All-Star break a blessing and curse for red-hot Nuggets

Mar 4, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) shoots the ball while Indiana Pacers guard T.J. McConnell (9) defends in the fourth quarter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Well, folks, we are officially halfway there. Following Thursday’s 113-103 victory against the Indiana Pacers, the Denver Nuggets had officially hit the halfway point of the 2020-21 NBA season. All-Star weekend is upon us, which means it’s time for the team to regroup and recharge to gear up for what is sure to be an intense second half of the season.

The first 36 games were littered with ups and downs for the Nuggets. On one hand, there is the current four-game winning streak and solid wins against the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz to look back on. On the flip, there have been some unprecedented lows for Denver this season, like losing to the Washington Wizards twice and the Sacramento Kings three times.

Nonetheless, the Nuggets enter the All-Star break playing the best basketball they have played all season collectively as a unit. Given the inconsistencies, one has to wonder if Denver’s current level of play is sustainable. That’s a question to which we will get the answer next week, but one thing that is encouraging about Denver’s latest stretch of success is the manner in which the Nuggets have won games.

“I don’t know who I was talking to (and said), ‘These last six games are going to decide our season,’” Jokic told Mike Singer of The Denver Post. “We could’ve easily gone 0-4 on this road trip and we went 4-0. … We attacked these last four games, and I’m really happy for the team.”

The Nuggets routed Oklahoma City to start their four-game road trip and managed to follow that up with a gritty road win against a pesky Bulls team. The game against Chicago was a nail-biter to the end, with Denver coming out on top due to Jamal Murray’s clutch play down the stretch. This was a nice surprise as Denver has typically ended up on the wrong side of close games this season.

What was most impressive about Denver’s road trip was the win in Milwaukee against the Bucks on the second night of a back-to-back. Denver parlayed their momentum from the dub against Chicago into a convincing victory against reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Denver’s performance against Milwaukee was stellar, as the Nuggets managed to run the Bucks off their home court and assert dominance against an elite NBA opponent.

Lastly, Denver sealed the deal against Indiana to put a bow on a sensational four-game road trip. Great stuff from the Nuggets, who actually looked like a team worthy of being in the NBA playoff conversation for the first time this season.

The Nuggets showed that despite their early-season struggles, they have the ability to turn things up a notch when needed. Additionally, Denver’s latest four-game win streak comes at a time where the roster is ravaged by injuries to key players like Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and others.

“Tremendously proud,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said via The Denver Post. “We’ve had guys out for COVID reasons. We’ve had guys out because of injuries. … If you don’t pick yourself up and continue to find a way to fight, scrap, claw for everything, you’re gonna be a team that is never gonna win anything big.”

The first half of the season was anything but pretty, but the Nuggets find themselves in a solid position all things considered. At six games above. 500 (21-15), Denver is currently pegged as the 6th seed in the Western Conference.

The All-Star break is always a much-needed time of rest for NBA teams, but especially this season following the historically short offseason coupled with the fact that the bubble ran deep into summertime. Denver managed to develop some momentum down the stretch here, which has injected a bit of life into the team and the fan base.

Jokic continues to the play at an MVP level and Murray has started to settle into the season, along with Michael Porter Jr, who posted a double-double in Thursday’s win vs. Indiana.

It appears as if things are starting to come together for the Nuggets. The team seems to be believing in themselves and the work they put in, which has translated to victories on the court.

Now with a few days to let their thoughts and emotions simmer and settle down, it will be interesting to see how the Nuggets return from the mid-season layoff.

The Nuggets possess the talent to make another deep run in the NBA playoffs, but the question is: will the squad be able to size the momentum and improve marginally from the first 36 games to the next 36?