With only ten games left, Golden State’s lead on the Nuggets is slim, but the defending champions have a light schedule down the stretch and Denver must walk into the lion’s den one more time when the two teams meet in Oracle on April 2nd. How realistic of a goal is finishing with the one-seed and is that result important to you?
Brendan Vogt: I don’t think the one-seed is realistic when you compare the schedules of these two teams. And with the way that Golden State has approached their last two matchups with Denver, I have the Nuggets penciled in for a loss in that meeting on April 2nd. That’s fine. Avoiding Houston and Golden State in the second-round, should they get there, is what’s most important.
Jeremy Poley: It’s an important result because it would mean homecourt 100% of the way through the West. How realistic is it? Not at all. After a six-game winning streak, this has become an overvalued team. The promise of what this starting unit could do has been delivered in wins lately but that’s had just as much to do with the weak competition as it does with the starters’ performances. The competition is about to get a whole lot tougher, and we’re going to see a handful of losses before the season is over.
Gordon Gross: Agreed - not realistic. Denver has a lot of tough games ahead and I think there’s still more risk of them sliding to three than opportunity to finish at #1. That said, seeding at this point is of very little concern to me. Dodging teams in the Western Conference doesn’t make a lot of sense - they’re all good. By getting a top-3 seed Denver should avoid Houston and Golden State in the first round, and they’ve got good odds against any team that isn’t those two. Just get your team playing the right way and get your guys all back on track before the end. That’s all that matters.
The Nuggets are running the gauntlet down the final stretch. What record will they finish with in these final ten games and what seed will that leave them with?
Vogt: I’ve got them at 6-4 which I think will be good enough for the two-seed. Between the game at Golden State, the back-to-back at Houston and Oklahoma City, and the two games with Portland, you have to think the Nuggets lose at least three games down the stretch. Houston is scorching hot—8-2 in their last ten—but the Nuggets have a decent cushion and 6-4 should be good enough.
Poley: I have them winning six of the ten and securing second seed. That being said, a lot of people would probably be left feeling unsatisfied with that home stretch. And while I think the team is overvalued right now, I could see them being undervalued by the time they hit the playoffs.
Gross: Why am i even here? I also say 6-4. I think they’ll get the two seed - barely - but again I’m not sure how much it matters. It should lead to a second round matchup with Houston if they get there, but the teams in the bottom half of playoff seeding don’t line up based on what seed Denver gets. Is it better to get the 2 seed and somehow face Utah or the Spurs? The bottom of the bracket is too bunched right now to want either seed - just play it out and see what matchup the basketball gods bring in the first round.
Of Utah, Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City, who presents the ideal and the worst-case first-round matchup for Denver?
Vogt: The Clippers are a very good basketball team and one of the best stories of the regular season. But there is no easy matchup in the West this year and Denver plays this team well. The Clippers are the ideal matchup. I think Utah might the the worst-case scenario. Of all those teams, the Jazz seem the most capable of taking Denver out of what they like to do offensively, which could have ramifications on the other end.
Poley: The ideal matchup is the Los Angeles Lakers. Oh wait... You meant the Clippers. Well in that case, I guess I’ll take the Clippers. As for the worst-case scenario? The Jazz and Spurs are both led by prolific coaches, but I’ll take the rigidness of the Jazz roster and late-game heroics of Donovan Mitchell as the worst matchup of those four teams.
Gross: In order of my personal preference, I would take the Clippers as the most-favorable matchup, then OKC, followed by the Jazz and San Antonio last. That may seem silly, but Denver struggles in San Antonio the same way it struggles in Utah while Pop knows Michael Malone like the back of his hand. Malone’s chances of out-scheming Pop in Malone’s first stint as the head man in the playoffs are lower than they are against other coaches. Denver would be the more talented team, but that’s not always enough. The Clippers struggle to stop what Denver does, OKC comes up a couple of possessions short every time out, the Jazz would be a knife fight in an elevator... but let Pop have the chance embarrass somebody else, please.