55: Reflecting on a new franchise milestone

There was muted celebration in the building following the Denver Nuggets’ franchise record 55th win against the Portland Trailblazers on Sunday, enough to cast a subtle gloom over the history being witnessed by a Pepsi Center crowd of Nuggets faithful.

Considering the circumstances, it’s easy to understand why.  Denver lost another starter to injury but ultimately escaped a must-win game, bringing the season-long goal of the third-seed tantalizingly close but still barely out of reach. Like an audience trapped in suspended disbelief at a good movie, Nuggets fans are eagerly awaiting the final twists and turns that set up the climactic moment they’ve all been waiting for.

Until that plays out and we see these Nuggets tested in the sacred arena of the NBA playoffs, any judgments about this team’s place in franchise history seem premature. The true gravity of becoming the Nuggets’ winningest team ever may not be felt until then, but the very fact we’ve arrived here in the midst of a bigger goal is an opportunity to reflect on the process behind what is now a historic achievement.

Personally, I’m conflicted about where to rank these particular Nuggets in terms of all-time franchise history. Their defensive rating of 105.1 ranks 12th in Nuggets history and their offensive rating of 110.2 puts them at 7th all-time. This might be the most consistent Nuggets defense ever, but the 2009 Conference Finals team led by a gritty, experienced group could clamp down the paint in a way this younger group hasn’t. The Nuggets have also had numerous teams that consistently produced better offense.

On the other hand, as Matt Moore pointed out to me yesterday, all the pieces matter and this has been a particularly complimentary group. The Nuggets are currently poised to set franchise-bests for point differential and efficiency differential this season. The numbers are even more impressive when you consider the circumstances under which they were achieved. Denver got a career year from Corey Brewer and steady, understated improvement from everyone else. In fact not one Nugget was voted into the top 30 of ESPN’s #NBARank this season, meaning the Nuggets have done all of this while getting relatively flat years out of all their best players.

Regardless of this team’s place in Nuggets history, if we could elect a fan-favorite amongst all Denver teams this one would undoubtedly be my choice. This is a dangerous, well-balanced squad full of big personalities and even bigger potential. There is a depth to this team’s versatility that allows them to creatively play matchups while having Iguodala as the ultimate insurance against getting beat one-on-one. It’s hard to beat the Nuggets with any one player and there are very few teams who can even come close to matching Denver’s depth. By any measure, this Nuggets team has a real chance to do serious postseason damage – more than just about any Nuggets team ever.

Sadly, a disappointing history of no playoff success is always going to overshadow regular season accomplishments for these Nuggets. Combined with the race for home court advantage, that unfortunate reality is what makes truly appreciating 55 wins seem so difficult at the moment.

The fact Denver is reaching a high-water mark after ten years of sustained success also signifies a potential landmark moment in Nuggets history. Not only is it a testament to  years spent building a winning culture from the ground up, it is a new and exciting launch point for a young team that can continue to get better.

Can this season still be considered a success if it ends in another early playoff exit? No, but 55 wins is still special. 15 straight wins and 22 straight at home (and counting) are dominant streaks likely to stand the test of time for a franchise that has never had a team this good for this long.

Today, there are bigger things to worry about – like the third seed up for grabs with two winnable games remaining. On Wednesday, the Denver Nuggets will chase their 23rd-straight win at home and close the book on the best regular season in franchise history.  Tough questions remain about whether or not this banner season has brought the Nuggets any closer to title contention – questions we’ll only have definitive answers for in the playoffs.

  • S

    This is going to be a team we all tell young Nugget fans about when we grow old, just like we are told about the Alex English teams and (some of us may have been old enough to witness this) the 94 team.

    A bunch of memories, Acquiring Iggy and saying good bye to Triple A, The disappointing start to the season, everyone wanting Karl fired, the 15 straight wins, our revenge and humiliation of Melo in his first return back to Denver, the Philly game, our triple OT game in Boston and Andre Miller being a clown in the final seconds, Faried’s performance, in the rising stars game, Ty’s gamewinner and doing the Bernie against the Thunder, Westbrook fighting with Rocky, the emergence of Founier, Iggy’s triple double and even sadder memories like Gallo’s ACL tear. This has been a crazy and fun season, and I’ll never forget it. But lets hope we make some noise in the other season, the postseason.

    • Charlie

      Definitely has been a wild season. I agree — this is a lucky one to have witnessed first hand. The best part is we have no idea how it ends. To be honest nothing would surprise me.

  • steve

    First off, great season regardless of what happens from here by the Nugs. But yes, advancing in the playoffs will make it that much more sweeter.

    I can’t see us losing in the 1st rd to GSW without a healthy Bogut. (This is assuming we get the 3rd seed) Not in a 7 game series. Mark Jackson is one coach GK should be able to outcoach. We beat them 3 out of 4 and one loss came on the road by 1 pt. If we face Houston, same thing. We swept them this year i believe. Outside of Harden, they have no piece that should scare us. Iggy should prevent Harden from having a great series.

    If we do lose, I’m sorry…GK needs to go. Obviously he’s not meant to coach in the postseason. You need to draw the line somewhere.

    • Thomas

      Well said.

  • Andrew K

    It is hard to classify anything in basketball. For example: is a player that has 4 rings better than one who averaged 15 ppg more than him?

    Or in this case, if the Nuggets were to win 57 games this year and lost in the 1st round, would they be better than a year if they won 48 but lost in the divisional round?

    In the circumstances that it is April 15th, 7 days before the playoffs, and they have the franchise record of wins, they are the best Nuggets team in history. If they happen to lose before the WCF, then those teams who have advanced I would consider the better team.

    Of course there are injuries that affect everything… but if you count injuries might you count as well back-to-backs, hard schedules, and other factors. Even so, this Nuggets team is the funnest to watch in my opinion (I’ve been watching since 01′).

    • mike

      You are looking at three different elements: Better team, most exciting/satisfying season to watch, team/season that gives hope for more potential of winning a championship. 09 was the most satisfying team to watch but had a MAJOR flaw in that they didn’t have an above average guarding wing. It was the Only time in the Melo era you felt the team had a chance in hell of winning a championship. The West had more depth to it that season so in terms of record it’s a pretty similar set of wins.

      Because of the injuries I think the max expectation for this team is a 3 seed a 1st round win and 7 games in the 2nd round (unless Spurs are injured too). This team does have A lot of potential and even though he still makes some ridiculous decisions and does not make little plays Mcgee has been making some progress especially over the last month or so. With Fournier’s development there is a lot of interchangeable AND tradeable young talent to put together a package for a more dominating big (like say Faried and another guy for Kevin Love after next season if faried hasn’t developed a consistent mid range jumper)

  • Ross

    Do we only need to win 1 of the remaining games to get the 3 seed? We are 1 up with two remaining (for all 3 teams). I know the Clippers get the tiebreak because of winning the division, but isn’t that only for the top 4 seeds? We still have the season series against them and I think if we end up tied with them and Memphis, the 3 seed would go to us. Am I wrong?

    • NugZeit

      Yes you are wrong. Tie breakers and the top 4 seeding for Div Champ are separate issues. Clips own the tie breaker regardless of H-H record, because they are div champs. So the nuggs have to have to beat them with overall W/L to take a higher seed. Nuggs have to win out or clips drop a game for every game nuggs lose from here on out to top them.

    • Aj

      The magic number is 1 game to lock up the 4-seed against Memphis, and 2 to lock up the 3 seed against the Clippers. The Clippers still hold the tiebreak over the Nuggets if we finish with the same record since the Clippers won their division. It only gets funky if we (or Memphis) finish with a better record than LAC. In which case, LAC would still get the 4th seed, but not home court advantage in the playoffs.

      • NugZeit

        Actually both the Nuggets and Grizz would have to have better records than LAC for Clips to have the 4th seed but not home court – since as you said they own the Div champ tie-breaker over both.

  • NugZeit

    But more importantly – when do we find out about Faried’s MRI!?

  • Millsy

    All,

    Considering the tie-breakers over the Clipps and Grizz isn’t our Nuggs magic number for the three seed 1? A win tonight or Wednesday OR LA and Memphis each lose? Does anyone have the answer to the world’s most important question? Peace

  • Millsy

    Sorry, just saw the other posts. Thanks

  • Nick

    This year is so amazing and so aweful at the same time. This is the best nuggets team I’ve ever watched easily (I’m 33, no promises about teams before my time). Without a healthy lawson and faried they won’t beat the rockets. And are likely to lose against a not caring bucks team. Injuries are such a bitch.

  • dynamo.joe

    Well the NBA rank thing only proves that the people ESPN taps for that don’t know shit, cuz Faried and AI9 have both been top 30 this season.

    • mike

      iguodala is debatable though probably this season he has not met that standard with his horrible 3 point shooting and even worse FT shooting.

      Faried is not debatable. He has made growth on PnR defense, but still struggles with post defense because of his height. His offensive skill set is essentially all about complimentary skills save for an OK little move to the middle of the lane hook shot he has. He is VERY good at those complimentary skills so he is valuable but top 40 is stretch. top 30 isn’t in the equation until he makes some significant improvements. If you refer to wages of wins stats, they are very skewed toward complimentary offensive players who rebound and are efficient. They take even less defense into account than PER.