Nuggets staying afloat in the West
Consistency has been the biggest problem for the Denver Nuggets. At certain moments throughout the season the Nuggets have at times been on pace to steadily sink and drown for good into the abyss of the Western Conference standings. Other phases have shown that the Nuggets could sneak as high as the sixth seed in the West. With a 16-17 record, the Nuggets are simply trying to stay afloat and be in a position to secure a playoff spot come April.
The general consensus before the season began was the Nuggets were destined for bottom-dweller status in a cut-throat Western Conference. A rookie coach, no clear superstar, and a bushel of new cast members made the Nuggets’ 0-3 start sensible considering the circumstances.
Fast forward seven games and cue the seven-game win streak. Winning eight consecutive games in the NBA is no easy task and the Nuggets were balling during this stretch. Ty Lawson was emerging as a bona fide all-star and head coach Brian Shaw seemed to have found his groove on the bench. The Nuggets were the sixth seed in a competitive West and were catching the league by surprise.
Struggles against legit teams
It should be noted that four of the seven opponents the Nuggets beat were from the Eastern Conference. Yes, that Eastern Conference where every team that’s not the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, or Toronto Raptors has a losing record. Minnesota and Dallas were the two western opponents on the streak (the Nuggets beat Dallas twice in a home-and-home series).
The seven-game win streak was followed by a 3-3 stretch and then an eight-game losing streak. If there is any solace in this latest streak, the Nuggets did face some formidable opponents such as the Heat, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Clippers and a hot Phoenix Suns team.
In a losing run like the Nuggets endured, tensions will run high, and they did. During the final loss of the streak against the Philadelphia 76ers, veteran point guard Andre Miller let his frustration be known to head coach Brian Shaw for his lack of playing time, specifically his first DNP-CD (did not play-coach’s decision) of the season. Miller’s outburst during the game earned him a two-game suspension – which was later rescinded – and likely a ticket out of Denver.
While unfortunate, this type of situation was bound to escalate when the Nuggets decided to both sign Nate Robinson and keep the proud 37-year old, 14-year veteran in Miller. Shaw has explained that at this point in the season he has decided to shorten his rotation to 9 players, with Lawson and Robinson getting minutes at point guard.
After breaking the streak, the Nuggets have won two straight, loosening a near-fatal grip that could have sunk the season for good. While victories against the Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Lakers have temporarily given the Nuggets some oxygen, a potentially debilitating problem still lies ahead – the Nuggets struggle against teams with winning records. Based on the current standings, the Nuggets have only beaten one Western Conference playoff team (Dallas twice), and hold a record of 2-9 against those playoff teams. At this point in the season that’s a red flag. The Nuggets are doing themselves a favor by beating other mediocre teams in the West and devouring teams from a weak East, but if the playoffs are a realistic goal, the team must fair better against legitimate Western conference teams.
Fittingly, the Nuggets will face the Boston Celtics tonight with a chance to break an even record at 17-17 and continue to keep head above water.