The 10 Best Seasons in Denver Nuggets History

Rich Kurtzman@@RichKurtzman Senior Analyst IOctober 12, 2011

The 10 Best Seasons in Denver Nuggets History

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    The Denver Nuggets are a team rich with basketball history.

    Denver's professional basketball history begins in 1967, when the then Rockets took the floor as a member of the American Basketball Association—the upstart league that rivaled the NBA.

    Denver would play for nine seasons in the ABA, winning the Western division three times and making it to the ABA Finals in the league's last season of 1975-76.

    The Nuggets have a storied NBA history as well, winning their division seven times while making it to the Western Conference Finals three times.

    The Nuggets were a solid team to end the 70s, led by the high-flying David Thompson. Alex English was the main man on one of the most exciting NBA teams in the 80s. The Nuggets built a group of young talent before crumbling in the 90s, and were competitive all throughout the early 2000s with Carmelo Anthony.

    The team is still looking for it's first NBA Championship, and their first Finals appearance and looking to make more history in the process.

    Here's a look into the Nuggets' 10 best seasons in franchise history.

1976-77: First Year in the NBA

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    Record – 50-32, Midwest Division Champions

    The Nuggets had finally made it to the big leagues, playing in the NBA, and they adapted quickly. While other ABA teams struggled to compete, the Nuggets showed they were one of the best teams in basketball.

    Denver won their first eight games of the season and cruised to a 50-32 record—tied for their fifth best finish. Second-year stud David Thompson led the team in scoring, at 25.9 per, while shooting 50.7 percent from the floor. 

    The Nuggets' head coach was one of the game's all-time greats, Larry Brown, but even he couldn't get them to win in the playoffs.

    After earning a first round bye, Denver was beaten by Portland in six games in the Western Conference Semifinals.

1977-78: First Western Conference Finals

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    Record – 48-34, Midwest Division Champions

    In 1977-78, the Nuggets top player was David Thompson and the third-year star was a scoring machine. In fact, Thompson and George “The Ice Man” Gervin battled for the scoring title down to the last day of the season, when Thompson scored 73 points and Gervin edged him out by scoring 63 of his own later that night.

    During the playoffs, Denver out-lasted Milwaukee in a seven-game series for the ages and made it to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in their history. But the Nuggets went down to the Seattle Supersonics in six games and wouldn't reach the West Finals again for seven years.

2003-04: Beginning of the Carmelo Anthony Era

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    Record – 43-39

    From 1995-2002, the Denver Nuggets were the laughing stock of the entire NBA.

    Denver was no more than a doormat, going 200-424 overall over that period, missing the playoffs for eight straight seasons.

    But that all changed in 2003, when the Nuggets drafted Carmelo Anthony. Anthony turned out to be one of the most dominant scorers in the NBA and arguably the greatest player to suit up in a Nuggets' jersey.

    That season, Denver won more games in the first two months than they did the entire previous season and ended up fighting for a playoff berth, winning five of their last seven games to make the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.

    The beginning of the Carmelo Anthony era was the Nuggets' return to being a competitive team once again.

1985-86: Post Dan Issel

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    Record – 47-35

    Nuggets great Dan Issel retired the season before, but the Nuggets were still a competitive team.

    Alex English led the team in scoring at 29.8 points per game, his most superb scoring season in his career.

    Denver used his scoring prowess to sweep the Trail Blazers in four games in the first round of the playoffs. But the Nuggets faced the twin towers of Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson in the Western Semifinals and the soon-to-be Western Conference champions beat the Nuggets in six games.

1975-76: Final ABA Season, First Dunk Contest

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    Record – 60-24

    The last season of the ABA was a special one for the Nuggets.

    They enjoyed their best record in the history of the team and made it all the way to the ABA Finals on the legs of David Thompson. In the Finals, Denver faced the New Jersey Nets, led by “Dr. J” Julius Erving and the Nets were too much for the Nuggets, winning the last ABA championship in six games. 

    But that season was also special because Denver's McNichols Arena hosted the first ever ABA All-Star Game, which pitted the Nuggets against a group of All-Star players from the other ABA teams.

    And after the game, the ABA set up the first ever slam-dunk competition, pitting hometown hero David “Skywalker” Thompson against Dr. J. Thompson had some great dunks too, making the crowd explode, but Dr. J won the contest with the first ever dunk from the free throw line. The tradition lives on today.

2009-10: Melo's Last Full Season

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    Record – 53-29

    The last full year for the Melo-era Nuggets to make a run at a title.

    Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony made for a dynamic duo in Denver. Billups, the seasoned veteran point guard—and Denver native—was the unquestioned leader, while Melo led in scoring (28.2 PPG).

    This team could flat-out score and they averaged 106.5 points per game. But while they excelled on offense, their defense was lacking (102.4 PPG) and it was their ultimate downfall.

    In their first round series against division rival Utah, Denver lost 4-2 while giving up 110.5 PPG to the Jazz.

1993-94: Dikembe Mutombo and the Young Guns

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    Record - 42-40

    1993-94 was a resurgence for Denver.

    Dikembe Mutombo came to town and was an immediate fan favorite due to his immense size and devastating defense. That season, Mutombo averaged 4.2 blocks per game and his finger-wagging got everyone in McNichols Arena hyped while his beastly blocking enthused the team as well.

    Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf complimented Mt. Mutombo as a deadly three-point shooter and as the best player from the free throw line in the league. Other young stars on that year's team were LaPhonso Ellis and Bryant Stith, who could both fill up the basket at will. 

    The team was coached by Nuggets' legend Dan Issel and they were the first eighth-seeded team to beat a No. 1 seed when they defeated Seattle 3-2. Mutombo laying on the ground crying after the win is still one of the most magical moments in NBA history.

1987-88: Super Scoring Nuggets

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    Record - 54-28 - 1st in the Midwest Division

    The 87-88 Nuggets, led by Doug Moe and his high-tempo system, ran teams out of Denver.

    Alex English led the team in scoring (25.0 PPG) and Fat Lever wasn't far behind (18.9 per) while leading in assists (7.8 per). Both were named to the All Star Game that year, representing the Nuggets on the national stage.

    Denver defeated Seattle in the first round 3-2, but were beaten handily by Dallas in the semis 4-2.

1984-85: English's Western Conference Finals

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    Record - 52-30 - Midwest Division Champions

    The Doug Moe Denver nuggets were known for their outstanding offense and no other season put that sensational scoring on display better than 1984-85. Denver scored 120 PPG that year, and while their defense was second-worst, the team still managed to blow many teams out with ease.

    Just as he was throughout the 80s, Alex English led the Nuggets on this team. The man possessed a sweet shot, especially from the mid-range, and he knew how to get to the hoop.

    But this was a complete team, with Calvin Natt enjoying his best professional season, Dan Issel competing in his last year and Fat Lever running the break like a madman.

    It was the closest the English-era Nuggets would get to a title, losing in the Western Conference Finals to LA 4-1.

2008-09: Melo's Western Conference Finals

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    Record - 54-28 - Northwest Division Champions

    The nuggets posted a winning record in every month besides October (1-1) including an 11-5 November.

    As opposed to other seasons, Carmelo Anthony was a great all-around player, not just a prolific scorer. Melo sacrificed his scoring (22.8 PPG) to do whatever it took for the team to win, and Denver won a lot. Their 54-28 record was an NBA franchise high.

    Of course, the addition of Chauncey Billups at the beginning of the season helped drastically change the team as they now had a floor general, a true leader on the hardwood. Billups had a knack of making everyone around him better and this was the greatest team ever assembled in Denver.

    Players like Dhantay Jones and Chris Andersen enjoyed career years with Billups in charge and their staunch defensive play made the Nuggets great all-around.

    In the first round, Denver destroyed New Orleans 4-1.

    The second round was categorized by Denver wanting it more than Dallas.The Nuggets made their physical presence known off the bat as Kenyon Martin threw Dirk Nowitzki to the ground in the first game. The Nuggets won the series 4-1.

    It all set up for the West Finals, where the Nuggets met the class of the West in the LA Lakers.

    The Nuggets nearly stole Game 1 in LA but an errant inbounds pass threw the game away. Denver did take Game 2 in Los Angeles, but then gave homecourt right back to the Lakers as they lost Game 3 103-97.

    Dhantay Jones played Kobe Bryant physically throughout the series, but Kobe was still the best basketballer in the world. In the end, the Lakers out-classed the Nuggets and took the series 4-2.