There would appear to be two logical reasons for the Nuggets obscurity. For one, there is a much more commanding streak going on in the other conference. And after all, these are the Nuggets. They’ve bowed out in the first round of the playoffs the last three years in a row and eight of the last nine. This year’s top-heavy Western Conference features five legitimate championship contenders; one of them is going to watch the second round from the cozy comfort of their various man caves. The Nuggets seem like an automatic choice.
Ah, but these Nuggets could be different. As always, they feature a ferocious offense, their 110.2 points per 100 possessions ranks third in the Association. But this year they are taking defense as something more serious than a coffee break. They rank 12th in Defensive Efficiency, and while that won’t make them look like the Indiana Pacers, consider this, the only year in the last decade that Nuggets made it out of the first round, they also ranked in the top half of the league in D. That year, 2008-’09, they made it to the Conference Finals. All other years they were mostly one dimensional teams.
The Nuggets route beyond the first round is heavily dependent on their seeding. They have to stay out of the 1-4-5-8 side of the bracket or they will have to win two series without home court advantage to reach the NBA Finals. Their current winning streak puts them on the right side of the bracket, which would likely lead toward a second round matchup with Oklahoma City, a team they’ve beaten three out of four times this season.
So while the Miami Heat chase history with their winning streak, the Denver Nuggets are chasing a good route toward what could be their first their first visit to the NBA Finals or at least a return to the Conference Finals.