"I guess I'm prepared for anything from my experiences in the last 10 years," Westhead says. "I know when you do something difficult, you expose yourself.
"If nobody else does it, that's why you should do it. Everyone sees half-court defense over and over again. But no one sees full-court pressure like ours, and since you don't see it, you don't practice it. What's happening now is our players aren't yet grooved to the system. When they are, we'll find out."
The Nuggets' steadfastness finally paid off last Thursday, in a 121-108 home win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota coach Bill Musselman's brand of basketball, the most methodical in the NBA, almost put Westhead to sleep and even irritated some of the Wolves hungry for a fun run. "I kept saying to Pooh [Timberwolves point guard Pooh Richardson], 'Are you ever going to shoot the ball?' " said Denver playmaker Corey Gaines after the game. "He said, 'Nan, I've got to run this play right here.' "
To a man, the Nuggets say that they are in the best shape of their lives, and that the tempo has taken more of a toll on the opposition. Through last week, teams were 4-3 in games they played the day after facing Denver, and the Nuggets had been outscored only 68.5-67 in the second halves of their games.
Hoping to build stamina for the uphill road ahead, Westhead has come up with another innovation: underwater wind sprints. The Nuggets regularly repair to a pool, where they bob for 30 minutes, furiously churning for aerobics' sake alongside their coach. "Some of the guys didn't want to let go of the ledge at first," Westhead says. "Then they found out if you race real hard, you don't sink." Aye, there's a metaphor. And on it hangs the Nuggets' future.