Don't forget about the Denver Nuggets.
We're not going anywhere.
Beating a dead horse or surfing a crowded wave is often frowned upon. When talking about the Nuggets, it's not. No matter how many times it's said (or written), the success-by-committee mantra Denver embodies never gets old, annoying or even lessens in significance.
Call Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala, among others, what you like, the Nuggets aren't considered a team built around any one or two (or three) stars. They didn't have any representation at the All-Star Game, and after a 13-12 start through the first 25 games of the season, they were the biggest disappointment outside of the Lakers.
Since Game 25, however, the Nuggets are 36-10, tied with the Heat for the most wins in the Association. They're also second in winning percentage (78.3), behind Miami and ahead of the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Selling Denver short is no longer possible. Not when the Nuggets have more wins than any other team in the Western Conference in that 46-game span.
Underestimating their play when pitted against that of the Heat is inane as well. Miami has the same number of wins (36) since their 25th contest, and that's with a 26-game winning streak still alive and well.
By no means are we to assert the Nuggets are better than the Heat. That's not our intent. But they are comparable. Not just to the Heat but to every title contender. The Thunder, Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers—they're all teams Denver is currently eye-level with.
And not even that does the Nuggets ample justice.
Their defense has picked up as well. Though they're allowing 101 points per game on the season (24th), they're relinquishing just 99.6 since the break.
During this winning streak of theirs, the Nuggets are also outscoring opponents by an average of 10.2 points per game.
By comparison, the Heat are a plus-11.8 per game in their 26 straight victories.
Better? Yes. Over the course of a longer stretch? Also yes. Similar to that of Denver's, though? Again, yes.
That's what the Nuggets have managed to accomplish during their winning streak and since the break in general. They're no longer a dark-horse contender—they're a legitimate contender.
Just ask the Clippers, whom they manhandled for the seventh victory of their current streak.
Ask the Thunder, whom they've beaten twice in their last 15 games.
Ask the Memphis Grizzlies, who saw the Nuggets beat them at their own game in an 87-80 loss for Denver's 11th straight victory.
Ask the Chicago Bulls. Or the New York Knicks. Or the Los Angeles Lakers.
Ask any other team in the NBA, really. They all officially know what the Nuggets are capable of.
Eight of the Nuggets' 15 consecutive victories have come against opponents above .500. Nine of them have come at the Pepsi Center, where they're tied with the Heat for best home record in the league (32-3).
Those aren't happy accidents. Nothing about the Nuggets is incidental or a coincidence.
Some will look to their near-losses against the Kings and Philadelphia 76ers as a sign of potential futility. Ugly as those victories were, though, they came without Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler, the former of which is their leading scorer.
Denver also knows those wins were brutal, or even lucky, as some would postulate (via Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post):
Danilo Gallinari, radiating defeat, slouched and said softly after Saturday's game: "It's something we can learn from."
And the Nuggets won Saturday's game, against the Kings.
Even though the Nuggets are winning, they're not pleased with the way they're winning. There have been a lot of lulls lately, with Denver pulling out victories late.
That's accountability. That's awareness.
That's the mark of a great team.
When the season ends, the Nuggets will have faced the fifth-toughest schedule in the league. Yet, even now, they're 49-22, the third-best record in the Western Conference.
They also rank in the top five of points (105.9), rebounds (45.1), assists (24.3), field-goal percentage (47.7) and offensive efficiency (110.1).
Do you know how many other teams can say the same?
Zero. Zilch. None.
So forget about questioning the Nuggets' ability to contend, because they can. They are.
Denver's winning streak has provided but a taste of what the Mile High's finest will look to do during the postseason.
Clad with eight players scoring eight or more points a game, they're one of the most potent, most deadly attacks in the Association. Not just over the last 15 games, but overall.
"Every day we can get a little bit better or a little bit mentally tougher or a little bit more aware of what we have to improve on," Karl said (via Hochman).
Forgive the rest of the league for not sharing in your hopes, George.
An even "better" Nuggets convocation is something no outfit in the NBA wants to see or can afford to see right now.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
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