5-on-5: Pre-Playoff edition

It the latest edition of Roundball Mining Company’s 5-on-5 series we explore which potential playoff scenarios could benefit or hinder the Nuggets success in the postseason. Fellow readers T.J. McBride and Mitchell Carroll have been selected to participate this time around. If you’d like to contribute next time, be sure and follow Charlie, Jeremey and Kalen on Twitter. As always, please feel free to leave your answers to these questions in the comments section below.

1. Of the top four teams in the West, which is the most favorable matchup for the Nuggets?

Kalen: The Clippers by a mile. I don’t care what anyone says, the Lakers, Spurs and Thunder are the last three teams in the entire league the Nuggets want to see in the playoffs. The Clippers still scare me — mostly because they have Chris Paul and can exploit the Nuggets perimeter woes — but I think their inexperience could come back to bite them in the ass.

Jeremy: Despite Denver’s two home losses against the Clippers, I believe Lob City is the best matchup for Denver. The Nuggets have shown the ability to contain Blake Griffin and Ty Lawson has the ability to counteract the effectiveness of Chris Paul. Even Andre Miller displayed a knack to time Paul’s dribble and deflect the ball away from him. The two wins the Clippers have had at the Pepsi Center this season were fueled by outrageous shooting nights. The Clippers would need to get four performances like that in order to beat Denver in the playoffs and I think such consistently hot shooting is unlikely. I would give Denver a 40 percent chance of beating the Clippers, which is far higher than I would rate their chances against any of the other top seeds out West.

Charlie: The Clippers will no doubt be the popular answer here but I’m sticking with the San Antonio Spurs. All of the top four matchups will be difficult but the Spurs, like the Nuggets, lack a truly dominant player and rely heavily on their depth and offense to win games. The Spurs play at the fastest pace of all of the top four seeds except for Oklahoma City, and unlike the other teams lack a deep collection of front-court talent that could really punish the Nuggets for going small — and let’s face it, George Karl will being going small. To me, the Spurs could have trouble with their style of offense in the postseason.

Mitchell: It has to be the Clippers, right? Their lack of depth in both the front and back-court should allow the Nuggets to run all over these guys. While Chris Paul is certainly an intimidating matchup and Blake Griffin is, well, Blake Griffin, the rest of L.A.’s roster just isn’t that intimidating.

TJ: The best matchup for the Nuggets in the first round is the Clippers. The Nuggets have played them close in all four meetings this season. Lawson always plays Chris Paul well on both ends of the floor. Kenneth Faried has matched up surprisingly well against Griffin on both ends of the floor and has shown guts by not backing down. Arron Afflalo does a great job playing Caron Butler and Randy Foye. If the Nuggets can get average output from all their starters and limit the damage from beyond the arc, their bench should help them extend a lead they can keep for a win.

2. Of the top four teams in the West, which is the least favorable matchup for the Nuggets?

Kalen: Oklahoma City with the Lakers and Spurs not far behind. The Nuggets just can’t handle Durant, Westbrook, Harden or Ibaka. Not one of them! And yet, they’re all on the same team!?! I don’t even think the Nuggets would win a game against the Thunder if they met in the playoffs. Oklahoma City is on a mission from God to win a title, and the sooner they can get through a dysfunctional team like the Nuggets, the better.

Jeremy: Oklahoma City by a mile. I can see Denver giving the Spurs, Lakers and Clippers a run for their money but I have a very difficult time seeing them pulling out more than one win against the Thunder. The threesome of Durant, Westbrook and Harden is too much for Denver to handle. The plethora of options the Thunder have to score in close games down the stretch is a big reason why they have consistently beaten the Nuggets this season. For example, in the first meeting between the two teams the Nuggets had a five-point lead with only 43 seconds remaining in the game and went on to lose in overtime. The other problematic issue Denver faces against the Thunder is Serge Ibaka who has averaged a monstrous seven blocks per game against Denver this season.

Charlie: It’s easily Oklahoma City. Denver is ill-equipped to deal with Durant, Westbrook or Harden, all of whom have killed the Nuggets at one point in time. With McGee on board the Nuggets match up with Ibaka a bit better but I have doubts about McGee’s role and effectiveness come playoff time, where veterans Al Harrington and Andre Miller will likely see 30 minutes of playing time every game. If there’s one team that’s had the Nuggets number all year, it’s the Thunder, who are a lock to blow past the first round no matter who their opponent is.

Mitchell: The Thunder. No question. They are better at every starting position (outside of center, which is a wash) and have the ultimate late-game combo of Durant and Westbrook. Oklahoma City is on a mission for the Finals, and I honestly can’t see any team in the West stopping them, including Denver.

TJ: The least favorable matchup is the Thunder. Durant and Westbrook are the scoring duo you have to be afraid of. But the main problem for the Nuggets on this team is Serge Ibaka. The Nuggets two main ways to score are in the paint and in transition. Ibaka has taken away half their game whenever he is in. The Nuggets really struggle with a great shot blocker. When there is a shot blocker in the paint, they stop trying to penetrate. If the Nuggets are not driving into the lane, they usually lose the game.

3. Of the top four teams in the West, which offers up the deadliest combination of weapons to exploit the Nuggets biggest weaknesses?

Kalen: While the Thunder have the players, the Spurs seem to have the entire package. Veteran leadership, experience, defense, offense, smarts, schemes and most importantly, a coach who George Karl can only dream of becoming. Greg Popovich is the reason the Spurs are who they are at this point. While Karl has zero micromanagement skills, Popovich is teeming with them. Even if the Nuggets have a better roster, I’d bet on the Spurs 10 times out of 10 to beat the Nuggets thanks to Popovich outsmarting Karl on the regular.

Jeremy: Oklahoma City because the Nuggets have not fared well defending the perimeter this season. Afflalo is exerting too much energy on offense to play the level of defense we came to expect of him after his first two seasons in Denver. Andre Miller has shown increased effort and effectiveness on defense over the previous month, but he cannot stay with Westbrook nor can he handle Harden. Gallinari has had his moments against Durant, but you cannot expect him to put a dent in Durant’s scoring ability. It was not just happenstance that Durant and Westbrook combined to score almost 100 points in one game against Denver.

Charlie: I think it’s Memphis and Oklahoma City, who constantly have a shot-blocking presence in the game and play the kind of pesky perimeter defense that seems to turn the Nuggets into a one-on-one, jump-shooting team. More than anything the Nuggets need to avoid teams that can match the production of their bench and exploit Andre Miller and Al Harrington defensively. It’s another reason the Thunder is the nightmare matchup as we’ll likely see heavy doses of Harrington and Miller on Durant and Harden.

Mitchell: The Thunder. There is no one, and I mean no one, that can stop Durant or Westbrook on Denver’s roster. With Wilson Chandler out, Denver would be lucky to hold the “Durantula” to 25 a game. Meanwhile, Ty Lawson just doesn’t have the size to stay with Westbrook. With James Harden playing the way he is, Oklahoma City’s 3-point shooting would exploit just how truly awful the Nuggets perimeter defense is. The tough defense from Ibaka and Perkins down low would shut down what little post offense Denver has.

TJ: The Lakers are the team with weapons to hurt the Nuggets. Andrew Bynum is the biggest matchup problem for Denver. When the Nuggets play him, George Karl’s “small ball” lineup gets demolished. As if that isn’t enough, you still have Kobe. Then when the Nuggets try to double Bynum (or triple, as they did last meeting), Pau Gasol and Bryant get open jumpers. The Nuggets had trouble defending this group earlier this season and to make matters worse, the Lakers have added Ramon Sessions to the mix.

4. Outside of perennial All Stars (Durant, Westbrook, Paul, etc.), which Western Conference player should the Nuggets fear the most?

Kalen: I’m gonna say Andrew Bynum. Ibaka is a great choice as well but Bynum is a huge threat on offense which the Nuggets can’t handle. For years the Nuggets have been petrified of the Lakers and their big men. Now that Bynum is finally developing into the All-Star center many thought he’d be, it only makes matters worse. Seeing the Nuggets quadruple-team him a few weeks ago was grotesque. Watching four to five straight games of that might be enough to do me in once and for all.

Jeremy: I am going with a shooter from the Clippers and Spurs. Mo Williams and Danny Green both scare me because they are players who could, and have, exploited the Nuggets weak perimeter defense this season. Williams has had playoff experience and despite my desire to see Denver play the Clippers, he is talented enough to be the “x-factor” that carries the Clippers to a series win. Green shredded Denver in the first meeting between the two teams and his heady and steady play allows him to take advantage of situations where the defense is focusing on Parker or Ginobili.

Charlie: Three-point shooters. Denver recently surpassed New Jersey as the worst 3-point defense in the league, allowing their opponents to shoot a ridiculous 38.4 percent from deep. That’s just sad considering the league’s average 3-point shooting percentage is below 35 percent. Richard Jefferson and Matt Bonner are two prime examples of mediocre players who have feasted on the Nuggets soft perimeter defense, but the list of sub-par talents who can seriously hurt Denver from deep is a long one.

Mitchell: It’s a toss-up between Ibaka and Harden. Ibaka had a field day the last time these teams got together and Harden is playing out of his frickin’ mind this season. While Faried has shown he can play with the big boys, Ibaka is just bigger, more powerful and does whatever Faried does even better. Plus, who could stop Harden? Brewer? Afflalo? As good as they are at defense, I just don’t see it happening.

TJ: Serge Ibaka. His shot blocking ability is unmatched. He can also handle himself on the offensive end getting easy dunks or layups. He can rebound very well too. The Nuggets, as I said before, have trouble scoring in the paint when there is a legitimate shot-blocking threat. If the Nuggets don’t score in the paint, they don’t win games. He is the player on the Thunder that can make or break the game for the Nuggets.

5. Ultimately, which team do you see the Nuggets facing in the first round of the playoffs and what will be the outcome of that series?

Kalen: I think the Nuggets win three of their four remaining games to face the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. Like always, the Lakers will kill the Nuggets with their size, discipline and now defense, while the Nuggets will struggle with the half-court game and playing solid, playoff basketball in general. I’m really not worried about Kobe Bryant. He’ll get his. It’s Bynum and Gasol that bothers me. They’ll likely have a field day with the Nuggets front court. A growing experience for our young players? Maybe. Who knows what excuses we’ll hear this year. All I know: S.S.D.Y. (The “Y” stands for “Year.”) Lakers in six.

Jeremy: I expect Denver to finish seventh in the West and to be matched up with the Thunder. It is the worst case scenario; what did you expect? This is the Nuggets we are talking about. The Spurs closing schedule is a cakewalk so I do not anticipate the Thunder passing them for the top seed. The Thunder are better this season than they were last season, while the Nuggets are nowhere near as good now as they were entering the playoffs last spring. I will say Denver will win a game and lose in five again. You can call it pessimistic; I call it realistic.

Charlie: I will stick with my prediction of a seventh-seed playoff berth and a first-round series with the Spurs. How Denver finishes the season will say a lot about their resolve, and subsequently, their chances against the best teams in the West. The Nuggets are playing better basketball but are still haunted by porous perimeter defense. I hope it doesn’t happen, but the injury excuse is already there and if Denver heads into the postseason without momentum, it’ll be over quick in a vintage 4-1 series loss to the Spurs.

Mitchell: I would love if Denver matched up with the Clippers because I think our pace, energy and size on the wing would equal a series win. And with the Clippers having a much more favorable schedule down the stretch than the Lakers, this matchup seems very likely. Nuggets in six games, and a date with the Spurs in the second round.

TJ: I see the Nuggets climbing to the sixth seed and playing the Clippers. The Nuggets schedule is easier than the Mavericks, which should allow them to jump up a spot in the standings. I also see the Clippers catching and passing the Lakers for the third seed in the West due to a favorable schedule and one extra game. This series will be a very interesting one where I can see both teams trading wins. The outcome will be the Nuggets in seven games.

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Kalen Deremo

Kalen was born in Durango, CO, in 1988 and graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2013 with a degree in journalism. He's now an itinerant hoping to travel as much as possible before eventually succumbing to the "real world." Aside from writing Kalen likes movies, music, spicy food and the great outdoors. Edward Abbey is his current idol.

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  • ayy yo juwwan

    what is S.S.D.Y.?

  • BDMacl

    Same Sh!t, Different Year

  • DH

    I’m not sure when this was written, but the Clippers have very little chance of passing the Lakers and taking the 6 seed. The loss last night just about killed their chances. They would need to make up 2 games with only 3 left to play. (They are a game behind and the Lakers have the tiebreaker.)

    Based on remaining schedules and tiebreakers, I think the most likely scenarios, in order, are…

    1) Nuggets (7) vs. Thunder (2)
    2) Nuggets (6) vs. Lakers (3)
    3) Nuggets (8) vs. Spurs (1)

    To get the 6 seed, either we need to win out while Dallas loses 1 out of 3, or we need to win 3 out of 4 while Dallas loses 2 out of 3.

    To end up with the 8 seed, most likely Utah would need to win their last 3 (Phoenix at Utah is the big one) and the Nuggets would need to lose 2 out of 4.

    There are other scenarios – like Denver losing 3 of 4, or San Antonio suddenly resting their starters and losing the 1 seed, or the Lakers dropping 2 out of 3 and the Clippers winning out and gaining the 3 seed – but I consider those as highly unlikely.

    I think the Spurs, Thunder, and Lakers all present serious problems…

    The obvious problem with the Thunder is that Chandler is out, Gallo doesn’t seem to be himself, and there are no other options for slowing down Durant. Even if Gallo comes around, I can’t see him containing Durant for 40 minutes. And then there’s Westbrook (who is playing out of his mind), Harden, and Ibaka. All of them are matchup problems. A Nuggets-Thunder series would be a short one, I’m afraid.

    The problem with the Lakers, of course, is Bynum and Gasol. Bynum is a matchup problem for almost every center in the league. And I don’t see how either Manimal or Al can slow down Gasol. I guess our best chance would be to apply a lot of ball pressure to try and prevent the pass from getting to the bigs. And then we have to hope that Kobe feels like launching 25 shots a game. I think taking 2 games from the Lakers would be an accomplishment.

    The Spurs are the best 3-point shooting team in the league, and we all know how the Nuggets struggle defending the 3. They have the best coach in the league (my opinion). You can’t just take away one or two of their strengths, because they can kill you in a variety of ways, using a variety of weapons. They are tough to stop, offensively. However, I’m not sold on their defense. The Lakers and Thunder can really turn it up a notch when they need to. I’m not sure the Spurs can. So the Spurs might be the best matchup. They would have to have some poor shooting games, but maybe we could take 2 or 3 from them.

  • steve

    i think it’s almost in the bag that we will be the 7th seed facing OKC. Dallas is stomping GSW right now and most likely will defeat either the Bulls or Hawks to end the year. I know both are on road but Bulls havent been playing the best lately with rose being in and out. Hawks might also tank the last game of the season since i doubt the Magic catch them being 2 games down.

    The Nugs are just to inconsistant to sweep the last 4. I have a feeling we will split 2-2 and stay in the 7th spot since the Suns have a brutal schedule.

    Most likely we will lose in 5 games to OKC in the 1st round. blah

    • Ryan

      Hawks and Bulls both have home-court advantage as incentives, so they will probably be playing hard, maybe they will find a way to beat the Mavs

  • Tom

    1. I wonder how the Clippers’ flopping ways will fare in the playoffs? CP3 has not had the playoff success he’s had in the regular season, most likely because refs let players be more physical without calling as many ticky-tack fouls. I still remember that game the Nuggets beat NO by 58 points in the playoffs on the road. Also, VDN is a terrible, awful, wretched coach. No matter who the Clippers play, I can’t imagine them making it out of the 1st round. That being said, I would rather play the Lakers in round 1 so that we can be the ones to end their season.

    2. Most people will say OKC is the worst match-up, and there are a lot of good points in support of that view. However, we played them extremely close last year; we actually outscored them for the series if you ignore one and half disastrous quarters, and if the refs hadn’t missed that one Perkins goal-tend, the whole series might have gone Denver’s way instead. There are definitely match-up problems all over, the biggest being the charity-stripe efficiency discrepancy (in my opinion). OKC is the best FT shooting team in the league and Denver is mediocre. But if the refs let teams play a bit without blowing the whistle too much, that takes away one of OKC’s biggest advantages. If Westbrook has a few erratic games taking shots away from Durant and Harden, I can totally picture Denver making it a good series. I actually think Denver’s worst match-up is the Spurs because they have as much if not more depth than the Nuggets, better star players, a better coach, plenty of playoff experience, and they’re playing the best basketball in the league right now. The Spurs have to be the favorites in the west right now.

    3. Biggest weakness on the Nuggets is the C position and defending the perimeter. A healthy Nene would have helped in both of those regards, but considering his plantar fasciitis (a very difficult injury to play through), maybe the trade has been for the best. The Spurs have the best combination of deadly 3-point snipers, and the Lakers have the most size to give us problems in the paint. Ibaka killed us last year, but we still made that series pretty close, so I have to think that Bynum and Gasol are the most deadly combination, especially if the refs let them go over the back repeatedly and throw their weight around. No other combination worries me quite as much, but if we end up playing the Lakers, hopefully Kobe will make that combination less effective.

    4. Bynum, Harden, and Ginobili should be perennial allstars, so I won’t pick them. A lot of 3-point shooters could destroy the Nuggets, but there’s only one non-allstar big guy to be really afraid of: Serge Ibaka. If McGee ever turned into that kind of player, the Nuggets would be absolutely thrilled (he’s probably not that far off, actually).

    5. I’d like to see Denver sneak into the 6th seed and face the Lakers, but they’re most likely going to get OKC in a 2vs7 match-up. Denver does not have a very good chance to win that series, but it’s not zero. I’d give them 20-25% odds of pulling off the upset.

  • gassen19

    Hey where’s the recognition for this blog idea!?!?

    • http://www.roundballminingcompany.com Jeremy

      Hey Mr.Gassen, I do not think you were the first to request a post like this, but your email pushed it over the top so thank you for that. I hope you enjoyed the read!

  • Tom

    A point about rotations:
    Lawson, Afflalo, Gallinari, Faried, Miller, and Harrington all deserve big minutes at this point. Notice Gallinari at 6’10” is the tallest of those players, and Harrington at 250 lbs is the heaviest. Can the Nuggets realistically play much bigger? McGee has never been to the playoffs and is fairly unreliable. Koufos isn’t in good enough shape to play more than 15-20 minutes per game. Bird would be a nice option in spots, but he’s done for the year. Add it all together, and we should all expect a heavy dose of small-ball lineups in crunch time. Honestly, you want some combination of Lawson, Afflalo, Gallinari, Faried, Miller, and Harrington in at the end of a game. Two of those guys would have to sit on the bench if you wanted to play McGee or Koufos, and why would you do that? Neither of those guys can hit FTs or make consistently good decisions. If they were defensive stoppers, it would make sense, but both of them are pretty mediocre in that regard, so the only thing you’d gain is maybe a better chance at a rebound here and there. It just doesn’t make any sense, so if the Nuggets are going to do anything in the playoffs, it’s going to be with small lineups. There’s no way around it.

  • Peter

    I know this is off topic and thinking ahead to the offseason, but Jeremy I wanted to get your thoughts on Wilson Chandler. Now I know every player should get some leeway and time to adjust back to the NBA game the way we kind of all gave Afflalo a pass for his poor start since he stayed away from basketball before he signed his big deal(which was just smart on his part in my opinion). But you have mentioned before that maybe Wilson Chandler has spent his whole career trying to get away from Danillo Galinari so he can start somewhere. I like Chandler a lot as a player, I really do, but I just think he may not be the best fit here in Denver and we should seriously look in to trading him. With Gallo and Aaron already in the mix at the 2 and the 3 I just don’t think it’s easy enough for Chandler to get in a rhythm coming off the bench. He flat out just looks lost out there sometimes and I don’t see the wing as a big weakness for us. If Toronto is still interested in him it would be great if they would be willing to give up a big like Ed Davis or their first round pick for him. Thoughts?

  • ny nugs fan

    this game against the suns the nugs need to *win* man

    play mcgee…quit playin