“It is only when a man tames his own demons that he becomes the king of himself if not of the world.”

– Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

In his book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, Joseph Campbell describes The Hero’s Journey, a series of steps each hero of a story needs to overcome in order to fulfill his journey and destiny. Campbell describes the specifics that so many great story arcs hit to give a compelling and thoughtful narrative to some of the great heroes of all time. Without going too far down the rabbit hole, each hero must overcome self doubt, the challenges of those nearest and dearest, and an increasingly difficult set of external trials and tribulations to complete their journey.

Though 99% of the city of Portland doesn’t currently see them as heroes, your Denver Nuggets have been on a multi-year Heroes Journey of their own. Overcoming the self-doubt of their youth, the Nuggets have fairly exploded onto the scene during the 2018-2019 season, slowly climbing the ridiculously difficult ladder that is the NBA’s Western Conference. Denver had their own set of challenges to surmount, with each becoming increasingly difficult all season long.

Coming into their first playoffs appearance in six seasons, many fans outside of Nuggets Nation considered the team the best bet for an early out in the postseason. Instead, Denver’s tale has been a journey of trials and redemption over the last dozen games.

Game Two vs. San Antonio Spurs

After a not-so-surprising loss in Game One to a better-prepared Spurs squad, the Nuggets struggled through three forgettable quarters before Jamal Murray remembered how to shoot. The pressure he’d been placing on himself had rendered him relatively ineffectual through the first context. While pressing against the practiced and composed San Antonio team, the Nuggets never stopped giving effort, keeping the Spurs close enough to reel them in and surpass them for their first playoff win in years, showing themselves they belonged.

Game Four vs. Spurs

After letting Spurs Guard and Colorado kid Derrick White go thermonuclear in the third game of the series, the Nuggets found a way to combat the Spurs best options, with Michael Malone swapping Torrey Craig into the starting lineup to stiffen Denver’s defense. The gamble paid off, with Craig also contributing 18 points at the other end of the court. The Nuggets tied the series at two apiece, recaptured home court advantage, and won their first road playoff game in seven seasons.

Game Six vs. Spurs

After a decisive Game Five win, Denver had the difficult task of trying to get another win in San Antonio, and everyone but Nikola Jokic (43 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists) laid a bit of an egg under the pressure. After a season filled with comebacks and redemptions, the Nuggets put themselves in a hole, making Game Seven their first win-or-go-home contest of the year.

Game Seven vs. Spurs

You’re probably pretty clear on the outcome of Game Seven, or Denver would already be done at this point. A defensive battle at the Pepsi Center yielded the Nuggets a four point win, and their first trip beyond the first round in over a decade. The young Nuggets had overcome trial after trial, and always found the character, fortune, and fortitude to pull themselves back up and succeed.

Game Three vs. Portland Trail Blazers

After winning the first game of the series, Denver gave up home court advantage in a seven point loss to Portland that actually didn’t seem that close. The follow up was a hard fought contest that ended up being one of the great games in NBA Playoff history, with the Trail Blazers narrowly edging out the Nuggets after a record-tying four overtimes. Jokic played 65 of the 68 minutes of the game, putting up 33 points, 18 rebounds, and 14 assists in the instant classic. Many wondered if the young Nuggets would finally fold after expending every last bit of gas in the marathon game. But…

Game Four vs. Blazers

After showing grit and gumption in tough situations over the regular and post season time and again, it was still somewhat surprising the Nuggets (and Trail Blazers, frankly) played a beautiful and hard-fought contest in Game Four, with Murray icing the game with a perfect night from the foul line. Denver wrested back control of home court advantage, and gave a national audience a clear-cut display of just how deep and tough the team is, playing well beyond their years.

Game Six vs. Blazers

After a dance-worthy win at the Pepsi Center on Tuesday night, Denver finds themselves firmly in control of their own destiny in the series. As with their previous series, the Nuggets head into hostile territory with their opponents backs firmly against the wall. With the learnings of their lack of fire against the Spurs, will the Nuggets yet again overcome yet another hurdle and challenge in what will probably be their toughest task yet? Portland and their fans will well remember the whupping Denver laid on them in Game Five, and the celebrations and showmanship that the Nuggets displayed throughout. Have you seen Damian Lillard when he’s feeling challenged? Fans of the Oklahoma City Thunder have a recent experience there. Denver will need to bring their best game to not find themselves right back in win-or-go-home territory.

And should Denver win either game six or seven, they will find themselves back in the Western Conference Finals for the first time in over a decade, and only the fourth time in team history. Should they make it that far, they’ll find themselves battling the Five-headed Hydra that is the Golden State Warriors, or the Bearded Kraken that is James Harden and the Houston Rockets, both teams that have provided giant challenges to your Denver Nuggets this year.

But after watching this team pull themselves out of trial after trial, and challenge after challenge, would you bet against them finding a way yet again? For Nuggets Nation, this journey has absolutely proved that your Nuggets can be heroes.

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