Competition in the Western Conference has now risen to a boiling point and the Nuggets will need to commit to raising the bar even higher in the final 4 weeks of the season.
The Houston Rockets are just 3 games behind Denver for the 2nd slot, and they’re currently working on a 7 game winning streak at 8-2 in their last 10 games.
In the lower half of the playoff bracket, the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs are working on 4 game winning streaks while the Clippers seem to be picking up speed winning 7 of their last ten games.
The moral of the story is that as the regular season draws to a close, there looks to be some movement in store for the Western Conference playoff standings so Denver will need to focus on winning to put themselves in the best position to move past the first round of the playoffs.
Let’s talk about some of the standout moments of the week.
Nuggets log their 13th straight loss in San Antonio
Not to be negative here, but this concerns me greatly.
The San Antonio Spurs haven’t had the best season this year, but lately the team seems to be clicking better than they have all season. This recent synergy has primarily come from the defensive end of their game.
After trading Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, an adjustment period was to be expected for San Antonio. DeRozan is an incredible talent, but before his time in Texas, defense didn’t appear to be a major focus for him. To me, his game has always seemed to fall below what I think he’s truly capable of.
But, I had a feeling that it would only be a matter of time before Coach Gregg Popovich changed that.
DeRozan has been outspoken about his struggles with depression in the past, and in another article before the season started I talked about how Coach Pop would likely be the perfect coach to bring DeRozan to a whole new level, and he looks to be thriving on his new team.
It seems as though the Spurs as a whole are elevating together (in typical Spurs fashion), and that could pose a threat to the Nuggets in the post-season.
If the playoffs were to start today, the Nuggets would match up against San Antonio in the first round, and with the Spurs’ recent focus on defense and one-point win over the Nuggets, Denver could have their work cut out for them to capture a series win.
James passes Jordan’s scoring record, while the Lakers take that “L” on the way out
In a moment that was recognized by both the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Nuggets organizations, LeBron James passed Michael Jordan as the 4th leading NBA scorer of all time. Granted, James has played more overall seasons than Jordan so I think that given the opportunity Jordan would beat James in that race, but I’m not going to start another GOAT debate right now.
Records, and GOAT discussions aside, who cares if the 2nd seed Nuggets stomp the 11th seed Lakers in one game?
Well, to me, this win is important because the Nuggets look very comfortable and steady in their leading role this season. So while they allowed James to take the spotlight for the recognition that his hard work has truly earned, they’re weren’t starstruck by the moment to the point where they lost sight of what they’ve become.
It’s no longer speculation that they’re one of the most iconic teams the organization will ever see. They’ve arrived, and they’re not surprised about it.
Tools to overcome
After the exciting win over Los Angeles, the Nuggets turned around and dropped a major game to the Warriors by 17 points. The Nuggets’ defense allowed Klay Thompson to tally 39 points for the game (27 in the first half) with Kevin Durant contributing 26 points of his own.
The Warriors continue to show up against the Nuggets to deliver the message that they’re still a very real and present danger as the leaders of the Western Conference.
However, what I’ve seen from the Nuggets this season is that they’ve now come to understand how to adjust and overcome without giving up. Last year, they seemed to be on the cusp of greatness only to lose their balance and fall off the wagon time and again.
This season, they’re still not perfect, but they know how to strategize and change course to either come back from a deficit, or capture a win in the next game.
This will prove very useful for them in the post season against lower seeded teams with coaches who know how to win, and later against the more competitive teams in the conference.
Do I think they’ll make it to the Finals this season? Probably not. However, I think they have a real chance to make it to the Western Conference Finals and give the Warriors a run for their money.