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Monday’s win against the 76ers was the biggest regular-season win in recent memory and here’s why

What are your favorite regular season wins in Nuggets history?

Denver Nuggets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

In my opinion, Monday’s win against Philadelphia was the biggest regular-season win for the Nuggets that I can remember. There are others that come to mind recently. The 2OT win against the Utah Jazz in 2020 helped the Nuggets capture the 3rd seed and gain the confidence needed to conquer Utah on their way to the Western Conference Finals. Denver also beat the Minnesota Timberwolves in the last game of the 2019 regular season to lock in the 2nd seed, and overcome their loss to the Timberwolves the previous season where they knocked Denver out of the playoffs.

This game reminded me of the most important and memorable Nuggets regular-season game I have ever watched. When I say most important, in this context, it probably carries a different meaning than others. I have been a Nuggets fan my whole life, born and raised in Colorado, and they have always been the underdogs and for good reason. Like many other fans, I’ve carried resentment towards a national audience because Denver never reached the pinnacle, thus never receiving the respect I so passionately desired. So when I say most important, what I really mean is, the game that provided Denver the most respect.

February 18, 2010. Prime Melo vs prime LeBron in Cleveland on TNT. I’ll never forget where I was during that game, and I’ll never forget Melo hitting the bottom of the net over an outstretched LeBron hand to give the Nuggets a 118-116 lead in OT with 2 seconds left and eventually the win. That was the biggest regular-season win I saw to that point because of the gravity of the moment, the incredible back-and-forth between LeBron and Melo, and I knew that win would not be ignored. In fact, I still see highlights of that game surfacing throughout the internet to this day.

Monday just had a different feel to it. It did not necessarily have any direct playoff implications, but it had the anticipation and aura of a heavyweight boxing match. The Nuggets and Nikola Jokic had a certain amount of respect, but they did not necessarily have the confidence of the national audience to overcome two Hall of Famers in Philadelphia. Well they did, and here is why this game should never be forgotten among the Denver community.


Small market bias

This might be the biggest reason why I think that game was so important. The East coast has a decorated history among the NBA and basketball. America’s introduction into professional basketball initiated in the East. The West Coast also holds great tradition with teams like the Lakers and Warriors. Some of those eastern and western big market teams flourished into dynasties, and they rostered some of the game’s greatest and most memorable players. So even when those teams falter, they still receive significant attention because of their large fan base and the fact that they are embedded into the fabric of American basketball.

In between, are the smaller market teams and those without championship pedigree. The Nuggets have more of a storied franchise than some think, but they have never won a championship so it gets ignored. This is evident by the fact Alex English did not make it into the NBA’s Top 75 list. In a decade with players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, and others, English scored the most points in the ’80s by about 2,000. He dominated the golden age of basketball, yet others took his place.

As long as the Nuggets go without a championship, they will hold this same place among the basketball landscape, but crucial wins here and there versus the games’ bigger market are important to the team and the fan base. Playoff games are always more important, but these are the type of games that make you proud to be a fan. To go into Philadelphia without Murray and MPJ, and beat two greats in Embiid and Harden, was such a joyous moment I will never forget when I remember the Nikola Jokic era.

MVP face-off

This was the main attraction and it lived up to the hype. It reminds me a lot of that Melo vs LeBron matchup, but it is actually far more important than that. It’s the revival of the bigs. It’s Russell vs Chamberlain, Olajuwon vs Ewing, Shaq vs Duncan among many other matchups. The center position has not been as popular since Shaq, and these two are a huge reason why. They both bring something different to the court, but their friendship illustrates why this matchup was so crucial when they both agreed, as long as a center or big wins the MVP they are content.

While watching the game, I don't think one player outdueled the other, I think Embiid and Jokid both demonstrated their uniqueness on the basketball court. Embiid showed he was the better three-point shooter as he shot 3-3 from beyond the arc, and displayed he is the best scorer of the bunch with 34 points on 11-20 shooting.

Jokic provided the national audience with the notion that he is a winner. He started out slow, shooting 2-7, but towards the end of the first half, he made a flurry of passes to ignite energy in his team as they made their 19-point comeback. That energy and execution continued as the game went on, but this game is a perfect example of the differences between the two. Embiid is the more dominant scorer and defensive player, but Jokic can and will do whatever it takes to win the game, and that might be the most important skill.

No two games ever appear to be the same for him. He is a chameleon that blends into the needs of each individual contest. What makes this “rivalry” so great is the respect one has for the other. Embiid is known for trash-talking most of his opponents, but when Jokic comes up in discussion, he recognizes Jokic’s game with great respect and so does Jokic. Hopefully, this matchup will continue for several years because these types of head-to-head matchups can live on forever.

Bones Hyland's introduction to the masses

What a great night for Bones Hyland. He plays in front of numerous friends and family from Deleware and has the game of his life. He was the key to that game down the stretch and was the executioner with three triples in about a minute, plus one late with about a minute to go. He has such an electric skillset that is almost tailored for a national stage and so is his personality. His smile lights up the room and his energy is infectious to anyone in it, and he deserves to be highlighted in the limelight.

This game could be the introduction to the potential of Bones Hyland. What makes him so great is his confidence. In the 4th quarter of a critical game, he pulled up from the logo and sank a three. Not many players have the confidence or the green-light to do that, especially as a rookie, but Bones has supreme trust in his ability, and I think that is what aided his performance on Monday.

He reminds me a lot of Lou Williams. They have similar frames and their strengths are all about getting buckets. I think Bones will turn out to be a much better passer, but he has similar shiftiness to Lou, and he has the potential to be just as good of a shooter. I would not say Bones’s ceiling is a sixth man off the bench, but Lou Williams has had a wonderful career with three Sixth Man of the Year awards, and if Bones could share some of his production, his career would be a great success.