Game Seven is imminent for the Denver Nuggets and the pressure is mostly off as the team has progressed farther than most thought they would.
We covered the scenario if the Denver Nuggets lose on Sunday at the Pepsi Center. The thing is, even if Denver does lose, this season has been a success. A success by any measure but most importantly, a success against expectations after two seasons of barely missing the playoffs.
It’s important for Denver fans to recognize and remember the hurt of the loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves that brought an abrupt end to their 2017-18 campaign. The Nuggets remember, they used it as motivation throughout this season. That hurt carried them to 54 wins and the second seed in the insanely competitive Western Conference.
Statistically, logically, conventionally the Nuggets motivation should carry them to a win in game seven on Sunday at 1:30 against the Portland Trailblazers. We did a deeper dive on what they should do if they lose, this one will be a little quicker because a lot of what they should do remains the same for the offseason.
If the Denver Nuggets win and advance to the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors, there’s a whole other set of concerns that need to be addressed, starting with:
Don’t give the Warriors an inch: Look, Golden State is the standard, they are the champions, they just worked the Houston Rockets in Houston to close out that series in six.
Good for them.
One of the keys to Denver having a chance against the Warriors is to dispense with the reverence everyone has for the Dubs. Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant (whenever he is available) and Klay Thompson are great basketball players, among the best. So are Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap.
The Nuggets having survived two rounds of playoff basketball and two game sevens will have all the experience under their collective belts that they need to stand up to the big, bad Warriors. Denver matches up just fine with Golden State with the defensive hydra (is that the 3-headed monster?) of Millsap, Torrey Craig and Harris able to match-up with the most formidable of opponents, they just might be uniquely suited to ambush Golden State in one of the first two games.
Key to Denver’s ability to beat Golden State is treating the Warriors with a fundamental disrespect. If any bit of awe or reverence creeps into the Nuggets game, the seasoned Warriors will exploit it in a heartbeat. Whether founded or not, Portland has already established the Nuggets as salty, chippy villains, best to own that versus the Warriors.
Match the offensive output: When the Denver Nuggets are at their best, they are among the elite offensive teams in the NBA. We liked to comment last season that when the Nuggets were right, they could hang 120 points on anyone. That kind of scoring output is difficult to match, even for the mighty Warriors.
This is going to require a marked improvement from the team but from some players in particular. Paul Millsap can not disappear from the offensive side, Denver needs 14-18 points from their $30 million man. Gary Harris seems to have found his game at precisely the right time and his ability to get to the rim and be creative as well as his three-point shooting will need to continue. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic need to do what they do, Torrey Craig is there for his defense but still fills an important offensive role with spot-up shooting success.
The place the Nuggets can really separate is in bench performance. If the Warriors have any weakness (they don’t), it’s that they are so top-heavy that they’ve suffered with depth. the Nuggets will be playing their 15th playoff game to open a series in Oakland and their 97th overall. We have a pretty good feel for what we have and we can and should expect upgraded performance from a talented bench.
Monte Morris, Mason Plumlee and Malik Beasley all had prolific seasons. Some breakout (Morris, Beasley) some from steady improvement (Plumlee). If the Will Barton we saw in games five and six versus Portland can be trusted, he will be a huge difference-maker from the Denver bench.
The Nuggets have the ability to score with anyone, even the Warriors, if they can do that consistently, there’s no reason they can’t take this series.
Glance at the Finals: Being in the final four means each of the four teams have a legitimate shot at the finals and a championship. After those 97 games mentioned above, none of the four remaining teams would be a surprise contender. The Nuggets have already proven themselves worthy, why couldn’t they take that next step?
If they could manage to power past the champs, there’d be little, honestly to fear from the Milwaukee Bucks (who the Nuggets lost to twice) or the Toronto Raptors (who the Nuggets beat twice). That sounds silly and arrogant but at this point, it’s okay for the Denver Nuggets to dream big.
They are already in foreign territory and maybe they don’t realize that they are frauds that don’t belong. They have had some success against the Warriors, even in Oakland. They are young and brash enough that they may be able to carry through into an offseason that will likely see the addition of another star-level player in Michael Porter Jr.
We’ve been saying it all season but it bears saying it louder:
Why. Not. Us?