Last Friday night at Denver's Pepsi Center, I got to watch an undersized, scrappy Denver Nuggets team take down a much bigger and equally talented Los Angeles Clippers. The official attendance number for the game was listed at 15,559, but having been there I can tell you that the Pepsi Center stands were at least one-third empty.
Just two nights earlier, that same undersized Nuggets team went head-to-head with the Western Conference powerhouse Dallas Mavericks in Denver and lost only after Carmelo Anthony's would-be buzzer beater rolled in and out as time expired. The attendance for that thrilling game was listed at 14,159, about five thousand shy of Pepsi Center's basketball capacity of 19,155. The Nuggets would exact their revenge on the Mavericks a few nights later when a weary and banged up Nuggets team handily beat a well-rested Mavericks squad, in Dallas no less.
And yet while the Broncos are in the midst of perhaps their most forgettable season ever, the University of Colorado football program disgraces itself on its way out of the Big 12 and the Rockies just finished their baseball season with an implosion of epic proportions, this hard-working, fun-to-watch Nuggets team remains a third- or fourth-class citizen among Colorado sports fans and commentators. Nuggets games aren't being well attended, the team gets minimal coverage in the Denver Post and the team doesn't seem to get much airtime among Denver's three sports radio outfits.
There are a number of reasons for this and some are self-inflicted. First off, the Carmelo Anthony "will he stay or will he go" story consumed much of Denver's radio airwaves prior to training camp and the story has become tiresome among the local pundits while turning off many Nuggets fans (like me) who effectively pay Melo's salary. It seems as though many would-be fans are hesitant to invest emotionally in this team as long as Melo's future is so uncertain.
Secondly, the Nuggets stupidly raised ticket prices on many season ticket holders (including this one), forgetting that the economy remains in the tank, the tickets are absurdly overpriced to begin with and the Nuggets took a giant step back last season from the magical season before. Additionally, I've spoken to a number of Nuggets season ticket holders - some who were longtime customers - who passed on renewing their tickets and didn't get so much as a phone call from someone in the team's ticket office. Hence the many (good) empty seats.
And finally, as I've griped about many times before, the Pepsi Center experience is too much circus/light show/DJ dance club and not enough about the sport itself and I think - or maybe it's hope - that the true sports fans have finally had enough. Oh, and all those 8:30 p.m. starts aren't going to help matters.
Negatives aside, however, this Nuggets team deserves our support and Colorado asses in the Pepsi Center seats. And here's why . . .
The Nuggets are in the midst of one of - if not the - greatest comebacks in the NBA this year as head coach George Karl has returned to the bench with renewed energy and enthusiasm after battling throat and neck cancer just six months ago. The players are clearly feeding off their head coach's return and are playing hard nightly. Melo is contributing in all aspects of the game and is doing whatever it takes to win, regardless of the off-the-court distractions regarding his contract.
And beyond Melo, shooting guard Arron Afflalo and backup point guard Ty Lawson have vastly improved their games from last season, free agent signee Al Harrington has given the Nuggets a shot in the arm and excitement off the bench, and journeymen Shelden Williams and Gary Forbes play their hearts out nightly when given playing time. There's a reason why the Nuggets are 4-2 in spite of having played two sets of back-to-backs, playing a difficult schedule (sans the Clippers) and missing two of their three main big men in Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen: they're outworking and outhustling their opponents while playing as a team. And as the schedule loosens up and the Nuggets get to play some lesser teams at home, I foresee the wins piling up. What's not to like about that?
On the ticket front, even though season-ticket holders like me got screwed on the unnecessary price increases, the Nuggets offer many affordable ticket packages, like the 10-game package with which the Miami Heat game is thrown in for free. I still can't guarantee that you'll get a circus-free atmosphere at Pepsi Center, but I will continue to bark up that tree until something changes on that front.
Like their cohabitants at the Pepsi Center - the Colorado Avalanche - the Nuggets are playing their sport as it's meant to be played. I know expendable dollars are nonexistent for many fans right now, especially with the holidays fast approaching. But when thinking about your entertainment options in the months ahead, consider supporting this Nuggets team. Or at the very least, watch the games and talk Nuggets when you call into your favorite sports radio program. They're the best thing going in Colorado sports right now.