After winning 15 of 19 post-All-Star break games and taking down the Lakers in Los Angeles on Sunday, it’s clear to me who the top four teams in the Western Conference are. It’s just too bad the Nuggets will be slotted fifth when the playoffs begin.

Finally, I'm convinced that this new-look Nuggets squad is a potentially great team. 

From the dawn of the big trade through my Friday "Golden Nuggets" column, I was inspired but remained (very) cautiously optimistic about just how good this Nuggets team has become.

Sure, we beat the red-hot Grizzlies even without the Knuggets (Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov), but the Grizz were missing Rudy Gay. Yeah, we beat the Eastern Conference champion Celtics with the Nuggets’ newly assembled roster, but the Celtics were missing both O’Neals and were reeling from the trade of Kendrick Perkins. Ok, so we beat the Suns in Phoenix, the Hornets in New Orleans and the Hawks in Atlanta (three things the Melo-led Nuggets routinely didn’t do), but all three teams had been playing horrible basketball at the time. And, sure, we took down the NBA-best Spurs…but it was a home game and Tim Duncan didn’t suit up.

But now our new-look Nuggets have passed the ultimate test: defeating the NBA Champion Lakers at Staples Center. And they did so without Arron Afflalo and Chris Andersen, no less. The Nuggets shouldn’t have needed one big road win to prove that their 14-4 post-trade record (now 15-4!) wasn’t a fluke, but I think we can now rest assure knowing that this team is no joke.

In fact, these Nuggets should be feared.

Unfortunately, it took the trading of the Nuggets’ best player for them to finally compete in a manner worthy of a top-four Western Conference seed (read: home court advantage in the playoffs’ first round). And because the NBA trade deadline is so stupidly late into season, the Nuggets likely put themselves too far behind before pulling the trigger on that deal in order to claim a top-four seed. But after seeing the Nuggets resurrection up-close combined with the Mavericks‘ implosion from afar, I’m convinced that the Nuggets are better than Dallas and we’ll see if they’re better than Oklahoma City this week. Frankly, the Nuggets would be better served as a sixth-seed from which position they could draw Dallas in the first round, but we all know that’s not happening.

I don’t know if my fellow Stiffs noticed this or not, but do you find it as infuriating as I do that all the NBA “experts” speak of a Lakers/Thunder second round playoff series as if it’s a foregone conclusion? (Not once during ABC’s Sunday broadcast did the words “Nuggets” and “second round” get mentioned in the same sentence, by either is the studio crew or the in-game analysts.) Not only do I believe that the Nuggets will best the Thunder in a sure-to-be brutal best-of-seven first round series, but the Nuggets could still get home court advantage for that upcoming fight.

Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, the Nuggets – should the winning continue – could theoretically catch the Thunder and overtake that fourth playoff position. Prior to their last two games played, the Thunder themselves were red-hot but have cooled somewhat, losing two straight (at Portland following by at the Clippers…not good). Were the Nuggets to beat the Thunder in both meetings this week and win at Dallas on Wednesday, Denver could be just one game behind their neighboring state rival. It’s a long shot, but I’m just sayin’.

Returning to that spectacular Lakers defeat on Sunday afternoon, the Nuggets put the entire country on notice that this little upstart from the Mile High City just might ruin the NBA’s pre-ordained Lakers versus Celtics/Heat/Bulls party that they’re banking on in June. Because while most NBA teams’ seven or eight-man playoff rotations wear down as the postseason moves along, our Nuggets go 12 deep. And in talking to head coach George Karl at the Mile High Dreams Gala last Wednesday, I asked the coach if he was going to tighten up the rotation like “you’re supposed to do” in the playoffs. Karl responded: “I don’t know where all these ‘rules’ about how to coach basketball come from. We’re going to play everyone.”

Memo to the NBA: watch out!

On to the links…

Krieger: Nuggets' task is to change conventional thinking in NBA – The Denver Post
Dave Krieger writes about how the Nuggets could re-write the history of how winning is supposed to be done in the NBA.

Nuggets-Lakers Notebook's Bryan Chu provides interesting insight into the Nuggets' Sunday victory over the Lakers in Los Angeles.

Nuggets' Martin steps into role of leadership – The Denver Post
Benjamin Hochman talks about K-Mart's evolving role as the Nuggets' veteran leader.

Catching up with the trade deadline 'dealt' in the West – Ball Don't Lie – NBA Blog – Yahoo! Sports
A month later, Kelly Dwyer recaps all the trades that went down in the Western Conference before the deadline.


Nuggets 95, Lakers 90 — At the buzzer – Los Angeles Lakers Blog – ESPN Los Angeles
A Lakers' insider's perspective on their loss to our Nuggets.


Hochman: Kobe deserving . . . of what? – The Denver Post
Hochman looks into why Kobe Bryant has only one MVP to his name.

Bill Simmons – The Sports Guy – Page 2 – ESPN
Listen to this week’s BS Report as Simmons catches up with Frank Isola about the Nuggets/Knicks trade for Carmelo Anthony.