Way back on media day for the Denver Nuggets, the buzz was that this team was going to make the playoffs after missing by one game the previous two seasons.
On Friday night, versus the Portland Trailblazers, the Denver Nuggets secured the Northwest division title and guaranteed a top-4 seeding.
The math to keep the number two seed from the hard-charging Houston Rockets is: Win two of the three remaining games. Pretty simple, doesn’t rely on anyone to lose, doesn’t muck things up in tiebreakers.
The smart money has Denver winning in Portland on Sunday, losing to the hot Jazz in Utah on Tuesday and then bringing this whole experiment full circle with an avenging win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. If all of that happens, the Denver Nuggets will be the second seed.
Who they may face is still up-in-the-air as the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and the Thunder all jockey for position in spots 6-8.
Portland will still have something to play for on Sunday, they are trying to hold off the Jazz for the fourth spot and home-court in the first round. The Blazers are also 30-9 at home so it will be quite the task, taking that game. All while Houston plays tanking, lottery-bound teams with all kinds of rest built in between games. Nugg Life is alive and well.
In the midst of our celebration, can we take a minute to mention Paul Millsap? The Nuggets lone big Free Agent signing over the last two seasons is paying off big-time. Millsap dropped 25-7-4 against the Blazers on Friday with a couple of steals and on 75% shooting. Millsap has been a steady performer for the Nuggets, when healthy and is creating some anxiety related to his upcoming contract status. The Nuggets hold a team option for Millsap’s third year. At $30 million and with Jamal Murray set to re-sign, Denver has tough decisions to make.
Much of player status will likely be dictated by the Nuggets playoff performance. If they go deep and seem like legit contenders, Millsap may be retained, though he’d likely be asked to restructure to keep Murray. Hard to imagine Paul, who has recently commented that he’d like to retire in Denver, would be resistant to continuing with the Nuggets at a lower salary.
These are questions that the offseason will address and debate endlessly, today is for celebration.
Let’s celebrate Mason Plumlee‘s season. The big man has played every game this season, has filled in seamlessly at the four and is, in our opinion, the best backup center in the NBA. His defense, offensive rebounding and energy have been crucial to this season’s success and Mase deserves high praise.
How about Monte Morris, point guard extraordinaire? What an incredible season for the second-year man (really, a rookie but that’s another discussion…..). He may not be able to secure the top spot for assist-to-turnover ratio but his performance has been nothing short of amazing not just in that category but all categories. The knock on Morris coming out of Iowa State was that he was too slight to guard prototype NBA guards. Monte has put that narrative to rest and Tim Connelly has notched another second-round gem.
Speaking of breaking out, Malik Beasley has gone from unused, skinny guy that had the best celebrations of teammates play to one of coach Michael Malone’s trusted eight. Beasley is securely part of the 8-9 man playoff rotation. That’s an incredible leap but Beasley has made himself impossible to ignore with lights-out shooting and highlight reel dunks.
Everyone deserves praise for the string of accomplishments the Nuggets are stacking but it’s the unexpected guys that really endear themselves to us. We will check in after Sunday’s game in Portland to update the Nuggets status.