Ty Lawson Thinks Denver Nuggets Are Legitimate Contenders

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 9, 2013

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets controls the ball against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Pepsi Center on March 7, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Clippers 107-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The surging Denver Nuggets are putting the NBA on notice, and point guard Ty Lawson believes his team is capable of putting together a championship run.

Appearing on Denver's KKFN with Drew Goodman and Scott Hastings (transcribed by Chris Fedor of SportsRadioInterviews.com), Lawson said that the Nuggets can beat anyone with the right mental approach.

"I was talking to (Andre) Iguodala couple of days ago and I was like 'man we can really win a championship if everybody is mature and gets serious about the game plan,'" he said. "If we just stay focused, I feel like we can beat and run with any team in the NBA."

While many analysts have long hailed the team as a dangerous sleeper, most have stopped short of labeling them a true title threat. Their oft-cited lack of a true superstar, struggles away from home (14-19) and generous defense (101.5 points allowed per game, via ESPN.com) are the most common causes of apprehension.

The team's certainly not without its flaws, but it's getting harder to ignore its accomplishments. The Nuggets' current stretch is already their third winning streak of at least six games in 2013.

Since the turn of the calendar they have amassed an incredible 24-7 record. During that span they've handed seldom-seen defeats to the likes of the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder (twice) and Los Angeles Clippers (twice).

And they've accomplished all of this without registering a blip from the national media. At least, that's the way Lawson sees things:

I feel like we are the dark horse always and I don't think we get a lot of shine in the NBA or from the announcers on ESPN or anything like that anyway. We went on a ten-game winning streak and didn't hear too much about it. That's how it's been. We have to accept it and prove everybody wrong like we have been.

Whether or not they get the press they deserve—and Lawson's right, they don't—they're not going to sneak up on any potential playoff foes. It's not that easy to mask success when it's constantly coming against those very same teams.

While no one's mistaking the strength of this team, what are we to make of Lawson's assessment of his club's championship chances?

This much we know—the Nuggets are nearly impossible to beat at home. They've battled 30 teams in front of the Pepsi Center faithful and emerged victorious 27 times. Their three home losses have been decided by a total of 13 points.

Of course, we also know that the Nuggets are facing an uphill climb to host just one playoff series. Despite their spirited stretch of basketball over the last two-plus months, a stumbling start to the year still has them 1.5 games back of the fourth-seed Memphis Grizzlies.

We also know that this is one of the league's premier offensive groups. They don't have a go-to scorer on the stat sheet (Ty Lawson leads the team with 16.8 points per game) yet still house the NBA's third-most potent offensive attack (105.8 points per game, via ESPN.com).

But again, we know that playoff basketball isn't played at breakneck speed. The fact that the top three seeds out West (Thunder, Clippers and San Antonio Spurs) all rank in the league's top 10 in scoring works in the Nuggets' favor, but a potential matchup with the grit-and-grind Grizzlies (93.5 points per game) may not.

Denver's playoff success may hinge on coach George Karl's ability to tailor his plan of attack to whomever his club runs into. Fortunately, he's got the resume and the bodies to put his team in prime position.

His point guards (Lawson and Andre Miller) couldn't be more polar opposites. Lawson has elite-level quickness, dominating defenders with a dizzying array of changes of direction and speed. Miller's the ultimate game manager, a crafty veteran compensating for his athletic limitations and lack of a jumper with strength and solid decision-making.

Karl's got ludicrous length in the frontcourt and an endless array of shooters, slashers and defenders cycling through his wings. He doesn't have strong post scorers, but he's got high flyers ready to finish off timely feeds from his drivers. His team defense has some troubling numbers, but he's got a collection of athletic defenders on the perimeter and intimidating shot-blockers around the basket.

No one's going to outrun these Nuggets regardless of location. With Lawson's accelerated development and the combined experience of Karl and Miller, they're not going to be outsmarted.

They may not be a championship contender, but they'll be one of the toughest teams to oust from this postseason.