You’re right about the Nuggets.
They two huge advantages:
- They have a massive home court advantage, playing in altitude. Almost every team that has to play them on the second night of a back to back is guaranteed to lose.
- Continuity. This will be the third straight year that 10 players from Denver’s roster have played together: 5 starters (Jokic, Murray, Millsap, Barton, Harris) and 5 bench players (Morris, Beasley, Plumlee, Craig, Hernangomez). 7 of those players (Jokic, Murray, Harris, Barton, Beasley, Hernangomez, and Plumlee) were playing for Denver in 2016–2017.
Denver is built for the regular season. While all the newly constructed rosters in the West figure out how to play together, the Nuggets will come out of the gates strong and maintain that momentum with their home court advantage.
I don’t know if they will win the West, but it’s entirely possible they will earn another top 4 seed. And that would be an amazing accomplishment when the West is stacked with the Clippers, Lakers, Rockets, Jazz, Trailblazers and the Warriors. That leaves one playoff spot for the Spurs, Thunder or a young upstart.
However, there’s an ever widening gap between the regular season and the playoffs. Denver only checks two of the six boxes that the Warriors checked when they had Durant and won back to back titles. I wrote about the six boxes when I predicted the Warriors and Raptors had the best chance to meet in the finals:
This year, the Clippers are at the top, checking five of the boxes, followed by the Lakers and Bucks at four, and Philadelphia and Golden State at three.
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Here are the key factors that will make it hard for Denver to advance in the playoffs.
Aside from an incredible defensive effort early in the season, Denver was a league average defense. From December 1, 2018 until the end of the season, the Nuggets were #15 on defense. In the playoffs, they ended up 10th out of 16 teams.
Offensively, Denver was below average in 3-point shooting (#19), and didn’t get a lot of easy baskets in transition (#15). Worst of all, their go-to guy is Jamal Murray, a high volume, low efficiency scorer who was also terrible on defense.
This will be the most wide open NBA season since Jordan went off to play baseball, and it’s not crazy to think even Denver has a shot.