Strike 1: Apparently the Memphis Grizzlies missed the memo that their season was over when Ja Morant decided to flash his piece at Shotgun Willie’s after the Nuggets ran out the Griz at Ball Arena back in early March.

Denver’s Western Conference lead seemed insurmountable at that moment, But Memphis rallied, and has now won six in a row. Ja is back in the starting lineup and the Nuggets conference lead is a mere three games with eight left to play.

The Nuggets aren’t exactly caving in. They made a statement by bouncing back after losing five of six to win three in a row, including a convincing home win over league-leading Milwaukee. With the Philadelphia 76ers and MVP desperate Joel Embid on tap, the Nuggets need to keep their foot on the gas.

The Nuggets have the tougher remaining slate. After the visit from the Sixers, Denver still has home games against playoff contending teams Golden State (currently No.6 in the West) New Orleans (No. 7) and Sacramento (No. 3) Their four remaining road games are at Western Conference betting favorite Phoenix and Kevin Durant – twice – along with Utah and Houston. You may think the latter two are layups, but Denver just lost in San Antonio and at home to the lowly Chicago Bulls, so nothing can be taken for granted.

Things are a little easier for Memphis. They play their next three at home, where they’ve been even better (32-5) than the Nuggets (31-6) so far this season. Orlando comes to visit, then a pair with the LA Clippers (currently 5th in the West.) There’s also a home game against struggling Portland. The four road games are in Chicago, New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Milwaukee.

It’s pretty easy to see Memphis going 6-2 or even 7-1 in their final eight games. That means the Nuggets can’t slip up. They’ll likely need to win at least four if not five of their last eight to secure the top seed.

The top seed in the West is actually critical for Denver and for Memphis. Neither of the top two teams in the conference has an impressive road record. The Nuggets (19-18) are slightly better than the Grizzlies (15-22) but both are vulnerable in the postseason. That points to home court in a possible Western Conference Finals matchup being a deciding factor. That means the Nuggets need to decide to go all out for the rest of the regular season.

Strike 2: Everyone knows the Colorado Rockies are in a rebuilding mode, except the Colorado Rockies it appears.

A 40-man roster that features a number of promising youngsters would normally be a sign of full commitment to the “draft and develop” process. But not so fast. Rookie Ezequiel Tovar is penciled in to start at shortstop, but after that not too many youngsters will be on the lineup card on Opening Day in San Diego it seems.

A funny thing has happened on the way to making Coors Field a reconstruction site. The Rockies have decided to bring in veterans to at least start the season in positions where they have top young prospects. As Opening Day approaches, it looks like promising infielder Elehuris Montero will lose out on a starting spot to veteran Mike Moustakas. Veteran Harold Castro, let go by the rebuilding Detroit Tigers, has earned a roster spot in Colorado, likely bumping former top draft pick Michael Toglia off the roster all together. Then there’s recently acquired veteran outfielder Jurickson Profar to throw into the mix too, when his visa issues are resolved.

The Rockies organization is caught in the middle of really wanting to build with young players – while likely suffering in the standing and perhaps at the box office – while appearing to try to contend in the perpetually loaded National League West. Owner Dick Monfort made it crystal clear that Colorado is not and will not “tank” a season. But delaying the development of players like Toglia and Montero could delay the process of Colorado actually, truly being a contender.

While not sacrificing any prospects in trades like some organizations will do, the Rockies aren’t really, truly committing to them, either.

The pitching staff will likely include sorta young Justin Lawrence in the bullpen, surrounded by veterans like Daniel Bard, Brent Suter, Brad Hand, Pierce Johnson, Ty Blach and Dinelson Lamet. Second-year man Ryan Feltner will get a shot at starting, but the rest of the rotation will have been around the block numerous times.

Colorado will not feature the youngest roster in the league by any measure. Does that mean the badly needed rebuild is on hold? The question will linger: Where is the Rockies rebuilding process at exactly? And when will that commitment to “draft and develop” truly take root?

Strike 3: What are the criteria for a Coach of the Year award?

It’s nebulous of course. Typically, the award goes to a coach of a title winning team, oftentimes one that slightly or even greatly exceeded expectations. That’s how the Nuggets George Karl won the award in 2013, when Denver won a franchise record 57 games. The voting takes place at the end of the regular season. The postseason is not factored in. Karl’s team lost in the first round of the playoffs, and he was fired shortly after collecting his hardware.

By that criteria, the Nuggets Michael Malone should be a leading contender for the award this season. Denver is likely to capture the top spot in the NBA’s Western Conference at season’s end and that was not expected by anyone. Denver has overachieved. Still, given that many voters will be tabbing Nikola Jokic for MVP for a third consecutive season, they may not want to send more accolades to the Mile High. Boston’s Joe Mazzulla will probably win it, given his last second ascension to the head job with the Celtics last fall and his team’s strong performance all year. Voters will have to give something to the east coast, after all.

Then there’s the Jack Adams Award, given each season to the National Hockey League Coach of the Year. If we were considering all the factors that go into coaching a team, the question is how could Colorado’s Jared Bednar not win it?

The easy answer is that the Boston Bruins Jim Montgomery (the former HC of the Denver University Pioneers) will win it, likely making it a double play for the Boston winter sports teams. Montgomery has led his team to a magical regular season that has them running away with the Eastern Conference with an incredible 119 points with nine games still to play. They will be the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, and Montgomery will undoubtedly reap that benefit.

Problem is, a season ago when the Avalanche were running roughshod over the rest of the league on their way to the Stanley Cup, the goalposts were in an entirely different place. Calgary’s Darryl Sutter won the award, beating out finalists Andrew Brunette of Florida and Gerard Gallant of New York. Neither Bednar nor Jon Cooper from Tampa Bay – the two-time defending Cup champs – were even among the finalists. It was the year for overachievers. The Panthers had an unexpectedly strong regular season, and Gallant’s New York Rangers are in New York. ‘Nuff said.

So evidently, some years, a dominant regular season matters most. Other years, it doesn’t. And some years, overachieving is a big factor, other times it’s not. Got it.

But if we’re talking about who has done the best coaching job, the winner should be clear cut. What Bednar has done with his M*A*S*H unit this season is nothing short of remarkable. No other coach in the NHL has done what he and his staff have this year. The fact that the Avs are thisclose to capturing the Central Division is almost unthinkable. Losing their captain for the entire regular season was just the tip of the iceberg. Injury after injury, following a shortened off season, while dealing with the pressure of trying to repeat, and now being in position to actually do it is amazing.

What Bednar has accomplished this season is what the Coach of the Year award should be all about.