There is so much to like about the Nuggets.
They give a full, professional effort almost every game. In today’s “load management” NBA, you don’t see Nikola Jokic asking for a night off.
There is a college type camaraderie that exists between teammates. Michael Malone seems to have struck a balance between kicking a guy in the butt when necessary and throwing an arm around someone’s shoulder and being his buddy.
This is a team that deserves your respect and admiration.
Yet, why do I have a sinking feeling there is a limit to how far this team can go?
Let’s start with the recent trade deadline. The moves weren’t bad. Noah Vonleh provides more back-up size and defense. Jordan McRae is a decent prospect who can provide some occasional scoring pop. I don’t mourn the departure of Juan Hernangomez or Malik Beasley. I don’t worry about the loss of chemistry or the disruption of continuity.
The Nuggets are well put together for the long grind of the NBA season. They have the depth and put forth the effort to rack up regular-season wins. Plus, they have that Jokic guy who must obviously confuse the heck out of NBA experts as to how he dominates just about every night. How else to explain their reluctance to include him among the top MVP candidates?
No, the regular season isn’t the issue. The Nuggets will finish as the No. 2 or 3 seed in the Western Conference.
The playoffs worry me.
I don’t see a problem getting past the first round, although I’d like to avoid the Mavericks if possible. It’s the second round that worries me. In all likelihood, that means a date with the Clippers.
The Clips are built to win in the playoffs with a proven postseason alpha dog in Kawhi Leonard and a legitimate wingman in Paul George. Add in instant offense guys like Lou Williams and Marcus Morris, and that is a team with a lot of firepower.
Do the Nuggets have enough to match up?
Jokic is a rock. I have no doubts he’ll bring his “A” game every night in the playoffs. But beyond that? Jamal Murray has been streaky his whole career. He can go off for 30 points one night and the next? Until he proves otherwise, Murray will still be dogged by that 11-for-38 shooting in the final two games of the Portland series last year, including 4-for-18 in Game 7.
If the Nuggets are going to make a run at the Western Conference Finals, Murray has to be on every game. But even if Jokic and Murray are a given is that enough?
Who is the Nuggets third reliable scorer? Gary Harris? No. Jerami Grant or Paul Millsap? No and no. Michael Porter Jr.? Maybe. In the future.
But this year, Porter is too young and inexperienced to be reliable as the playoffs march on. This is why I wish the Nuggets had done more at the trade deadline to get another proven scorer.
The Nuggets will be a tough playoff out. They will play defense and they will give exceptional effort. But, I fear the lack of explosive scoring will prove to be their Achilles Heel.