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Gazette Premium Content Nuggets find themselves in playoff peril

The Associated Press Updated: February 18, 2014 at 6:57 am

DENVER — Unless the nose-diving Denver Nuggets can turn things around, they'll miss the playoff for the first time since 2003, when they got Carmelo Anthony after a 17-65 season.

Things have gotten so bad that the Nuggets had to resort to seldom-used reserve Jordan Hamilton running the point during a recent 39-point drubbing at Indiana.

Ty Lawson (rib), Nate Robinson (torn ACL) and even Randy Foye (banged knee) were all hurt, and Andre Miller hasn't been around the team since getting into a shouting match with first-year coach Brian Shaw on New Year's Day.

The Nuggets skidded into the All-Star break on a four-game losing streak, their 10-year playoff streak in serious jeopardy as they stand in 11th place in the Western Conference at 24-27, six games out of the eighth spot.

While Lawson is expected back soon, Danilo Gallinari won't be coming to the rescue.

The Italian sharpshooter who joined the Nuggets in the blockbuster trade that sent Anthony to New York a few years back, had a major setback in his recovery from a torn left ACL and recently required a second surgery that will sideline him until next season.

He blew out his left knee last April and his absence played a big role in another first-round playoff exit after a franchise-best 57-win regular season and the subsequent departure of long-time coach George Karl, part of an exodus that included Andre Iguodala and general manager Masai Ujiri, who was replaced by Tim Connelly.

Shaw's first season as an NBA head coach has been trying, as evidenced by his spat with Miller, who was initially suspended two games, a punishment that was revoked so he could continue to get paid but which failed to lead to a quick resolution.

Throw in the injuries and Shaw's had to juggle his depleted lineup.

"I've probably gotten 10 years of experience in this first half of the season," Shaw said. "... In a way, I like to kind of go through everything. There's a lot worse situations; we're just continuing to try to work through it. A lot of guys that wouldn't be getting opportunities are getting to play now because of the injuries. So it's allowing us to evaluate what we really have and discover who can get it done and who can't.

"I'm learning as I go. I'm learning our team as we go. I'm not going to make any excuses; it was the hand we were dealt and we just have to continue to work."

It's not just a matter of being short-handed, however.

"We haven't always just taken pride and gotten mad when our man is scoring. We worry more about how many shots we're getting and things that are happening on the offensive end, and I want us to have that same kind of excitement about what's going on on the defensive end," he said.

Lawson's return to the floor will go a long way in curing some of these ills.

"If I was Ty's agent I'd be smiling and feeling really good right now," Shaw said, "because it just shows how important he is to our team — not only the speed of our team and the ability to help us score, but just organizing things and giving the other guys confidence that they lack with him not being out there."

Miller figures to be gone by Thursday's trade deadline as there are plenty of contenders who could use a veteran point guard with a friendly contract, but the only leverage the Nuggets might gain would presumably be if multiple teams come calling.

Unless they reverse their recent slide, the Nuggets will be playing out the string for the first time in more than a decade.

J.J. Hickson said that turnaround starts on the defensive end.

"Offense is not the problem. We know we can score with whomever, even with Ty out," Hickson said. "That's a big loss for us, but we're the type of team that likes to get up and down, so we know that teams can't keep up with us and we like to put pressure on teams. But it all starts with defense. If you look at the top teams in the league, all of them are top five or top ten in defense, and that's not us right now."

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