Yesterday afternoon, Jim Armstrong and Sandy Clough were talking Denver Nuggets on FM 104.3/The Fan, and while the hosts kept the team's playoff chances in perspective, many of the callers weren't concentrating on the New Orleans Hornets, the Nugs' first-round opponents (who they meet for the first time on Sunday). Instead, they wanted to know if Carmelo Anthony and his mates had any chance in hell of beating the Los Angeles Lakers.
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Whoa? The Nuggets can't face the Lakers, the presumptive victor in the other bracket, until they win not one but two series -- something they haven't done since 1985, when they lost in the Western Conference finals to (you guessed it) the Lakers. And the Hornets aren't exactly stiffs. They won 49 games this year -- just five fewer than the Nugs -- and they boast a legitimate superstar in Chris Paul, plus a beast in the making with David West. If the Nuggets don't come in focused and hungry, they could very easily lose.
Do I think that's going to happen? No: My money's on Chauncey Billups to help his fellow ballers keep their eyes on the prize. But with almost a quarter-century since their last Western Conference finals appearance, and a recent history of quiet first-round exits, the Nuggets shouldn't be looking past anyone right now.