Six Years. Six long years of frustration, disappointment and heartbreak. Six years. The second longest postseason drought in Denver Nuggets franchise history.
There will be no decade of mismanaged rosters, multiple ugly moments and futility at all levels of the organization this time. No, this time the Denver Nuggets are back. With their victory over the Boston Celtics last night, Denver cemented what had become a foregone conclusion months ago: the Nuggets are going back to the playoffs.
For many fans, this will be their first playoff experience. Six years in the city of Denver is a lifetime in this era of growth and expansion.
It’s an eternity for a fan base in a city that has been busy enjoying historical seasons and championships at the hands of arguably the greatest quarterback to ever live. The Denver Broncos’ run of glory is over for now, though, and it’s the Nuggets turn to carry the torch. The experience will be new for a large percentage of this rapidly growing fanbase, and regardless of the final outcome, it will be memorable.
All postseason competition is wonderful but there’s something special about the NBA playoffs. Like postseason baseball, fans live and die with every shot, pass, and dribble, just as baseball fans hang on every pitch. Like playoff hockey, the pace is fast. Unlike playoff hockey, the scoring is much more frequent. The highs and lows ebb and flow so much quicker, each game bringing a mix of hope and despair.
Through it all, every player is shot with close up angles, unobstructed by any sort of helmet. It provides a very personal feel for the fans, enhancing the entire experience of a basketball game. I can’t wait for all of the new fans to this team - the ones who have shown out night in and night out for this team at Pepsi Center - to get to experience that feeling.
I can’t wait for them to experience the rivalries that will come from it. There’s a reason names like Kobe Bryant or Manu Ginobli, John Stockton or Karl Malone strike anger in the hearts of Nuggets fans. We remember the playoffs. Russell Westbrook didn’t become a Nuggets villain because he shoved Nikola Jokic or because he blocked Rocky’s half court shot. He became a villain because he proceeded to dunk all over us in the first round of the 2011 playoffs while screaming about every successful screen he set. The odds are pretty good that half of the Western Conference field will come from the Northwest division. How memorable will it be to pay Westbrook back? Or wish Jusuf Nurkic a nice summer?
Nothing is guaranteed though, as Nuggets fans from the Carmelo Anthony era know all too well. It’s one thing to talk about being swept by Kobe and the Los Angeles Lakers, or even losing to them in the Western Conference finals. Though the Nuggets opened up two different series with a road victory against the San Antonio Spurs, it wasn’t really all that surprising that they got dealt with in gentlemen’s sweep fashion.
It was however shocking to lose to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Utah Jazz or even the junior version of this Golden State Warriors dynasty. Fans came into those series with the same type of confidence with which Nuggets Nation will enter the postseason this year and they left bitterly disappointed. It wasn’t like losing to the Lakers in seven games, each of those aforementioned series Denver never really had much of a chance, they fell behind 3-1 each time. No doubt Melo-era fans enter this postseason run with a touch of cautious optimism.
Still, there’s reason to believe this time there’s something more. The roster Tim Connelly and company have constructed is far more complete than any group put together by Mark Warkentein and friends, and it’s a greater collection of talent than Masai Ujiri ever acquired in Denver.
Curb the cautious optimism all you want but this Nuggets team is really good, and it shows. It shows in a healthy starting unit that routinely out performs its opposition. It shows in a bench that has depth to carry both sides of the ball while the starters catch their wind. Sure, outside of Paul Millsap there is no player in the rotation who has notable playoff experience, and the Nuggets have seemingly moved past the point of expecting to get significant contributions from Isaiah Thomas, at least on the court. Playoff inexperience is an obstacle they will have to overcome, but this team has shown the resiliency to overcome a myriad of obstacles that have been thrown at them this season, whether that’s been injuries, road trips, or Tony Brothers.
The Nuggets can not ride on that playoff inexperience excuse. Not now. The days of just being satisfied with getting into the postseason, or even just winning the division are over. For the fans that have been here since the days of Alex English, or David Thompson, or even Byron Beck, they know that opportunities like this are rare. Melo got a two seed once in his career, it was the only time he advanced past the first round. English and Thompson did it twice and each player’s only trip to the conference finals with the team came on the back of one of those 2-seeds. Finishing this out strong is important for setting up up something truly special, something that the franchise and the fans have only seen once every decade or so.
There’s also the potential prize of franchise history. The Nuggets tied the Warriors atop the Western Conference with their win over the Celtics and the Warriors loss to the Spurs. With thirteen games to go Denver controls their own destiny to secure the top overall seed. The last time the Nuggets were the top overall seed in the playoffs they played with a red, white and blue basketball. They’ve never done it in the NBA but it is right in front of them now. No matter what happens in the playoffs if this team can pass the Warriors in the standings for good they will go down in Nuggets history. That is something that every fan is hoping for, new or old.
So soak it in Nuggets Nation, we are headed back to the postseason. We are going to wring our hands every time the Nuggets fall down by six points, we’re going to shout with excitement with every drained three and we’re going to find out what this exciting young core looks like at the next level. We are going to live and die with every bounce of the ball and for better or worse we are going to remember what happens in late April hopefully all the way through to June. The second season is starting soon...and the Denver Nuggets are back.