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Denver Nuggets: On their heels

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Your Nuggets project to be one of the NBA’s best teams this season, but they can still cover up some of their most obvious flaws

NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

They held him by his heel. When Achilles was “dipped”, it was simply his heel left unprotected. His heel was still his downfall, if you are to believe Homer, and led not only to a historic battle and loss, but became the go-to moniker for tendons and every prominent weakness… well, ever.

For years, one of my own Achilles heels had to do with flattery. My sense of self-worth was poor enough you could get me to do just about anything by telling me I was good at it, or even that I could be. I got stuck in more dead-end jobs, weekend moves, relationships, and half-assed productions simply because someone who had a say in such things said something nice to me. It was easily my greatest weakness amongst so many, and it’s a habit I fight until this day.

We all have some sort of weakness, and whether yours is a nasty mac-and-cheese habit or some sort of deep character flaw, we often find ways to cover our “heels”. We especially do so when it comes to matters of competition or the heart, as the person on the other side of the equation can simply use those weaknesses against us. You see it time and again in professional sports, including basketball. If a guy’s weakness is his defense, the opponent will attack it. Bad left hand? Someone has studied to pick that off. Our weakness is simply someone else’s buffet if they’re trying to get under our skin.

Since every person has one, it would follow that even your Denver Nuggets have a weakness (or seven) apiece. Even our strongest stars have a spot or two that can be exploited. This was readily apparent in the Serbia-Spain contest when Spain used their experience and trapping to frustrate Serbia and especially Nuggets star Nikola Jokic to within an inch of his sanity, eventually getting him to argue a non-call to the point of ejection. It was of little importance at that point, as the game may have been fully out of hand before Jokic left, but his departure signaled the surety of the ending.

While he is one of the five or 10 best players in the NBA today, the Joker still has a couple of weak spots left in his game that he is trying to cover up, and none of them more pressing a need than his occasional loss of temper. Jokic’s ejection at the World Cup was not the first of his illustrious pro career, and at least one of his early departures may have cost Denver a close game last season.

Even when not being tossed from a contest, that same instinct can also cause Nikola to commit silly early fouls when he feels things aren’t being called fairly, and an oft-missed call might make Jokic commit a silly and costly foul early in a game in protest. Those pout fouls have occasionally created situations that leave Jokic in foul trouble during crucial moments at game’s end.

But make no mistake… this is not meant to be a “pick on Nikola Jokic” article. The Joker is absolutely the finest thing the Nuggets have had going in years, if not in their history. I/we love you, Joker. This is simply pointing out that with the few flaws left in his game, this is the one his opponents seem to find the most easily exploitable.

It’s true of each of the Nuggets players. Will Barton has made huge leaps forward on his hero-ball complex, and still can make improvements. Even veterans like Paul Millsap have elements they can still try to leave less exposed in their games, if they are striving to improve. It’s simply the human condition, but also the best strategy to beat an opponent. If your Denver Nuggets hope to keep climbing this ladder beyond the lofty heights they have already reached, the only way they get past some brutal competition and onto those rings is by covering up those heels. Which includes MVP candidate Jokic getting his occasional temper flare permanently under control. It won’t be easy, but if he can do it, if each of them can do it, it will win the Nuggets a few more crucial games.

What do you say, Nuggets Nation? We’re actually not that far away from camp. What do you think are the greatest weaknesses of the squad as a whole or for individual players that they can fix, if they try? What are the biggest Achilles heels this year?


P.S. For those that have been reaching out via the comments, I have been unable to log into my account for weeks now, and I cannot seem to get it fixed. Thanks to Ryan for taking a few minutes to get this online for me.