This weekend, when the NBA’s best gather in Houston, Texas to play in the annual NBA All-Star Game, you’ll notice there aren’t any Denver Nuggets on the court playing for the Western Conference. While there are a handful of Nuggets who deserve to be in the game, and it is a shame they are not, this isn’t such a bad thing.
All-Stars or not, the Denver Nuggets are playing some of the best basketball in the Association right now. And because of the fact that they were slighted in the all-star voting, the Nuggets seem to be playing with an edge – an edge that no other team in the Western Conference seems to have right now.
I don’t really know if Denver’s young talent is playing with a chip on their shoulder because of the all-star snub, but whatever they are doing, it’s working. Lets take a look back at the first half of the season and remind ourselves of the unprecedented uphill climb the Nuggets faced.
I don’t ever remember a schedule as tough as the Nuggets had it at the beginning of the season. They had to play 22 out of their first 31 games on the road. With a mix of fast, young players competing without a superstar leader on the court, a road-heavy start to the year could end a team’s season very, very prematurely. Somehow, though, the Nuggets were able to find a way to gel on the road and came out of those games with their heads still above water.
Denver started the season by going 17-15. Nothing to write home about, but when you consider their abnormal schedule, it’s not bad. With more home games after that, the Nuggets then went on a 15-3 run and quickly became one of the NBA’s hottest teams.
Before the Celtics (also a hot, hot team) beat the Nuggets on Sunday, in a crazy triple-overtime tilt, Denver was on a nine-game winning rampage, their longest winning streak since 2005.
As of Monday, the Nuggets were sitting with a 33-19 record and tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for the fourth spot in the conference. Denver was seven games behind the conference-leading Spurs and just two-and-a-half games behind the Clippers, who were in the conference’s third spot as of Monday.
According to Yahoo! Sports, Denver has gone from 24th to 14th in defensive efficiency since the end of their road-heavy start, and is now ranked fourth in the NBA in offensive points per possession.
With the start to the season that Denver had to endure, the Nuggets are right where they need to be if they are going to make a run in the playoffs. Of course, there is still a lot of work to do. While Denver played just above .500 basketball during that road-loaded start to the season, the Nuggets must find a way to play better on the road during the last half of the season.
Through the rest of February, it’s on the road again for the Nuggets. Seven of the last 10 games this month will be on the road; the first of those was the loss in Boston. They will have played in Toronto on Tuesday and then in Brooklyn on Wednesday. They also face road games in Washington, Charlotte and Portland before the end of the month. Denver will host the Lakers and the Celtics at home during that time period.
The point is that Denver is doing well but needs to do just a little better on the road where they have a 10-15 record. Compared to the Spurs (17-9), the Thunder (15-9) and the Clippers (15-11), they are just a tad behind in that statistic and need to step it up a notch. That’s why Sunday’s triple-overtime loss to the Celtics hurt. Denver needs those road wins when they can get them.
I will say, however, the 118-114 loss at Boston had somewhat of a moral victory to it. Boston went into the game on a six-game winning streak. The three overtimes highlighted the fact that these are two of the hottest teams in the NBA right now, and that’s just how the game played out. Denver lost but they didn’t go down without putting up a serious fight.
Danilo Gallinari finished the game with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Ty Lawson ended with 29 points and nine assists and JaVale McGee banged out 16 rebounds for Denver.
“Hard to believe these guys don't have an All-Star,” Boston’s Kevin Garnett told the Associated Press following the game. “That baffles me ... Gallinari, Lawson ... they have deserving guys.”
I agree with Garnett that it is hard to believe Denver didn’t warrant a single All-Star selection. I do believe it’s beneficial for the Nuggets and their potential for success this season. First, they are playing with a chip on their shoulder because they are good enough to be All-Stars, and they were snubbed. Second, without the All-Star spotlight, the Nuggets have been kind of flying under the radar. They are a group of non-all stars who can beat anyone. I like it this way.
You never know who is going to have an outstanding game. Gallinari is and will be a big NBA star and he can put up some points when he’s on. Kenneth Faried can go off. Andre Miller, when he’s not complaining for more playing time, can catch fire. Lawson is always scoring points. I caught a game in the Pepsi Center a few weeks back and Corey Brewer went off on New Orleans.
It’s a great team of non-stars and it will only last so long before other teams will try to gobble them up. So for now, Denver needs to win on the road the rest of the season and then use their youthful legs to carry them through some tough opponents in the playoffs.
I would love to see a team, with no All-Stars, playing in the NBA Finals, and I would love that team to be Denver.
I know it’s a long shot for that to happen this year but it’s certainly a possibility.