Denver now a Legitimate Threat in the WestBy David A.
The NBA’s Western Conference is packed with talented teams from top to bottom. The Northwest division might be the toughest of the three divisions in the conference and has the hottest team in the NBA as we approach the All-Star game break.
The Denver Nuggets have won 9 of their last 10 games and now trail Oklahoma City by just 6 ½ games. Part of the team’s great play of late is thanks to playing 15 of their last 18 games at home. Over their recent 10 game stretch, the Nuggets have lost to only the Boston Celtics and that was in triple overtime.
The offense is one of the best in the league and has averaged 115 points per game during their last 10 outings. Since January 1, the Nuggets are 15-3 and 2-1 on the road. In late December, the Nuggets were just 17-15 overall following a tough loss to Memphis 82-71. At the time of the season, the Nuggets had played 32 games, with 23 of them played on the road. Nevertheless, the Nuggets at that time were still in seventh place in the conference standings
Now after playing 15 of 18 at home, the Nuggets are 33-19 and have moved up to No. 4 in the conference passing the likes of Memphis, Golden State and Houston. That fourth spot is very important, as they would have home court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs and this season the Nuggets are 22-3 at home.
Only one team in the league, the San Antonio Spurs, has lost fewer games at home than Denver. Over the last seven seasons, Denver has had disappointing first rounds in the playoffs six times and on two occasions, the Nuggets wasted their top four qualifying spot by losing in the conference quarterfinals. Just once, in 2008-09, the Nuggets made it to the West finals behind Carmelo Anthony before Kobe Bryant and the Lakers defeated them.
Having home court advantage does not automatically stamp your ticket to the second round of the postseason, but it certainly helps the Nuggets who can run their up-tempo game for four of the seven games at home in the high altitude that affects many players.
Denver’s second half of the season will see them play roughly the same amount of games at home as on the road. Denver is currently on a four game road swing back east where they have gone 1-1 to start.
Setting the pace for the Nuggets all season and key to their offensive output are Danilo Gallinari and point guard Ty Lawson. Both players were snubbed in the All-Star team selection. Both have played brilliant basketball during the recent run by the Nuggets.
During Denver’s 9-1 run, Gallinari has averaged just shy of 20 points per game. Lawson over that same stretch is averaging just less than 19 points per game and 8 assists per game.
Kenneth Faried is the team’s unsung hero. Faried is averaging 12.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Denver has six players who are averaging double figures in scoring and Wilson Chandler a seventh has a 9.7 points per game average.
Denver turns on the gas and pushes the pedal down the entire game offensively and when they play tough on the defensive end, they are almost impossible to beat.