Nobody wants to see the Denver Nuggets (47-22) in the playoffs. The hottest team in the Western Conference is climbing the standings and proving itself to be a nightmare matchup for any potential opponent.
Denver seems to have accomplished the cohesion for which head coach George Karl had hoped. It now boasts a Western Conference-leading 13-game winning streak—and didn’t get there by feasting on squads at the bottom of the standings.
Seven of the Nuggets’ recent victims are in the current playoff picture in their respective conferences. Denver knocked off the Oklahoma City Thunder (50-19) twice in its streak, meaning eight of the 13 wins came against teams that are currently postseason-bound.
Denver’s last 13 opponents (460-420) have a combined winning percentage of .523.
Skeptical spectators may say that this is March—not April, not May, not June. But the Nuggets are running laps around their competition now, and there are a number of reasons why they should continue to do so as summer approaches.
Despite their recent surge, the Denver Nuggets’ road record still sits below .500. It’s substandard when compared to the top four seeds in either conference, but Denver has been piling up road wins on its latest streak.
The Nuggets have gone 6-0 in their last six road games to improve to 17-19 on the year.
Of their six opponents, only the Oklahoma City Thunder (30-5 at home) and Chicago Bulls (18-15) are preparing for the postseason. Nevertheless, the combined home winning percentage of those two squads and the Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, Charlotte Bobcats and Sacramento Kings is .564.
While the Denver Nuggets’ road record recovers from an unfavorable early-season schedule (17 of their first 23 games were away from the Pepsi Center), their home record remains nearly spotless. Denver is the only team in the Miami Heat’s class with regard to defending home court.
Both squads are 30-3 (.909 winning percentage) in front of their home crowds. No team in the Western Conference—aside from the Minnesota Timberwolves—has beaten the Nuggets at home.
The T-Wolves are 11 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. They’re probably not going to participate in the postseason.
George Karl has found his on-court leader, a guy through whom his offense flows and a clutch shot-taker. They’re all the same guy: leading scorer and assist man, Ty Lawson.
Lawson’s early-season slump appears to be behind him, as the 5’11” point guard has converted more than half of his shots from the field since the start of February. He’s shooting 51.9 percent from the floor in March, including 41.9 percent from beyond the arc.
It’s the perfect time for the 25-year-old to get hot and build his confidence for a postseason run. Ty’s 20.6 points and 6.5 dimes per game are going to be a problem in the playoffs if he sustains—or improves upon—his post-All-Star splits.
Wilson Chandler has supported that notion with his play, dropping 35 against a playoff team twice since the beginning of March. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder (Mar. 1) and Chicago Bulls (Mar. 18), Chandler produced a combined 12 rebounds, five assists, two steals and 70 points on 65 percent shooting from the field.
He drilled seven threes in those two games, including six against the Thunder.
Chandler and Danilo Gallinari are the only two Nuggets to have scored 35 in a game this year, but Denver has enjoyed 20-plus-point performances from eight of its players this season. Six guys score 11.7 points per game or better, and eight are averaging 9.2 or more.
The biggest reason why the West should want to avoid the Denver Nuggets at all costs isn’t the elevation in their home arena. It isn’t Denver’s blinding pace, and it isn’t their relentlessness in the paint.
The biggest reason why the West should want to avoid the Nuggets is that Denver has already beaten them.
All of them.
Denver’s record against the rest of the West’s top eight seeds is 18-6. Its worst mark is 1-1, against the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs, with two matchups remaining. Its best is 3-0, against the No. 7 seed Houston Rockets, with a chance to sweep the season series on Apr. 6.
The Nuggets haven’t lost to a conference contender since dropping a contest against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 16.
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