The Denver Nuggets pulled out a gutsy win over the Memphis Grizzlies (Care Bears) on Friday, pulling into a tie with Memphis and grabbing a tiebreaker along the way. With their eleventh win in a row, the Nuggets moved into reach of that fourth seed, and surprisingly one game behind the Clippers for the third seed. In the words of a certain vice president, “This is a big f****ing deal!”
Why such a big deal? The Nuggets are 30-3 within the high altitude confines of the Pepsi Center, while away, they are an unimpressive 15-19. Home court gives a definite psychological advantage and hopefully an easier path to a deep playoff run, something that’s proved to be as elusive as playing time for Timofey Mozgov. However, in spite of the Nuggets’ recent success, the Nuggets are as overlooked as always (thanks Miami, thanks a bunch). The most flattering comment they’ll get is the ‘team nobody wants to face in the playoffs’ quote, but apart from the fears of having to play a possible series in Denver, why don’t the Nuggets really scare anyone? Here are the following naysayers you’ll find doubting the Nuggets, and their potential pitfalls, as analyzed by yours truly.
The No All Star Guy
The Nuggets are a great team. Balanced, deep and relentless, but they don’t have that all star closer that you can go to in the fourth quarter when you need points. They had that in Carmelo, but they’re very much a team that doesn’t have that edge you need to make a deep playoff run.
Fiddlesticks. There are a few reasons that this theory holds as much credibility as a random 22 year old blogger for the Nuggets (wait a sec…).
First: The Nuggets had this superstar named Carmelo, oh so long ago. For a few years, this team had Anthony, the Defensive Player of the Year (Marcus Camby) and a former number 1 pick (Kenyon Martin). Oh, the Nuggets of old. For all of their laurels, these “superstar” Nuggets could get past the first round only once, and that was after dumping Camby for cap space and some choke artist (Yeah, we dumped Camby for Renaldo Balkman). As proven by the past, superstars are certainly not sufficient enough to guarantee playoff success, but are they necessary? Yes, they are. But as I will explain below, great stars cannot always make special moments, but great moments will always make special stars.
Second: Clutch all stars don’t appear out of the ground like daisies. Chauncey Billups wasn’t Mr. Big Shot as he journeyed around from team to team early in his career. Lebron James wasn’t clutch, in spite of all the heroics in Cleveland (which is an oxymoron, I know),until his explosion last year in the playoffs. The point is that many times, stars don’t ride into the playoffs, they’re made there. None of the Nuggets were drafted higher than 6th in their respective drafts (Gallinari), so no Nugget was expected to be an all star right out the gates. In addition, none has made an all star game with the exception of Andre Iguodala, who played in the LEastern Conference. But all perceptions of these Nuggets would change if say, they made the conference finals. We’ve already seen glimpses of clutch from Ty Lawson (over the Thunder!), Gallinari and even Andre Miller. The NBA is about stars, but the stars are manufactured from their winnings, and not the other way around. For a very young Nuggets team, maybe a few months will give way to “their time.”
The “You Can’t Run In the Playoffs” Guy
Everything slows down in the playoffs. The Nuggets might be able to run out against a team in the regular season, where they’re less focused, and more tired, but in a best-of-seven series, teams have time to rest, prepare and knuckle down on every possession. The Nuggets are a regular season gimmick, nothing more nothing less.
The Nuggets have to face this statistic: the playoffs are typically three possessions per team slower than the regular season. True. The playoffs do tend to be slower, but the NBA is undergoing a distinct change. The Heat are winning without a true center, the Spurs(!) are running, there is no true post presence anymore, and the league has become more pick and roll oriented than ever before. The Nuggets play a fraction over ONE possession more than the Thunder (+1.3) and Spurs(+1.1), two “sexy” teams that experts pick to win the West. What gives?
The Nuggets have pace, yes. But the league has forgotten about the defense that the Nuggets have played. The Nuggets play a risky rotating defense that forces turnovers and accounts for running as much as their offense does. This defensive focus, headed by Andre Iguodala, is different from the freewheeling Rockets, Lakers and Bucks that are also associated with a higher pace. People often point to the (’04-’05) D’Antoni Suns as the prime example of a run and gun team that can’t win (62-20 in the regular season). That team had one defensive minded player in Shawn Marion and well… Joe Johnson… no. Steve Nash… no… Amar’e Stouda… meh… God, did anybody in Phoenix play D?. The Nuggets have a bevy of wing defenders in Iguodala, Wilson Chandler, the underrated Gallinari, Corey Brewer and a better defensive point guard (Lawson) than Nash ever was. In addition, the Nuggets have shown the ability to win grind-it-out games against the likes of the Pacers (2-0) and Grizzlies (3-1). This team isn’t as one-dimensional as the “Thuggets” of ’08-’09 and certainly have more dimensions than the Suns of ’05.
These Youngbloods Ain’t Got No Experience
These youngbloods don’t understand the game of basketball. These guys don’t practice the fundamentals. They need some true experience.
These youngbloods went to seven games with the highly regarded Lakers last year, added an olympian in Andre Iguodala, and still have the original “Uncle Dre”: Andre Miller. This team has is only one year younger on average than OKC and will at least split the series against the Thunder (game 4 on 3/19, Nuggets currently up 2-1). Denver also owns wins over the Spurs, Knicks, Celtics and Lakers, four teams often criticized for being too old. Perhaps the Nuggets will lose their talent in the playoffs like a third grader forgetting their lunchbox on their first day of school, but don’t forget that the Nuggets and coach Karl would prefer it if you kept thinking that way.
The Nuggets may not win the NBA Finals, or the West, but those who doubt the Nuggets are missing out on one of the most entertaining and best TEAMS in the league. The Nuggets have a scary combination of an old coach, a young team, a fast pace and an attitude that they can beat anyone in the league. Overlook them at your own risk.