For the first time since 2013, the Denver Nuggets are in the playoffs. Given that qualifying was the expectation this season, and the one-seed is still in play, how much will you enjoy this as a fan?
Brendan Vogt: You have to enjoy these moments as fans. This ludicrous title or bust mentality that’s permeated the NBA has robbed too many of the joy and hope that should come with moments like these. The Nuggets are on the verge of something special, but in the present, the here and now, they’re already accomplishing things their fans have dreamt of for years. The Nuggets are fun again. The Nuggets are relevant again. The Nuggets are in the playoffs again.
Evan Fiala: Man, I’m enjoying it no matter what. Six years is a long time. Even if it was the expectation this year, it doesn’t make it any less sweet. I can’t wait to see what these guys can do in the postseason.
Gordon Gross: I was gonna enjoy it no matter what. The fact that Denver is ahead of schedule while still somehow being nowhere near their peak is immensely encouraging, but I want to see this team under the bright lights and on the big stage - and I want the rest of the NBA to see them too. Not on a Wednesday night against the Lakers with announcers mispronouncing Jokic’s name 7 different ways when they bother to talk about Jokic at all, but front and center, win or lose. This team has earned it, and I want it for them and for Malone as well as the fans of Denver. Bringing the playoffs back to the Pepsi Center with this group of guys is fun, and has the potential to be special.
Ryan Blackburn: This was a long time coming. The Nuggets have been close to breaking through for the last couple of seasons, and it truly felt inevitable that this would be the year to see Jokic, Harris, and Murray in the playoffs for the first time. Somehow though, there is still such joy in and around the Nuggets right now. They have risen to the occasion this year, and it has been incredible to watch them succeed in big moments, showing the growth that the best young core in the NBA should show. I’m still a bit dumbstruck that this is the way they are entering the playoffs, but I will enjoy every minute of it.
How deep of a run do the Nuggets need to make for you to consider this a successful season? Will a first round exit change how you feel about their future?
Vogt: The Nuggets are already ahead of schedule. An early exit shouldn’t be cause for any alarm, even if we’re all looking forward to bigger things than a competitive first round. This team is capable of more than that - but this is a successful season in my eyes even if they fall short of these new expectations. There’s a new baseline for this team. They know what to expect of themselves and this is only the beginning.
Fiala: To me this is already a successful season. Denver has built this team over YEARS of patience and not skipping steps in the process. Clinching a playoff birth and getting that playoff experience is just the next piece of it - losing in the first round won’t take away from accomplishing what they needed to do this year. We don’t need to move the goalposts on this season just because the Nuggets are better than anticipated.
Gross: About their future? Not at all. Will I be disappointed this year ended early? Probably, but as I said this is not their peak. the 2013-14 team WAS at its peak, and the devastating injury to Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala jumping ship to the Warriors and Ty Lawson’s quick plummet out of the league combined with George Karl and Masai Ujiri leaving really showed how bad luck could snowball for that team and take it from its zenith to its nadir in a hurry. Nobody’s leaving this team. Malone will be back, Jokic and Harris and Barton are all locked up long term, and all the young players are either under contract. Even Millsap has a team option. The Nuggets can only get better from here. Nothing about this season can make me doubt their upside from here out.
Blackburn: A true success will be winning at least a playoff series, but nothing really changes for this roster if they exit in the first round. Natural progression says that exiting in the first round is what should happen since they didn’t make it last year, and given the young pieces still with developmental upside, it should surprise no one if they falter in their first bit of playoff experience. Still, showing the poise to advance in the playoffs when facing a playoff tested coach like Gregg Popovich and the Spurs or Doc Rivers and the Clippers would go a long way in solidifying that this group can be the one to bring a championship to Denver.
They’ve clinched a playoff berth, but there’s still plenty to play for. What do you expect to see from the Nuggets down the stretch? Will there be any letup?
Vogt: This is one in area in which their youth and inexperience might help them. I don’t think this group knows how to do anything but go out there and compete. They’ll stay hungry and I expect them to compete for the one-seed until game 82.
Fiala: What makes this team special is that they are hungry. I don’t think anyone is satisfied with just making the playoffs. They are going to play for the one seed, for home court, for the chance to prove they are better than most people think they are. I expect to see the same Nuggets the rest of the year we’ve seen so far this season.
Gross: The Nuggets have done a good job of keeping their eyes on the prize throughout the season. Losing the playoffs in game 82 last year seems to have made an impression on everyone, from the coaching staff and front office through the players themselves. That said, being hunted is different from being the hunter. Last season they were chasing that playoff spot, this year it’s locked up early. Denver will be playing a lot of hungry teams down the stretch - whether they lose some close games to those teams or not, I don’t think it’s an issue with letup. The Nuggets have to get used to the new dynamic of being a power in the West. As with all things for Denver this year, it’s a good learning experience to get under their belts.
Blackburn: I’m not really “expecting” anything, but seeing Denver perform well in the games against potential playoff opponents would go a long way. The reason why Denver has clinched a playoff spot is because they took care of business against sub .500 talent (i.e. teams they won’t face in the playoffs) but those games matter less in the grand scheme of preparing for what’s to come. I’d like to see how Denver matches up with Houston on March 28th, Golden State on April 2nd, and the three game stretch to basically close the season with two games versus Portland and one versus Utah. If Denver looks like they belong in those five games and makes sure to retain a top 2 seed, then that’s all that anyone can ask for to close the year.