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The Nuggets have eclipsed their Las Vegas win total in three straight seasons; will they make it four?
Las Vegas oddsmakers have never thought too highly of the Nuggets. In 10 of the last 12 seasons, Denver outperformed its preseason Vegas over-under and did so by an average of 4 1/2 wins.
That trend could continue next year. The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook released its 2018-19 regular season win totals this weekend and pegged Denver at 47.5 victories. If the Nuggets plan to surpass that total again they will have to improve their record from last season by only two games.
Amidst a major injury to marquee free agent signing Paul Millsap that caused Denver’s starting power forward to miss 44 games and losses to lottery tankers like the Suns, Hawks and Kings, the Nuggets still managed to edge their preseason over-under of 45.5 wins by half a game last year. The 2017-18 season — the second consecutive year where the Nuggets missed the playoffs by one game — was the third-straight season where Denver won more games than their Vegas win total.
There’s little precedent across the league for teams topping Vegas over-under projections year after year like Denver has. According to SportsOddsHistory.com, which tracks how teams performed relative to their preseason Las Vegas over-unders, the Raptors are the only team that comes close to stacking up to the Nuggets when it comes to surpassing preseason win totals. Toronto has beaten its preseason win total in seven-straight seasons but fell short of that mark in the four seasons leading up to its current streak.
This year, Las Vegas slotted Denver sixth in a jumbled Western Conference where their bookmakers pegged three teams — the Warriors (62.5 wins), Rockets (54 wins) and Thunder (50.5 wins) to finish with more than 50 wins. Last season Golden State and Houston were the two lone Western Conference teams to break the 50-win barrier.
Here’s how the Westgate slots the entire conference:
There’s reason to believe that the Nuggets will make it five straight years of outperforming Vegas’ over-under and push their win total to 50 games next year, which is what our current projection has them reaching.
– The Nuggets are returning their six top players from last seasons’ 46-win team — Millsap, Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Jamal Murray and Trey Lyles. Denver preaches continuity and the Nuggets dolled out big money this summer to keep their current core intact.
– Denver won 46 games in 2017-18 even though Millsap missed most of the season. When Millsap was in the lineup, the Nuggets went 22-16.
– Denver’s under-23 core of Jokic, Harris and Murray all improved last year. They’re all in line to take another significant leap next season on both ends of the floor.
– The Nuggets did lose an above-average defensive presence on the wing in Wilson Chandler this summer and will struggle on that end of the floor all season. But Denver shouldn’t see too much of a drop off with Barton stepping into the starting lineup at small forward. In 65 minutes last season, the five-man lineup of Murray, Harris, Barton, Millsap and Jokic outscored their opponent 179-126 when on the floor. Denver also allowed a stingy 92.0 points per 100 possessions when that group played together last season.
– To add some much-needed firepower to a shallow Nuggets’ bench unit that could include Lyles, Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez and Mason Plumlee, the Nuggets signed Isaiah Thomas to a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract to be their backup point guard. Thomas underwent surgery on his hip in March and is reportedly nearing the end of his rehab. At the least, Thomas will provide a scoring punch when Denver’s regulars sit.
Unfortunately for Denver, the Western Conference will likely be tougher this season. With LeBron James in tow, the Lakers, who won just 35 games last year, will be penciled into the postseason regardless of what the cast of characters assembled around James bring to the table. Determined tankers from a year ago like the Grizzlies, Mavericks and Suns will at least start out the season with playoff aspirations. Those could fade rather quickly for teams like Phoenix, but there won’t be easy wins penciled into the schedule at the frequency that they were last season.
Like every organization, the Nuggets will need a few 50-50 breaks to go their way next season, but the pieces are in place for Denver to once again eclipse its Vegas win total.