The first quarter of the NBA season is in the books, and certain teams appear ready to start their ascent in the standings prior to the All-Star break.
With injuries being the prime culprit, quite a few teams have yet to hit their stride. Since the NBA season is a marathon rather than a sprint, the majority of the teams still have an opportunity to compete for a postseason berth.
With teams such as the New York Knicks, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers drawing the majority of the headlines, it can be easy to overlook some of the less glamorous teams.
The following three teams are poised to improve upon their early-season performance.
Due to the offseason trade that brought Andre Iguodala to town, the expectations for the Nuggets entering this season were higher than they have been in quite a while.
With a record of 14-13, the Nuggets have fallen short of those expectations and sit in seventh place in the Western Conference.
Denver's problems are mainly on the defensive end of the court, as always seems to be the case under George Karl. The Nuggets have surrendered an average of 100.8 points per game, which has them ranked 25th in the league.
While the Nuggets defense isn't likely to improve, their upcoming schedule will make their path significantly easier.
Denver has 26 games to play before the All-Star break, and 16 of those contests will take place inside the friendly confines of the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets are 7-1 at home this year.
The Mavericks have been without their best player this season, as Dirk Nowitzki has been sidelined due to a knee injury.
Offseason acquisition O.J. Mayo has exceeded expectations in his first season with the team, but he will not be able to carry the scoring load by himself forever.
Fortunately for the Mavs, help is on the way. Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated reported that Nowitzki has started practicing for the first time since October.
While it will take time for Nowitzki to get into game shape, his return will make the Mavericks a more dangerous team. When he is in the zone, Dirk is arguably the league's most difficult player to guard.
The Mavericks are currently in 11th place in the Western Conference, so they cannot afford to postpone Nowitzki's return to game action much longer.
For Dallas to have a realistic shot at any success in the postseason, it will have to secure one of the conference's top six seeds. That will at least lessen the Mavs' chances of being matched up with perennial playoff contenders like the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs.
The Timberwolves have been bit by the injury bug as hard as any team in the league. The Wolves have weathered the storm, though, as they are currently 13-11 and in sixth place in the Western Conference.
Minnesota was without two of its best players for the first three weeks of the season. Kevin Love broke his hand in the preseason, and Ricky Rubio was unavailable due to a left ACL tear. By rather successfully overcoming those obstacles, Wolves head coach Rick Adelman proved himself as one of the league's more reliable coaches.
Now that Rubio and Love are back from injury, the Wolves are one of the West's most dangerous teams.
The Timberwolves are poised to improve upon their current record, and the return of their star players should be enough to make them contenders.
Stats and records updated to reflect results through Dec. 20.