The Denver Nuggets are on course for another challenge for the Western Conference crown in the NBA post-season. Michael Malone’s men reached the Conference Semi-Finals last term, only to be beaten by the Portland Trail Blazers, losing the last two games of their series.
The Nuggets are one of a few teams in the NBA to have failed to win the Championship. Their best runs came in the 1984/85 and 2008/09 seasons, reaching the Western Conference Finals. However, on both occasions they were defeated by the Los Angeles Lakers, who would go on to win the title in those two campaigns.
Fate seems to have propelled the Nuggets on to another collision course with Los Angeles in the playoffs and Malone’s team faces a massive challenge to overcome LeBron James, Anthony Davis and company. Denver to have the talent to match the best in the Western Conference, which is why tracking their odds among the bookmakers for the NBA crown could be worthwhile, especially when considering the sign-up offers available on the market. We’ll now look at why the Nuggets are one of the top contenders in the Western Conference.
Young talent continues to shine
Nikola Jokic is one of the most potent players at his position in the league, although he is sometimes underappreciated by the pundits. The 25-year-old earned his second-straight appearance at the All-Star Game due to the standard of his performances over the course of the campaign. The centre has sustained his excellence in the final third from last term, while displaying impressive durability, playing in all of his side’s games to date.
He averaged 20.1 points per game in the 2018/19 season and has even made a slight improvement to take his tally to 20.3. The best outing of his career came this term when he notched 47 points in a game-winning performance against the Atlanta Hawks. Jokic raised the standard of his displays in the post-season last term and will have to be flawless in both his offensive and defensive traits to guide his team to the NBA Finals. He has the star quality that’s needed to thrive in the post-season.
Jamal Murray is the other key for Malone’s men to control proceedings on the court. The 23-year-old has settled into a role of consistent production, averaging 18.3 points per game, although his shooting still needs fine tuning to match the best point guards in the league.
If Denver are to compete against the Lakers, Murray will have to take his game to the next level. He was impressive in his first taste of the post-season last year and will have learned a great deal from his experience. However, going toe-to-toe with LeBron and Davis in a potential duel for the Western Conference title will require him to reach the peak of his powers.
Garry Harris and Jerami Grant have been solid in their roles, although the latter has not quite lived up to expectations following his trade move from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The 25-year-old has made gradual progress under Malone, but more will be expected of the forward to ease the burden on Murray and Jokic.
Defence and home form
Strong defence has been a staple of Denver’s play under the tenure of Malone. They rank joint-fifth in the league behind only the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and the Lakers for the fewest points allowed during the campaign. The Nuggets have been efficient in keeping points off the board, restricting their opponents from striking threes from the perimeter. The big bodies of Jokic and Will Barton under the rim have been crucial in attaining defensive rebounds, with the former ranking in the top 10 in the league.
Outside of Jokic, Barton has been his side’s best defensive player. His nous and experience will be crucial down the stretch in Denver’s attempts to snatch the number two seed away from the Los Angeles Clippers. As the Nuggets are without a prolific points’ scorer, their defensive play in the post-season will be vital. Malone has his team well-drilled and disciplined, but whether that will be enough against the true elite players in the Western Conference remains to be seen.
Malone’s men were outstanding at home last season, losing only seven of their 41 games. It has once again been a crucial element of their success this term, at the time of writing being defeated only three times at the Pepsi Center. Denver has certainly made their home court a fortress to be feared. Even the Lakers have lost on their two visits to face the Nuggets this term, while the dominant force of the Milwaukee Bucks was also felled in a 109-95 defeat.
The Nuggets have to remain at that level when the pressure is on. In the post-season they lost their crucial showdown against the Portland Trail Blazers in game seven of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. They cannot allow it to happen again this season. Malone’s men have the ability to cause a stir in the west and could well avoid the fate of their two predecessors that saw their NBA Final dreams ended by the Lakers. Watch this space.