Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
On the red-hot Nuggets: Are they where they should be, are they playing over their heads or is the best yet to come?
Steve Aschburner: The Nuggets, so fun to watch and easy to root for, are shaping up as the next high-octane team — like Phoenix and Orlando before them — whose philosophy will get tested and whose chances for postseason success will get discounted. As coach George Karl said the other day, “We want to play early. We want to play before the defense sets.” He and his staff have their guys in attack mode, but playoff basketball traditionally reverts to react mode. When the Nuggets play in an attack mode in the regular season, their change of pace is a competitive advantage. But doing it up to seven times against the same opponent, one who has had time between games to adjust, is a taller order. So to answer the question, they’re about where they should be. But everything gets harder in five weeks, maybe more so for Denver.
Fran Blinebury: I think at the outset of the season most of us had the Nuggets slotted as a 4-5 seed with the potential to win 50-plus and reach up to No. 3. That’s exactly where they are. It’s the way they’ve gotten there that has made everyone sit up and take notice. The Nuggets had to overcome the a ridiculous schedule that had them playing 17 of their first 23 games on the road. It is a credit to coach George Karl and his team that they survived the challenge and now it’s put them in position to finish strong and take a run at the Clippers for the third seed. I’m looking at the Nuggets as the potential twister in the trailer park of the West playoff bracket.
Jeff Caplan: I really, really like George Karl‘s team. I’m not sure they can play much better than they currently are so I’m a bit reluctant to say the best is yet to come. However, with 10 of their last 17 games on their hugely advantageous home floor where they’re 28-3, the fastest show in the NBA could be the hottest one in the West once the playoffs roll around next month. I do believe the Nuggets can give any team in the West a real fight, yet at the same time they won’t be odds-on favorites to beat any team in the first round. Take their first-round opponent as of today, the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s a clash of styles and the Nuggets could be in trouble if they don’t leapfrog the burly Grizz in the standings and secure that homecourt edge. Denver is 15-19 on the road, the only losing road record among the top five teams in the West. They’ve won four consecutive road games at Charlotte, Portland, Sacramento and Phoenix, but before that they lost four in a row at Boston, Toronto, Brooklyn and Washington. Since Jan. 1, the Nuggets are 6-5 on the road.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Where they should be. Not in terms of the winning percentage the last six or eight weeks, which has helped even the disappointing start of the season — the streak they’re on is unrealistic to maintain the entire way — but it can’t be a surprise that the Nuggets are fifth in the West and challenging for fourth. That was realistic from the beginning.
John Schuhmann: The Nuggets are hard to judge, because they play like no other team and they’re so much better at home than on the road. Generally, I think they’re right there with the Clippers and Grizzlies in the second tier of the Western Conference, and how they do in the playoffs will depend on their first round matchup and whether or not they have home-court advantage. Three things will likely hurt them in the postseason either way: A slower pace (the playoffs are typically three possessions per team slower than the regular season), their inability to shoot from beyond a few feet from the basket (they rank 29th in field-goal percentage from five feet and out) and the fact that their opponent will have some time to adjust to the Denver altitude.
Sekou Smith: They are just about where they should be. I never saw the Nuggets as a top two or three team in the Western Conference this season, but a top four or five team? Certainly. And they are also one of those teams that no one will be interested in dealing with in the first round, especially if they have home-court advantage. As far as what they can do in the postseason, so much of that is predicated on matchups and whether or not they have the Pepsi Center advantage on their side. Like most all of the top teams in the West, they have the roster matrix (quality depth up front, wing defenders and scorers and elite point guard play) covered. And in George Karl, they have one of the league’s best handling things on the sideline. What’s still not clear to me, though, is who serves as the Nuggets’ go-to-player when things tighten up in a playoff series?