The Denver Nuggets and the 2011 NBA Playoffs – Revolutionary?

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.

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  • Paul F.

    First time commenter, but I’ve been reading the blog on and off for more than a year.

    From a longtime Nuggets fan now living in Hawaii, I can’t wait for this series. I haven’t been this excited for an NBA playoffs since Melo’s first year. In some ways, I’m more excited for this one. This current roster is as fascinating and unlikely a blend of talent as the NBA has ever seen. I don’t know that it’s even possible to build a team like this through the draft or free agency. You’d almost need a trade of a superstar like Melo to make it happen.

    Which is all to say, I’ll be relishing these playoffs and the chance to see a truly unique team whether the Nugs win 0 or 16. Needless to say, I’m hoping for the latter.

    Go Nuggets!

  • Brad H.

    If the Nugs stay healthy and can exploit ALL their weapons they’ll win this 1st round against OKC in 5 or 6 games. I’m overconfident every year however when the Nugs start round 1, and they’ve disappointed every year except ’09. But I digress. If it weren’t for the home and home losses to the Thunder last week everyone would be on the Nugs bandwagon, overwhelmingly picking them to win this series. Not having Birdman in those 2 games was the difference. No other big in the Nugs rotation has benefitted more than Bird. He will be a difference maker in this series down low — the area that Denver was lacking in in the last two meetings with OKC.

  • DH

    I count 7 Nuggets who were recently injured or are just coming back from injury (Nene, Bird, Moz, Gallo, Chandler, Afflalo, Ty). That’s ridiculous. Most teams only play 7 or 8 guys and we have 7 injury situations? Of those 7, there’s no telling how many will be at or near 100% for the playoffs. So, to me, it would be a major accomplishment just to make this a close series unless we have a team full of exceptionally fast healers. But if we can somehow get healthy, it should be a great, great series, and we have a good shot of winning it.

    I absolutely believe this team can defy conventional wisdom regarding superstars, closers, and roles. I could do a whole essay on why I think those attributes are overrated, but I’ll spare everyone that. I’ll just let the team do the talking (again, if they’re healthy enough).

    Benjamin Hochman of the Post thinks that Karl will use a rotation of only 7 or 8 players – probably Nene, Martin, Bird, Chandler, Gallo, Afflalo, Felton, Ty. I think we will definitely need contributions from both JR and Moz in order to win the series. I think we should use at least 9 players in most games. Yes, teams have longer to recover between games. But within each game, it’s best to have the fresher legs down the stretch. One of our biggest advantages is wearing teams down with our depth. It also helps that we can give our opponent different “looks” on both ends of the court, depending on who we have on the court. I don’t see why we would change things now – even if conventional wisdom says you shorten your rotation in the playoffs.

    • Kalen

      Agreed. That’d be suicide. Our strength, our one and only big time strength, is our depth. Why would you purposely take that away just because we’re playing the same team every time? It doesn’t make sense, especially when you have guys like Al, Moz and JR who all deserve some run. I’d be OK with Karl cutting down on playing time a bit for some of those guys, but you can’t just cut them out of the game all together. That would ruin our chances, not to mention team chemistry as well.

  • Ernie

    I’m happy about the Sunday night start, one more day of rest for the team that needs it most.

    The playoff schedule is as always just not fan or team friendly. Why is game 2 on Wednesday? Are the Nugs going to fly back home for 2 days? I know TV/money is the driver but this just keeps series from gaining momentum.

    Thanks for the writeup.

  • Hank

    The Nuggets play defense with intensity and game-long commitment now, something they couldn’t seem to manage when Melo was on board. The last time the Nuggets scored a big playoff upset – against the supposedly finals-bound Seattle Super Sonics way back in the day, they had the league’s best defensive player – Dikembe Mutombo. Beating this present version of the Sonics would not be in the same league as far as upsets are concerned, but it will be earned in the same way – by getting stops when they count.

  • John

    Glad to see some verbage from Jeremy again. I’m hoping for some film before Sunday as well. Not to knock the other miners, but it was starting to feel a little like Weekend at Bernie’s around here. :-)

  • Aurress

    I just don’t see how Karl can shorten the rotation. With the way things have been since the trade, it seems like there is a different “hot hand” every night. And you have to play the hot hand, even if its guys deep down the bench like Forbes & Koufos.

    Not saying that Forbes & Koufos will necessarily score 20 pts in any 1 game this series, but if a regular rotation guy is cold & simply not getting the utility job done, you gotta keep trying different things until something or someone works.

  • Warner

    This is going to be a very fun series to watch. I was hoping we’d catch the Mavs despite Karl’s comments but I still think we have good odds. I can’t express enough how happy I was to see Wilson Chandler look like his old self. The guy is definitely playing on a bad ankle and I don’t think Nuggets fans truly know how essential this guy is to our teams success. I think he’s going to have to defend Durant for most of the series cause Afflalo is 6’4-5 and Durant is 6’9. Wilson is 6’8 and is a very good defender. I wouldn’t mind seeing Afflalo is Westbrook however. Anyway, hope Ty can get healthy along with Gallo, Mozgov, Nene, and the others. P.S.. If Harrington or Bird play soft this series (especially against bruisers like Ibaka and Perkins) I’d like to see Koufos get some extended minutes. He played very well in these last few games

    • Kalen

      I think Chandler’s got to do the majority of the coverage on Durant, but I’d like to see Gallo on him too. Those guys are very similar in size and Gallo’s a junkyard dog. He’s really impressed me with his defense this year, so maybe Karl could keep rotating those two. Also, I think Afflalo is the most crucial guy we need this series. Nobody else can handle Westbrook except for him. Felton’s too slow, Ty’s too small and JR, well you just don’t know what you’re gonna get from him even though he has played good defense for the most part this year.

  • Andrew

    I think the key to this series is 1) the Nuggets’ health and 2) Karl’s Big Man strategy. If Afflalo is full speed he can really help out on Westbrook, and hopefully, K Mart can keep Durant from getting huge games. Strategically speaking, though, I think Karl’s biggest decision will revolve around Mozgov/Koufos. These two didn’t play a whole lot during the season, but it seems Karl realized their value, particularly late, when Bird and then Moz got dinged up. I hope Karl brings out Mozgov/Koufos to combat Perkins/Ibaka/Mohammad early and often. I think it will change the dynamics, especially with rebounding, and put the Nuggets over the top for the series. Just a hunch.

  • Kalen

    This is gonna be crazy. I’m so excited to see the team try and defy conventional wisdom. I know we can do something special this season, I just pray injuries don’t ruin it for us.

  • nordmoose

    Great introduction to the 2011 Playoffs, Jeremy.
    I’m looking forward to it!
    Go Nuggets!

  • Sports-Glory

    The Thunder are tough because they get every call from the refs. Hold Durant to under 25 pts and Nuggets will win.

  • Charlie

    Health and free throw shooting are going to play a huge role in this series.

    I’ve been expecting OKC for a long time and it is going to be intense.