The Denver Nuggets have taken a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven second-round series with the Portland Trailblazers.
This started off as a bigger idea, things the Denver Nuggets need to do for a game-two win, specific steps that the players or coaches could take to secure a……yadda, yadda, yadda.
Here’s the thing: The Nuggets are fine, we are heading into our 91st game of the 2018-19 season on Wednesday night, all the analysis in the world is really just satisfying our own need to impact the outcome of this season. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are in peak form, Gary Harris is great, the move to Torrey Craig in the starting lineup seems to have rejuvenated Denver’s attack on both sides of the court and Paul Millsap continues to be what the Nuggets need, when they need it.
They’ve shaken off the doldrums of the late-season swoon. They fought through Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs in a seven-game series. They are (for the moment) themselves and that’s a team that surged to the second-seed this season.
They should be done with the “wide-eyed kids in the big ol’ playoffs” trope. Per preseason expectations, the Nuggets have blown doors on where we thought they’d be this season.
So, it’s time for us to crow a little bit, time for the team, media and fans to extend some expectations to this young squad. They’ve shown all season that they can beat anyone (except the Milwaukee Bucks), they have the best player in the playoffs in Jokic, Murray has taken a page from teammate Monte Morris‘ book and virtually stopped turning the ball over. Harris’ twisting reverse layup off a brilliant feed from Jokic is the play of the playoffs, so far, for Denver. The combination of Harris, Craig and Millsap defensively has made the Nuggets formidable on that end of the court. Jokic has been solid on D, posting three steals and two blocks in Monday night’s win over the Trailblazers.
Porland will adjust for game two, as will the Nuggets. Denver took away CJ McCollum and tried to limit Al-Farouq Aminu and it worked. Terry Stotts will surely give the Nuggets a different look on Wednesday but the facts remain that straight-up, your guys versus my guys, the Nuggets are a better team. Nobody is better than Dame but he’s currently Portland’s only transcendent player. The Nuggets can lean on as many as six of their rotation players to be go-to guys and that doesn’t count Will Barton who has the potential but has been inconsistent since his return from injury.
As Denver Nuggets fans, do you feel confident that Jokic, Murray, Millsap, Harris, Craig, Morris or Malik Beasley would come through in clutch situations for the Nuggets? You should, each of those players has proven up to the task during the season and each has performed well in the playoffs.
Do you feel confident that a Mason Plumlee, Millsap, Craig, Harris defensive group can match up with anyone? You should, Craig and Harris in particular have given some of the biggest names in the NBA fits this season.
What all of this means is that it’s tie for Denver to make a statement, they should and can win Wednesday night’s game two easily, in a dominating fashion. They’ve done the shaky rookie thing, they’ve done the game seven thing, now they need to stretch their wings and do the “we’re the two seed for a reason” thing.
It’s not unreasonable to believe that a Western Conference Finals matchup with the Warriors will at least be competitive from Denver’s standpoint. Houston is learning quickly that you can’t just outscore the Dubs, certainly not with Kevin Durant playing the way he’s currently performing. Denver has had success against the Warriors, they’ve also had grand failure. This is a team that could roll into the WCF battle hardened and having played superstar talent in Lillard.
I’d always thought that 2020, maybe 2021 was going to be the Denver Nuggets time. Turns out it’s starting now.