It was fitting that Corey Brewer was at the free throw line to seal the Nuggets' 14th consecutive victory on the same night that March Madness kicked into high gear. After all, it wasn't that long ago that Brewer first made a name for himself by helping Florida repeat as national champions.
And some of his current Denver teammates also played well this time of year as collegians, including Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried and Kosta Koufos, who was named MVP of the NIT after leading Ohio State to the championship in 2008.
Yes, there's a lot of good, young talent on this Nuggets squad -- along with solid vets -- but no one stands out as a superstar.
It's because of this "lack" that questions about Denver's ability to turn this winning streak into a deep playoff run remain, even though this streak is arguably the most impressive of any team this season. Heading into Thursday's game, the winning percentage of Nuggets opponents was .533, while the Clippers' victims, during L.A.'s 17-game streak earlier this season, was . 413. As for the Heat's, through 23 games: .483.
I, too, hesitate a little when I think about Denver.
But my hesitation has less to do with the guys taking the shots than the guy calling them.
Of the seven coaches with at least 1,000 wins, George Karl's .436 winning percentage in the playoffs is the worst. And while his trip to the 1996 NBA Finals helped erase the 1994 embarrassment of his Seattle SuperSonics being the first No. 1 seed to lose to the No. 8 seed, the fact is his teams have gone out 10 times in the first round since losing 4-2 to Jordan's Bulls.
Karl has only been to two conference finals since.
And who can forget that he led Team USA to an unforgivable sixth-place finish at the 2002 FIBA championships?
Now, you don't get 1,000 wins without being a great coach; you don't get eight division titles without being a great coach; you don't get to be a four-time All-Star skipper -- an honor earned by having the best record in the conference at the halfway mark -- without being a great coach.
But just as the legacies of incredible players such as Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter are weakened by less-than-stellar postseason outcomes, it is only fair to look at great coaches through that same lens. And if you do that, then it stands to reason that any question about Denver's chances of shocking the Thunder, Clips and Spurs and winning the West should start with Karl, not his players. Think about it: Gary Payton, Ray Allen, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Allen Iverson, Shawn Kemp, Sam Cassell, Glenn Robinson, Detlef Schrempf in his 25 years of coaching, he's had great -- sometimes Hall of Fame -- talent. He's had home court, momentum ... he just hasn't had an answer for May.
Sometimes a team just loses to a better one.
Sometimes an injury derails destiny.
And sometimes a coach, over the course of a seven-game series, gets outmaneuvered.
It's hard to attribute all of Karl's postseason disappointments to the answers behind doors one and two. Yes, he's a better coach than me, but unfortunately, he's been playing chess against guys like Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers, Larry Brown, Lenny Wilkens and Gregg Popovich.
Tim Legler recently said the makeup of this superstar-less team is Karl's dream because without a go-to guy, he doesn't have a guy he has to go to. He can share the ball, go with the hot hand, play "the right way." And with each quote about life without Melo, there is certainly a hint of that sentiment in the midst.
Brown -- the guy credited with popularizing that "right way" phrase -- benefited from a team like that in Detroit. After decades of being called a great coach, he finally became a champion with a talented squad without a traditional superstar.
History tells us that rarely happens, but who knows, maybe lightning will strike twice. The Nuggets certainly look scary. But Karl's squads have looked scary before. At least in in the regular season.