A Mile Higher: The Denver Nuggets Are the NBA's No. 1 Team

Rich KurtzmanSenior Analyst IFebruary 19, 2010

Sure, you might never hear it from the mainstream media on ESPN or TNT, but here on our more freethinking site, we dare to be bold.

In following that trend I will be a trendsetter and proclaim the Denver Nuggets are the NBA’s best team.

I know, you’re saying, “But Rich, the Nuggets don’t even have the second or third best record in the NBA right now.” I understand that, but it’s about how Denver (36-18) has performed against those teams ahead of it in the standings.

The Nuggets are unbeaten against the Cavaliers (2-0), the Magic (1-0) and the world champion Los Angeles Lakers (2-0). Not only has Denver beaten those teams, it has done so decisively, at an average margin of victory of 12.2 points per game.

Although Denver bested Cleveland by just two points each time, this win was as Carmelo Anthony called on Twitter, an “Instant classic game tonite.”

The Nuggets and Cavaliers battled from the opening tip, and Denver was dominant in the first half, growing its lead to 13 points at one time. Melo and LeBron were quiet during the first 24 minutes, scoring only 18 points combined to sink just four of 20 shots.

The second half was the superstar show though, as Anthony excelled and LeBron’s play was ludicrous.

James dunked and slashed to the hoop as only he can, but his jump shot was off all night despite scoring 43 total points. That was just the beginning of filling up the stat line for LeBron though, as he recorded 13 rebounds and 15 assists as well, the first time anyone had done so since “Pistol” Pete Marovich in 1974 with the New Orleans Jazz.

While Anthony was not as explosive as LeBron, Melo was just that, smooth. His spin move on LeBron was spectacular, and could have gotten an and-one on Anderson Varejao. In the end, Carmelo’s jumper couldn’t be stopped by James as Melo sank the game winning 20-footer in LeBron’s face with 1.9 seconds left.

In the end, it took another MVP-like performance from Melo, 40 points, six assists and seven rebounds, but Denver proved once again that it can beat the Cavaliers.

Denver has been dominant against Cleveland, winning five of its last seven and going 10-4 since Carmelo Anthony was drafted by the Nuggets in 2003. Plus, Denver snapped the Cavs 13-game winning streak, which had many calling Cleveland the best in the NBA.

Chauncey Billups on Twitter said about the game, “And they said we couldnt [sic] do it… If you minds aint changed yet, we’ll be to a city near you to change it.”

The Nuggets aren’t only good against the teams ahead of them, they are 6-3 versus the next three best in the West. Against Utah (3-1), San Antonio (2-1), and Dallas (1-1) the Nuggets have played with a focus on beating the best teams in order to be the best.

Overall, the Nuggets are 13-4 in their last 17 games, and have really hit their stride since the calendar has turned over to 2010 (16-6).

Backup shooting guard J.R. Smith told the Denver Post's Benjamin Hochman, “We (feel) we should be the champs at the end. We feel that way mentally, we just have to go on the court and do it physically.” Starting two-guard Arron Afflalo added on Twitter, “Ima [sic] keep putting that work in for yall so we can have that special season."

So, even though Denver has just triumphantly dethroned King James in Cleveland, it is keeping its focus on being a better team, having better players game-in, game-out.

Now, with the Lakers losing sans Kobe 87-86 at home to Boston Thursday, the Nuggets move to within five games of LA for the No. 1 spot in the West. Plus, Denver has played two fewer games overall, and three fewer at home than the Lakers, meaning catching L.A. is a definite possibility.

For Denver, records shouldn’t matter at this point because it has already proven it can beat anyone higher, or lower, in the standings. (Those losses to sub-.500 teams won't affect the Nuggets in the playoffs.)

The Nuggets biggest challenge may be when head coach George Karl is forced to miss games, and possibly weeks, following his treatment for throat and neck cancer.

Then again, this squad is different. Chauncey Billups holds this versatile group together, and Carmelo Anthony is a legit MVP candidate.

After losing to the Lakers in the 2009 Western Conference Finals, including two probable wins thrown away with two errant inbounds passes, the Nuggets are hungrier and cockier, but also wiser.

As Melo told the Post following the win, "An NBA championship is what we want. Right now, at this moment—especially after coming off last year—I feel real confident about that goal."

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