If you would have asked me just before the all-star break about the Nuggets' playoff prospects, anything outside of a Western Conference Finals appearance would have been considered a disappointment the way the Nuggets were playing.
The Nuggets seemed to have found a groove. Their offesnsive effeciency was outstanding, they were playing much better team defense than any Nuggets team we have seen in the past, and they were starting to find a certain chemistry many teams lack in the NBA.
Expectations around the Nuggets have changed, however, after posting a measly 4-8 record after the all-star break including bad losses to a few sub .500 teams (Chicago, Milwaukee, Indiana, and Sacramento).
The Nuggets have reverted to their old, lazy habits on defense, most notably having poor rotations and their propensity to switch every single screen allowing opposing teams to set up offensive mismatches all night to exploit.
Not all is doom and gloom for the Nuggets right now though. Their next five games (Oklahoma City, LA Clippers, New Jersey, at Memphis, and Washington) provide a big opportunity to get back on track and gain some lost momentum.
With that in mind, and the fact that the playoffs are right around the corner, let's take a look at some of the potential match ups for the Nuggets in the playoffs and how they might stack up against each foe. I have ranked them from 1-5, one being most undesirable, five being most desirable.
1. LA Lakers: Do I even need to insult your intelligence giving you a reason the Nuggets could match up with the Lakers in a seven-game series? They don't.
It would be a reincarnation of last year's sweep all-over again. The Lakers boast the leagues top offensive efficiency rating at 110.8, have the deepest bench in the league and have arguably the best player on the planet, Kobe Bryant. The Nuggets would lose this series before it even began. Let's not waste our time.
2. Utah Jazz: The Nuggets are a mere 3-8 against the Jazz since the '06-'07 season.The Jazz have what many believe the best home-court advantage in the entire NBA and if the Nuggets got into a series with the Jazz in which the Jazz controlled home-court advantage the Nuggets can forget about winning that series.
The Jazz are red-hot right now having won their last 12 in a row. The Jazz also have a tremendous amount of depth and present considerable match up problems the Nuggets seem to not be able to overcome.
Did you see the way Deron Williams abused Chauncey Billups the last time these two teams met up at Utah? Add in the fact that the Nuggets would be severely outmatched in the coaching department and I see a 4-1 series in favor of the Jazz if these two teams met up.
3. New Orelans Hornets: Another team that is playing its best basketball right now that the Nuggets would be smart to avoid in the playoffs.
New Orleans is an extremely good perimeter team. They can knock down jump shots with the best of them and for a team like the Nuggets who have trouble defending the perimeter that doesn't usually equal a recipe for success.
If the Hornets have home-court advantage which they would if the season ended today, I see this series going 4-2 in the Hornets favor.
4. Portland Trailblazers: All right Nuggets fans, finally a team you can match up with and possibly defeat. The Blazers are good, no doubt, but they are still a very young team and I feel like they are a year away from making a big splash in the NBA playoffs.
The Blazers can score points in bunches and Brandon Roy is an enormous challenge to defend, but the Blazers simply don't defend anyone. Their defensive efficiency ranking of 105.6 pits them 18th in the league in that category.
I say the winner of this series would depend on who has home-court advantage. Either way it probably goes seven games.
5. Houston Rockets: Despite their lack of regular season success against them, the Nuggets could definitely best the Rockets in a seven-game series. Although the Nuggets really have anyone who can guard Yao—who does?—the Nuggets can go man-for-man with anyone on the court for the Rockets and you would have to like their chances.
I'm going to say regardless of where the series is played the Nuggets would win this one in seven games.
You may notice there is a glaring omission from this list, the San Antonio Spurs.
No I didn't forget them. I just believe the Nuggets, from what I gather, have a better shot at beating the Spurs than anyone on this list.
Yes the Spurs are the superior team at this point, but I honestly believe through experience playing each other and knowing each other so well the Nuggets would have a better shot in a series against the Spurs than any of the five I listed above.
Does that mean I think the Nuggets would defeat the Spurs in a seven-game series? Absolutely not.
I believe the Nuggets will be another first-round playoff casualty and have to go back to the drawing board once again. Another first-round exit could mean sweeping changes in Denver.