5 Reasons the Denver Nuggets Can Realistically Win the West
After the Nuggets dismantled the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second half on OKC's home floor Tuesday night, Denver extended its winning streak to 13 games.
Furthermore, this run didn't come against the scrubs. Eight of Denver's 13 victories have come against playoff-eligible teams by an average of 10.6 points per game.
The Nuggets are quick and athletic, they attack inside and outside, and they are deep and balanced.
Plus, veteran head coach George Karl is starving for his first NBA title. This just might be Denver's year to win the West and get a crack at the hardware.
Beating the Best in the West
With only four weeks left in the regular season, there has been some separation in the Western Conference playoff picture. Currently, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Memphis, the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver are all within five-and-a-half games of each other for first place. Golden State is in sixth place and 14 games behind the Spurs.
While Denver is tied for fourth in terms of winning percentage, the Nuggets are playing superb basketball against the other top teams in the West. Denver has gone 9-4 against the other four franchises.
The Nuggets don't face the Thunder, Grizzlies or Clippers the rest of the regular season. However, they will see the Spurs on two more occasions, including one at San Antonio on March 27. The Nuggets are only 1-1 against the Spurs and haven't squared off since Dec. 18.
Considering how well Denver is playing and that Tony Parker is still out with his ankle injury (per CBSSports.com), the Nuggets could still surpass the Spurs by the end of the 82 games. The Nuggets are 30-3 at home, tied for the best mark in the NBA with Miami.
Along with the altitude, home-court is a significant advantage for the Nuggets.
Balanced Scoring Attack
In an offense that likes to get up and down the court at a fast pace, the Nuggets share the wealth as well as anyone. Denver has six players that average scoring in double figures and nine players that score more than eight points per game.
During Denver's 13-game winning streak, the Nuggets have had four different leading scorers in a game and none of them were Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala or Kenneth Faried.
The Nuggets average 106.1 points per game (third in the NBA) and you never know where the contributions are going to come from.
Ty Lawson continues to improve his efficiency and is shooting 51.9 percent in March. Gallinari and Wilson Chandler continue to be scoring machines, both at the rim and from the perimeter. Faried and Kosta Koufos take turns recording double-doubles while Iguodala's consistency never disappears. Corey Brewer, Andre Miller and JaVale McGee provide significant sparks off the bench.
The defense has to pick its poison.
Points in the Paint
But without a team that traditionally posts up in the halfcourt, how is this possible? Transition basketball.
It's not just that the Nuggets push the ball, but that they make the appropriate pass. Denver averages 24.4 assists (third in NBA) with its diversifying attack. Every player on the roster can finish at the basket at full speed.
Lawson will score in traffic, Iguodala and Gallinari convert their free throws when they are fouled, Faried and McGee play above the rim and Koufos trails and cleans up the mess.
If you want to win consistently, you have to get your share of easy baskets. The Nuggets have shown they have the arsenal of players to do so.
You also can't win with just a high-powered offense.
Just like in other phases, the Nuggets control the glass with a complete team effort. There isn't one player on their roster who averages 10 or more rebounds. However, six different Nuggets average 4.7 boards or more, led by Faried's 9.4 rebounds.
Because of that Denver is second in the NBA with 45.2 rebounds per game and first in offensive rebounding with 13.4 boards.
It's not so much that the big guys contribute to Denver's success on the glass. It's also the small forwards and shooting guards. Gallinari (6'10"), Chandler (6'8") and Iguodala (6'6") all have a height advantage on most opponents at their position.
When you rebound the ball well, the transition games opens up. Denver's combination of height and athleticism makes the Nuggets one of the toughest teams to stop.
Getting Hot at the Right Time
It's always important to play your best basketball toward the end of the season to prepare yourself for the playoffs.
While the Nuggets are on a 13-game winning streak, the schedule for the rest of the season isn't too challenging. Only five of their last 13 games are against current playoff teams.
It's unlikely that Denver will enter the playoffs on a 26-game winning streak, but there is plenty of room to build more confidence before the postseason begins.
The Nuggets are well on their way to being one of the NBA's toughest outs in May.