Nuggets Don't Realize Gravity of the Situation

From Associated Press

Like the house guest who won't leave, the Denver Nuggets keep hanging around the NBA playoffs, making life miserable for the established teams.

"I don't think we know we're not supposed to be doing this," Nuggets captain Reggie Williams said.

The NBA's youngest team, which shocked Seattle in the first round, beat the Utah Jazz 109-101 in double overtime Tuesday night, reducing Utah's lead in the best-of-7 Western Conference semifinals to 3-2.

Game 6 is tonight in Denver. A seventh game, if necessary, would be in Salt Lake City on Saturday.

The Nuggets were never supposed to get this far, but they keep swimming upstream against raging current. Facing a must-win situation five times in the playoffs, the Nuggets have won each time.

They trailed Seattle, the NBA's winningest team, 2-0 before rallying to win the final three games in the best-of-5 series, becoming the first No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed since the NBA went to its current playoff format in 1984.

Then they fell behind Utah 3-0, only to stave off elimination by winning the last two. Having already shown a callous disregard for history, the Nuggets are aiming to become the first team in NBA history to win a series after trailing 3-0.

Tuesday night, the Nuggets posted their third overtime victory in 10 playoff games. Bryant Stith and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf scored 22 points each, and Robert Pack and Brian Williams added 19 apiece. Dikembe Mutombo's seven blocks gave him 31 for the series, breaking Hakeem Olajuwon's record of 30 set last year against Seattle.

Despite the recent surge, Nuggets coach Dan Issel isn't ready to say the momentum has shifted away from Utah.

"They're still ahead 3-2 and they still have an awfully good basketball team," Issel said. "I think there's a little more pressure on them at this point. But I'm not ready to say that we're the favorites to win the series."

Issel is ready to say that his team is the looser of the two.

Williams says that's because the Nuggets "don't have anything to lose. Nobody thinks we're going to win the championship, so there's no pressure on us. Teams like Utah and Seattle, they've been to the playoffs year after year. They talk about championships, and they feel the pressure that goes with those expectations."

Denver believes it has other factors in its favor. Strategically, the presence of Mutombo has robbed the Jazz of their inside game, forcing Karl Malone to the perimeter. The Nuggets also appear the fresher team.

"I would think the longer the series goes, and the longer the games go, if we can keep the games close so that they have to keep their first-line players in, those are all advantages for us," Issel said.

Utah coach Jerry Sloan agrees with some of Issel's observations.

"There is not any pressure on them," Sloan said. "Everybody in America wants them to win."

Sloan said his team lost its composure, especially after Malone fouled out midway through the first overtime.

"We played right into their hands," he said.

Malone finished with 22 points after scoring only three in the first half. Frustrated by Mutombo's defense, Malone has hit just 14-of-38 shots (37 percent) the last two games.

"Everything in our offense is based on Karl," Jazz forward David Benoit said. "When he went out, we just hoped someone would step up. No one did."

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