Avalanche riding high, Nuggets barely staying alive

If the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche were two cartoon characters running a race, Tuesday night was the moment where the Avalanche pulled even, the Nuggets’ eyes got wide, and then the Avalanche sped past.

Tuesday was a snapshot of both teams’ seasons. It was the culmination of momentum building for the Avalanche and inconsistency for the Nuggets.

Thursday night provided a better result for the Nuggets, but their problems persist. The Avs, meanwhile, are suddenly gaining speed as the finish line approaches.

The Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday beat the Minnesota Wild 5-1. Avalanche players and fans hate the Wild, which made a third-straight blowout win against their rival extra sweet. Winning at all still seems like a gift, since the Avalanche were historically bad last year.

The Avalanche moved up in the standings to the point where this might actually happen. The Avs have a real shot at the playoffs. That feeling of excitement and dread that playoff hockey brings might be within reach for the Mile High City. The Avalanche are on pace to double their point total in the standings over last year.

When the Avs game ended, it looked like the Nuggets might make it a sweep of success for the Mile High City. A day that started with Case Keenum’s overnight signing with the Denver Broncos could end with the two Pepsi Center teams in the playoffs.

The Nuggets led the Los Angeles Lakers by double-digits in the third quarter. Then, they fell apart. Those words have been used too many times to describe the Nuggets this season.

The Nuggets started inexplicably shooting threes and their coach, Michael Malone, couldn’t stop the slide to defeat. The Lakers are not a good team, which made another collapse even worse. Denver fell out of a playoff spot.

To add insult to injury, the Nuggets’ performance made point guard Jamal Murray look foolish. Over the last couple of Lakers games, he’s taunted the Lakers’ players. In the desperate final seconds, the Staples Center crowd started a “Murray Sucks” chant.

The chant was reminiscent of similar chants Denver fans hurled at Kobe Bryant back when both teams were good. Now, both teams are out of the playoffs. The two teams currently don’t have the credibility to start a playground scuffle, let alone a real feud. Everyone should be a little embarrassed.

If the Nuggets miss the playoffs, it would be the second year in a row that they fell out of the playoffs during the stretch run. This current predicament, where the Nuggets have less than a one-in-three chance to make the playoffs, is troubling considering they were battling for a top-four seed two weeks ago.

In a month, both the Avalanche and Nuggets will know their playoff fates. If they continue to trend in these directions, the Avalanche will face a tough first round opponent and the Nuggets will face tough offseason decisions.

If the Avalanche miss the playoffs, this particular Tuesday night might be the high point. The Avalanche destroying Minnesota is its own joy and this game could be a stepping-stone for things to come.

Thursday night was another big step. Colorado defeated the Blues 4-1 in St. Louis. They had won just two of their previous 15 trips to the Gateway City; it was their first victory over the Blues this season. The Avs’ top line tallied 10 points as a unit. Semyon Varlamov made 44 saves. Next Colorado will host the No. 1 team in the Western Conference, Nashville, on Friday with momentum and what is sure to be a raucous home crowd on their side.

The Nuggets bounced back somewhat with a home win Thursday night over the Pistons. The victory put them a half-game out of the eighth and final playoff spot. Nikola Jokic had a triple-double. Murray had a game-high 26 points, but Denver nearly gave away the game again. After leading by 26 in the third quarter, the Nuggets allowed Detroit to claw back to within six with under 2:00 to play before closing it out. Gary Harris went down with a leg injury late in the game. Now Denver embarks on a seven-game road trip, likely needing to win five of those games to still be in the fight when the calendar flips to April and they return home.

If the Nuggets make the playoffs, the Lakers game will be all but forgotten except for the “Murray Sucks” chants. This tiff will reverberate into the next Nuggets-Lakers squabble.

One game does not define a season. These high points and low points are just pieces of the puzzles. It’s just ironic that the Nuggets and Avalanche found the best and worst of themselves on the same night.

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