Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): There was a point this season where I was not concerned, but that is starting to turn in a different direction. I can answer the question like this, I am not concerned about who the Nuggets are losing too, but it is the way they are losing that has me concerned.
The Nuggets are losing games where they a.) can not make a shot and b.) can not stop the opposing team from making a shot. Denver is not a team that matches up well against squads who jack up three-pointers and make them at an alarming rate, like the Warriors did on Tuesday night.
Sure, the Nuggets can score with the best of them, the problem is they can’t do it consistently enough and I don't think they have the players on the roster to do so. In the end, championship teams don’t lose to bad teams like the Nuggets did Tuesday night, which makes my concern level a solid 9.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): As in, concern for their playoff hopes? No, that’s a like a 3 or 4. It matters, but it’s no different than the Rockets losing to the Knicks or the Lakers losing to the Grizzlies, both things that have happened in the past week. Good teams looking to conserve energy can take lesser teams lightly. It happens. Now as far as how much it annoys me? That’s like an 8. But it doesn’t speak to their playoff chances.
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): In terms of Denver’s playoff viability? 3. It does say something about Denver’s killer instinct and not being able to step on a team’s throat and put games away, and that could matter in a playoff series, especially the first round. The rest of it, as in how well the Nuggets can compete at the highest levels of the NBA, has zero bearing of Denver’s ultimate goals.The only thing it impacts is seeding, not how well (or not well) the Nuggets match up with LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard.
What is your biggest concern with the Nuggets moving forward and what could get in their way of winning a championship?
Ewing: The 3-point shooting is what really concerns me about the Nuggets with how hot and cold they can get. On some nights, the Nuggets can not miss a shot and on others they can not shoot a basketball into a swimming pool.
In the playoffs, you have to make tough shots to win and the Nuggets were able to do that last postseason. This team is a little different though, but the outlier could be Michael Porter Jr., the problem is you have no idea what his minutes will look like on a nightly basis.
Michael Porter Jr. has to be apart of the Nuggets postseason run or I honestly think they are in danger of a first round exit. The Nuggets have to find a way to more shots consistently and take care of business, which at times has been a problem this season.
Gross: Guys either wearing down or not being ready for the roles Denver needs from them. Denver can’t afford a lot more rest for anyone, but several players still don’t look healthy and Michael Porter Jr. remains out of sorts and sidelined in the flow of the offense. At its best, the Nuggets employ a cutting offense with screens to open guys up and kickouts for open threes. But Denver’s not really playing like that a ton this year, and most of the guards/wings are not deadeye shooters from deep. It causes Denver to have to manufacture points at the rim, and guys keep rolling ankles in traffic. If you promised me three 40% shooters on volume from deep I would take it and believe, but right now those guys are Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap and Michael Porter Jr, and the volume just isn’t high enough to make me a believer in a Championship run. Denver will run into too many teams that can make life difficult for their ball handlers and require the Nuggets to make open shots. I don’t see it this year. Still feels a year away.
Blackburn: The fact that Michael Porter Jr. has been one of the most valuable forwards in the NBA offensively and can’t seem to find playing time. Porter’s +0.73 Offensive Real Plus-Minus slots him just below Jayson Tatum, and the list of forwards ahead of him is littered with playoff contributor after playoff contributor. At some point, the Nuggets are going to come across a matchup in the playoffs where the starting guards and Monte Morris simply cannot create points at a high level. Even Jamal Murray may fall victim to tough defensive matchups against teams with length on the perimeter. Porter is the ultimate counter, the one guy Denver has outside of Jokic taller than 6’5 that can create and make shots at a high level, on top of making the easy ones (88th percentile on Spot Up possessions, 78th percentile on Cut possessions). This shouldn’t as difficult as it has become to envision Porter being a factor in the postseason, but I have my doubts he will garner a real opportunity.
Denver currently has a record of 42-20 with 20 games to go. What record will they finish the season with?
Ewing: Looking at the Nuggets schedule, there are about 11 games where I could see them losing and that does not include the outlier games against like Cleveland or Chicago. Because of that, I’ll say the Nuggets go 53-29 and end up somewhere around the three or four seed. I could easily see them doing better, but this is where I see the team right now.
Gross: I’m going with 54-28, same as last year. There are some rough games down the stretch and Denver has already botched at least one easy one. 54-28 and the three seed, let’s say.
Blackburn: I said 58-24 at the beginning of the season, and I will amend that to 56-26. Denver does better when the pressure’s on overall, maybe not against the top tier teams, but against second tier contenders, I favor Denver over almost anybody. They have traveled better on the road this year, and there are still some easy wins to bank. As long as Denver doesn’t go full Denver and lose to every sub .500 team, they should exceed last season’s win total.
What is the Nuggets ceiling this season? Championship, Conference Finals, or less?
Ewing: I think the Nuggets ceiling is the second round and here is why. The Nuggets are going to have to play either the Clippers or Lakers in the second round and I do not see them getting past either squad. Both LA teams have too much fire power and the Nuggets have struggled with both this season (yes I know they have also beat both of them). I think the Nuggets can make it out of the first round, but they have to do it quickly to help their second round chances. A seven game series in the first round like last year would make it incredibly tough come round two.
Gross: I think Denver is at significant risk from three teams: the Lakers, the Clippers, and the Rockets. They’ll have to beat at least one of them to get to the Conference Finals, and whether they can do that depends on who is healthy and how they are performing. I don’t think they get to the Conference Finals without steady contributions from Michael Porter Jr. If both Will Barton and Gary Harris can shoulder a scoring load by then maybe it’s a different story, but Porter is the only mismatch available to Denver on the wing in any of those series and it’s too much to ask Jokic and Murray to do it all again. I don’t see this team making the Championship this year, but they can make their fourth Conference Finals in team history if things break the right way and enough guys take the scoring load off Jokic’s shoulders.
Blackburn: I’m still in the camp that Denver makes the Conference Finals this year. Maybe not as firmly as I was three weeks ago, but it’s still my belief that Denver will surprise people when the time comes. Whether it be an upset against the Clippers or if the Clippers drop to the fourth seed and the Rockets replace them, I still see Denver getting a top three seed and making the most of it. They COULD make the Finals, but a more realistic ceiling is a Conference Finals appearance if things break right. As G said though, nothing beyond a second round exit happens unless Michael Porter Jr. is involved.