After defeating the Hornets in overtime the Nuggets moved a game ahead of Dallas and within 4 games of the Lakers. Both the All-star break and the trade deadline are right around the corner and then we begin the late season playoff push. Our favorite boys in powder blue are surely headed for the tournament, only a fool would think otherwise, but its time to start thinking about who they would face. The Nuggets will almost undoubtedly make a top 4 seed. I really don't see San Antonio and Portland overtaking them.
The landscape of the playoffs has shifted slightly in the western conference but only just a little. The top 9 teams from last year were: LA, Den, SA, Por, Hou, Dal, NOR, Utah and PHX. It's much the same this year. LA is still atop the conference, Denver is still the second best. Dal and PHX are slightly better, SA is a little worse along with NOR and Hou. Point is the top 9 will end within 5 or so wins/losses of the previous years record. Where the problem lies is that last year after the top 9 there was a serious drop off, like 17 win type of serious. This year that is not the case. The 9 horse race has suddenly become an 11 horse one, with one long shot in the dark, mule dressed like a horse, sitting in gate 12 commonly referred to as the Clippers. Personally I don't see LA's other team pulling it off. Both OKC and Mem (you know, the team absolutely no one saw coming) are suddenly right in the mix for a playoff push.
There is a common theme this year to the bottom half of the western conference. The majority of them are better...a lot better. Consider this- OKC last year won 23 games, they've won 24 already this season. Memphis last year won 24 games, they've won 23 already this season. LAC last year won 19 games, they've won 19 already this season. Sac last year won 17 games, they've won 15 already this season. Only Golden State and Minnesota are not improving on the previous seasons record.
3 games separate 8 teams in the western conference from seeds 4 through 11. I figure SA comes on strong (like they always do) making the top four LA, Den, Dal, SA. After that? who knows. Anyone of those teams could get hot and end up at #5 as easily as anyone could implode and end up at #11.
Teams Nuggets should hope to see in the first round- Por, Utah, NOR and Mem
Portland- The Blazers are already battered, come playoff time I reckon they'll be out of gas. Without Oden and Pryzbilla they're front court is much more negotiable. Roy can't carry the Blazers past the Nuggets in a 7 game series and no one on Portland can defend Melo. With all the injuries Portland won't have the depth to compete with Denver.
Utah- In years past Utah has always been a team I would avoid like the plague in the playoffs. They have Deron Williams, who can take over a game. They have the ridiculous Utah crowd. They play tough physical basketball. They have experience and a hell of a coach. All these points are still valid, but besides the glaring disparities between Denver's home record and Utah's road record, fact is we've had the Jazz's number this season. An underrated loss for Utah was Matt Harpring, without him the Jazz also have no one who can defend Melo. Their frontcourt is not very big either, certainly no bigger then ours.
NOR- A rematch of last years first round would be the ideal situation. Denver showed tonight they can beat the Hornets even when Melo and JR are having bad nights. New Orleans doubles Melo like crazy, more so then any team, it leaves loads of opportunities for the role players (like Afflalo tonight). The frontcourt in New Orleans is undersized as well. All in all this is a best case scenario because the Nuggets match up really well with the Hornets. K-mart can shut down David West, and Chris Paul struggles with bigger defensive guards. Last year it was Dahntay Jones, this year its Aaron Afflalo. Peja Stojakvic is a mere shadow of his formerself
Mem- yes I know Zach Randolph is a renewed beast and has proven as such against us. The Grizzlies are simply not a good enough team to beat the Nuggets in a 7 game series. While this team oozes talent, it lacks the experience to beat us. 3 players have playoff experience in Memphis: Zach Randolph, Jamaal Tinsley and Marcus Williams...not exactly heroes of June. Again, Memphis has no one to defend Melo, nor can they really defend our backcourt.
Teams the Nuggets should hope not to see- PHX, OKC and Hou
PHX- Put Steve Nash in big time games, surround him with players who can make plays and you've got a tough basketball team. This would make one hell of a series, the two high powered offenses clashing. That could be one of the problems, defense is likely to come as an option in this series meaning their could be games where the Nuggets simply try to outscore the Suns. I definitely think Denver wins a 7 game series with PHX (actually I think that about all of the 7 teams I could see us playing) but PHX would be a long series, a track meet series and thus a tiring series
OKC- They're like Memphis, inexperienced and oozing talent. I just don't like playing against Kevin Durant. The Thunder play us really well, it seems like we always go down to the buzzer with them (Melo's specialty). I could see us beating them in 5 games, but I think 6 would be more likely. I don't know, I know we could take them, I just don't like playing them.
Hou- Never play against the team with the chip on its shoulder. If there is one team we have a chance of seeing in the first round who actually does have an answer for Melo, its Houston. Shane Battier and Trevor Ariza are very accomplished defenders. Yes, Melo dominated Ariza last year in the playoffs, but he struggles with Battier. Aaron Brooks is every bit as lightning quick as Ty Lawson, so that takes away our X-factor. If the Rockets had Yao, this would be a matchup nightmare. Luckily they don't, but Houston would be another long, hard fought, physical series.
I know the playoffs are still a few months away, but I'm ready for them to start tomorrow!
(Update) Added a poll upon request (good idea!) hope you guys get the Jim Mora reference.