Not even tattoos can help the Denver Nuggets right now

I realized two very important things while I was sitting in my living room on Monday watching the Nuggets play the Mavericks in the game heralded as a battle of the second best in the West: the Birdman Chris Andersen appears to have added some tattoos to the work of art that is his body, and Denver might be looking at a first round exit come playoff time if they don’t figure some things out pretty quickly.

The Nuggets have lost six of their last nine games, which dropped them down from the second spot to the fifth spot in the West. If they keep up this mediocre play, they may see a much more talented team come April 17.

Just a few years ago, the Nuggets were labeled as a team that couldn’t get it together enough to get past the first round of the playoffs. They had fantastic scorers and a grizzled veteran for a coach. They just couldn’t get over the hump with who they had on the floor. They simply thought they could out-score everyone. And the funny thing is, they did that a lot of the time in the regular season. But that type of play, without a defensive backbone and a more mature attitude, kept them from making it to the next level.

As time went on, they tried different combinations including bringing Allen Iverson to town — something many teams have tried and failed with in the last two seasons. But then they brought in the General, Chauncey Billups, last season and magic happened. They started playing as a unit on both ends of the floor. They developed a healthy swagger that they could actually back up. That swagger took them all the way to the Western Conference Finals, where they were eventually defeated by the Lakers in six games.

But the only good thing about losing to the Lakers was that they took what they learned and applied it to the 2009-10 campaign. However, a few weeks ago the wheels seemed to fall off. And I believe two things have led to their recent hiccup: the announcement that their coach, George Karl, has developed cancer once again and will miss time to receive treatment as well as the fact that power forward Kenyon Martin is missing time as well with knee issues.

To start with, you never want to see anyone have to go through what Karl is going through right now. The truth is that the team must be feeling some of the effects of not having their guy with them day in and day out. Karl’s health has been an issue throughout the years, causing him to periodically miss time. But I think the effect of his absence right now is immeasurable.

Coach Karl keeps his elite players accountable on both ends of the floor. He also has a lot to do with rookie Ty Lawson’s quick development that had him in discussions of rookie of the year before he went down with an injury. The bottom line is: Karl on the bench is necessary for this team’s success, and there is no definite timetable for his return.

In terms of player personnel, the Nuggets have certainly been feeling the emptiness on the floor without Martin. Billups may be the floor general on offense, but Martin is what holds together that defense. He is not only their defensive spark in the starting lineup, but he also filled in wonderfully on the offensive end when Carmelo Anthony and Billups were notably absent earlier in the season. No offense to Johan Petro, but you’re certainly not Kenyon Martin.

Martin is the type of player opposing teams dread. A lot of teams in the NBA have offenses predicated on the pick and roll involving their post players. They look to run a pick and roll that involves the opposing team’s post player in hopes that they switch on the screen, leaving a mismatch for both players. Or if they don’t switch, they hope to get enough separation from the screen to make a play.

But Martin is a post that the Nuggets hope gets involved in the pick and roll defense because when he switches on the screen, he has no problem picking up a guard.

Martin is currently receiving treatment for what the team is calling chronic patella tendonitis in his left knee. They say he will be back sometime in mid-April for the playoffs, but I don’t think it will be the Kenyon Martin we are used to seeing. His knee problems have been the downfall of his entire career, and may be part of the Nuggets downfall this season.

The bottom line is they need him badly right now. They simply look uninspired. Last year there would have been two guarantees coming into a game against the Nuggets; they would have more tattoos than you and they would have more confidence than you. It seems the Birdman Chris Andersen is doing his part with the tattoos, but the team as a whole is faltering in confidence as of late. I can only hope Martin returns soon with some new ink and a healthy knee.

Bret Greenberg is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]