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NBA Power Rankings roundup: Nuggets continue trending up

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Here’s where the Nuggets rank nationally this week

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

It was a strong week for the Denver Nuggets as they went undefeated against three strong opponents. The Houston Rockets have been a thorn in Denver’s side for a long time, and the Nuggets finally bested them with some strong defense on James Harden. The Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns were shorthanded, but Denver won with defense against Boston and offense against Phoenix, a good omen that they are truly starting to put it all together.

How does this translate across the national media’s perspective of the team? See what they’re saying below in this week’s power rankings:

ESPN

Nuggets Rank: 4

Last week: 7

The Nuggets just keep on keepin’ on -- nothing flashy, nothing overly dominant. They just win and do it with variety. Last season there was some wonder of randomness with their success in close games, but they’re doing it again: 7-2 in two-possession games. Their victory Sunday over the Suns though showed a different kind of closing prowess: a close game went to double-digits down the stretch with two-way dominance.

Sport’s Illustrated

Nuggets Rank: 4

Last week: 6

Paul Millsap has been Denver’s catalyst in its 12–3 start to the season. The 34-year-old leads Denver in net rating, and opponents score just 95.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. Millsap is a quality spacer and a terrific passer. When healthy, he’s an ideal second big next to Nikola Jokic.

Bleacher Report

Nuggets Rank: 5

Last week: 6

Denver played its best game of the year on Wednesday, defeating the Houston Rockets by a final of 105-95 behind standout efforts from Nikola Jokic and Torrey Craig. The latter helped hold James Harden under the 30-point mark for the first time since Nov. 3, but Denver’s entire defense deserves credit for elevating its focus and intensity against a hot Houston team.

Friday’s 96-92 win over the Boston Celtics, in which Nikola Jokic logged his third triple-double (but first since Oct. 28), proved the Nuggets could sustain that defensive performance. Denver is now 8-0 when holding opponents under 100 points.

Incredibly, the Nuggets have won nine of their last 10 games with an offense that still ranks below the league average.

When Denver reclaims its scoring punch (which may not happen until Jokic plays himself into shape), watch out.

The Athletic

Nuggets Rank: 4

Last week: 7

It’s so odd to me how regular the Nuggets have looked on offense this season. Last season, Denver ranked seventh in offensive rating and 10th in defensive rating on its way to 54 wins and the 2-seed in the West. This conference is a lot more impacted at the top this season, but Denver is on pace for way more wins while also relying almost solely on its defense most nights. That defense has been spectacular. The Nuggets rank seventh in defensive rating right now, but they’re within a half-point per 100 possessions of being second. It’s razor-thin between them and a lot of the teams above them. Offensively, they haven’t been bad, but they also haven’t replicated the level of execution and production that overwhelmed teams last season.

Denver currently ranks 15th in the league in offensive rating. Think about what you expect from the Nuggets on offense. Then think about what you expect out of the Detroit Pistons on offense. It probably isn’t the same thing, and yet they both score 107.6 points per 100 possessions. Nikola Jokic still hasn’t been the force we expected on offense. He had eight games in single-digit scoring last season. Through 15 games, he already has four. He’s only been a good 3-point shooter one season in his career, but he’s never been as inaccurate as he is currently (24.6 percent). Eventually, Jokic will get going on offense and everybody will receive a boost because of it. At least it’s not hurting the Nuggets garnering victories through the first month.

Why did they move up this week? Five straight wins for the Nuggets and only the win over Boston was a close one. They’re on pace for 65 wins and it doesn’t feel like it.

CBS Sports

Nuggets Rank: 4

Last week: 6

Winners of five straight and nine of their last 10, the Nuggets are beginning to look like the team everyone expected to see at the start of the season. They’re third in the league in net rating over the last 10 games, during which Jamal Murray has averaged nearly 20 points per game on 45-40-90 splits. Nikola Jokic still doesn’t look quite himself, but they’re finding a way to win games, which is all that matters. Will Barton has also been excellent in the early going.

NBA.com

Nuggets Rank: 3

Last week: 4

The Nuggets’ defense continues to hold up. They’ve held seven of their last 10 opponents (including the Rockets on Wednesday) to no more than a point per possession. As was the case last season, their defense is not the best at protecting the restricted area. But the Nuggets rank second in opponent field goal percentage on other paint shots, first in opponent mid-range field goal percentage, and second in opponent 3-point percentage. Missed shots and a top-10 mark in defensive rebounding percentage should lead to opportunities to run, and the Nuggets have been efficient in transition, according to Synergy tracking. But they’re going to take their time, thanks. Only 12.5% of their possessions, the league’s lowest rate, have been in transition. Nikola Jokic is still dazzling us with his passing and weird shots, but only the Jazz, Magic and Pacers have played uglier games in regard to combined efficiency (team and opponents). A game against the Wizards on Tuesday should juice things up.