten by 27 points, 39 points, 17 points and 27 points. Shaw said defense has been a problem all season and feels it's going to be a "long, long year" if it's not corrected.
Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler agrees.
"We have to be more aggressive and not let it be so easy for the other team to score," Chandler remarked after a beat down by Indiana last Monday. "We have to just play harder. That's the first step. We have to be ready. It's too deep into the season for us not to be."
Shaw isn't one to make excuses when he pinpoints part of the problem to poor defense, health and being shorthanded at certain positions. He said the team still has to show some pride and come out swinging.
"There's a difference between losing and being a loser," Shaw recently told the Denver Post. "And basically when things go bad, I don't want everybody to just splinter off in different directions and jump off the ship."
Film study and working hard in the gym are some of the solutions the Nuggets could use in order to prevent capsizing. Seems easy enough, right? The Nuggets haven't been easy on their fans, though, dropping four straight in embarrassing fashion and nine of the last 13 contests.
With the NHL's Colorado Avalanche still on break with the Sochi Olympics in progress and the Mile High City still wiping away tears from a Super Bowl loss earlier this month, all that's left is NBA basketball to lift the spirits. So far that hasn't happened. At least the Rockies are gearing up for baseball.
Don't be ashamed if you predicted the Nuggets to make the playoffs this season because they still have a legitimate and mathematical shot. Their post All- Star break begins Tuesday with a home game versus Phoenix, a favorite to reach the playoffs in 2013-14, followed by bouts with Milwaukee, Chicago, Sacramento, Portland (twice), Brooklyn, Minnesota and Dallas.
Only the Bucks, Kings and Timberwolves are currently out of contention, so Denver will have its work cut out the next few weeks. Golden State, Memphis and Minnesota stand in the way of the Nuggets and the eighth seed in the West.
Can the Nuggets actually improve via trade before the deadline? Maybe, but Shaw is leaving those decisions up to the Denver brass.
"I think that with all that I'm dealing with in terms of coaching the team, I'm just going to concentrate on coaching the guys that are here and available to play," Shaw told the Post. "That's on (general manager) Tim Connelly and (assistant general manager) Arturas (Karnisovas) and (team president) Josh (Kroenke) and those guys."
A decision on big man JaVale McGee is expected soon and he has appeared in just five games this season due to a stress fracture in his left leg. The Nuggets could use his length and presence along the frontcourt to help J.J. Hickson, Kenneth Faried and Chandler.
Denver's backcourt of Ty Lawson and Randy Foye is hobbling along. With Miller away from the team because of his irreconcilable differences, the injuries to Lawson (fractured rib) and Foye (hamstring) have put Denver's small game in a lurch. Explosive reserve guard Nate Robinson is already done for the season after undergoing knee surgery.
Lawson is expected to be sidelined a few more games and hasn't played since Feb. 8 at Detroit. He leads the Nuggets in points (18.0), assists (8.8) and steals (1.5). Foye has turned up his game of late, posting an average of 16.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists over his last 19 games.
"I'm extremely banged up," Foye said heading into All-Star weekend. "I'm just going to stay positive and try work through it."
Time heals all wounds.
The Nuggets just hope to be on the mend before it's too late.
02/18 12:45:03 ET