Unheralded Nuggets playing with chip on their shoulders
TORONTO - The Denver Nuggets are happy flying under the radar, but a lack of attention despite an impressive campaign has given them added motivation to make noise in a competitive Western Conference.
Before Sunday's overtime loss to the Boston Celtics, Denver owned the NBA's longest active winning streak with nine straight victories in which they topped the 100-point plateau in each.
Despite their longest win streak in nearly eight years which lifted them to second place in the Northwest, the Nuggets remain overlooked as talk about who will represent the Western Conference in June's NBA Finals centers around the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers.
"We like to be under the radar. We like being made to feel like we are an underdog and people look down upon us," Denver coach George Karl told reporters before his team's 109-108 road loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday.
The Nuggets (33-20) have gone 1-1 in games against each of the three Western Conference favorites this season and have the fifth best record in the 15-team Western Conference with a balanced attack powered by Italian forward Danilo Gallinari and speedy guard Ty Lawson.
Entering Tuesday's game, Denver had six players averaging double figures, something the Spurs (five), Thunder (four) and Clippers (four) could not say.
"There's a lot of good teams out there, the San Antonio Spurs and so forth have a lot of depth, but we feel like we have depth and can compete with those teams," said Denver center Kosta Koufas.
"We have all the pieces of the puzzle and we are just putting it together and hopefully we'll build that momentum for the playoffs."
Still, the Nuggets do not have history on their side as no team has won an NBA championship in a season in which they have not had a player selected to the All-Star game.
That does not seem to bother a Denver team that considers Gallinari and Lawson to be All-Stars despite failing to get named to the annual exhibition game that is essentially a popularity contest where fans vote to determine the rosters.
"Maybe a bit of a chip on our shoulders but as far as not having any All-Stars it's no big deal," said Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler. "We believe in ourselves and we believe in our best players."
Just getting to the championship round will be a challenge as Denver plays in a West Conference that has produced 10 of the last 14 NBA champions. The Nuggets have yet to reach The Finals since joining the NBA for the 1976-77 season.
"We have a great core of guys and when we are playing good and playing hard and playing together we can beat anyone on any given night," said Chandler.
"So as long as we keep building up from where we are now I think we will be a pretty good team come playoffs." (Reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Larry Fine)