What is the Denver Nuggets ceiling if they aren’t at full strength?

With the playoffs looming ahead for the Denver Nuggets, the most significant question mark is if their two promising stars, Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray, will return for the postseason.

So far, there is no immediate timetable for returning both stars according to head coach Michael Malone via Adam Mares, DNVR Sports.

The Nuggets are currently sixth place in the Western Conference with a 42-30 record. With only ten games remaining, there is minimal room for error to slip in the standings and avoid the NBA play-in tournament.

The team has had to roll all season long without Porter Jr. and Murray, with reigning MVP Nikola Jokic managing with a core of young talents like Bones Hyland and Facundo Campazzo with veterans like Monte Morris, Will Barton, DeMarcus Cousins, and Aaron Gordon.

Nikola Jokic has done a lot this season carrying the team, averaging 26 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists per game, looking to repeat as league MVP, keeping the Nuggets above .500 and in a playoff spot all season long.

While the Nuggets were able to get by in the playoffs in the first round against the Portland Trail Blazers last season, Murray’s presence was sorely missed in the next round when the eventual Western Conference Champions Phoenix Suns swept the Nuggets.

In the NBA, while one player can step up in the clutch and carry a team in a game, to do it in stretches and over some time can only go so far when wanting to win it all.

Over the last few seasons, as the Nuggets consistently have entered the playoffs, Porter Jr. and Murray have been prominent factors. Murray’s last appearance in the bubble got a performance of averaging 26.5 points per game. MPJ also got going, averaging 11 points in his first postseason spin with the team and then stepping up in Murray’s absence with an improvement in his numbers averaging 17 points in last year’s run.

Both have been critical catalysts in Denver’s postseason success over the last two seasons and if both are on the floor with Jokic with the surrounding team around them can lead to endless possibilities of a potential championship run.

If both cannot play in the 2022 playoffs, how far can the Denver Nuggets go?

If last year was an indicator of how far the Nuggets can go without Murray, taking out Michael Porter Jr. makes the hill a lot higher for the team to climb to have the playoff success they have been used to in the last three seasons.

The Western Conference is loaded this season. From the top-seeded Suns, the surging Dallas Mavericks, the up and coming Memphis Grizzlies, the Golden State Warriors returning back in the playoffs, and the tight Northwest Division title battle with the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves gunning for higher seeding. Safe to say it will take a lot of effort to pull off an extended run.

However, with Jokic in the lineup, it would be hard to count out the Nuggets.

Having Jokic elevates the Nuggets as a team, but as the past couple of games have shown, it would be hard to sustain the needed success to compete in a loaded Western Conference if not at full strength, playing too close in games, and slowing down your superstar.

Sunday’s game against the Boston Celtics is an example of what can happen to the team if Jokic is not at his best or teams find a way to slow him down. You get games where you are down big at halftime, slowed efficiency on both sides of the ball, unable to stop the athleticism and pace a team like the Celtics can bring with their stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

This team can make noise and have the talent to do so, showing time and time again this season. It will require the starters to the bench down; they need to rise and play on a level at night as good as their MVP center.

They have a chance if they get their guys to step up and provide Jokic support. It will require a lot, but they can’t get on the same page; it will be a tougher sled than previous years and could see a first-round exit.