After acquiring DeMarcus Cousins, the New Orleans Pelicans are the biggest threat to the Denver Nuggets’ playoff chances this season.
The Denver Nuggets last tasted the playoffs in 2013 — when George Karl was the team’s head coach and people were questioning the Warriors giving Steph Curry a four-year, $48 million dollar contract.
The Nuggets recorded a franchise record 57 wins and featured a roster consisting of Andre Iguodala, Ty Lawson, Corey Brewer and JaVale McGee among others. Despite owning the Western Conference’s third seed, the Nuggets were bungled out of the playoffs in the first round by Golden State.
Since then, the Nuggets hired and fired Brian Shaw as head coach, replaced GM of the year Masai Ujiri with Tim Connelly after Ujiri left for Toronto and, had a combined record of 99-147 from 2013-16.
Denver have a chance to put an end to their three season playoff drought this year, as the team finds themselves sitting in the Western Conference’s eighth seed with 25 games to play. As of writing, the team is 1.5 games ahead of the Kings and Trail Blazers, with the Pelicans and Mavericks also lingering behind them.
Every game moving forward is important, but some contests have more significance than others. While the Kings and Trail Blazers offer up the most immediate threat as of writing, neither pose the most formidable danger to the Nuggets’ playoff chances.
That honor, belongs to the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Pelicans are currently sitting in the 12th seed in the West, with an overall record of 23-36. They are 3.5 games behind Denver for the last spot in the playoffs and the Nuggets happen to play them three more times this season — two games in Denver and on the road down in New Orleans.
The Pelicans are the Nuggets’ biggest threat thanks to New Orleans’ mega-acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins a few days before the trade deadline.
While the rest of the league is trending towards small ball lineups, the Pelicans are bucking the trend by employing a frontcourt that features two of the most talented and destructive big men in the game. There may be growing pains as Cousins and Davis learn to play alongside each other, but they have enough raw talent between the two to win a lot of games without necessarily clicking perfectly.
Each game against New Orleans is huge, with the ability to alter the difference between the two teams by a whole game, instead of just a half game. If New Orleans wins out against Denver, they automatically make up the three game lead the Nuggets currently have over them. Alternatively, Denver can put a stop to any chance New Orleans have of making the playoffs by downing the Pelicans at least twice.
The Nuggets acquired Roy Hibbert in a trade deadline deal for a second round draft choice. While the move certainly has financial motives, it also serves as deal that gives Denver another big man to go against Cousins and Davis.
Hibbert has previously been the defensive anchor of a Indiana Pacers team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals twice a few years ago. Despite a drop off in play, Hibbert can still offer Denver a legitimate rim protector and body to bang down low against The Pelicans’ two superstars.
If the Nuggets are to make the playoffs, it is of utmost importance that they take care of the Pelicans, at the very least, at the Pepsi Center.