As our “new normal” kicks into high gear with playoff hockey and basketball in August, it’s time to handicap the postseason chances of the Avalanche and Nuggets.
I love the Avs chances of winning the Stanley Cup. Their performance during the round-robin tournament showed a team that is hungry and balanced enough to make a deep playoff run.
The biggest question mark is goaltending. Philipp Grubauer figures to get first crack between the pipes based on his playoff experience. Pavel Francouz has been a terrific back up and some Avs fans feel he’s the better option, but coaches tend to lean on veterans come the postseason.
Grubauer has only played in 18 postseason games during the five years his teams in Washington and now Colorado have appeared. Can he take a team to the Cup? At some point during a title run, a team’s goaltender has to steal games and even a series. I don’t know if Grubauer can do that. Until proven otherwise, goaltending is the Avs’ biggest obstacle to winning it all.
Other than that, the Avs look loaded. The MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog line is one of the most lethal in the NHL. There’s tons of good veteran secondary scoring options-something that has doomed the Avs in the past.
If Colorado wins the Cup, Joe Sakic’s work in bringing in the likes of Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, Andre Burakovsky and Vladislav Namestnikov will be proven to be the difference. The defense is not a lock-down group, but they put so much pressure on teams with their offensive abilities, I’ll take that trade off.
Simply put: If the Avs get the goaltending, they’re winning the Stanley Cup.
The Nuggets path to greatness is not as cut and dried. Injuries have really hurt this team’s readiness for the playoffs. The eight-game regular season finish was designed to satisfy regional TV contracts and serve as a postseason tune up (it was also a thinly veiled attempt by the NBA to get Zion Williamson into the playoffs. Since when did this kid become that important? Oh well, a topic for another day).
Michael Malone’s team doesn’t look playoff ready if you’re judging it based on what we watched for the first 60-plus games of the season before the COVID-19 shutdown. That team replied upon a deep bench and Gary Harris and Will Barton were considered instrumental. But, this NBA restart has given Michael Porter, Jr. a chance to play heavy minutes and he’s dazzled folks with his jaw dropping potential.
If he can play like this when the games get real then watch out. That could be asking a lot. These games inside the bubble have yet to be played with real playoff intensity. There is another level or two teams will get to and I question whether or not MPJ is ready to meet that level.
The Nuggets playoff formula for me is simple: Nikola Jokic has to play like a superstar. Jamal Murray has to leave behind the inconsistency that has plagued him so far in his career and perform like a star. He needs to be a reliable, 20 to 24 points per game scorer throughout the playoffs. And, this is most important, the Nuggets need a third reliable scoring option, someone who on any given night in the playoffs can go off for 25 points.
The idea during the season is that would be Harris or Barton. I never thought either of them would fit the bill. Porter is intriguing. He could be that guy, but is he ready for that now? His future as part of a core of him, Jokic and Murray is one that should have the Nuggets competing for championships.
But, that is the future. For this summer, the Nuggets are a lock to win in the first round. After that, I see them exiting at the hands of the Clippers or Lakers.
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