Although the Denver Nuggets can conceivably defeat any Western Conference foe in a seven-game series, they match up better against some teams than others.
Their unique home-court advantage and relentlessly attacking offensive style have translated to a league-best 30-3 home record, but there are a couple of teams that Denver probably wouldn’t be excited to face.
The reigning conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t one of them.
Denver has only suffered losses to the Miami Heat, Washington Wizards and Minnesota Timberwolves inside the confines of the Pepsi Center this year. Miami and Denver are in separate conferences, while Washington and Minnesota are securely tucked into lottery obscurity.
That means none of the West’s playoff contenders have knocked off Denver at home.
With a 30-11 conference record (second only to the Thunder’s 32-10 mark), Denver has at least a .500 record against each of the other top eight teams, a valuable asset for the young team’s confidence heading into the postseason.
There’s something disconcerting about pitting the volatile, explosive JaVale McGee against The Big Fundamental. Tim Duncan is the Spurs’ second-leading scorer with 16.9 points in 29.7 minutes per game.
The San Antonio offense runs through Duncan, especially with the absence of Tony Parker, but Parker should be good to go come playoff time. The Nuggets’ single biggest area in need of improvement is its defensive frontcourt.
Timmy can—and did—take advantage of his matchup with Denver. He dropped 31 points with 18 boards, six assists and five blocks in 40 minutes on the road in the Spurs’ six-point loss to the Nuggets. In their other meeting, he accumulated 14 points, five rebounds, three assists and three blocks in just 23 minutes, as San Antonio delivered Denver its worst loss of the season, 126-100.
It’s perplexing that Blake Griffin never took more than 12 shots in a game against the Nuggets. He and DeAndre Jordan are able to physically dominate Denver when they go small, but Matt Barnes or Jamal Crawford (with Barnes closely behind) led the team in shot attempts each time the two met.
Griffin averaged 29 minutes per game against the Nuggets, scoring 14 points on 48.6 percent shooting (11.7 shots) and pulling down 5.7 boards per game.
Overall, he turns his 13.6 shots a night into 18.7 points per game. He should be prominently featured and putting up 25 against the smaller and, pound-for-pound, similarly athletic Kenneth Faried.
Barnes and Crawford combined for 26.3 PPG on 40.3 percent shooting in the Clippers’ three showdowns with the Nuggets. Crawford missed one of those games.
If Los Angeles isn’t going to utilize their matchup advantages and settle for jumpers instead, Denver will run them out of the gym. Long misses lead to long rebounds, which the Nuggets will gladly convert into buckets on the other end in the blink of an eye.
With Blake and DeAndre up front and Chris Paul running the show, the Clippers have the pieces to give the Nuggets problems; it's just a matter of capitalizing.
The Western Conference playoff picture is fluid enough that Denver is not pigeonholed into a matchup with either of the aforementioned teams. San Antonio is the only team west of Miami to have clinched a playoff spot, and Oklahoma City is a mere 1.5 games behind.
Los Angeles has slipped to the No. 4 spot, just 0.5 games ahead of Denver. Assuming San Antonio knocks off the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, the Nuggets would have to face both the Clippers and Spurs back-to-back, as the seeds are currently constituted.
Another possibility is the Nuggets claiming the No. 3 seed, relegating the Memphis Grizzlies and Clippers to the No. 4 and No. 5 spots, respectively. They’d have to tussle with the Thunder or Spurs as a conference semifinal opponent.
By then, Denver will have picked up enough steam to be a serious NBA Finals contender. They’re not going to run out of gas; they’ll just send out another wave of guys.
After all, nobody has played more than Ty Lawson’s 35 minutes per game this season.
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