It’s been a fun couple of weeks for us Nuggets fans. Things haven’t been perfect, but we couldn’t have asked for a better overall performance from Denver over the Christmas holiday. The good guys are showing major signs of progress while working without Paul Millsap inspiring hope that the team will improve even more when he’s back in the rotation.
Everyone will kick it into high gear beginning next week so here’s to the Nuggets continuing on this upward path.
Given the Nuggets’ recent success (first half of last night’s game excluded), have the Nuggets turned a corner defensively?
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): I’m going with no on on this. I absolutely 100% believe the Golden State Warriors game was an anomaly because of the B2B and them missing 3 rotation players, including Stephen Curry, and against the Minnesota Timberwolves the Nuggets gave up 114 point in regulation, including 71 in the first half. They had nice defensive efforts against the Utah Jazz and Portland Trailblazers but those teams are 25th and 23rd in the league in scoring while also being in the bottom half of the league in pace, so color me still skeptical.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): I’m also going with no, but it’s a qualified no. Are the Nuggets suddenly a strong defensive team? I don’t believe so. Utah’s offense is abysmal right now if Donovan Mitchell has a bad game, and he did. Circumstances conspired to make them look better than they are. But they are now giving defensive effort, and that’s a big deal. Denver is still not a great defensive squad, but they should be able to hold their own on that end instead of being the worst unit in the league like they were at the end of last year, and that improvement to not-bad is all I was hoping for. If that’s “turning a corner” then maybe my answer is yes after all.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): I do think that they are beginning to understand the scheme that the coaching staff tried to set up in the preseason. They’ve had good and bad performances that, for me, are signs of their youth. There are times when I watch them and can see that they really miss having Paul Millsap out there. I think they’re going to be better than last season, but they won’t finish the season above league average defensively. If their offense is top five or six, they won’t need to be that good defensively to accomplish their goals for the season.
Ashley Douglas (@AshleyNBAHoops): Yes, and no. I believe we are starting to see them make movements toward turning a corner, but the first part of last night’s game was pretty awful. Sure, they were on the second night of a back to back and they were tired, blah, blah. If they want to be serious about making a playoff run they need to learn to buckle down and commit to consistent defense. That said, they have made a significant improvement over last season so I’ve got to hand it to them. I’ve been very impressed with how they have played lately, and they’re starting to get it.
What do you make of last night’s comeback effort against the Timberwolves?
Mikash: It continues to show that this Nuggets team is not going to quit. There was a lot of lip service in coach Michael Malone’s first season (and some of his second season too) about changing the culture. This team today that fights back and puts out their best effort every night is the result of that work two years ago. “1,2,3...6 Weeks” is long gone.
Gross: It showed the team has heart, which is very important. The Grizzlies built its Grit n Grind legacy basically on heart. Young teams struggle to finish, but they also struggle to consistently be willing to bring the effort it takes to win when things don’t go their way. Earlier in the year the team was getting blown out of every game that started with adversity. The adversity in this game didn’t phase them at all. It’d be great if they could stop spotting teams double-digit leads on the road before that heart kicked in, but I like the fighting spirit - it bodes well.
Lewis: It was good to see that they climbed back into a game where they could have just thrown in the towel. It was nice to see that they took advantage of a string of defensive stops and were able to knock down a few 3-pointers, then bang, they had tied the game after being down 16 points. That’s how the Warriors build big leads, that’s how the Spurs build big leads - if the Nuggets players can buy into that theory, that getting defensive stops followed by execution on offense is how they’re going to win games, that’s a really positive sign for their future.
Douglas: It gives me hope to see them not give up. A 19-point deficit is a pretty tough mountain to climb, and even though the effort came too little too late the Nuggets were impressive in the last part of the game. It shows me that they’re learning to control their mentality. I also like to see who is the one to get things going. Jamal Murray was the spark for the Nuggets several times last night, backed by some heroic efforts from Will Barton and Trey Lyles. These three (along with Gary Harris) have provided some great focus for the rotation recently.
If the Nuggets are able to capture the 4th or 5th seed in the Western Conference, who do you predict they will match up with, and what will be the outcome?
Mikash: I think Minnesota is definitely going to be in that 4/5 slot so that is who Denver would match up against. The outcome of that series is a bit tough to predict seeing as how the Nuggets have yet to play the T-Wolves with Paul Millsap. Still, Taj Gibson isn’t killing Denver in these matchups, Jimmy Butler is and Millsap probably won’t change that too much. I’d take Minnesota to win the series, but I also think it goes 7 games.
Gross: Zach took Minnesota, so I’ll go with Oklahoma City, which would be another interesting matchup. Can you take a team with Carmelo Anthony on it to get out of the first round? The Nuggets beat up the Paul George Pacers last year and the Carmelo Anthony Knicks, and would have Millsap back for the clash. Unfortunate Denver has never, ever had an answer for Russell Westbrook. Steven Adams gives OKC the inside presence to at least bang against Jokic and make life uncomfortable. I’d still take Oklahoma City because the Thunder have closers and Denver doesn’t, but I think it would be a lot of fun.
Lewis: I’ll go with Minnesota as well. I think the Thunder are going to win the division, the Timberwolves are going to finish second (as long as Jeff Teague didn’t get injured against the Nuggets), and the Nuggets will finish third. I think the Nuggets could take that series. Jamal Murray has become more and more comfortable with his role in the offense as the season has progressed, and the team will have someone that can defend Karl-Anthony Towns in the pick and roll. They can’t stop Jimmy Butler late in the game, but if they can have a large enough lead with five minutes to go, it won’t matter.
Douglas: I will take Minnesota as well, but I will hope for OKC. Oklahoma is beatable for the Nuggets over a series in my opinion, whereas the Timberwolves might be tricky. Jimmy Butler is an absolute beast right now, and his aggressiveness is looking to be just what Minnesota needed to take them to next level. The Nuggets have a seriously tough time closing close games as we saw last night so the contest with Minnesota would probably be close, but I think the Nuggets would lose out over the course of the series.
What is your New Year’s resolution?
Mikash: For about five years now I’ve felt like my life was built on a house of cards, obviously it’s not because the Mikash family is still going strong but clearly the “live as I please, wing it one day at a time” period of my twenties is over and I want to feel more in control of my future. This year’s resolution is to write a comprehensive five year life plan and start sticking to it. Also, stop arguing with trolls on Twitter.
Gross: Start a small business, not get fired from my day job, live well, love every day, and copy off of Zach’s five-year plan.
Lewis: My New Year’s resolution is to maximize my time here in Colorado. Who knows how long I’ll be living here, and my life was too crazy for me to go enjoy the outdoors last year. There is so much to do here, it’d be a mistake for me to not take advantage of it. I haven’t even been skiing in five years, who have I become? Second, buy a Tyler Lydon jersey.
Douglas: I love to cook, but being so busy it’s hard for me to get time to try new and challenging things. I’m taking a breads course from a local French food teaching company so I’d like to expand my skill sets in the kitchen this year. I’m also a complete work-a-holic so this year I am going to focus on taking time for myself each week to recharge.
Tell us your New Year’s resolution in the comments!