Things can change in a hurry in the squashed schedule of this post-lockout NBA season. Just three weeks ago, the Denver Nuggets were riding a six-game winning streak and had moved into second place in the Western Conference, just two games back of the front-running Oklahoma City Thunder. Now, as the Nuggets limp into Oklahoma City for Sunday night's showdown with the Thunder, Denver is fighting just to stay in the playoff picture.
It's been a rough month for the battered Nuggets, who have lost seven of nine. Denver has been playing without its top two centers the past three games and its best overall player, Danilo Gallinari, has been out since Feb. 6 with a badly sprained left ankle. The Thunder have problems of their own, with star point guard Russell Westbrook also nursing a sore ankle and the red-hot San Antonio Spurs closing in on the conference lead.
There are a lot of reasons why these teams reside where they do in the standings, but let's focus in on a trio of possible performers for tonight's game and judge how they've done against our preseason projections.
Our projection system SCHOENE forecasts a full suite of our favorite metrics, but the bottom-line number to watch for is WARP, which measures how many more wins a player adds to his team's total than a freely available guy plucked off the scrap heap. While no single number can capture everything that happens in an interdynamic team sport like hoops, WARP points you in the right direction. When you see a WARP number that surprises you -- and remember, we know when to be surprised because we've predicted all these WARP scores -- the next step is to ask why.
All the WARP numbers you see in this article have been prorated to 82 games, just to give the results an air of normalcy in this decidedly abnormal NBA season.