For the first time in more than a decade, the Denver Nuggets are heading into the regular season with high expectations among their own locker room. They are heading in as championship contenders, albeit not as great as the Lakers, Spurs, Cavaliers, Magic, and Celtics, but right behind them.
They made it past the first round for the first time since 1996, when Dikembe Mutumbo led the eighth seeded Nuggets over the George Karl's first seeded Sonics, and the last time they made it to the conference finals, they met the Lakers once again, who would go on and win the championship that very same year. Similar to this year with the Lakers going on to win the championship against the Magic in five.
Everybody on the Nuggets are healthy this year, and they did not lose their core. Although there always is a negative for every positive.
J.R Smith has to serve a seven game suspension starting Wednesday against the Utah Jazz after he was suspended by the NBA for reckless driving back in the summer of 2007. J.R Smith was pivotal in the Nuggets rotation last year, and will be even more important this year because of the loss of Linas Kleiza.
Both Kenyon Martin, and Nene are healthy as they have been in their career. Nene has only played in 64 percent of his NBA games, while Kenyon has played 83 percent, but missed pretty much the entire 2006-2007 season, and was limited to 56 games the previous year.
It's obvious that when the Nuggets are healthy, they are one of the teams to beat. It was proved this year, but people can argue that is was the early arrival of hometown hero Chauncey Billups that turned this team into a winner.
Billups brings leadership to the team, something the great Allen Iverson could not do. Billups brings a defensive mentality, and knows how to share the rock. Something that happened in Detroit for many years. With Iverson in a Nugget uniform the Nuggets averaged 110.7 PPG and allowed their opponents to shoot 45.7 percent from the field, and 36.3 percent from beyond the arc.
With Billups in a Nuggets uniform, the Nuggets averaged 104.3 PPG, and their opponents shot 44.7 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from beyond the arc. With Iverson, the Nuggets shot 1.2 percent less than opponent's from downtown, and 1.3 percent higher from the field.
With Chauncey they shot three percent higher from the field, and five higher from downtown. The Nuggets could always play defence, they never did, until last season.
From all the season predictions over at ESPN and NBA.com only a handful had the Nuggets to win the Northwest, and none picked them to win the WCF. It's probably because the Nuggets stood pat, and didn't pick up any big names like a bunch of other teams this off season.
The defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers added defensive stopper Ron Artest to their squad, making them even more defensive then ever. Spurs went out and traded for Richard Jefferson while Northwest division rivals, the Portland Trailblazers signed former Nugget Andre Miller.
Then we have the Dallas Mavericks who went on a free agent frenzy and added Tim Thomas, Quentin Ross, Drew Goodon, and Shawn Marion through trade. Most of these players have been former starters, while Marion still in a starter form.
Who did the Nuggets acquire? They traded for Arron Afflalo after Jones bolted to Indiana, traded for Malik Allen in a salary dump. They then traded for James White, signed Joey Graham, and drafted super rookie, Ty Lawson.
Afflalo is a upgrade over Jones, as he has an offensive side to him. Malik Allen should provide some more options for the big man reserves. Joey Graham is a good player and should help fill the void Kleiza left behind, and Ty Lawson should be the backup PG behind Chauncey Billups. He is a speedy demon, who is just as fast as the Tony Parkers, and the Chris Pauls.
The question is though, can the Nuggets fix their problems?
They got hounded by the 7'0" monsters of LA, and Nene tries to be over aggressive on way to many occasions, which puts him into foul troubles. He also shouldn't go after referees and try picking a fight with them...that leads to suspensions.
Carmelo Anthony needs to continue his dazzling pre season performance up in the regular season. No bum elbow can slow him down this year.
And Chauncey Billups, he's getting older by the second and the Nuggets don't have very long left. He needs to play the best he's played in his career, and try scoring more often when things are not working.
Then we have George Karl.
Here are the best five years of George Karl, and the years following;
1987 Warriors: 42-40, lost in second round to eventual champs
1988 Warriors: 16-48, Karl was fired
1993 Sonics: 55-27, lost Game Seven of Western Conference finals
1994 Sonics: 63-19, lost in first round to No. 8 seed (first time ever)
1996 Sonics: 64-18, lost in NBA Finals
1997 Sonics: 57-25, lost in second round
2000 Bucks: 52-30, lost Game Seven of Eastern Conference finals
2001 Bucks: 41-41, missed playoffs
2009 Nuggets: 54-28, lost in Western finals to eventual champs
How is 2009-2010 going to pan out?
With this said, can the Nuggets fix them self's up to take on the newer challenges of the West, and East? How healthy can the Nuggets stay? ESPN has the answer on Wednesday Oct. 28 at 7:30 Pacific and 10:30 Eastern.
Season Record: 53-29
Post Season: Second round.
4th in West
1st in NW