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NBA Power Rankings: Post All-Star break edition

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Where do the Nuggets stand heading into the back stretch of the season?

2020 NBA All-Star - Practice & Media Day Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Ahh the All-Star break. Usually a disaster but this year an actual improvement and fun game to watch. And for the Denver Nuggets, a much needed opportunity to rest and get healthy for the back stretch of the season.

Prior to Nikola Jokic’s second All-Star appearance (yielding just five points in 12 minutes of play) the Nuggets were on lock, winners of four straight before falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in overtime. Even without a healthy lineup in the past month-plus, the Nuggets have looked more and more like a legit contender. Add back guys like Will Barton, Mason Plumlee and Michael Porter Jr. and this team will be ready to peak at just the right time.

Does the media perceive the same potential? See what they say this week below:

ESPN

Nuggets Rank: 4
Last week: 4

This season in the West is unlike seasons past, when making sure to be on the opposite side of the bracket’s No. 1 seed was a priority. You can’t avoid both the Lakers and the Clippers in the second round — unless they somehow play each other — so head coach Mike Malone’s focus is pretty simple: Spend the next six weeks finding the eight or nine players he trusts most. Denver is solid as one of the West’s top four seeds, but preparing for the postseason will be important.

Bleacher Report

Nuggets Rank: 5
Last week: 4

A stumble against the Lakers on Wednesday in one of the best games of the year sent Denver into the break on a losing note, but there’s no shame in that defeat.

The Nuggets came back from a 23-point deficit to beat the Spurs on Monday and have won six of their last eight games. Jamal Murray averaged 31.3 points in his last four outings before the break, Paul Millsap is back after nearly a month on the shelf, and Nikola Jokic continues to play some of the best ball of his career.

And yes, that last part is still true even though Jokic deserves criticism for passing up a clean look at a three that could have tied things up late against the Lakers. We should forgive the greatest passing center who has ever lived if he struggles to embrace a shoot-first mentality once in a while.

”I have to be better,” Jokic told reporters after passing on that shot against L.A. “I think I just need look to score a little bit more or just try to shoot it at least.”

It’s not like Jokic has made shying away from big shots a habit. Only Chris Paul has more total points in the clutch this year.

The Athletic

Nuggets Rank: 5
Last week: 5

What are you playing for? The Western Conference Finals. I’ve gone back and forth on this one, trying to decide if the WCF or the NBA Finals are what the Denver Nuggets are actually playing for this season. A logical step in the right direction for them is making the conference finals. Regardless of how good you think this team is, that should be what they’re playing for at bare minimum. They damn near made it last year when they lost Game 7 at home to Portland. I don’t know if they’re definitely better this season compared to last, but I think their ceiling should be higher. Jerami Grant is huge for them and Michael Porter Jr. keeps plugging along as he figures this league out. Still, they are probably a tier below both LA teams when it comes to how it plays out in the postseason. But they have a great chance to prove this section to be underselling them.

CBS Sports

Nuggets Rank: 5
Last week: 5

Denver beat the Spurs before falling to the Lakers in overtime, despite 32 points and 10 assists from Jamal Murray, who has been excellent since his return from an ankle injury. Nikola Jokic nearly averaged a triple-double in the two games while shooting 58 percent from the field.