Bubble Preview: Denver Nuggets

PORTLAND, OR – MAY 5: Nikola Jokic (15) of the Denver Nuggets, Jamal Murray (27), Will Barton (5) and Gary Harris (14) come off the court for a timeout against the Portland Trail Blazers during the fourth quarter of the Nuggets’ 116-112 win on Sunday, May 5, 2019. The Denver Nuggets evened their best-of-seven series with the Portland Trail Blazers at 2-2 in game four of the teams’ second round NBA playoff series at the Moda Center in Portland. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Entering the bubble restart, the Denver Nuggets are one of the most intriguing teams looking to make a run for the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy this season. Brimming with young talent, lead behind star big man Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets also bring back burgeoning stud guard Jamal Murray amongst a cast of other promising role players including but not limited to the defensively-minded Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig whose contributions have helped the Nuggets become the 5th ranked team in defensive efficiency this season. Rounding out the roster is veteran Center Paul Milsap, to go along with a healthy Garry Harris who appeared to finally be catching his stride before the NBA’s hiatus in early March. Moreover, the rocky mountain basketball team also salvages the likes of offensive spark plugs Will Barton and Monte Morris who provide necessary spacing and scoring, in conjunction with the gritty jack of all trades play of back up big man Mason Plumlee. Sprinkled within the team’s deep rotation, is the Nuggets future which boasts a promising prospect in Micheal Porter Jr as well as the electric 7’2’’ rookie by the name of Bol Bol whose sensational NBA debut earlier this week ignited tremendous buzz across the basketball world. While these players will likely only see limited minutes, the experience they gain from their time on the court, especially with the absence of Malik Beasly and Juan Hernangomez who once occupied substantial minutes, will be fundamental to their development in seasons to come.

But that’s enough about the future, this article is about the Nuggets chances right now, and as it currently stands the West Coast run and gun club under head coach Mike Malone possesses a real shot to capture the franchises first NBA title this season. Yes, you heard me right, the Nuggets are serious contenders this restart mainly in part to the vast improvements they have made on the defensive side of the ball. As mentioned before, the Nuggets now place 5th in the entire league in defensive efficiency. While this may not seem like a big deal, this number shows great improvement from last season’s overall defensive rating which hovered around the mediocre 14th slot. With a revamped emphasis to mitigate opposing teams scoring, the Nuggets also enter the bubble with some playoff experience, which is something that could not be said for last year’s squad with the exception of only Paul Milsap. Haunted by last season’s epic seven-game conclusion in the Western Conference semis against the Portland Trailblazers, this year’s battle-tested Nuggets squad is likely hungrier than ever for redemption. Add in the fact that Denver again finished at the top of the league in offensive efficiency this season (a trademarked occurrence of the teams storied history) and it is no surprise that the club is amongst the favorites to be celebrating at the end of this unconventional season.

While everything may seem like a smooth ride to the NBA finals on the rock and roll rollercoaster for the current leaders of the North West Division, the leagues restart may expeditiously morph into the tower of terror if Denver fails to meet some requirements. For starters, Jamal Murray needs to take command in the playoffs. As a borderline all-star and second option on an insanely talented roster, Murray struggled in the playoffs last year and became obsolete at times when the team needed him most. Now in his fourth year with playoff experience under his belt, it is time for the Canadian Born guard to live up to his astronomical one hundred and seventy million dollar contract. Moreover, the Nugget’s success this restart will also almost certainly be strictly contingent upon the play of the team’s Centerpiece Nikola Jokic. A superstar in his own right, a now considerably slimmer Jokic will need to be the heartbeat of the Nuggets roster as they look to make a run for glory. Although mainly consistent, the Joker struggled a bit at the beginning of this season averaging less than 16 points a game on mediocre shooting through his first 17 games. While the Serbian star showed no signs of slowing down in the teams’ scrimmage against the Wizards earlier this week, many wonder if the season’s restart may rekindle a slow start for the big man in Orlando. That being said, consistency will be the name of the game for the Nuggets, as role players like Garry Harris and Will Barton will need to shoot less sporadically and with greater percentages. Forwards Torrey Craig and Jerami Grant will also need to be greater offensive threats while continuing to hold their end of the bargain on the other side of the basketball. Even if these various internal obligations are adhered to, the Nuggets still face an uphill battle externally with a Western Conference that is just as formidable as it has ever been. Nevertheless, anything can happen in the most magical place on earth, and to count the Denver Nuggets out for the running would be outright foolish.

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