The end is nigh and an NBA champion must be crowned. With the beginning of the seeding games last night, the most unusual season in NBA history is rapidly marching towards it’s conclusion. Eight seeding games and then the playoffs, that’s all that’s left now. The Denver Nuggets will play their first seeding game tomorrow, currently in the third seed, a game back of the second seeded Los Angeles Clippers, a game ahead of the 4th seeded Utah Jazz. Even though Denver has followed up their 2018-2019 season, where they ended up as the second seed in the West, with another strong performance there seems to be this feeling among national pundits that they are not just susceptible to a first round upset, but even the most likely of the top seeded teams to suffer such a fate. I present an alternative: they can win the NBA Championship.
Why not? Why not the Denver Nuggets? They were just moments away from the Conference Finals last season. Granted, had the Nuggets made it to the Conference Finals virtually no one believed they would have advanced, but that’s because the super team Golden State Warriors were in the way. That era in Northern California is over and while Southern California has certainly shored up it’s championship prospects, there is no 4-all star, three of the best shooters to ever touch a basketball mega power in the NBA anymore. Are the Nuggets favorites over or as talented as teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks? No they are not, but the most talented teams don’t always end up hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy each year.
Last year stands as a perfect example of that. Were the Toronto Raptors more talented than the Warriors when the playoffs opened? No, not by a long shot, but fortune smiled upon them in the form of a rash of injuries to the Warriors and low and behold Canada claimed it’s first NBA championship. For the Nuggets to win it all undoubtedly they will need some luck along the way, but so does every team. Furthermore, the 2020 NBA playoffs are the weirdest we’ll probably ever see and that’s on top of the fact that this was already one of the most open races for the title the league has seen in decades. Fortune and misfortune will be abound.
Outside of the three teams I mentioned though I’m not sure there’s another team that can be considered more talented than the Nuggets. Some will surely point to the Houston Rockets with their pairing of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, while others will remind us that despite losing Kawhi Leonard the defending champion Raptors still look as formidable as ever. However, Denver has the best center in the league while the Rockets have no centers. The Raptors have to march through a gauntlet of other quality eastern conference teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and aforementioned Bucks before even potentially reaching Denver. A lot can happen to sway this thing one way or another.
Beyond what everyone else is doing, there’s the Nuggets themselves to consider in all of this as well of course. Again, the Nuggets have the best center in the league, a bonafide superstar and the type of superstar that makes everyone better. Next to him they have a plethora of players who could take the next step during the end of this Summer. Jamal Murray looks like a prime candidate to once again take his game to the next level in the playoffs. Though he played only one scrimmage, he was electric and more than that in it. He showed the headiness and confidence of a veteran and he looked like someone who used the time away to really shore up his strength and conditioning. Then there’s Michael Porter Jr, the long awaited X-factor. It’s yet to be seen whether coach Michael Malone will deploy his ace in the hole but again, if the one scrimmage MPJ played in is any indication, he presents a problem that few teams, if any, will be able to solve.
This is not to say that the Nuggets couldn’t falter, that the oversized and ultra talented wings they have to march through won’t exploit Denver’s lack of size on the perimeter. This isn’t to say that the Nuggets themselves won’t be on the receiving end of misfortune that derails their title hopes. I say again though, why not the Denver Nuggets? They have the talent, they have the ability, if they can maintain their focus through these incredibly unique circumstances then they have a legitimate shot to win it all. In fact, this might be the most legitimate shot they’ve had in decades (depending on how much you believe in the idea the ‘09 team could have upset the Lakers), perhaps even ever. Forget NuggLife, forget asterisks, the Nuggets have the talent to do this in various circumstances and their opportunity to prove it to everyone starts tomorrow. Fraud City for life.