Surviving the Denver Nuggets' down-and-up weekend

To be a fan of the Denver Nuggets -- even the new, improved Denver Nuggets -- is to risk cardiac arrest on an all-too-regular basis. Saturday night's game against the Los Angeles Lakers would have put the Nugs in a commanding position, and they seemed to have everything going for them -- momentum, swagger and a mammoth home-court advantage thanks to an absolutely berserk crowd thrilled to be witnessing the first Western Conference Finals game to take place here in a generation. So how did they respond? By blowing yet another fourth-quarter lead and making enormously embarrassing gaffes down the stretch -- including yet another botched in-bounds play at a key moment. Who says lightning doesn't strike in the same place twice?

Last night, in contrast, the Nuggets had plenty of excuses to collapse, including the condition of Carmelo Anthony, who spent much of his pre-game warm-up time barfing. But this time around, the supporting cast stepped up in a huge way, particularly when it came to rebounding. Over and over again, players made good on second-chance opportunities, helping them to not only maintain a fourth-quarter advantage, but to actually build on it. Of course, Phil Jackson's inexplicable decision to sit Kobe Bryant until 6:44 remained on the clock provided a nice assist. Yet the Nugs would have won the game had Kobe never taken a seat.

So what's all this mean for game five on Wednesday? Nothing for certain. Even as the Nuggets were dominating, they committed mental errors that could very well come back to bite them in L.A. For instance, J.R. Smith continues to take stupid shots, and while a lot of them went in last night, thank goodness, there's no guarantee the trend will continue on the road. Just a little more discipline and he'd be a consistent force, not an on-and-off streak-master. And Kenyon Martin committed what's got to be one of the top-five dumbest technical fouls ever when he clinched Pau Gasol's arm at a key moment and wouldn't let it go. If the Nugs pull that kind of shit tomorrow night, they're going to lose, plain and simple. And if they don't? They still could lose -- but they'd have a helluva lot better chance to shock the basketball world, and their long-suffering fans as well.

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