The 2016-17 season has been an interesting tale for the Denver Nuggets so far. The campaign has been riddled with highs and lows; however, the team’s slaughtering of the Los Angeles Lakers on national television Monday night may just be the Nuggets signature win of the season; a win that could very well help lead this team back to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
The victory over the Lakers encompasses the Nuggets’ play since the All-Star break, which has been among the best in the league. Since the layoff, Denver’s winning record of 7-4 has earned them a two-game lead on the Portland Trail Blazers for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. With that said, Denver’s recent surge in play isn’t just fool’s gold, as a matter of fact, the Nuggets play since the All-Star break has been marginally better.
Since the break, the Nuggets offense has kicked it into overdrive, ranking among the league’s best, averaging 110.9 points per game which is better than teams by the likes of the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder.
While Denver’s offense has been good since the break, their defense, the team’s biggest flaw, has been remarkably better. Post All-Star break, the Nuggets rank 17th in the league in defensive net rating, which is up from their previous ranking of last among all teams. In addition to this, the Nuggets have managed to slash their opponents points off fast breaks to just 11.6 per game, bumping their ranking up from 24th in the league before the break, to eighth in the league after it.
Overall, since All-Star weekend the Nuggets have been playing good, playoff-esque basketball. The offense is as good as ever and the defense seems to have finally caught up to speed.
“This is the best stretch of defense we have had the whole season,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “It couldn’t have arrived at a better time with 15 games-to-go…It’s just an opportunity for us to keep on moving in the right direction.”
Denver has upped their defensive tenacity and knowledge which has also paid dividends.
“Guys being solid, knowing the coverages, paying attention to the game plan and then transferring that to the floor,” newcomer Mason Plumlee said about the team’s defensive game plan. “Understanding what team’s like to do and taking away their first option, so if they are going to beat you it’s going to have to be something that is not their strength.”
As a whole, the Nuggets have just been a better unit collectively. Turnovers are down, energy is up, and chemistry is flowing, resulting in the Nuggets having the third best plus-minus in the league since the ASG.
As it stands, the issues that have plagued Denver all season seem to have subsided in recent time. With 15 games left to go the Nuggets will need to continue to play at the level they have been since the break. It seems like the Nuggets have finally started to identify and correct the issues that have ravaged their season to date. Consistency will be key if Denver does indeed want to snap their playoff drought; however, in recent time, the Nuggets have turned potential into reality.
“15 games to go, man. Less than a month, let’s see what happens,” Malone said.