The Nuggets finally got a W — a 119-110 victory in Detroit over the Pistons — to end their four-game losing streak. What does DNVR Nuggets take away from that win and is Denver inching closer to finding a go-to bench lineup? Also, who should the Nuggets want in the first round of the playoffs?
Is Denver still the team to beat in the West?
Adam Mares: No but they never were. They were one of the teams to beat. And they are no different in that regard than they were two weeks ago. They’ll have a target on their backs because they’ll (probably) be the #1 seed but no one looks at them any different than they look at the Suns, Clippers, and Kings.
Harrison Wind: Yes, because the Nuggets have the best player in the conference and a great supporting cast around him. But the recent slide has made me slightly less confident about that take. What went under the radar over the last two weeks is
Brendan Vogt: It’s tough to answer this question without defining terms. The Warriors are defending champs. The Suns made the deadline splash. The Nuggets have the MVP and top seed out West. Any one of these teams are a viable candidate for the moniker. That said, for all their flaws, the Nuggets put a better season together than any team out West. That should count for something.
Who would be the best first-round matchup for the Nuggets in the playoffs, out of the teams currently in the play-in (Thunder, Lakers, Mavs, Timberwolves)?
Mares: First of all, every matchup will be a challenge. None of the teams in the West are terrible just like none of the teams in the West are flawless. I think the Thunder present the fewest problems for the Denver Nuggets. Shai is an incredible talent but I think Denver can contain him. Dallas is a close 2nd but Luka alone might be enough to win a series.
Wind: OKC, but part of me wants Dallas in the first round. I think that’s an easy gentleman’s sweep for the Nuggets. The Mavs can’t defend and don’t have a prayer in stopping Nikola Jokic. They have no chemistry. I don’t know if they’re any better now than they were before they traded for Kyrie Irving. That team is a mess, and Denver would make easy work of them in a first-round series.
Vogt: The Timberwolves don’t inspire much fear in me. They presented a tough matchup last season, but when Denver is full strength, they’re the significantly better team. The playoffs are also about the best players. Anthony Edwards is awesome, but less of a problem than the top end talent in LA, Dallas, and even OKC. Denver hasn’t been able to stop SGA. That said, they should welcome any challenger. They’re the one seed for a reason.
Is Denver closer to finding a go-to bench lineup?
Mares: They are closer in that they began the post-trade deadline portion of the season as far away from finding the right balance as possible. Christian Braun appears to be in the rotation and that might be the single most important piece of the decisions that was up in the air. But Michael Malone still needs to figure out if Reggie Jackson plays or not, who the front court should be, and which starter(s) to stagger. In that light, I think that the Nuggets are roughly 30% closer to figuring out the right rotation.
Wind: Slowly but surely, that’s usually the Nuggets’ motto in these types of situations. They’re closer now than they’ve ever been. It doesn’t look like Reggie Jackson is going to be a part of the playoff rotation. And it looks like Christian Braun is. It’s crazy that it took Denver this long to realize that. Now the Nuggets have to figure out who else they trust off the bench. I think they’ll settle on the right pieces before the playoffs start.
Another note on the bench: Denver has to find a better way to use Thomas Bryant. The guy was one of the most efficient interior scorers all season with the Lakers. Run a pick-and-roll for him. Get him the ball in the pain. The Nuggets have used him terribly so far.
Vogt: Moving on from Reggie Jackson would be a step in the right direction. It appears they’ve done that, and that leaves room for Braun to play. It also benefits Bruce Brown. What’s next is figuring out the backup big situation. I still wonder if AG is the playoff solution.