The Nuggets kick off their first series of the 2013 playoffs against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday. With injuries still lingering and a rotation in flux, there are certainly questions to be answered — which is what we plan to do below. As always, please feel free to play along and submit your answers to each of the following questions in the comments section.
1. How much will lingering injuries hurt the Nuggets chances of advancing past the first round?
Kalen: Hardly any. Even if Faried misses the first game he’s still gonna play the majority of the series, unless of course he gets injured again. The Nuggets went 8-1 down the stretch with Lawson and Gallinari mostly out of the lineup. Lawson’s now back and he hasn’t missed a step. Unless something catastrophic happens, the Nuggets are just too deep to let injuries derail them.
Tom: Not very much. Ty Lawson looked great in the last three regular season games, putting up 10 assists and three steals with no turnovers against Portland and a team-high 26 points — including the game winner — against the Bucks. Kenneth Faried’s recover appears to be progressing nicely, though he may not be 100 percent when the playoffs begin. Even without Gallinari, the Nuggets have been very good — especially at home, where they finished with the eighth best home record in league history.
Matt: I don’t think it will hurt all that much for the first round. The Nuggets are still better than the Warriors and Andre Iguodala has been playing out of his mind lately. Add in what looks like a healthy Ty Lawson with the emergence of Evan Fournier and I think the Nuggets will be fine. But after that, things become tougher.
Charlie: The injury factor has the potential to prolong what should be a fun series. Starting in the afternoon on the first night of the playoffs won’t give Kenneth Faried time to practice or even feel out the ankle on game day. The Nuggets are off until Tuesday after that so I expect him to miss at least one game and return only when he’s ready to start and play big minutes. There will be some adjustment there so I can see the series going six or seven games, but Denver advances with the return of a healthy Manimal.
Joel: With home court advantage and a deep, competent bench, Denver’s chances of getting beyond the first round shouldn’t be diminished too greatly. Chandler has really cranked up his offense of late, Fournier is helping a great deal on both ends of the court, and Randolph can provide some of the length on defense that was lost when Gallinari went down. The only caveat is that if Faried can’t return to full strength as quickly as advertised, Denver’s rebounding could seriously suffer.
2. Which player-vs-player match-up is most critical to the Nuggets success?
Kalen: Andre Iguodala vs. Klay Thompson. Lawson and Curry are going to likely cancel each other out. The Nuggets are also gonna make Curry a top priority given all the hype he’s acquired lately. But Thompson can be just as deadly as Curry from long range. He finished the year third in the NBA in 3-pointers made and shoots above 40 percent from downtown. If Andre Iguodala can suffocate him, Curry can make all the 3-pointers he wants and it won’t make a difference.
Tom: Steph Curry broke Ray Allen’s league record for three-point makes in a season. He also averaged nearly seven assists per game as the focal point of Golden State’s offense. Meanwhile, Andre Iguodala is in the running for the Defensive Player of the Year award, having routinely forced opposing guards into nights they would rather forget. Whichever player can impose his will on the other will dictate how the series goes.
Matt: David Lee vs. Kenneth Faried. Faried has always struggled to defend Lee and with a bum ankle it won’t be any easier. This seems like one of the two real matchups that the Nuggets will struggle to win. This season Lee averaged 23.3 points on 56 percent shooting, 10.3 rebounds and 5 assists. Lee going for 30 a couple of times wouldn’t surprise me at all — nor would it be good news for Denver.
Charlie: Steph Curry against the Nuggets’ defense by committee. Curry’s been so hampered by injuries throughout his career no one’s quite sure just how good he really is. Many think this postseason setting is where Curry will take the next step and blossom into a superstar. I think that’s the only way Golden State advances and it should be fun to see what happens. Expect the Nuggets to throw a lot of different looks at him and trap aggressively in spots.
Joel: David Lee vs. Faried. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack are often muttered in the same breath when the Warriors’ offense is discussed. But Lee is their second leading scorer and has pretty much had his way with Faried this season on both ends of the court. Defending the perimeter may be Denver’s glaring weakness in this series, but controlling the paint and the glass will be huge in limiting the dimensionality of the Warriors’ offense and denying second chance scoring.
3. What trend/statistic scares or encourages you most about this series?
Kalen: The fact the Nuggets are 38-3 at home this year and are currently on a 23-game winning streak at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets just don’t lose at home. In the playoffs the atmosphere has double the intensity and energy of regular season games. If the Nuggets get out and run at home with the crowd behind them, it’s lights out for Golden State.
Tom: Denver has compiled a 33-15 record against teams .500 or better this season, including 20-7 against Western Conference playoff teams. Since 2001, only four other teams finished with 31 or more wins and 15 or fewer losses against winning teams. Three of them (’02 Lakers, ’09 Lakers, ’03 Spurs) won the NBA championship; last season’s Spurs fell short in the Conference Finals.
Matt: The Nuggets defense on spot-up shooters. The Nuggets ranked 30th in the league in points per possession this season against spot-up shooters and are going up against a Warriors team that is full of knockdown shooters on the perimeter. If the Nuggets get lazy, and some players can tend too, the Warriors are going to have a chance to win a game or two from behind the arc.
Charlie: The Nuggets have a better offense, better defense, a lot more depth and just as much balance on both sides of the ball. They earned home court, won 10 more games than the Warriors and were simply the better team by almost every measure this season.
Joel: The most encouraging trend is that the Warriors haven’t been able to knock Denver off their game at all this season. The Nuggets have consistently performed at their usual levels of efficiency across the board, all while exerting their style of play. If the Warriors can’t deny the Nuggets an aspect of their game they rely on to win, their chances of surviving the series drop dramatically. The scariest stat? Curry just set the record for the most 3-pointers in a season.
4. Which player has to have the biggest series in order for the Nuggets to win?
Kalen: Ty Lawson. Everyone is gonna bring it but Ty is without question the heart of this team. He’s shown the ability to hit big, game-winning shots and has carried the Nuggets through most of the tougher games this season. If he steps up and plays at the All-Star level he was in February when he averaged 23 points and eight assists per game, the Nuggets might end up sweeping the Warriors.
Tom: The Nuggets are the best offensive rebounding team in the league, while the Warriors are the best defensive rebounding team in the league — by percentage. Kenneth Faried needs to have a big series creating extra possessions in order to give the Nuggets the best chance to win.
Matt: Andre Iguodala. This won’t be about offense. The Nuggets will score enough to beat the Warriors in most games. This is entirely about defense. Iguodala must make life hard for whichever Warriors guard is hot at the time, whether it be Steph Curry, Klay Thompson or Jarrett Jack. If he can do that and keep any specific player from dominating a game then the Nuggets will cruise.
Charlie: The Nuggets bigs. I realize it’s a little cheap to skew the rules and name a whole group, but it is so key they do it as a group with Faried still rehabbing from injury. They must stay solid and resist the temptation to cheat too far underneath screens in order to help. Golden State has gotten so many good shots against the Nuggets off mistakes like this. Denver’s bigs are young and give good effort, but they must play smart, limit their mistakes, and produce more than normally with Faried still working his way back from injury.
Joel: Ty Lawson. The cliché that as he rises or falls so do the Nuggets is borne of reality, and that will be true for this series as well. Defensively, he has a very tall order in holding up his end of guarding the 3-point arc, and if he can do a respectable job it will go a long way towards helping Denver win. He’ll need to play with confidence, aggression and poise to ensure the offense runs as optimally as possible.
5. How far will the Nuggets make it this year?
Kalen: As I always say, I’m a cynic’s cynic when it comes to the Nuggets. After years of playoff blunders and infuriating losses in the first round, I’m about as jaded as you can get. But this year is different. I actually have faith in this team and it’s because they’re playing defense! As the old adage goes, defense wins championships — but it also equals success in the postseason no matter how much talent is on your roster. With Andre Iguodala at the helm defensively, I see the Nuggets making it all the way to the Western Conference Finals before succumbing to the Thunder.
Tom: I expect the Nuggets to handle the Warriors easily, and then to steal a road game against a hobbled Spurs team to advance. Without Gallinari, the tandem of Durant and Westbrook will be too much to contain. The Nuggets will make it to Game 6 of the Conference Finals.
Matt: Second round. If I was 100 percent sure Faried was 100 percent healthy I may have picked the Nuggets to beat a banged up Spurs team and move on to the Western Conference Finals. But without that knowledge it’s tough for me. I’m taking the Nuggets in six against the Warriors and then getting knocked off in seven by the Spurs — though a trip to the Western Conference Finals wouldn’t surprise me either.
Charlie: Even without Faried, who I think is going to miss a game and possibly two, Denver should conquer the Warriors in seven with home-court advantage. I also believe the Spurs advance and from there it all depends on where each team stands in regards to health and fatigue. Ultimately I think the Spurs get healthy, take care of their first-round series quicker than Denver and beats the Nuggets to advance to the Conference Finals. I hope I’m wrong, but I could see a healthy Spurs team winning a championship this season.
Joel: The Nuggets should be able to take care of business against Golden State, and if they do they’ll face either a banged-up Spurs team or the Kobe-less Lakers. Provided that they have (save for Gallo) a fully healthy roster by then, either of those should be winnable series. Getting past the Thunder may not be in the cards, but if they don’t at least reach the Western Conference Finals and take it to six or seven games, it will be a disappointment.