Kenyon Martin's knee the key to the Nuggets' championship dreams?

Last night's Nuggets victory over the Portland Trail Blazers would be a happier development if it weren't for the presence of Kenyon Martin in street clothes during the game.

This season, the Nuggets have emerged as legitimate title contenders -- a squad tough enough not only to challenge the title-holding L.A. Lakers but actually best them under the right circumstances. Unfortunately, the absence of key players from the lineup radically decreases their effectiveness, as anyone who watched the team struggle while Chauncey Billups was on the shelf understands full well.

The same is true of K-Mart, who's had his best season in a Nugs uni. But reports that the knee soreness he's experienced of late is as a result of a partially torn left patella tendon suggests that he could either be knocked out of the playoffs entirely if surgery is deemed the only option, or so hampered in his play that he might as well be named Johan Petro.

That could be fatal news for the Nuggets' title goals. After all, their margin for error is so slender that even the temporary absence of rookie guard Ty Lawson cost them dearly in recent matchups against the Lakers and the Phoenix Suns.

Granted, their play against the Blazers offered a formula for success without K-Mart -- namely a commitment to defense of the sort that's a Martin specialty and a greater-than-average focus on passing the ball to free up open shots instead of relying on Carmelo Anthony to go one-on-one (or sometimes one-on-five) to put points on the board.

But while such a strategy can finish off the Blazers at home, can it also make up for no K-Mart when the Nuggets are co-starring in the Lake Show in Los Angeles? That's a lot more difficult to envision -- which is why Nugs fans have got to hope that consultations with doctors reportedly taking place today will bring better news than anticipated. Because Martin's knee could be the difference between another good Nuggets season and an epic one.

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