The Denver Nuggets are quietly surging towards the top of the Western Conference. Despite having a roster absent a single all-star this season, the Nuggets have won 21 of their 29 games in 2013 and have themselves within striking distance of the Memphis Grizzlies. Why must they finish ahead of Memphis? Because that’ll likely mean a top four seed and first round home court advantage in the playoffs. Home court is always important, but it’s especially important for this Nuggets team that boasts a 24-3 home record this season. That is not a typo, they’ve been that good. Their three home losses have come against the Washington Wizards, Minnesota Timberwolves and Miami Heat, meaning they haven’t lost a home game this year to a Western Conference playoff contender. They’ll need to stay hot to gain ownership of the fourth seed. Here are good, bad, and the ugly playoff scenarios for the Denver Nuggets.
Best Case (Good) Scenario:
#4 Denver Nuggets vs #5 Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have been reeling lately, losing 16 of 28 this calender year. They started out hot and were looking like a team ready to make an impact in the playoffs. Andrew Bogut’s highly anticipated return to the lineup was overshadowed by the Warriors inability to play any sort of defense. Unfortunately, Bogut now finds himself with back spasms and is out indefinitely. One reason their defense is so poor is that their most exciting offensive player, Stephen Curry, can’t stay in front of anyone. He works hard but his slight build just continuously gets overpowered by opposing point guards. He would have to defend the insanely fast Ty Lawson or the bully veteran Andre Miller. Both are capable of taking advantage of Curry. Second year sharpshooter Klay Thompson needs to play more consistently. If Denver puts Andre Iguodola or Corey Brewer on him he could have a rough series. When he is hot this team is hard to beat because they space the floor so well for ultra-skilled big man David Lee. Lee is so smooth around the basket but he does struggle at times with size. This is where JaVale Mcgee’s off-ball defense and shot blocking/deterring capabilities must be present. If he can help neutralize David Lee then Golden State becomes a one-dimensional squad relying far too heavily on their three point shooters. The reason Denver’s best case scenario is playing Golden State is because they will be able to run and score all day. The Nuggets bench is deeper and can throw more multiple capable defenders at Lee and Curry. Denver has won all three games this season against Golden State, two of them by multiple digits. The series won’t last more than five games if Denver hosts Golden State in the first round.
Unfavorable (Bad) Scenario:
#4 Denver Nuggets vs #5 Memphis Grizzlies or #5 Nuggets vs #4 Grizzlies
The Grizzlies moved Rudy Gay to Toronto in late January and all they’ve done since is go 9-3, showing no signs that they miss their former swingman. One of the players acquired in the Gay deal, veteran Tayshaun Prince, has stepped in and played a more efficient version of small forward than Gay did. And while their current lineup won’t blow away teams, they will beat up teams. Led by Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, guys who are arguably top five at their respective positions, the Grizzlies punish teams in the paint. Randolph is a relentless rebounder with a wide array of moves in the post and Gasol is a legit 7-footer who can pass, shoot, and defend at a very high level. Tony Allen is one of the best defenders in the NBA, both on and off the ball. Mike Conley isn’t a great perimeter shooter but he does pass and defend well and really controls the pace when on the court. That control is why Mike Conley is the key player in a series against Denver. While the Nuggets want to run and get easy buckets in transition, Conley would continuously slow the ball down forcing Denver to play Grizzly-ball. Denver doesn’t do well in a half court set. Outside of Danillo Gallinari, the Nuggets have nobody to stretch the floor which congests the lane for primary playmakers Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala. A series between these two teams will likely go seven games no matter who has home court, but if Denver wants to advance to the second round they’ll need four games at home against this tough Memphis squad.
Worst Case (Ugly) Scenario:
#6 Denver Nuggets vs #3 Los Angeles Clippers
This is the matchup that Denver must avoid at all costs. The Clippers were heading towards the top seed in the Western Conference until Chris Paul missed 12 out of 14 games. In the games CP3 missed, the Clippers went 6-6 but have gone 6-2 in the eight games he has played since returning. The “other team” in LA has become the true title threat from Los Angeles. They are loaded with talent and are the most athletic team in the league. With Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom, and now Grant Hill coming in off the bench, they are deep and experienced. You know Chauncey Billups would be motivated to bury the franchise that packaged him with Carmelo Anthony to New York. The Clippers are able to play the Run-N-Gun style head coach George Karl wants the Nuggets to play but they are capable of changing gears and playing efficient, half-court offense. Denver doesn’t have that gear because they don’t have Chris Paul. And while Ty Lawson is no slouch, he can’t stop Paul and can’t replicate Paul’s offensive abilities. To advance in this scenario, the Nuggets would have to steal one of Clippers first two home games, essentially stealing back home court advantage. If they don’t steal one of the first two, the series will end in five games at the most.
Regardless of who the Nuggets face in the first round, it is vital they force teams to play their style of ball. I personally hope we see the Nuggets advance into round two instead of Memphis because of their fast and exciting playing style. A deep playoff run officially puts the world on notice that this young Denver Nuggets team will be a force for years to come.
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