2012 NBA Playoffs: Don't Sleep on the Denver Nuggets' Potential
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In spirit of tax season, the “death, taxes and (insert random guarantee)” moniker is used so endlessly we are fortunate we have to endure it only once a year. Now with tax day in the rear-view mirror, let’s add one final phrase to the list: Nothing is certain in life except for death, taxes and the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Playoffs.
Within the week, the Nuggets will embark on yet another postseason drive, its ninth-straight appearance. Only the Dallas Mavericks (12) and San Antonio Spurs (15) have longer active playoff streaks than the Nuggets. Even the Lakers fall short of Denver’s feat, checking in at seven consecutive berths.
However, the Nugs pale in comparison to its three Western Conference counterparts in terms of accomplishments. The Mavericks, Spurs and Lakers boast a myriad of postseason accolades, with one of the three representing the West in the NBA Finals every season since 1999. Ten of those trips have resulted in an NBA title. Denver, on the other hand, has never advanced past the conference finals and, excluding its impressive run in 2009, has suffered first-round defeats every year throughout the current streak.
Denver’s extensive rap sheet of playoff failures recently created a backlash in the Colorado sports scene. Questions arose if it’s really worth it for the Nuggets to qualify for the postseason only to be dismantled again by its first opponent. Sure, this season has been riddled with injuries, inconsistency and frustration, but why would you want your team’s season to end prematurely?
Sure, the Nuggets almost certainly won’t win the NBA Championship. They may not even make it out of the first round. But sometimes there is deeper meaning than just a playoff berth. The Nuggets are still very young and have a completely revamped roster that is still meshing. In fact, Arron Afflalo is the only returning starter from the 2010 playoff squad. Throwing a young, somewhat inexperienced team into the playoff pressure cooker has never resulted in a drawback.
In a worst-case scenario, the team generates a stronger bond and the young players receive invaluable exposure to one-of-a-kind postseason intensity. Apparently, it’s time to update our moniker: Life’s only guarantees are death, taxes, Nuggets in the playoffs and the occasional narrow-minded Denver sports fan.
Again, the worst-case scenario with the Nuggets this postseason is that they lose, plain and simple. They’re not expected to win. Their first-round opponent, the Los Angeles Lakers, are clearly on the other end of the spectrum, boasting some of the game’s current greats and facing mountainous expectations year after year. The pressure will not affect the Lakers, who are as battle-tested as any team in the league, but the Nuggets are truly playing with house money. And the extensive personnel changes since 2010 have incurred a new and improved level of competition that differs from the Nuggets of old.
Gone are the days of watching Nene get inexplicably outmuscled under the basket, and we’ll no longer have to worry about Carmelo Anthony caring more about decorating his house than the game at hand. Enter the new Nuggets, the team that thrives off the fast break and compensates for the vacant superstar role with energy and exuberance.
We do not know what to expect from the Nuggets in the postseason, but to be honest, even the Nuggets are likely unsure of their true potential. Denver has never defeated the Lakers in postseason play, dropping all five meetings and losing 17 of 21 games.
But the stars are strangely aligning in Denver’s favor in the upcoming matchup. Metta World Peace’s alter ego, the slightly-crazed Ron Artest, threw a vicious elbow that will likely suspend him from the entire first round. World Peace may not single-handedly turn the gears of the Lakers machine, but he is a regular starter and arguably their top defender.
In addition, Ramon Sessions, a midseason acquisition who is still finding his niche on the team, has faltered down the stretch and slowed down L.A.’s offensive efficiency. Sessions could have some serious trouble matching up with Ty Lawson, his point guard counterpart, in the series. Steve Blake could come in relief for Sessions, but Lawson has a serious edge in speed and athleticism over the aging Blake. And the Nuggets’ George Karl provides a definite coaching advantage over L.A.’s Mike Brown.
The most entertaining part of this showdown will be the battle in the paint. The Lakers frontcourt is unquestionably among the league’s elite, as Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have been the pillars to success throughout the season.
The Nuggets have a young, feisty, relentless, yet unproven group of forwards who get a chance to use L.A.’s bigs as a measuring stick. Kenneth Faried is an extreme competitor and will be chomping at the bit to improve his rising stock in the NBA. JaVale McGee has endured a roller-coaster career so far, but has a chip on his shoulder and is eager to make a statement against his doubters.
We spent all of the condensed NBA season attempting to decipher this mysterious Nuggets squad, and 66 games later, we still have few answers. On the plus side, we never saw a team flat out disinterested in playing, as opposed to the one from 2010.
The Nuggets may not win this series, but we can count on them giving an inspired effort every night. Two things are for certain: This will not be an easy series for the Los Angeles Lakers, and this is a hell of a lot more fun than hoping your team misses the playoffs.
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