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Unbelievable determination makes the Nuggets a true title contender

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The Denver Nuggets keep finding ways to win and it should put the rest of the NBA on notice.

San Antonio Spurs vs Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

There is no secret or exact science as to how the Denver Nuggets are finding ways to win. For a team that has one player over 30 years of age — Happy Birthday, Paul Millsap — the Nuggets are still one of the youngest teams in the NBA, but wins are still piling up.

Denver is currently off to their best start in franchise history through 54 games (38-16) and sit at second place in the Western Conference. The Nuggets trail the Los Angeles Lakers by three games for the top spot, which is who they coincidently face off against tomorrow night at the Pepsi Center.

How the Nuggets got to this point should be credited to the will, heart, and determination. Countless times the Nuggets have looked down and out in games, which just so happens to be when they thrive.

Just look at Wednesday nights performance against the San Antonio Spurs for example. The Nuggets were down 23-points at the midway point of the third quarter and found a way to win by seven, completely turning the tide behind resilient performances from Millsap and Jamal Murray.

Murray was playing on a sore left ankle that was so bad it caused him to miss 10 games in the middle of January. After scoring just three points through two quarters, Murray exploded for 23 second half points, even on an ankle that was not close to 100 percent.

“I was this close to not coming back in the second half,” Murray told the media after the game. “I wore these for a reason today and I talked to my dad at half... this is Murray mentality, right here. I pride myself on playing with pain, playing through stuff.”

That is a mentality the entire Nuggets squad seems to echo, which certainly was the case with Millsap, who was celebrating his 35th birthday on Monday night. Millsap was on a minutes restriction and was playing in just his second game after missing 16 straight due to a left knee contusion/sprain.

Millsap certainly made the most of his 19 minutes as he scored 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field, 4-of-5 from behind the 3-point line. After an okay first half, Millsap went nuclear in the second half scoring 16 of his 22 points and was the driving force of the Nuggets improbable come from behind victory.

“I know we needed it. It had to come from somewhere. So, just getting out there trying to fight for loose balls, feel like we lost a lot of loose balls in the first half, they beat us to the floor.” Paul Millsap told the media after the Nuggets victory. “It just worked out different in the first half, needed to bring some type of energy and I just wanted to be that spark plug.”

The Nuggets victory over the Spurs was their largest come from behind victory since they overcame a 25-point deficit to beat the Memphis Grizzlies last season. It was also their largest comeback this season, just narrowly edging out their 21-point comeback against the Philadelphia 76ers in which Nikola Jokic hit yes, another game winner.

There really is something to be said for how the Nuggets find ways to win. Not only are comebacks the Nuggets speciality, but they also play at their best when they have their backs against the wall, like on second night of back-to-backs.

In the last two seasons, the Nuggets are 19-3 on second night of back-to-backs and 8-2 this season. Denver has won eight straight back-to-backs after dropping their first two this year, but none have been greater than the last two.

It all started with a back-to-back Michael Malone called “criminal” as the Nuggets squared off against the Utah Jazz on a Thursday night at 8:30 pm MDT. Not only are the Jazz one of the best teams in the West, but the Nuggets then had to turn around and play the best team in the NBA — Milwaukee Bucks — not even 24 hours later on the road.

Denver Nuggets v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

What did the Nuggets do? Well, they went into Milwaukee and handed the Bucks just their seventh loss all season. To put it into an even bigger perspective, Milwaukee has now won 14 of their last 15 games and have been playing absolutely unreal basketball. Their only loss during that time fame was — you guessed it — the Nuggets.

Fast forward a week later when the Nuggets traveled to Utah for a Wednesday night game, which came — again — not even 24 hours after facing the Portland Trail Blazers at home. The Nuggets went into Utah with an incredibly thin roster — seven players — as they had just traded Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, and Jarred Vanderbilt to Minnesota, while the rest of their team was sitting on the injury report.

The Nuggets were left with a starting five that featured Murray, Jokic, Torrey Craig, Jerami Grant, and Monte Morris to go along with PJ Dozier and Vlatko Cancar as the only rotation players. It bears mentioning that Dozier and Cancar have spent most of the season in the G-League, so the Nuggets definitely had their work cut out for them.

What do they do though? They go out and capture arguably the most improbable win in the franchise’s history. Jokic became just the ninth player in NBA history to post a 30-20-10 game as he went for 30 points, 21 rebounds, and 10 assists, while hitting the game winning shot in the process.

Murray — who was playing in his second game back from injury on a BACK-TO-BACK — played a game-high 42 minutes and led the Nuggets with 31 points. It was honestly remarkable what the Nuggets were able to accomplish and it speaks to the mentality this team always seems to play with.

“Who gave us a chance to win this game? Nobody. I’ve said it a lot recently, but this is our new best win of the year. Such a great group of guys in there,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said following the victory.

“I think that is the bottom line. We have a bunch of guys that are hungry, desperate, and willing to do whatever it takes to have success.”

That is the main point right there. Exactly what Malone said in those two statements is who this Nuggets team is and who they want to be. The Nuggets organization deserves a ton of credit for the foundation they have built and a ton of praise goes to the players and coaches that continue to produce on a nightly basis.

The Nuggets continue to show night in and night out that they are a contender for the NBA title. Whether they are being taken seriously or not, they could care less. What this team does is they go out and give it their all every night and the proof is in the pudding.

Denver might not be the most talented team in the NBA, but what they do have is a belief and chemistry that is unmatched. That makes them dangerous moving forward, and the rest of the league must watch out: the Denver Nuggets are for real.