After missing the postseason for five straight years, the Denver Nuggets have found their way back to the Western Conference playoff race in the 2018-19 NBA season. As of now, the Nuggets are sitting in the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference, only one win behind the No. 1 seed Golden State Warriors. However, despite their current performance, the Nuggets are still being underestimated by some playoff contenders.
In The Hoop Collective podcast, transcribed by SB Nation’s Denver Stiffs, Brian Windhorst, Ramona Shelburne, and Tim McMahon of ESPN discussed the potential playoff picture in the Western Conference. If the 2019 NBA Playoffs started right now, the Nuggets would likely have home court advantage in the first two rounds. However, Windhorst revealed that Western Conference teams “don’t fear” facing Denver at all.
“When you talk to teams in the West, they don’t fear the Nuggets…the Nuggets are a half game back of the Warriors, so you don’t know whether they are going to be 1 [seed] or 2 [seed]…everybody wants a shot at the Nuggets.”
It’s easy to understand why playoff teams in the Western Conference don’t consider the Nuggets a real threat. The Nuggets haven’t been in the postseason since 2013 and most of their core players, Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, and Will Barton, still don’t have playoff experience. Of all the Nuggets’ playoff rookies, NBA fans are keeping an eye on Jokic.
In the aftermath of his ejection, Nuggets star Nikola Jokic said he gets a different whistle. "It's not equal for everybody." https://t.co/Eu9u3lqYJy— Mike Singer (@msinger) March 17, 2019
Nikola Jokic continues to show massive improvements with his performance on both ends of the floor, and as of now, there is no doubt that he’s the Nuggets’ best player. This season, the 24-year-old center is averaging 20.2 points, 10.7 rebounds, 7.6 assists, and 1.4 steals on 50.9 percent shooting from the field, and 32.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Nuggets head coach Mike Malone said that Jokic’s passing, scoring, playmaking, rebounding, and IQ are all off the charts, adding that the All-Star big man should be a frontrunner to win the Most Valuable Player award this season.
However, according to Windhorst, one of the major reasons why Western Conference playoff teams don’t fear the Nuggets is because they believe that their best player, Nikola Jokic, is “neutralizable” in a playoff setting unlike other NBA superstars, like Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz, Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and James Harden of the Houston Rockets.
“But what people will say is that their best player, which is [Nikola] Jokic, is more neutralizable in a playoff setting they feel than a guy like Durant or Curry or [Donovan] Mitchell or James Harden or Paul George. They feel like in a playoff setting you can defend him.”
As of now, all things are in the hands of Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets to prove their doubters wrong. Instead of being down, the Nuggets can use their underdog status as motivation in the Western Conference Playoffs 2019.