Nuggets seek a healthy five

Feb 20, 2007 12:25 AM

The Denver Nuggets come off the five-day All Star Break with a 26-25 record, somehow managing to stay afloat out West despite a host of injuries and major team shakeup.

The Nuggets in second place in the NBA Northwest Division, eight full games behind Utah. With just 29 games remaining in the regular season, give the Jazz the division title. The good news for Denver faithful is that your team is the No. 7 seed if the playoffs would begin today. That’s six games ahead of the ninth place LA Clippers.

Of course, sitting seven puts Denver squarely in line for a first round matchup against either Dallas or Phoenix. Whether the Mavs or Suns drops to No. 2 and into that encounter with A.I. and Melo really doesn’t matter. Most experts would consider the Nugs one and done.

From a betting perspective, which is what really matters in Vegas, Coach George Karl’s group is 18/1 to win the NBA Championship. The current situation is promising: Denver is 4-1 against the spread in the last five games, including three straight covers.

Denver will have its hands full in its return to the basketball court Tuesday, traveling to San Antonio to take on the Spurs. The Nuggets then enjoy a couple of off days before going heads-up against the Jazz at the Pepsi Center on Friday with a chance to shave a game from the deficit.

What the Nuggets really need to have its entire starting five healthy and out of suspensions. That would means seeing Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby at 100 percent or whatever figure they can now bring to the table. Iverson missed the All Star game with a bad shoulder and is day to day. With the three in the lineup, there isn’t a team Denver can’t beat, especially at home. If not, they’re a sub-.500 team.

Especially Camby, the team’s best defensive player and shot-blocker. The 32-year-old former UMass standout, is averaging a double-double (11.9 points and 11.9 rebounds). Camby gives Denver the inside presence that is an absolute must if matched up against Dirk Novitski or Amare Stoudemire down the road.

If Nene can stay healthy for more than a week, Denver has a capable backup who can give the Nuggets valuable minutes on the boards. And, the deal that brought Steve Blake to Denver has been one of the unsung moves in the NBA this season. Blake adds stability and a reliable 3-point threat to co-exist with Iverson and Anthony.

Of course, the key in the remaining games is whether Iverson and Anthony can gain a rhythm and play as a unit. Denver has 29 games to work it out starting with Tuesday’s clash at San Antonio. After Friday’s home game with the Jazz, the Nuggets travel back to Texas for a Saturday matchup with Dallas.

Oh, my!