After 82 games of seeding, The NBA Playoffs are finally back. The Denver Nuggets draw the Golden State Warriors in the first round. This is their second time meeting in the playoffs and their first since the infamous 2013 playoff loss. Therefore, the Nuggets have some unfinished business.

Setting the Tone

During the 2012-2013 season, the Nuggets were on an absolute tear. Led by head coach George Karl, Denver won 57 games on their way to the 3rd seed in the West. Since entering the NBA, it was their most wins during the regular season, and that mark still stands today.

Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Corey Brewer, Evan Fournier, JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov, and my personal favorite Andre Miller led that bunch to the best scoring offense in the league. Hopes were incredibly high until Gallinari tore his ACL right before the playoffs.

The 3rd seeded Nuggets then went on to face the unknown 6th seeded Warriors. It was Golden State’s first playoff appearance since 2007, and the league had no idea what was to come. Steph Curry introduced himself to the national stage, averaging 24.3 points in that series along with double-digit scoring from Jarrett Jack, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, and Carl Landry.

The Nuggets would eventually lose the series 4-2, and although the Warriors lost in the next round to the Spurs, the league would never be the same. Denver spiraled out of control and missed the playoff for the next five seasons, while the Warriors won three championships in that span.

This series is eerily similar to that of 2013. This time, Golden State is the 3rd seed and Denver the 6th. The Nuggets once again are missing key pieces to a championship run, while Curry, Thompson, and Green are still in uniform for the Warriors. The Nuggets do not roster anybody from that 2013 series, but the fans remember what took place. It’s time to bring justice to those 2013 Nuggets.

First Round Schedule

The Nuggets will begin their quest Saturday at 6:30 PM MT. That is the first day of the playoffs, as the Nuggets will round out a four-game slate on Saturday. As you can see, two of the first four games will be broadcasted on ABC, so this is a matchup the NBA wants the world to see.

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Nuggets: Aaron Gordon

Everybody knows the Nuggets cannot win this series without a dominant Nikola Jokic, yet the Nuggets know they cannot win this series without production from his counterparts. Aaron Gordon will be Denver’s second most valuable piece in this series because of his talent on both ends of the floor.

The Warriors have so many scoring options they can throw at you. Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Poole, and Kuminga all can score 20+ points on any night, so Denver’s defenders will have their hands full. Gordon is the most versatile of their defenders, and I assume he spends time on each one of those players throughout the series.

The Nuggets are going to have to throw several different looks at them. Gordon is not the best option to guard Curry, but sometimes Malone likes to call upon him to provide length on the perimeter. He will most likely draw Wiggins or Thompson to start out, which are crucial matchups because if Denver cannot contain them, it opens the entire floor for their offense.

Although Gordon has enough responsibilities on the defensive end, he might have just as many offensively in this series. Denver desperately needs a consistent second option, so they will need at least 15-17 PPG out of Gordon each night. Over his final 10 games of the regular season, Gordon averaged 19.6 PPG and 7.6 rebounds on 57% shooting from the field and 48.5% from three.

He is at his best when he is attacking and cutting to the basket, which is something Denver needs to take advantage of in this series. Draymond Green is one of the best defenders of his generation. Still, Denver has the size advantage, so they need to assert their presence inside to mitigate Golden State’s advantage on the perimeter.

Warriors: Klay Thompson

Many regard Thompson as a top-five shooter of all time, but we are not entirely sure what to expect out of him in this series. After multiple years of battling season-ending injuries, Thompson is back on the court and provides Golden State with the most dangerous shooting backcourt of all time.

If you noticed Thompson’s early numbers when he returned, they were a shell of his former production, but he is beginning to take form once again. In his 32 games this season, he is Golden State’s second-leading scorer at 20.4 PPG while shooting 43% from the floor and 38.5% from beyond the arc.

During his last three games of the regular season, we saw vintage Thompson. He averaged 36.7 PPG with a 53% field goal percentage and a 51% three-point percentage. He tallied 13.7 three-point attempts on average and knocked down seven of those.

He seems to have found his stride, and that is a very ominous sign for Denver. If he continues a pace of five to seven made threes a game along with Curry’s marksmanship, there could be some lopsided victories for Golden State. When he is efficient from three, it opens so many opportunities for Curry, Wiggins, and Poole to operate. The Warriors are a threat with Curry producing, but when Thompson is on fire, they are Goliath.

Three Keys

Perimeter defense

As previously discussed, the Warriors are an excellent three-point shooting team, and they can shoot Denver out of games when it is consistent. Guys like Morris, Barton, and Bones will have to play above their calling card on defense because it’s not a matter of if, but when will they start knocking down threes. Barton will draw some tough defensive assignments, but he has the ability to be a decent defender. Concentration in defensive rotations and closeouts will be key for him.

Gordon will spend some time on the perimeter defending their guards. That will provide length, but they will need him to keep Wiggins at bay because he is another one of their other x-factors. Rivers and Campazzo could play some crucial minutes in this series. They are both Denver’s best perimeter defenders, so they both will have to hit some shots to stay on the floor. Campazzo will be suspended for the first game because of a flagrant two foul in Denver’s last contest. Combined with the fact he has not been in Denver’s rotation of late, he might not play at all, but he is a professional pest, and his services might be needed to annoy Curry.

Put the ball in the hoop — a lot

Denver ended the season as a top ten scoring unit, but in their last 15 games, they ranked 5th, scoring 120 points per game. That being said, the Warriors are a top-three defensive unit. They ended the season holding opponents to just 105.5 PPG, 34% from three, and 44% from the field. They are as stingy as it gets with Draymond in the lineup, but if the Warriors are executing on offense, the Nuggets have no choice but to score and score frequently.

There is one player on this team that has 100% trust of the franchise, coaching staff, and the fans. That is clearly Nikola Jokic. We all know his passing ability is superb, and he will find open targets, but he cannot depend on his teammates all game long. He has to be dominant in the scoring category because he is their best option to score. If he gets passive, that pressures every role player into executing a high amount of their looks.

Offensively, Barton, Morris, Bones, and Gordon are the people to look at outside of Jokic. Monte Morris is such a steady force with his ball security, but he also needs to provide some scoring punch. Barton and Bones are two microwave scorers for Denver. If Barton can stay aggressive towards the rim, it will prosper better looks from the perimeter. If Bones continues to play fast in transition, that will aid easy baskets but also breed confidence in his stroke throughout the game. Lastly, Aaron Gordon has to be a monster inside. Cutting opportunities will be huge for him, and when Jokic finds him on the catch and shoot corner threes, he has to execute the open ones.

Defend without fouling

The Warriors have three players that shoot above 90% from the foul line and five over 80%. They didn't get to the foul line a ton during the regular season, as they ranked 26th in that department, but the playoffs are a different beast. If their shots aren’t falling, they know how to get to the line, and they have plenty of players to knock them down.

Denver was in the middle of the pack throughout the regular season in opponents' free throw attempts, but in their last 10 games, they graded 25th as they allowed 25.3 attempts per game. They also fouled an average of 21 times per game which was 24th in the league. Fouling is certainly a better option than giving up a three to this team, but when you award Golden State frequent free opportunities, that will only enhance their offense.

On the other side, the Warriors committed the most fouls during the last 10 games of the regular season, while the Nuggets were top ten in free throw attempts. So offensively, the game plan could be to get to the line to slow down the game. Either way, free throws will not make or break an entire game, but in the 4th quarter, wins often come down to who executes at the free-throw line.

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