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Roundtable: Playoff hopes, defensive woes & Macho Juancho

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This week’s edition of the meeting of the Stiffs.

Juancho Hernangomez celebrates a three-point shot.

Fill in the blank. The Nuggets will make the playoffs if ______. And if so, how many games will they win against Golden State?

Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): they beat Portland. They have to win that game (and a few more) if they want their season to keep going. I think they could win two games against Golden State. Durant will still be getting back in a rhythm, and you never know who Draymond will kick.

Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): they can stop New Orleans. The Pelicans have won 5 of their last 6, including throttling the Portland Trail Blazers. DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are figuring out how to play together, and Denver has had enough trouble stopping them separately this season. The Pelicans square off with the Nuggets 3 more times this year, and then finish the season against Portland. Those 4 games should determine the 8th seed. And Denver can take a game from Golden State.

Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): If they can win 41 games. The Nuggets show time and again you can’t start penciling in wins and losses when looking ahead at the schedule so I’m not sure exactly how they get there but 40 wins feels a little too close for comfort given the Trail Blazers in all likelihood will own the tiebreaker. A .500 record on the season though is probably just enough to keep Denver out front. As for how many games they would win against the Warriors I think the safe bet is 1. There will be some game where a guy like Will Barton or Jamal Murray will explode and the Nuggets will win something like 135-128

Ashley Douglas (@AshleyNBAHoops): They play (just a little) defense. When the Nuggets put forth the slightest amount of effort defensively it goes a long way as we all saw last night. I also think the next few games against some of the other lower seeds are going to be must-wins. Portland looks to be in hot pursuit of the 8th slot, and Nurkic may be looking to get some revenge against his former team on his new home court so the Nuggets can’t take their foot off the gas for one second in that matchup. If they do end up making the playoffs, I think they will win 2 games and come close to a third. That is, IF Gallinari and Chandler are both healthy, and IF they play a little D.

The Nuggets simultaneously have the best offense and one of the worst defenses in the league. What’s the deal with their defense, and how can they fix it?

Lewis: They have bad defenders on their roster, a center that can't erase mistakes, and a conservative scheme. They could fix it by switching to a more aggressive scheme, where they try to force steals more often, but that's not something they should try to change to during the season. It would help to have some more athletic players on the roster.

Gross: As Daniel says, Denver needs to work on creating more havoc. If you can’t stop a team from poking holes in your defense because you don’t have a lot of good defenders, then jump passing lanes and get out in transition. It’s not Malone’s preferred form of defense, but this can’t really be either. I expect that to be an offseason correction. Add at least one long defender in the draft, and see if you can get a wing with quick hands who isn’t terrible on-ball.

Mikash: I think the only true way to fix it is with personnel changes. Wilson Chandler can defend, Gary Harris can defend but outside of those two it’s pretty murky. I like the effort of Juancho Hernangomez and Murray, I think they can develop into plus defenders but they need more time. Nikola Jokic could be a passable defender as well but it’s hard to ask much more out of him. Because Nikola can struggle on D and doesn’t help erase mistakes the Nuggets have to surround him with very good to great defenders and currently only Harris and Chandler look like they have the ability to be that. Jameer Nelson, as good as he has been this season, is a huge liability on D as is Emmanuel Mudiay. Mudiay has the size to give you hope but when it comes to fixing the D the Nuggets first need to find a point guard who has the tools and buy in to stop dribble penetration.

Douglas: Solving the Nuggets defensive woes in a couple of sentences is nearly impossible, however, I think a couple changes would make a big impact out of the gate. First, they need to be better at maintaining defensive focus throughout the course of a game. One play they seem to be on point, then they take a mental breather and get caught with their guard down. They need to lock in mentally for the full 48 minutes. They also need a guy out there who is a little mean. Not a dirty player, but someone who is a little scary who can give their defense some more confidence.

Since Juancho Hernangomez is showing to be a promising addition to the Nuggets roster, what will his role look like next season?

Lewis: I think he'd be a good fit as a backup to either Gallinari or Chandler. He's had some really tough matchups this season, and has shown flashes against the best. Give him 15-20 minutes consistently, and if he is a steady contributor, they'll be set for 2018-19 with Juancho as a starter.

Gross: I expect him to be a backup, but also a rotation player getting 20 minutes a night. He’s a great spot-up shooter and energy rebounder, and as his defensive awareness improves he should become a key contributor. The kid is amazingly talented, and I’m looking forward to seeing him in a regular role with good minutes next year.

Mikash: I think there’s a good chance that two of the three of Chandler, Gallinari and Faried are still on the team next season and no matter which two it is those will be the starting forwards. That means Juancho is the first forward off the bench. I could certainly see it playing out where Gallo leaves in free agency and Wilson remains the starter until his contract is up the following season. Once that happens I think one of the starting forward positions is Juancho’s to lose. I do think playing time next year will be much more consistent for him though, no more DNP-CDs, no more garbage time minutes only and no more trips to the D-League.

Douglas: I think he will make a great 6th man if he’s able to spend some time in the gym this summer putting on muscle. If Wilson Chandler continues to start at the power forward with Kenneth Faried off the bench for him, Juancho can take Chandler’s place off the bench for Danilo Gallinari and keep things moving offensively. As the veterans age, I see him moving into a starting role and becoming go-to player for the Nuggets. He certainly has a bright future, that’s for sure.

Do you approve of the NBA shortening the preseason and increasing the regular season by one week as a way to address the resting players issue?

Lewis: Sure? I like being able to watch the Nuggets as much as possible, so having to wait longer between games isn't as appealing. One week doesn't seem like it's going to magically solve all problems. It's impossible to completely prevent all injuries, and I think this is just a bunch of suits pretending they can solve a problem with paper and pen.

Gross: It doesn’t really matter to me. If the players think it will help, that’s fine. Be aware, though: this will reduce Denver’s home court advantage, something that has already been chipped away at by the schedule makers. They don’t have any problem with having Denver go from Portland to New Orleans in consecutive games, or finish the schedule with this ridiculous road sojourn, but making East Coast teams come West is just too stressful. So a lot of the rest days will be sandwiched around visiting the Pepsi Center, something that won’t help Denver steal games. Luckily the Nuggets are building a team that can win with pace or in the half-court. Their new gimmick is personnel, which is harder to solve.

Mikash: It’s a half measure and likely the best the players are going to get. The fact that they eliminated preseason games is surprising to me because while they don’t hold the marquee of a regular season match up, those games still generate revenue and the owners do love themselves some revenue. The chances of them eliminating regular season games, which is the actual solution to the players problems, will never happen, nor will shortening the playoffs. There’s probably some voodoo the scheduling witchdoctors can do, or some crazy super computer that can be built to make it so every team has the optimal schedule in terms of rest, but I won’t be holding my breath.

Douglas: It’s a good start, but I don’t know that one week is going to make that much of a difference. I understand the reasoning behind resting players from a coach’s perspective, but the NBA is in the entertainment business. Paying advertisers and fans expect the performers they want to see out on the court every night so something needs to be done. Perhaps the regular season needs to be shortened also so that players stay healthy all the way through the post-season. I think advertisers would spend more money on fewer games if players were able to stay healthy for longer periods of time. Furthermore, players might be able to have longer careers if they didn’t have to undergo as many surgeries or sustain as many serious injuries.