The Denver Nuggets were one of the surprise teams in the league last season when they finished 2nd in the Western Conference team standings. Although the Nuggets lost to the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round of the playoffs, Denver’s 54-win season was their best since 2012-13 when they won a total of 57 games. This year, the Nuggets were the only team on pace to win the same number of games that they did the previous year.
Denver Nuggets Season Summary
Denver was 43-22 when the season was paused and they were in third place in the Western Conference team standings. The Nuggets were seven games behind the West leaders Los Angeles Lakers but were just one-and-a-half games behind the second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers. Denver was the #2 team in the West for most of the season and it was only in March that the Clippers overtook them. L.A. went 7-3 in their last 10 games before the suspension of the season while Denver went 5-5 in their own 10 games before the pause so that’s where the difference came from.
The Nuggets kept most of the players from their successful 2018-19 season. Although they added new faces, coach Mike Malone used virtually the same rotation as last season with the team having the third-lowest minutes from its rookies and second-year players at only 5% of their total playing time. The continuity seemed to work as Denver took care of business although they struggled a bit right before the season was suspended.
The Nuggets ranked 5th in the league in clutch winning percentage at .650, trailing only the Bucks, Jazz, Thunder, and Lakers in that department. They are also one of only three teams during the shortened regular season to own wins over the Top two teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences with Boston and Philadelphia the other two. The Nuggets ranked 8th in the league in scoring defense at 107.4 points per game allowed and they were 4th in passing at 2.5 dimes per contest. Denver was also 6th in field goal percentage at 47.1% from the floor.
Despite their strengths, many still perceive that Denver lacks the scoring punch to beat the Lakers and Clippers in the West nor do they have the defensive players who can stop the superstar duos from both Los Angeles teams. The Nuggets also had one of the best home records in the league at 25-8 but that will no longer be a factor with all the remaining games to be played at Disney World.
There is only one player on the Denver Nuggets’ injury list and that is 2019 draftee Bol Bol. However, this team has a couple of injury issues that need to be resolved for them to make a run at the title. The first and probably most important issue regarding the Nuggets during the restart is superstar Nikola Jokic who was reported as one of the 16 NBA players who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Jokic tested positive for the virus in his native Serbia and because of that, his travel to the United States will be delayed. Per league policy, he will have to test negative twice before he is allowed to travel to the U.S. and when he arrives there, Jokic will underdo cardiac screening and will also need to test negative for the coronavirus.
It has been reported that Jokic had lost 40 pounds during the break and he was supposed to come in lean and ready for the restart.
However, this setback leaves some uncertainty to the future of the Nuggets because Jokic was their leading man with averages of 20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game. There is nothing to worry about because The Joker is reportedly asymptomatic and is expected to recover fast from the virus. Some studies show potential lung and respiratory problems after infection but the effect of the virus on Jokic remains to be seen as even doctors aren’t 100% sure about the virus and its potential effects after infection. However, what is sure here is that Denver needs a 100% Jokic if they are to beat the Lakers and Clippers in the playoffs.
The other player who could make or break Denver’s success in the restart is Michael Porter Jr. The second-year forward missed his rookie year due to injury but had an impressive debut year in 2019-20 given the circumstances. The Nuggets had one of the deepest rotations in the league and Porter was still able to average 7.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. The 14th pick of the 2018 Draft had an impressive run in December 2019 where he averaged 14.7 points per game before an ankle injury slowed him down in 2020. If Porter is 100% healthy given the long break, he could be a factor for the Nuggets.
Odds and Outlook
As of June 28, 2020, the Nuggets have the 8th best odds to win the 2020 NBA title at +3000. Denver is also a +1500 to win the Western Conference, 4th best odds according to BetOnline. Before the season started, Denver was also 8th in the preseason odds board to win the title at +2000 and they were predicted to win 53 games this season. Given the continuity of their roster, Denver had one of the most cohesive teams during the 2019-20 season and them being 4th in the league in assists is proof of that.
The final schedule for the seeding games has been released and the Nuggets have a good schedule going for them. Denver opens on August 1st against the Miami Heat and then they play their second games against The OKC Thunder two days later. Then the Nuggets have back to back games against the following teams.
- San Antonio Spurs (08/05)
- Portland Trail Blazers(08/06)
- Utah Jazz (08/08)
- Los Angeles Lakers (08/10)
- Los Angeles Clippers (08/12)
- Toronto Raptors (08/14)
Denver has a good chance of catching up with the Clippers given their schedule. Two of their first four opponents don’t hold a playoff spot right now. They don’t play any of the Top two teams in both conferences until Games 6 and 7 when they meet the two Los Angeles teams in successive games. But if they play their cards right, their matchup against the Clippers could decide the 2nd seed in the Western Conference. If they finish ahead of the Clippers, they will not play the Lakers until the Conference Finals.
Realistically, the Nuggets could end up anywhere from 2nd to 6th in the final team standings in the Western Conference but anywhere they finish, they will have to eliminate at least one Los Angeles team if they are to advance to the NBA Finals. Sure, the Nuggets have wins over the Lakers and Clippers this season but playing both teams in a seven-game series is a different story. While the Nuggets have one of the most cohesive teams in the league, those two are the most talented teams in the league.
I like the Nuggets as a team and I think that when you talk about team play, they are one of the Top 3 in terms of chemistry and playing together. However, I would not bet on the Nuggets to either win the West or win the NBA title this year, especially with Nikola Jokic’s health condition uncertain. I think that when you talk about playing the Heat, Thunder, Spurs, and Blazers, they are good bets as favorites but when you talk about playing the Lakers and Clippers, I won’t gamble my hard-earned money on this inexperienced Denver team.
This is a very young team that has the talent but hasn’t been able to prove that they can take the next step yet. Aside from betting on them during the seeding games, Denver should be a good pick to make it out of the first round of the playoffs but the second round could be a challenge for them as the Lakers or Clippers could be their opponent. The future is bright in Denver but Jokic catching COVID-19 came at the wrong time.