A not-so-complex basketball riddle…
What have the Denver Nuggets accomplished six times since they joined the NBA?
We’ll get back to that. A decade back, when the Denver Nuggets set the franchise’s NBA record for wins in a season, they were still quite literally limping to that finish line. Winners of 23 of their last 26 games, the team hung up 57 wins in a season for the first time in franchise history, good for a third-place finish in the Western Conference.
The effort expended to get that ’12-’13 Nuggets team to that pinnacle cost them one of their most valuable players just before the playoffs, and quite probably spelled their first-round exit. For this year’s squad, reaching that wins total is still within reach. All they’d have to do is win their last six games to tie it. Just run the table against Phoenix (twice), Sacramento, Golden State, Utah, and Houston. Is it worth it, simply to best a number they would wholly spend themselves achieving?
Conversely, while you wouldn’t care to see the Nuggets cough up all six of their last games, you’d imagine any Nuggets fan worth their salt would trade in another regular-season merit badge for a deeper playoff run than the team has ever made before, no matter what seed they came in at to do so. So, if we’re running at anything between losing them all and winning them all being within acceptability as long as they have a great playoff run, what are these last six games really all about?
Oh yeah, I almost forgot… the riddle… The Nuggets have done what six times since they joined the NBA for the 1976-77 season?
They have finished in second place in the Western Conference. The number of times that Denver has finished the season in first?
With Wednesday’s Memphis loss and Thursday’s Nuggets loss to the Pelicans, Denver’s magic number to win the conference is still three with six games left to play. Is that top spot still something worth striving for?
With their incredible home record (32-7), and the opportunity to have home court at advantage against all Western Conference teams and all but a couple coming out of the East, it does seem a meaningful something, with opponents hard-pressed to beat Denver anyway, but especially four times at altitude. With all of that, no seed is worth an injury or issue to their core players. How Michael Malone chooses to balance and navigate these last six games will be one of the more gripping story arcs of the Nuggets’ next ten days.
Nothing matters more to the players, coaches, franchise, and fans than the Nuggets finally realizing the unrealized heights of both making it to and winning an NBA Championship. But while Malone encourages his guys to celebrate every little victory along the way, don’t lose sight of how powerful and incredible that one seed could be.
The Denver Nuggets winning the West? That first would be a first.