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The Nuggets Are Putting Their Foot on the Gas, and the West Should Be Worried

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The Nuggets Are Putting Their Foot on the Gas, and the West Should Be Worried

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Last season, the Denver Nuggets kind of slow-played things headed into the playoffs.

The Nuggets went 12–11 after the NBA All-Star break in 2023. Nikola Jokić looked disinterested in winning another MVP. Jamal Murray still seemed to be searching for consistency in his first complete season back from an ACL tear. And then in late April, the team blossomed into a fully functional juggernaut en route to a championship.

That doesn’t seem to be the case this season. And if they weren’t already, the rest of the league should be terrified.

Denver has been on fire since the All-Star break, posting a 10–1 record after play resumed. The Nuggets’ only loss came in overtime to the Phoenix Suns. Otherwise, they’ve mostly been beating up on good and/or desperate competition, including the Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat (twice).

Murray and the Nuggets have been on a tear since the NBA All-Star break. 

Jim Rassol/USA TODAY Sports

And Jokić has been fantastic. He’s averaging 25.4 points, 13.6 rebounds and 10.2 assists post All-Star, shooting 60.5% from the field. In his last 11 games, the Joker has more triple doubles (six) than games shooting under 50% from the field (two).

The Nuggets play such beautiful basketball. Jokić is the most unsolvable offensive force in the league, and his unselfishness lends itself perfectly to Denver’s egalitarian attack. The offense is built on teams being unable to defend Joker, and as opponents twist themselves into pretzels trying to deny him, the perfectly constructed supporting cast generates good look after good look. It’s beautiful basketball to watch, and when Denver is laser-focused on its execution, there is no stopping the Nuggets, only hoping they will miss the good look that’s been created.

There are serious ramifications to the Nuggets’ current hot streak, by the way. Denver has been embroiled in a race for the No. 1 seed all season long with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves. While the Wolves have been battling without Karl-Anthony Towns, it will be a challenge for them to keep pace with OKC and Denver while he recovers from knee surgery. If the Nuggets get the one-seed, it may be over for the West. Denver lost only one home game all of last postseason and zero before the NBA Finals. Championship hopefuls basically can’t afford for the Nuggets to have home court, except that’s what is almost assuredly going to happen if Denver keeps up its current pace.

It’s hard not to be satisfied watching the Nuggets go on this tear. Jokić, Murray and Michael Malone had to experience some playoff heartbreaks before injuries derailed the team’s progress for multiple seasons in a row. Denver wasn’t deterred, though, and the front office was able to find the ideal complement of role players to make its stars even more unstoppable. Instead of the Nuggets turning into a “what if?” after Murray’s injury cost him two playoff runs, the team has completed the cycle from upstart to postseason pest to dominant force.

There is no more slow-playing for the Nuggets. When healthy and fully engaged, Denver is mowing through teams with machine-like precision. Maybe the Nuggets snuck up on some teams last season. Maybe their meager entrance into the playoffs lulled opponents into a false sense of confidence.

That won’t be the case this season. And it doesn’t matter for Denver. It doesn’t need to surprise anyone. The Nuggets know they have a gear perhaps no other team in the league can reach. And if they go up even another level from where they are now? Nobody will be able to catch up. 

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