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Comprehending two awful sweeps


I'm standing at a local bar, sipping quietly on a cool one. Two guys see the familiar face and decide they want to talk sports, right now.

Obviously, they are not happy with the pro sports scene, and they know everything.

Expert No. 1, aka Jimmy: "Hey, Rotten Ralph, will you please write something about how embarrassing the Nuggets were against the Lakers? That damn George Karl has got to go. He's just worthless. All that talent, and he couldn't even get them to show up. Just a bunch of spoiled millionaires."

Expert No. 2, aka Dennis: "Naw, man, forget about that. You need to jump on the Avalanche after the way they looked against the Dead Wings. That was friggin' pathetic, dude. You and everyone else in the media should be telling the Avs to fire the coach like yesterday. That [Joel] Quenneville is the worst excuse I've ever seen for an NHL coach."

Of course, they also were down on the Rockies and the Broncos, making it clear this is not the best of times for fans of Denver's major pro sports franchises. But after a handful of similar conversations over the past week, it's quite clear those two "experts" are not alone.

As far as the Avs and Nuggets are concerned, the natives aren't just restless this time. They're disgusted, even outraged. They were realistic enough not to be expecting championships, but they weren't prepared for the two stunningly paralyzing sweeps.

Showing no mercy, the Los Angeles Lakers attacked Denver and never let up in burying Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony and Co. It was ugly, four and out. Not once in the series did the Nuggets show any enduring sign of truly belonging on the same floor with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and the rest of the Lakers.

Basketball and hockey have nothing in common, but it was fascinating how comparable the Avalanche's fate was against Detroit.

Yes, Colorado did fight back in Game 1 from a 4-0 deficit before losing 4-3. But if you saw that game, it was respectable only on the scoreboard. Actually, start to finish, the Red Wings showed their not-even-close superiority in speed, aggressiveness and raw energy.

As the Avs disintegrated in their series finale, an 8-2 nightmare that could have been much worse, a different thought came clearly to mind, one that had been germinating throughout both of those sweeps.

Jimmy and Dennis might not agree with this, but as the old saying goes, things are never as good or as bad as they seem. Applied to this case, that means the Nuggets and Avalanche had the misfortune of facing two teams that very well may be en route to winning the NBA and NHL titles.

Face it: Almost everyone in the basketball world has put the Lakers and Boston on a pedestal above the rest of the league. Denver, which hasn't won a playoff series since 1994, did finish 50-32 for the regular season, but obviously wasn't ready for postseason intensity or defense. Los Angeles, much better since adding Gasol and with Phil Jackson still showing his mastery, could have been vulnerable but certainly wasn't.

It's easier to question whether Karl deserves another chance. This makes four straight first-round exits, and he never knew which buttons to push against L.A. Someone else might not bring more experience or smarts to the job, but just a fresh face, approach and personality might do the trick.

The bottom line, though, is that anyone analyzing that series should start by praising the Lakers, not condemning the Nuggets. With one more regular-season win, Denver would have faced New Orleans instead, and that might have been different. No way to know for sure.

Actually, the Avs have many more excuses for their implosion. They had shown much fortitude in their first-round series, beating Minnesota in six games. But that effort left Colorado's tank empty, and the injuries to Peter Forsberg, Ryan Smyth, Paul Stastny, Scott Hannan and others robbed the team of its depth and consistency.

Fully healthy, the Avs still would have lost to the Red Wings, who now have full psychological control of a once-riveting rivalry that has lost its luster. But the plan of reuniting Forsberg and defenseman Adam Foote with captain Joe Sakic for one more Stanley Cup run simply never had a chance, amid all the injuries.

Many fans and observers feel Quenneville deserves most of the blame, and it's true the Avs have been postseason underachievers the past three years, never advancing past the second round. But unlike the Nuggets players, whose frustration with Karl is well-documented, the Avs don't appear to hold Quenneville responsible. Also, team president Pierre Lacroix always felt Quenneville played a vital role, even as an assistant, in Colorado's first Stanley Cup season of 1995-96, which is why Lacroix brought back Quenneville as head coach in 2004 after St. Louis dumped him.

Lacroix and GM Francois Giguere have many other decisions to make: which veterans to give another shot, which younger guys aren't worth building around for the future. Surely, the Avs are done with goalie Jose Theodore and it's amazing how much better Quenneville might look as a head coach with someone more dependable in the nets.

After all that, my advice at the bar was simple: Sometimes a team needs a humiliation to make the most-needed changes, and that's what should happen now for the Nuggets and Avs. But from every indication, George Karl is acting like he expects to return for the 2008-09 season, and Joel Quenneville sounds more like a coach bracing for the worst.

You can be sure, Jimmy and Dennis are watching impatiently. And they aren't alone.

Sports Shot
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Hanging tough Sports Illustrated ranks Coors Field as the majors' seventh-best ballpark, based on last year. Washington's new stadium might push Coors to No. 8 in its 14th season.
AFA benefit With the CU-CSU football game moving back a day, Air Force can draw more from points north for the Falcons' Aug. 30 home opener against Southern Utah.
Same script? On May 2, 2007, the Colorado Rockies were 11-17. They woke up on May 2, 2008 at 11-17.

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