In the latest of a series of “most important” games, the Denver Nuggets welcome the Portland Trailblazers to Pepsi Center.
For anyone that’s unaware, this is as big as it gets for the Nuggets. Win the last two games and they are in the playoffs. Lose one or both and a whole lot of other things will need to happen to get them to the postseason.
All of the season-long debates come down to today and Wednesday. Portland at home and Minnesota on the road. Two games to cement the perception of this season, the coaches, the front office and the roster. There are huge questions looming in the off-season and what the Nuggets do over the next three days will have an impact on those decisions.
Foremost will be the status of head coach Michael Malone. Much has been made of his handling of the Denver squad, this season. I believe that the current five-game winning streak, the stabilization of Nikola Jokic and the development of Murray, Harris, Plumlee, Barton and Craig should alone call for the retention of Malone. I think, like most things the Nuggets have done this season, it was difficult to see until recently whether this team could succeed. Call it the procrastination that’s inherent with youth.
While Denver hasn’t been decimated by injury this season, the loss of Millsap for 44 games and the current absence of Gary Harris were devastating in their own right to a young team desperately in need of identity. Malone has had to reinvent this team several times over the course of the season (lest we forget the Nuggets also lost Jokic for 8 games in early December to an ankle injury). Each time a new lineup entered it required adjustment. Each time someone returned from injury it required adjustment.
While adjustment is a fact of life in the NBA and the Nuggets are certainly not alone in dealing with roster volatility, this is a very young team. Whenever the Nuggets season ends, it will have been among the most important in team history. Each setback, roster shakeup, success or failure is one more experience the Nuggets roster can draw from as they move forward. I’m saying the Nuggets and Coach Malone needed this adversity and needed to overcome it to make a playoff push.
They’ve done that and more. There was never a pathway to a championship for Denver, this year. It’s always been a few years away although we’ve caught glimpses this season of how that’s going to look.
While critiquing the season is valid, there are still two games to play. Let’s look at the matchup with Portland and how this important game should favor Denver: