The stakes could hardly be any lower. It’s game one of the regular season, the first of 82. The regular season will last until April 10th, some 176 days from today. Along the way there will be various twists and turns. Highs and lows.
Yet, one of the lessons from the last two seasons is that every game matters. The Denver Nuggets fell short of the playoffs by one game in each of the last two seasons. And while we all lament that the 2017 loss in Portland and the 2018 loss in Minnesota were the games that caused the Denver Nuggets to miss out on the playoffs, the losses in each season to the Phoenix Suns, the Sacramento Kings, and yes, the Los Angeles Clippers were just as damning.
This year, the Nuggets have to make the playoffs. They have to take care of business and win games like Wednesday night’s, against a slightly inferior opponent.
Nikola Jokic has to take that next step and become the type of player that can carry his team on his back. Not just some nights. Every night. That’s what Kevin Durant told me a season ago in what felt like a message that he was directing to the Serbian big man himself.
“Now its just a matter of consistently, every single day, just knowing the work habits, knowing how hard it is to lead your team every night to a W. That’s something that every young player in this league goes through, especially as talented as him. He’s going to figure it out at some point and when he does, he’s going to be a force for a long time.”
Jamal Murray has to make the leap. He expects it. His teammates expect it. Even the league’s general managers expect it, having voted him as the player most likely to have a breakout season.
Paul Millsap has to fit in on offense and elevate the defense. That’s why at media day he said that his goal was to make the Nuggets a top five defensive team, a crazy goal given that they were one of the worst defensive teams in the league a season ago.
Michael Malone has to figure out what it takes to get this team to take every game as seriously as they did the final 30 games of the season when they went 20-10, beating some of the league’s best teams when their back was against the wall. Malone is entering the 2018-19 season without a long-term commitment from ownership, needing to prove that he’s the guy to get the team over the hump and beyond.
The stakes tomorrow night couldn’t be lower. But at the same time, the stakes for this season are as high as they have been in this current era of Nuggets basketball. That means every game, every night, until the playoffs are secured. As the Nuggets tip-off what should be a magical and memorable year, there will be a layer of pressure and joylessness that will underlay every Jokic no-look pass, every Murray step back three, and every Gary Harris twirling layup.
Three things to watch
Our Denver Nuggets Watch Party at Rhein Haus Denver!
We are co-hosting a tip-off party and Nuggets watch party with the Denver Nuggets for tomorrow night’s game. Super Mascot Rocky will be there along with the Denver Nuggets Dancers, Paws the DJ, and Altitude TV who will be cutting live to the party. Rhein Haus is having some great drink specials and Budweiser is sponsoring the party which means, the beer will be flowing freely (hint, hint). We will also be giving away cool prizes including some VIP tickets to Sunday’s Nuggets game against the Golden State Warriors. So come join the party.
Will the ball get poppin?
My biggest question coming into the season is whether or not the Nuggets can pick up right where they left off offensively. At their best, the Denver Nuggets play some of the most beautiful basketball of the 21st century. They find stretches where the ball seems to move from player to player around the court as if it had a mind of it’s own, everyone working together in such harmony that it seems the basketball gods themselves must be in awe. It feels like that is their core identity. A team capable of moments where they reveal to us all what basketball should be on the offensive end. Will that team make an appearance Wednesday night?
The best offensive center in the NBA is from Serbia
I’m petty sure it’s Nikola Jokic but Boban Marjonovic has a case to make, albeit in a much smaller role. Boban was a Nuggets killer last year and, if the preseason is to be trusted, he’s still a 7-foot 3-inch puzzle that the Nuggets have yet to solve. Whoever dominates the game will likely carry their team to victory. победа, Nuggets!
Which Nuggets player is the key to the game?
This poll is closed