Denver Nuggets fans have endured months of trade rumors, post-trade declarations of irrelevance and more recently, some exciting and inspiring basketball. It was all prelude to this. The Denver Nuggets will match up with division rival Oklahoma City in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
The two teams faced off twice last week that saw some heated moments between big men Nene and Kendrick Perkins and some bad blood brewing with Kenyon Martin and Serge Ibaka. Raymond Felton has gone on record of saying he wanted to clash with the Thunder because they talk a lot of trash and he wants some payback.
Whether the series lasts four games or seven, it is going to be physical and intense. Of course, this is the playoffs and it should not be any other way.
There may be more at stake in this series than who advances to the conference semifinals to face the Spurs (sorry Grizz fans), the Nuggets have a chance to rewrite, or at least amend, some long held theories on how to construct a contender.
The conventional wisdom is that a team must have at least two Hall of Fame caliber players on the roster to win a championship. The Nuggets just plowed through 25 games of their season with a team built around no all-stars, let alone Hall of Famers, and did so with the scoring margin of a 65 win team. Most 65 win teams are considered title contenders so even though that production came in less than one third of the season, Denver certainly appears to be a team deserving of respect.
A corollary of the first theory regarding the need to have more than one Hall of Famer on your roster to challenge for a championship it has been well reasoned that a team needs a closer in the playoffs in order to earn victories in tight contests. To borrow a baseball phrase, the Nuggets employee a closer by committee. More often than not they have found a player capable of carrying the offense down the stretch whether it be Ty Lawson, Raymond Felton, Danillo Gallinari or even Al Harrington who got the job done against the Spurs late in March.
The next theory Denver has a chance to remand is that players must have defined roles and know how many minutes they will play. The Nuggets do have some defined roles, but their depth allows George Karl the flexibility to play matchups or ride the hot hand. That goes hand in hand with another theory that depth may be a great asset in the regular season, but it provides little help in the playoffs.
The reasons why depth is devalued in the postseason is there is plenty of time to rest between games so players can play more minutes and coaches want their best players to be on the court as much as possible. The Nuggets defy that logic in that they do not have two or three players who are head and shoulders better than everyone else game in and game out. I suspect George Karl may limit minutes to players who do not matchup well or are struggling against Oklahoma City, but harkening back to the fact that Denver does not necessarily know who will be carrying them in the fourth quarter, Karl must give everyone a few minutes to see what they will bring to the table that night. You can count on Ty Lawson, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danillo Gallinari, Arron Afflalo (if healthy), Nene, Kenyon Martin and Birdman to all play significant minutes. Plus J.R. Smith must be on the floor because you never know when he is going to drop 20 points in 20 minutes and Timofey Mozgov has the size Denver needs to combat the Thunders’ bigs. And oh by the way, Al Harrington did not do well against the Thunder in either of the late season matchups, but he will certainly get some minutes here or there as well.
All of these theories suggest that Denver is almost the exact opposite of every other contender over the previous thirty seasons. As great as they have been after the trade, experience tells us they are most likely going to get bounced in the first round, or at latest the second, by a team who fits these qualities.
On the other hand, few teams that have experienced the level of regular season success as Denver has over the last 25 games of the season have gone on to be a playoff also ran. I have no idea what will happen. What I do know is we are in for some good basketball that may be revolutionary.
Odds and Ends
The schedule for the first round series between the Nuggets and Thunder will be as follows (all times Mountain, games 5-7 if necessary):
|Game 1||Sunday, April 17||at Oklahoma City||7:30PM||TNT|
|Game 2||Wednesday, April 20||at Oklahoma City||6:00PM||TNT|
|Game 3||Saturday, April 23||at Denver||8:00PM||ESPN/Radio|
|Game 4||Monday, April 25||at Denver||8:30PM||TNT|
|Game 5||Wednesday, April 27||at Oklahoma City||TBD||TBD|
|Game 6||Friday, April 29||at Denver||TBD||TBD|
|Game 7||Sunday, May 1||at Oklahoma City||TBD||TBD|
Make sure you check out Daily Thunder, run by Royce Young, one of the best NBA bloggers out there and Welcome to Loud City for the Thunder angle on the upcoming proceedings. Of course for more Nuggets coverage check out Denver Stiffs and Nugg Love. Obviously the Denver Post is the best source for news and writers Benjamin Hochman and Chris Dempsey had a very interesting chat today.
Of course, keep coming back to RMC as we will throw as much analysis as we can at you over the next few days, and hopefully the next few weeks as the Nuggets implement their non star revolution and plow through the 2011 NBA Playoffs.