The subject of rivalry and the Denver Nuggets comes up every so often and generally is met with debate. For a team that has never been to the NBA Finals, much less win an NBA title, it has been difficult to create lasting bitterness towards a franchise. There’s no history of showdown at the biggest moments of the NBA season like there is with the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, or really the Lakers and a slew of teams from the Western Conference that either couldn’t get past them or regularly traded playoff series victories with them. The Nuggets’ postseason appearances are too sparse and short to have really developed that type of hatred. That is until now.
Enter Jusuf Nurkic, once the center of the future for the Nuggets, he was quickly supplanted by the more talented Nikola Jokic leading to an ugly divorce between Nurk and the Nuggets. It was necessary of course. Jokic is clearly better than Nurkic but Nurkic is clearly better than the 15 minutes a night role he was relegated to when Jokic took over the starting job. Add in Jusuf’s not too shy attitude about his discontent and we had all the makings of a player to take over for Carmelo Anthony (ironically now a Blazer as well) as the most reviled by Nuggets fans. That’s just it though, it was the player that was reviled, not the team.
Along came the spring of 2017. The Nuggets were fighting their way through their rebuild and on the cusp of taking the next step: a low seed in the playoffs. Denver was essentially in a two team race with none other than Nurkic’s Blazers and said teams met just a couple weeks before season’s end with the general understanding that whoever won the contest would have an overwhelming advantage to secure the final playoff seed. Nurkic scored what was at the time a career high, the Blazers won the game (and ultimately would claim the 8 seed and final playoff birth), and Jusuf very infamously wished the Nuggets a nice summer.
It took two more seasons for the Nuggets to earn a playoff birth, though they did skip the whole lower seed thing and jump straight to being a two seed. That set up the Western Conference semifinals matchup with none other than the Blazers. Nurkic sadly (and I do mean that) suffered a gruesome leg injury earlier in the season and was not available. His replacement, Enes Kanter, did an admirable job of filling the role of heel though. In fact Kanter’s social media antics, whether that was literally whining to the refs on Twitter about Jokic or his mendacious grandstanding about playing through a shoulder injury that was seemingly too much to bear on social media but wholly unnoticeable in an actual game play. There was also the case of a local beat writer thinking he had uncovered the greatest conspiracy of a century when his decibel meter on his phone didn’t match the one on the Pepsi Center jumbotron (we had some fun with that one).
That series changed things from a Nuggets fan perspective. Suddenly it wasn’t just hating on a single player, it became detest for the entire fan base and organization itself. Nuggets fans went from hating the name on the back of the jersey to hating the one on the front. There’s little doubt that that series catapulted the Blazers into true rival territory with the Nuggets, and yet, still one thing remains to be done. Fact of the matter is Denver lost that playoff series and their season was ended by the Blazers...again.
The Blazers have a fake decibel meter at Moda Center. The jumbotron reads 140 dB but my phone says to Take That L On The Way Out. pic.twitter.com/ATM6wMiLLb— Denver Stiffs (@denverstiffs) May 6, 2019
Today marks another chance to truly turn this into a fierce NBA rivalry. The Nuggets cannot eliminate the Blazers from playoff competition, but they can’t certainly deal them a blow. Currently Portland sits in the 9th seed, just a game back of Memphis for the 8th seed. In the bubble, if a 9 seed is within four games of an 8 seed they will engage in a play-in tournament of sorts to determine who gets the honor of facing LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers in the first round. Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans sit just one game back of Portland. It’s high time Denver started throwing some body blows back at a team that has become more than just a thorn in their side, it’s time to put a damper on Portland’s playoff hopes.
This game is relatively meaningless for the Nuggets, their magic number for securing no worse than the 6 seed in the playoffs is down to 1 and with no homecourt advantage to speak of in the bubble whether they finish as the 3 seed or as the 6 seed has little relevance. Sure, they are within striking distance of the 2 seed but that would only truly make a huge difference if somehow the Los Angeles Clippers fell to the 4 seed and thus set up a path to the conference finals for Denver that didn’t include facing one of the LA teams prior to then, but the Clippers falling three games in the standings with five to go seems highly unlikely. No this game’s meaning lies solely in hurting the Blazers playoff chances.
I submit that should be enough to make Denver play like it’s the NBA Finals. This team has beaten the Nuggets in the most important games. This team has insulted the Nuggets, this team has diminished the accomplishments of the Nuggets. It’s high time for some payback in my estimation and today is just the day to do it. After all, there’s no more putting Rodney Hood on Will Barton and overwhelming the size matchup at the three (the achilles heel for Denver in last year’s playoffs). Nurkic can match Jokic every step of the way if he wants to, Carmelo Anthony still has to cover the best rookie, and one of the brightest rising stars, in the game.