The Denver Nuggets are four games into the regular season tallying four wins to start the year off strong. Last Wednesday’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers was exciting, but expected, as the Nuggets are and will be a better team than LA this coming season. Their subsequent win over the struggling Phoenix Suns was also par for the course, but a great win nonetheless.
Denver then moved on to beat the Golden State Warriors by 2 points utilizing defense as their main weapon, and they followed that with another win over the Sacramento Kings by 14. I know, I can hardly believe the words as I type them. This has been one exciting week for our boys, and I think it’s safe to say it’s going to be a very exciting and special season overall.
We still have to take things one day at a time, or in the case of this column, one week at a time and digest the events as they unfold rather than getting too ahead of ourselves.
So, let’s recap the last week, or 10 days given that this column typically posts on Saturdays. You can’t blame a girl for taking vacation every now and again!
Here’s some things that are going down in Nuggets Nation now.
As we all know, defense has been this team’s biggest weakness and the cause of much of their inconsistency over the last few seasons. Sure, the younger players were still up and coming, but it’s undeniable that there were way too many games where the defensive effort simply wasn’t there.
Well, I don’t want to speak too soon, but I’m impressed with the defensive effort we’re seeing from the Nuggets out of the gate this year. As we discussed last week, Paul Millsap got to work in the season opener with 16 rebounds, but Torrey Craig really stood out to me in the Warriors game. He did well defending the perimeter (something we were all very excited about when he signed his two year deal with the Nuggets back in July) and he brought in a total of 9 rebounds in his 26 minutes on the court.
However, I have to hand it to my main man Juancho Hernangomez with the game-winning block against Damian Jones of the Golden State Warriors. His defensive focus up until the final second of the buzzer is what allowed Denver to take home that victory.
In the past, the Nuggets’ defensive efforts have been inconsistent, and when they did make an effort, they struggled to maintain focus for the full 48 minutes of play. As a result they’ve had a hard time closing games. The difference I see in them now is intention, and more consistent effort on defense. If they can make a habit of staying focused each game they’ll be in a very comfortable position when the playoffs come around.
A close win over the defending champs
In the past couple of seasons, the Nuggets have won a lot of blowout games over some of the best teams in the league. While I give them complete credit for those wins, the argument can be made that the losing team was having an off night when they happened to be playing Denver.
The same argument can’t really be made when the win is a nail-biter. The Nuggets beat the Warriors in the home opener at Pepsi Center by just two points, and while there will always be room for improvement, they played a full game and CLOSED IT OUT. In fact, they won the game on a defensive play by Juancho! It’s exactly these plays in the final minutes or seconds of a game that often separate a good team from a great team, or in the case of the Nuggets, a good team from a playoff team.
Personally, I’m far more encouraged that the Nuggets won by just two than I would be if they had blown the Warriors out (even though a blow out would have been much more fun). It shows me they’re getting better and growing up, and Nuggets fans have been very anxious to see that from them.
An early injury
You’ve probably already heard the news, but Will Barton suffered a “hip and core strain” this week and underwent surgery to correct the problem. He’s expected to be out 5-6 weeks. I’ve been tough on Barton this last season, but losing him to an injury like this so early on is really hard to see. The Nuggets are such a special team right now, and Barton on the starting rotation was showing to be a very promising fit. Fortunately, his injury happened early on and it looks like the Nuggets will have him back before Christmas which is when things really start to heat up. Hopefully Barton’s absence won’t have too much of a negative impact if Denver can get him back soon.
An injury is never a good thing, but if the Nuggets can try to extract some positives from it, I believe they will be in a much better position later on in the season. The Boston Celtics suffered some devastating injuries last year, but their second and third units stepped up in a big way when they were needed. As a result, the Celtics have incredible depth that I believe will take them the distance this season. With Barton out for a time, I hope the Nuggets can take a page from Boston’s book, and give some valuable minutes to their up and comers and continue to grow their bench.
The Nugget are a different team this year
A couple of wins in preseason followed by an early win against a team who probably won’t make the playoffs is great, but stringing together three solid wins in a row after a great start in preseason is not a coincidence. The Nuggets have shown up ready to play this season, and they appear to be a much more mature and poised team. They’re showing to be capable of handling themselves well under pressure allowing them to win in close-game situations.
I expect there will be bumps in the road, but I’m a lot more confident in this team than I was just a few months ago. I can’t wait to see how things unfold.
Juancho will be a fixture in this column until further notice
When there was speculation that the Nuggets might be looking to trade Juancho I was truly disappointed. Everyone knows I was excited about him before his illness, but I’m even happier that Denver decided to keep him around to continue his development. His illness was a setback, but I’ll be patient with the rust he’s working off as long as he keeps those game-winning blocks coming our way. I hope to see him as a consistent contributor for the Nuggets for a long time. With Barton out, this may be his big break.
The Nuggets face the Lakers again on Thursday so I hope to be able to report more exciting news this weekend. Stay tuned!