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Will Denver's high altitude affect Thunder in Games 3 and 4?

BY DARNELL MAYBERRY Staff Writer dmayberry@opubco.com Published: April 22, 2011

— Kyle Speller starts every game with a question.

With the lights turned low, the Denver Nuggets' public address announcer bellows to a boisterous building, ‘Can you feel it?'

The visitors inside Pepsi Center definitely do. And it makes for quite the home-court advantage.

“The air is real thin here,” said Thunder guard Daequan Cook.

This is where the Oklahoma City Thunder must try to prolong its perfect playoff run, in a place where altitude plays tricks on your brain and puts a serious squeeze on your wind pipe.

Welcome to Denver, the site of Games 3 and 4 of the first-round series between the Thunder and Nuggets. Denver is nicknamed the Mile High City because it sits 5,280 feet above sea level, exactly one mile. Before the Thunder can conquer the Nuggets in these next two contests, it must first overcome playing against this one-mile high obstacle.

Ask anyone about Denver's elevation and they'll tell you it's not easy to play in. Players are going to get gassed. As if the altitude wasn't cruel enough, the Nuggets also take pleasure in playing a few psychological games on visitors.

Just before tip, Speller shouts this caution to the road team: “Warning, you are 5,280 feet above sea level.” Down at the Pepsi Center's loading docks, where the visiting teams' busses back in, a sign is strategically plastered where the players can't help but make eye contact. It says, ‘You are at 5,280 feet.'

By the time tipoff rolls around, the challenge of rising above the altitude is as much a mental one as a physical one.

“It's a problem. Trust me,” said Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin. “If we go on the road for four days it's a problem. So I can only imagine it for teams that (don't) play here.”

The Thunder pulled into town on Thursday in part to get acclimated to the altitude. Typically, the Thunder will practice in Oklahoma City the morning before the first game of a road trip and charter out in the afternoon to arrive in the road city on the evening before the game. But by leaving Thursday, the Thunder was able to get a full practice in Friday in addition to its scheduled shootaround Saturday morning.

“That was smart on their behalf for them to come here and get a practice in and get it in their lungs a little bit,” Martin said.

The slightest bit of physical exertion can affect you.

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