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Roundtable: Nuggets playoff talk and more

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Stiffs writers join together to discuss the Nuggets playoff hopes and beach body of Nikola Jokic.

Golden State Warriors v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

How will Denver fair in the eight games leading up to the postseason?

Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): Denver can often get off to slow starts to begin the season, but I don't see that being the case in Orlando. Even though the Nuggets were trending in the wrong direction the last time we saw them, there is something to be said for Denver having the most chemistry of any NBA squad traveling to Orlando.

The Nuggets chemistry with could really separate them from the competition, which is why I see them going 6-2 in those eight games. It will be important for Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and even someone like Michael Porter Jr. to find a rhythm in those eight games, which should allow them to go into the postseason firing on all cylinders.

Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): Denver has shown me throughout the season that they’re strong enough to match up with the league’s best teams on a nightly basis. Allowing everyone to heal soft-tissue injuries that they may have been dealing with will also make their depth a strength again. I’d see them going 5-3 in that stretch. They’re going to drop a couple, but they have the grit and grind style to wear teams down over the course of a game.

Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): It’s difficult to say right now because we don’t know the exact schedule, but there’s a lot of positive momentum coming via whispers from the Nuggets camp. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray look great physically, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, and Michael Porter Jr. have had ample time to get healthy and ready for the close to the season, and even players like Monte Morris and Will Barton have had plenty of time to rest and recover. In addition, the Nuggets have great chemistry at this stage and know what to expect when playing with each other. If I had to guess a record specifically, I would say 5-3 and possibly leaning toward 6-2.

Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): I don’t have a good answer for this - we don’t know the schedule, who they’ll be playing, who will be there for the Nuggets, or even who the refs are. I do know that Michael Malone will use the eight games to see who is ready for the playoffs, so I can expect to see mistakes resulting in a swift benching for certain players. 4-4 is my guess.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

Who is Denver’s ideal matchup in the first round of the postseason?

Bridgford: My top matchup would be the Oklahoma City Thunder. Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee have the size to beat up on their front court. OKC also lacks the bigger guards that can give them trouble at times. If Danilo Gallinari were a little quicker, it’d be different, but they should be capable of slowing him down throughout a series.

Ewing: I agree with Gage here and will say the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Nuggets just dominate at every matchup on the board and the only player that really scares me in a potential series would be Chris Paul. Not only has Paul given the Nuggets problems in the past, but his drive to make a big run in the postseason would be my only cause for concern.

Blackburn: It’s the Utah Jazz. The Nuggets have had difficulty in previous seasons countering Utah’s defensive physicality, but that shouldn’t be an issue this year. Bojan Bogdanovic is out for the playoffs, and neither Donovan Mitchell nor Mike Conley are scary as top tier options offensively. It comes down to how well Nikola Jokic plays against Rudy Gobert, and recent evidence suggests that he and the Nuggets can make that work.

Lewis: It’s the Jazz. Neither team will have a homecourt advantage in Orlando, and the Jazz don’t have the shooters to out-score Denver in a neutral location. I don’t see Gobert getting a friendly whistle, and once he’s out, the Jazz can’t slow Jokić.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Who will be the Nuggets X-factor in the playoffs?

Ewing: Will Barton III has a great chance to be the x-factor, especially if the Nuggets make a deep playoff run. Let’s not forget that Barton was putting together a phenomenal bounce back season before COVID-19 struck and halted the season. Sure, you could say Michael Porter Jr. for this answer, but he won’t be getting close to as many minutes as Barton. If the Nuggets are able to make a championship run, look for Barton to play a huge role.

Bridgford: I almost went with Gary Harris for this one, but Jerami Grant gets my nod. His size and athleticism allows him to be a decent matchup to guard bigger wings that they’ll run into. Not only is he a help on defense, but, when he is rolling on offense, it adds a completely different dimension to their game. I also want to give a nod to Michael Porter Jr., but I don’t have a ton of confidence in his ability to get consistent minutes in the playoffs after struggling to get them in the regular season.

Blackburn: The easy answer is Michael Porter Jr. due to how volatile his season has been thus far, but I will say Jamal Murray. The best two or three players and how they perform are generally a good indicator of how far a team can go. Murray was good in the playoffs last year, but his final two games of the Portland Trail Blazers series showcased how Denver needs elite consistency as soon as possible. If Murray is averaging above 20 points per game on above average efficiency, the Nuggets will go far. If that number jumps to 25 points per game, the Nuggets can go as far as anyone.

Lewis: I’ll take Will Barton. He’s going to get minutes, either as a starter or off the bench. He needs to be better as an off-ball threat and a better defender — if not, they have to play Torrey Craig for defense and rebounding. If he does get removed from the starting lineup, he needs to embrace his sixth-man role and crush it during his minutes.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Last and certainly the most important question, how excited are you to watch “Beach Body” Nikola Jokic dominate in Orlando?

Ewing: Nikola Jokic was already going to take the NBA by storm in Orlando and now he is in beach body shape? It’s over. The Nuggets big man is going to absolutely dominate the competition at Disney World and I can’t wait to watch every second of it.

Bridgford: This will be the number one storyline to watch. If he’s legitimately as in shape as they’re saying he is, he’s going to give you the most productive minutes we’ve ever seen. We’ll likely see fewer of the transition fouls following turnovers, and this team will be playing a different brand of ball. I just can’t communicate the level of excitement I possess to watch this.

Blackburn: I’m looking forward to it, if only to hear every announcer comment on how great Nikola Jokic is. The only two things holding Jokic back from universal stardom are being outside of a large market and looking like a superstar. Getting his body right could be a big step in that direction of popularity, not that he cares.

Lewis: The Shaun T version of Jokić should be as anticipated as any summer blockbuster. We’re talking about a fully operational Serbian All-Star Center at the height of his powers. The league should be on notice.