The Denver Nuggets got back on track with a convincing 114-98 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Monday night. Now, we see where the teams playoff chances sit after the first 17 games of the season.
The Nuggets currently have a record of 10-7 and are sixth in the Western Conference. The 146 points scored by the Nuggets last Friday against the New Orleans Pelicans was the most points scored by any team in the NBA this season. Jamal Murray led the way for the Nuggets with 31 points and shot 13-18 from the field, 3-7 from deep. Murray was one point off his career high and showed the free-flowing, care-free style of play, that made him the seventh pick in the draft last year by the Nuggets.
Nuggets starting shooting guard Gary Harris returned for the Nuggets against the Pelicans after a two game absence with a shoulder injury. Harris contributed 22 points on 9-11 from the field, 4-6 from three. Harris also posted the third highest +/- rating by any player in the NBA this season with a +41. Oh, and Harris also contributed this throw down at the rim.
Gary Harris flies in for the putback! #MileHighBasketball
📺: ESPN pic.twitter.com/RT9QmHeKiZ
— NBA (@NBA) November 18, 2017
The best thing you get with Harris night in and night out is his consistency and his ability to contribute on both ends of the floor. Harris is currently averaging 13.2 points per game and is shooting 50.7 percent from the field, 46.2 percent from three, and is adding 1.6 steals per game. Harris’s ability to knock down the open three, cut to the basket for the easy lay-up, and lock down the opposing teams best player on the defensive end of the court in invaluable for this Nuggets team.
The Nuggets season so far has consisted of some ups and downs. The greatest part of the Nuggets season so far has been the 5-1 home stand they completed just last week. That home stand was highlighted by victories over the Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Orlando Magic. The home stand’s only loss came at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, the defending NBA champions and the front runners to win it again this season.
The last two seasons, the Nuggets have been six games under .500 after 20 games. At worst, the Nuggets could be two games under .500 after 20 games this season, and that would take five consecutive loses. The Nuggets seemed to have found their mojo as of late, and the addition of Paul Millsap has really helped speed that process along. Their is still growing pains between Millsap and Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, but the two seem to be figuring out a lot quicker than people expected. The growth between the two will have to be put on halt though, as it was reported just yesterday that Millsap could miss up to three months with ligament damage in his wrist.
Even with the injury news coming down, Millsap is currently second on the Nuggets in terms of points per game with an average of 16. He’s also second on the team in rebounds with 6.3 rebounds per game and leads the Nuggets in blocks with 1.3 per game. One of the greatest things that Millsap has given the Nuggets is a defensive presence. Millsap is very active on the defensive end of the court and does a great job defending his man and affecting their shot at the rim.
that'll also be a no pic.twitter.com/nmmQOoWKgY
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 18, 2017
This is just one of the many examples of what Millsap gives the Nuggets on defense. Going up against a bigger guy and stronger player like Demarcus Cousins in the post is a tough assignment, but Millsap held his ground and emphatically blocked the shot. Losing Millsap till possibly the All-Star break will be tough to overcome for the Nuggets, but with their incredible depth at power forward spot, and the veteran presence of Kenneth Faried, hopefully they’ll be able to hold the down the fort till Millsap returns.
The team leader for the Nuggets in points, rebounds, and assists is their star Serbian center, Nikola Jokic. Jokic is currently averaging 16.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. The shooting numbers for Jokic so far this season have been incredible as he in shooting 50.6 percent from the field, 41.5 percent from three, and 88.6 percent from the free-throw stripe. One of the biggest improvements in Jokic’s game so far this season has been his defensive efficiency. Jokic is averaging 0.6 blocks per game and is second on the Nuggets with 1.4 steals per game. This block, that Jokic had last night against the Pelicans, really showcased a strong use of his hips to stay in front of his man and just an all around improved agility that he didn’t have last season.
that'll be a no pic.twitter.com/q10XTyZ2L3
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 18, 2017
As for the Nuggets playoff odds, they currently sit at fifth in the Western Conference and are second in the Northwest Division. According to the ESPN BPI rankings, the Nuggets are currently projected to finish seventh in the Western Conference.
Screenshot from ESPN.com
That current projection would give the Nuggets their best season since the 2012-2013 season in which they won 57 games and lost in the first round of the playoffs. That was also the last season the Nuggets made it to the playoffs, and the last season of the George Karl era. According to ESPN.com‘s strength of schedule rating, the Nuggets currently sit at 20 on that list. That list is calculating their opponents current record and the relationship it has to home and road games. The Nuggets having a middle of the pack schedule right now is sure to get tougher in the brutal Western Conference.
Ryan Murphy, sports writer at Sports Betting Dime gave a succinct synopsis of what is reflected in the odds:
“The Nuggets have been one of the toughest teams to pin down during the first quarter of the season. Denver lost three of its first four games, only to go on a mini-tear with convincing wins over the Raptors, Thunder, and surprisingly competitive Magic. Analysts will like what they see, particularly the team’s depth and cohesiveness. Peg their odds of returning to the playoffs at 2/3 (60%), but also predict a first-round exit.
Finishing last season top-five in offensive efficiency, the Nuggets have proven they can score with the best. Now they must also prove they can get timely stops. Early returns are encouraging, as they’ve jumped from 29th in defensive efficiency to 15th, but we’re not even a quarter of the way through the season, so it’s too soon to call it a transformation.”
The Nuggets have already had their longest home stand of the season at six games and their next longest home stand will take place at the end of January and will be just four games. One of the Nuggets toughest road trips will start at the beginning of December and will last six games. That road trip will make stops in Dallas, New Orleans, Orlando, Indiana, Detroit, and will finish up in Boston. Another tough road trip will be the seven game road trip the Nuggets will embark on at the end of March. That road trip could be season defining as it lasts seven games and will be at the end of the season when the Nuggets are trying to make a playoff push. That road trip will go through Memphis, Miami, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, Toronto, and will finish in Oklahoma City. Definitely a tough test at the end of the season.
Just 17 games into the season has given us a small sample size of what this Nuggets team can be. They’ve shown flashes of greatness like the Thunder game and Pelicans game, and have had some duds like the game on the road in Charlotte and their tough road loss in Portland. The Nuggets starting line-up is what keeps the engine running and if they’re going strong and and getting consistent point guard play like they are now, the rest of the Western Conference should be put on watch.
If Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay continue to produce, then the Nuggets have a chance to do something special at the end of the season. The Mile High City hasn’t experienced a playoff appearance since the 2012-2013 season, but this Nuggets team has a strong chance to bring playoff basketball back to Denver, Colorado.