In a couple of short weeks, the Nuggets make their 2018-2019 pre-season debut against the Los Angeles Lakers. The September 30th game will be the first of a double-header of sorts as the Nuggets turn around and play LA once again on October 2nd.
The Lakers have always been a bit of a Nuggets rival, and last season’s banter from Jamal Murray has stoked the fire of competition between the two teams so we should be in for a very exciting pre-season kick off.
If you’re like me, the thought of basketball season and colder weather gives you a warm feeling inside. This is made even sweeter if your NFL Fantasy team is performing. (Never mind that the main reason I won last week’s match up is because my opponent failed to set their lineup. A “W” is a “W”.)
As the off-season draws to a close I’ve been working to identify some things I hope to see out of the home team this year.
Poise and maturity
For a few years now, we have given the Nuggets some discounts in expectations primarily because of how young the core of the team is. Lacking in experience, the baby-fresh Nuggs of yester-year sputtered along inconsistently showing us just enough of what we might be able to expect as they grew up in the NBA.
This year, they can no longer rely on their youth as an excuse (no matter how valid it has been in the past). They’ve had adequate minutes in the league, and also enough time playing with one another to level up to be a more poised and mature team this coming season. I hope to see them playing with more consistency, and more composure under pressure—especially if that pressure is coming from a strong defensive opponent.
The addition of LeBron James to the Los Angeles Lakers makes the Western Conference even more competitive, so if the Nuggets hope to be a relevant presence they will need to shed the training wheels and commit to leaving them behind for good.
This expectation will largely be fulfilled by the coaching staff performing their jobs properly, but for a core roster who has played together for a few seasons now, I expect to see a nice blend of chemistry on the court. Given the uncertainty of who will be the long-term starting small forward, Coach Mike Malone will likely need to run with a few different lineup options to optimize the fit. However, I hope to see the lineup identified sooner rather than later so that everyone’s roles can be clearly defined.
Players like Wilson Chandler have previously voiced their frustrations with uncertainty in their roles, and we saw that uncertainty play out in the outcomes of games. The Nuggets will need a clear picture of where they’re headed and what everyone can do to get them there in order to succeed.
Playoffs and beyond
The Nuggets absolutely must make it to the playoffs this season for multiple reasons. First, they need to prove to themselves that they’re a team who has what it takes to make it to the next level. A huge part of accomplishing any goal is purely the belief that it can be done. Once this group proves it to themselves, the sky is the limit for what they can achieve with their talent.
Beyond the personal goals for the team, the Nuggets need to fight like hell to make it into the post season for the sake of their loyal fans. The Nuggets’ fan base has stuck by the team’s side during some very dark and uncertain times. Put frankly, the Nuggets owe it to them to make a post-season appearance this year.
Denver needs to identify what it’s going to take to bring them to the next level as a team. A playoff slot with a first round exit can’t be good enough. Sure, this year that may be the case once all is said and done, but their vision needs to exceed far beyond playing games in late April and May. I hope to see the Nuggets working to extend beyond their own expectations of what’s possible so that we can see them back in the Western Conference Finals before too much longer.
This year the rubber meets the road for the Nuggets. I will be watching to see them get the job done and leave all excuses behind. They have everything they need to become a playoff team so now is their time to shine.