The 2019 NBA regular season is coming to an end. With 15 games remaining on the docket, the Denver Nuggets are looking to maintain the peak position in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference. Lately, the Nuggets have had to grind in their last two contests. In particular, their victory on March 14 against the Dallas Mavericks took grit and a never-say-die attitude by coach Michael Malone and company. Center Nikola Jokic ensured that the Nuggets would not be denied as he hit the game-winner as Denver won their second consecutive game. The 100-99 victory padded the Nuggets’ division lead. Currently, the team has a four-game lead over Portland in the division, but trails Golden State by one game in the conference. Even though they beat the Mavs, the Nuggets’ performance was lackluster at best for much of the contest. If the Nuggets want to win their first conference title in franchise history, they need to avoid sluggish starts and play with intensity from the outset.
Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone and guard Jamal Murray. Photo by: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Coming into 2019, the Denver Nuggets had something to prove. Since their last playoff appearance in 2013, the Nuggets have had little success in reaching the postseason. During the 2017-2018 season, they came within one game of reaching the promised land, but fell short by one game. It appears that Malone has not forgotten about that unfortunate ending and has put his team in a position to clinch a playoff berth well before the 82nd game. Furthermore, the Nuggets have the necessary pieces to avoid yet another first round exit if they do reach the postseason. With a relatively young roster, Denver has an opportunity to build on their success this season and develop into a perennial contender.
For the last four seasons, the Golden State Warriors have been the team to dethrone. While the same could be said this season, it may not be such a clear path for them compared to the past four years. It may sound cliche, but in order to be the best, the Nuggets have to beat the best. The Warriors may have stars in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durrant, but the Nuggets have star-power of their own. Jokic and guard Gary Harris can pose match-up problems for the defense each time they step foot on the court. In addition to their success on the offensive side of the ball, the Nuggets’ defensive play may result in not only a conference crown, but a deep postseason run as well. When the Nuggets were playoff regulars back in the days of Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby, their defense often led the way. In 2019, Denver has turned back the clock and emphasized the importance of defense. A defense-first mindset can carry a team a long way come April.
There is no doubt that the Denver Nuggets have come alive this season. With a record of 45-22, 2019 has truly been a remarkable season for the Nuggets. Last season, Malone’s squad notched their 45th win in the third to last game of the season. This season, they accomplished the feat almost a month earlier and have an opportunity to win 50 games for the first time since 2012. If all goes according to plan, they could win 60 games for the first time since 1975 when they were playing in the ABA. Regardless of what transpires, there is little doubt that the Nuggets have been stiff competition this season.
It is still too early to know what the future holds for the Nuggets in 2019. However, one thing is for certain. This team is no longer going to fold. Malone and his staff have fostered a winning environment. As a result, his players understand what it will take to make the Nuggets relevant once again. In years past, it was hard to blame fans for not tuning in as the season wound down. The Nuggets had little chance to make a legitimate playoff push, but tides have turned in 2019. The Nuggets are not only giving fans a reason to go to 1000 Chopper Circle, but Nuggets games have quickly become must-watch TV. Let’s hope they keep it that way as the playoffs are right around the corner.