Strike 1: The best news coming out of the Denver Nuggets playoff series opening rout of the Minnesota Timberwolves? The fact that the high-flying Nuggets showed they can win ugly.

The final 109-80 score wasn’t ugly. But this was not vintage Denver basketball, either. Yet these Nuggets, who’ve been thoroughly unimpressive the past six weeks, showed they could win big even when they weren’t clicking on offense, and when their best player didn’t have his A game. With the referees seeming to look the other way much of the time, this was a typical NBA playoff game – far more physical than regular season contests. And oftentimes teams that like to run and gun while making defense and rebounding secondary have a hard time adjusting when the postseason arrives. That’s been something that’s plagued past Denver teams.

Not this Nuggets team, at least not on the first night. Starting with Aaron Gordon’s bulldozing dunk over Mike Conley early, the Nuggets showed they were ready to meet any physical challenge brought by the visitors. And they played it that way for all 48 minutes, never taking their foot off the gas as they’ve been prone to do during the regular season.

Nikola Jokic was in foul trouble much of the night, fouling out after scoring just 13 points. After playing sparingly during the couple weeks of the regular season, Joker isn’t quite right. Neither was Jamal Murray early on, before he found his groove in the second half. Yet just as Nuggets fans hoped, this year the supporting cast has proven to be a whole lot better, with several other guys showing the ability to pick up any and all slack.

While Denver wasn’t hitting on all cylinders on offense, the defense was better than it’s been all season. It certainly didn’t hurt that the T-Wolves were as cold as Minnesota winter, but the Nuggets clearly turned it up on the defensive end just as they’d promised to do when the games started to really matter.

Denver was the only home team/higher seed to win Game 1 of their opening round playoff series on the Sunday slate. There’s got to be some satisfaction in that, too. Showing the ability to adjust their game to the more rugged postseason style has to bode well for the rest of the playoff run. It’s also fair to expect Jokic to return to form as the series progresses, making Denver an even more formidable outfit.

Many of us worried that the Nuggets wouldn’t be able to just flip the switch and get back to playing like they did most of the season when they built up an insurmountable Western Conference lead. They didn’t flip that switch. They flipped a better one.

Strike 2: Back in the day – it was the 1948 MLB season to be exact – there was a saying penned by a Boston sports writer: “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.”

Back then, the Boston Braves had two excellent starting pitchers, Hall of Famer Warren Spahn and three-time All-Star Johnny Sain. They were one-two in the Braves rotation, and each time either one took the mound, Boston had a great chance to win. After that, the Braves were better off not playing that day.

The Colorado Rockies went into the season knowing they were in a similar predicament. Aces German Marquez and Kyle Freeland give the Rockies a great chance to win every time they take the hill. In Colorado’s 5-11 start, Marquez has a pair of wins, including one on Opening Day in San Diego, and Freeland also has two W’s, including a gem in the home opener. Freeland enters his fourth start with a 0.96 ERA.

The other Rockies starting pitchers remain winless in 10 starts. They have five “quality starts” in total, including three from Freeland.

Austin Gomber is 0-3 with an 8.16 ERA.

Jose Urena is 0-2 with a 9.90 ERA

Ryan Feltner is 0-2 with an 8.78 ERA

“Freeland and Marquez and somebody help us.”

They might be getting some help from young Noah Davis. Marquez strained a muscle in his forearm in his last start, prompting the call of up Davis, who threw five scoreless innings in his first big league start against Seattle. Unfortunately, the Rockies offense couldn’t help him in a 1-0 loss that completed a three-game sweep for the Mariners.

Will we see more of Davis or other young pitching prospects? Probably. But when?

Don’t expect the Rockies management to make any hasty moves, but if the current trends continue for the 3-4-5 spots in the rotation, Davis will very likely get another shot or two, and 2019 draft pick Karl Kauffman out of Michigan could be close behind. And don’t forget about reclamation project Peter Lambert, still battling back from arm problems after a promising start to his Rockies career in 2019.

Antonio Senzatela is likely to return before too much longer, but that doesn’t fix all the issues. If the Rockies decide to do rebuilding the way other teams have successfully done it, they will make more than one trade before the July 31 deadline, perhaps moving players like CJ Cron, Mike Moustakas and even Charlie Blackmon. What they desperately need to get back in return on any trade are close-to-big-league-ready starting pitchers, guys who’ve performed well at Double- and Triple-A and could give Colorado some immediate options. If they were to get really bold, they’d even be able to trade Marquez, who is in the final year of his contract (although there is a favorable team option that could be exercised for 2025) for more young prospects.

That’s how you rebuild successfully.

The only thing that’s for certain at the moment is that the current state of the Rockies rotation is fine for two days, weather permitting.

Strike 3: Spring football has never been a big deal around here. For whatever reason, a region that eats, drinks and breathes Denver Broncos football in the fall (and the rest of the year, too) has never shown much interest in new spring pro leagues like the XFL or the USFL. As far as the college game goes, most football fans along the front range get excited for a game or two in the fall – if Colorado is playing Nebraska or Colorado State for instance – but otherwise are not all that invested. Spring college games? You mean those April scrimmages that the folks in Tuscaloosa, Columbus, Lincoln and Norman get all worked up about? We have better things to do around here, remember?

Is it possible that could change? Could spring football begin to really excite front range fans?

In previous seasons, the final spring scrimmage of the year in Boulder, for instance, hasn’t generated enough interest to attract more than a couple thousand fans. Sometimes CU didn’t even play a real game, opting instead for a controlled scrimmage with a points system that let the defense get points for defensive stops, turnovers, etc. Like some sort of life sized video game. No wonder fans didn’t care.

That’s changed. At least for this spring.

Make it one more thing the arrival of the Deion Sanders Show in Boulder has done: Make the Colorado Buffaloes Spring football game a real thing for maybe the first time ever. National TV coverage. A full stadium. A real football game.

And a guaranteed Buffs win. And loss.

Sanders’ immediate impact on the attention span and the thirst of CU fans has made this spring’s football event a must-see. So for those who have never been to an actual spring football game, here are some pointers:

First, expect to be watching a lot of players you know next to nothing about. Oftentimes, returning starters and high profile players sit this one out, reluctant to subject themselves to injury, etc. It’s time for the newbies to shine. And the team you think will win (most times the first and fourth string players are on one team, the second and third teamers on the other) may not. It’s a coin flip, really.

It’s okay to cheer for big plays by both teams. They’re all yours, after all.

Go early. Tailgate. You don’t have to worry about the outcome, so it’s all fun and games.

This is a chance for fans to get in a practice run, too. After all, the Buffs first two home games next fall are against Nebraska and CSU so you need to start getting into game shape now for the moment Ralphie comes out of the shoot. It can be spring practice for fans, too.