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NBA Playoffs: If the gods of the knee are kind, the Denver Nuggets are a contenders

Apr 15, 2010, 6:30 AM EDT

Let’s be up front about the one big if for the Denver Nuggets: If Kenyon Martin’s knee is healthy.

Those six words should be in front of every other sentence in this post. Because if it is, if he is back to being the aggressive, physical force in the paint they need, Denver can compete for a title. They were one step short of the Finals last year. They are led by a guy in Chauncey Billups who knows how to make that next step. This is a good team.

If.

Denver brings an attacking offense to the playoffs. They get 29 shots a game right at the rim, fifth best in the League. They lead the league in free throw shots attempted per field goal attempt — a fancy way of saying they get to the line a lot. They like to run, fifth fastest pace in the league. What’s more, they are relentless

Carmelo Anthony is as good a pure scorer as we see, and he has stepped up his game this year. JR Smith can hit threes or drive. Chauncey Billups is as smart a point guard as there is in the league. Then there is Nene and rookie Ty Lawson and the Birdman. This is a team deep with talent. Very deep.

Denver will have to improve in two areas to become the threat they are on paper. They have got to defend better, particularly the pick and roll. The Nuggets tend to switch on picks, and smart teams recognize this and exploit it. The Nuggets have to be better about not switching early in the clock. Allowing the other team to set up.

Next, Denver must rebound. Rebounds = rings. It’s just not something they focus on, not something the smaller front line does well. But they need to figure it out or it will come back to haunt them.

There would be no better story than George Karl returning from throat cancer to win it all. That would warm everybody’s hearts. And it could really happen…

If.

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