Nuggets off toa rocky start

Dec 6, 2005 1:12 AM

Nobody in Vegas expected the Denver Nuggets to go 82-0 against the spread, but with a current mark of 2-4 some red flags rise.

What’s the problem? Well, take last Wednesday’s home loss as an eight-point favorite against New Orleans-Oklahoma City, 102-95. Point guard Andre Miller, not really known as a bigtime scorer, netted 33. No support. Same thing in a five-point loss at Phoenix when Marcus Camby’s sensational 33-point, 20 rebound effort went for naught.

And, not just on offense. Opponents have eclipsed 101 points in three of the last four games. Prior to that, the Nuggets held their first four opponents to 86 points or less. Hardly reason for panic, but bettors following Nuggets basketball are not nearly as confident in wagering on Denver as they were two weeks ago.

The Nuggets, 9-9 overall in the NBA Northwest Division, face the start of a grueling six-game road trip. The stint begins Friday at Miami and continues to Orlando, Charlotte, Cleveland, New Jersey and Atlanta. The Nuggets don’t return to the Pepsi Center until Wednesday, Dec. 21 against Washington.

This road trip could say a lot about whether the Nuggets deserve to be considered ready to leap among the NBA elite. Most NBA experts picked Denver to win the NBA’s Northwest Division ahead of Minnesota, Seattle, Utah and Portland. Currently, the Timberwolves lead the division as the only team above .500.

Here’s our view of this week’s schedule, with projected lines and picks tossed in for good measure.

Tuesday, Dec. 6

Hawks +13 at Nuggets: A good opportunity to get back on track in the Nuggets last home game for awhile. Following a brief two-game winning streak, the Hawks have gone 0-3 both SU and ATS. This should be a 94-foot track meet, which Denver should enjoy. The OVER is a good possibility, if you are gun shy about giving double-digits. DENVER.

Friday, Dec. 9

Nuggets +9 at Heat: The Nuggets should be rested and focused for the Heat, even without Shaq. Alonzo Mourning is playing his best basketball in years for Miami, blocking nine shots in a win last week. Denver will need to clamp down on defense and get everyone involved. MIAMI.

Saturday, Dec. 10

Nuggets +3 at Magic: This is big trouble unless you’re siding with Orlando. It’s the second of a back-to-back, which is a common rotation for road teams heading to Florida. Orlando has been playing well at home and center Dwight Howard (14 ppg, 13.1 reb) has become a steady double-double man, reminding us of a younger Kevin Garnett. With the next stop at Charlotte not until Dec. 13, we figure the Nuggets to be most vulnerable to a blowout loss here. ORLANDO.