I’ve always been a very optimistic person. People would probably describe me as having a glass half-full type of perspective on most things, and my boss would probably tell you that’s caused me to be a little naive in some situations. However, I’ve never been the type to be a cheer leader. As I get older and more experienced in the business world, I’ve become more balanced in my viewpoints on things, and I’m able to see both the good and the bad in any given situation.

As such, my opinions on the Nuggets have matured over the last couple of years. I’ve shifted from the typical “homer” approach of being naively unaware of any flaws the Nuggets may have, to being able to criticize them when they deserve it, and praise them when they’ve earned it.

Well, this week they have truly earned their praise. To say that I’m impressed doesn’t quite encompass my feelings about their performance in these last few games. Being a fan through some very dark times, and watching this team struggle publicly for years I feel connected to them as I’ve seen them grow. Put simply, I’m really proud of the Nuggets, and I’m happy for them as they experience these major victories that take them closer to accomplishing their goals.

As I’ve watched this week’s games, and post-game interviews, I’ve gotten a bit of a feel for the emotional temperature of the team. I see three important trends happening that I believe will help the Nuggets get to where they need to be. Maybe it won’t be this season, but this type of environment can be recreated once it’s experienced, and after Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap have even more time on the court together next year I see it developing into something special.

A little negative motivation

Positive reinforcement is tremendously powerful, and most people respond to this type of encouragement. However, there are those who are driven to be their best by being negatively motivated. What does this mean?

Well, we saw it this week with two of the Nuggets leaders—Jamal Murray and Coach Mike Malone. We all know Murray and Malone are eerily similar, and the chip on their shoulders has been clearly visible in the last few weeks.

When the Nuggets were rumored to be shopping some of their best players for a chance at Kyrie Irving I was not in support of that decision. There are still some that think the Nuggets should have made the move to get an All-Star guard, but I’m happy they chose to keep Murray. I believe he will really be something special in this league—he already is to the Nuggets. So, this week I was intrigued by his comment to Dime Mag

“I came from Canada. I’ve always been underrated and under-appreciated. I don’t worry about whether people talk about me or not. I just go out there and play my game.”

Being under-rated and under-appreciated does something to a competitive person like Murray. It gives them the motivation to work harder, and brand their own craft in spite of the nay-sayers.

For Coach Malone, his drive seems to be similar recently, and it’s working in his favor. I’ve heard him say two separate times on camera how he doesn’t care about the opinions of those who have given up on the team. The simple fact that he’s made this statement twice on camera in one week shows that it bothers him, and I believe it’s motivated him to prove the doubters wrong.

If Murray and Malone can keep the fire lit this may be just the thing the Nuggets need to get them across the finish line, and into the post-season this year.

A little success

There’s a quote that says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” For the Nuggets, enduring multiple seasons of losing records and missing the playoffs has put a bit of a dark cloud over the organization. To work so hard for something you want so badly only to miss out at the last second is discouraging beyond words.

Granted, the Nuggets didn’t put in the kind of effort they should have for far too many games this season, but they’ve kicked it into high gear with the season on the line, and they’re beginning to see what happens when they put in some hard work and determination.

Willing the overtime win twice in one week shows that they have heart, and the success that comes as a reward to putting in the effort will only encourage them to work harder next time. Now, it’s still too early to celebrate (and they could still miss out), but now they know what winning after giving your all feels like and they practice implementing that more comprehensively for next season.

A lotta unity

Basketball is a team sport—five guys on the court at any given time working together to accomplish a common goal. This broad brush statement seems simple enough, but actually, relying on another person to handle a task that’s incredibly important and close to your heart is far easier said than done. This type of trust takes time, and it’s something that can’t be forced. It either happens organically, or not.

This is primarily why I have such disdain for the NBA’s widely accepted practice of trading players away on a whim. Chemistry can be instant, but trust is earned. The Nuggets have done a fairly good job of keeping players together, and allowing them to develop. The San Antonio Spurs have nearly perfected this model of longevity, and 20+ years of making the playoffs with multiple NBA Championships proves that this system is highly effective.

The Nuggets’ incredible offense has blossomed into a true work of art over the last couple of seasons, and you can really see the trust between the players as they execute plays. Will Barton believes the Nuggets are so close to becoming the team they want to be that he can “smell it”.

Regardless of the outcome, I am tremendously proud of what the Nuggets have accomplished this week. The things they’ve proved to themselves will last their entire careers, and this skill set will certainly give them a leg up next season.

One thing is for certain—Nuggets fans’ hopes have been renewed yet again and whatever happens in these next three games, good things are coming for this team.