Denver Nuggets: Playoff Team in the Western Conference?

The Denver Nuggets have lost two consecutive games to the Memphis Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the midst of their longest home-stand of the season.

With a 16-27 record, the Denver Nuggets are currently 11th in the Western Conference and are 11-games under .500. Considering the litany of injuries and the long losing streaks that the team has endured throughout the 2015-2016 season, it is easy to write the Denver Nuggets off and close the book on the season.

Though the Denver Nuggets do not possess a winning record, and considering the bleak outlook of the season, Denver is surprisingly still in a viable position to wrangle the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The question is, however, are the Denver Nuggets actually a playoff team?

Only 3.5 games separate the Denver Nuggets from the other teams in the Western Conference vying for the final playoff spot. The Sacramento Kings are holding down the eight playoff seed in the West right now, riding a 4-game winning streak but still possessing a losing record at 19-23. Behind the Kings are the Utah Jazz, who are 1-game out of a playoff spot with an 18-24 record. 

Another surprising team in the playoff race are Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers, who were expected to dwell in the cellar of the league following the departure of All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers are 1.5 games out of the 8th playoff spot and have a 19-26 record.

Now that we have enumerated the clubs ahead of the Denver Nuggets in the race for 8th, let’s take a look at our team. The Nuggets have had their struggles with adversity this season, and are still only 3.5 games out of first place. They are one of only 4 teams to have beaten the 4-loss Golden State Warriors (and even took them to overtime in their 2nd contest against them earlier this month). The Nuggets have also shown resolve with big wins over Eastern Conference playoff teams like the Indiana Pacers and the Toronto Raptors.

Danilo Gallinari is a top-30 scorer in the league, and the Denver Nuggets also have a 6th Man of the Year contender off the bench in Will Barton. Barton has come out of nowhere this year, and has shown that he may have a future in the Mile High City. Let’s also not forget the formidable front-line of Kenneth Faried, Jusuf Nurkic and surprising rookie Nikola Jokic.

While the Denver Nuggets have struggled to maintain leads and defensively the team leaves much desired, Head Coach Michael Malone and GM Tim Connelly have assembled a roster that is in position to remain competitive in the here and now, but shows how bright the future is. 

I truly believe that the Denver Nuggets will continue to contend for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Given the quality of the teams above them and their losing records, the Denver Nuggets have demonstrated that they are capable of staying competitive in this race.

Now, the lack of a set rotation is concerning, with Michael Malone liking to tinker with his lineups on a game-to-game basis, big wins over premier teams in the league show that if the Denver Nuggets can put together a winning streak and play .500 ball for the rest of the season, they could very well find themselves playing the Golden State Warriors in the first-round of the Western Conference playoffs in April. And who knows what would happen, considering how well the Denver Nuggets match up with the Dubs.

Of course, this is all conjecture at this point, and another long skid may put the nail in the coffin of the Denver Nuggets playoff chances; but right now, the Denver Nuggets are still in a good place to compete for the rest of the season. That is good news for Denver fans, and gives the city hope of a bright future as well.