There’s a playoff preview taking place Monday night at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets, currently the No. 8 seed in the NBA’s Western Conference, will take on Golden State, the best team in the entire Association. And even though few will give the Nuggets a shot – either tonight or in a seven-game series in April – make no mistake: This game is important.

If you’re wondering whether or not the Nuggets actually want to make the playoffs, even knowing their likely fate – getting bounced by a team that ought to win it all this season – wonder no more. They absolutely want to make the playoffs this season. Stockpiling draft picks, especially the kind a team that’s just barely on the outside looking in receives in the famed NBA draft lottery, can no longer be the franchise’s M.O. If it is, team president Josh Kroenke and GM Tim Connelly have it all wrong.

In case you haven’t noticed (and maybe you haven’t, which is exactly the point), the energy has all but disappeared from Pepsi Center. The Can, of late, is fizz-less. That’s what happens when a franchise is lacking a superstar, when it misses the postseason for three straight seasons, when it’s selling “potential” rather than “playoffs.”

And this is not necessarily a criticism of the Nuggets – just an honest assessment of where the franchise currently resides. They do have potential littered all over the roster. They do have draft picks and room to spare within the salary cap. And they do have an emerging superstar in Nikola Jokic.

But at some point, the Nuggets must turn the corner. In some ways, that’s been the story for longer than just this season. Other than the emergence of Jokic, the Nuggets have had the other “stuff” for a few years now. Draft picks outside of the top-three, no matter how many of them a team possesses, don’t get fans excited. Rookies with upside who can’t find enough minutes within the rotation mostly make fans frustrated. And “almost” making the postseason (and getting more of those middle draft picks) won’t do the trick either.

On Sunday the Nuggets made a move that should be interpreted as a first step in turning the corner; they made a statement that missing the playoffs isn’t acceptable this time around.

By trading disgruntled big man Jusuf Nurkic, the “Bosnian Beast” who was once labeled the future of the franchise, to Portland for the more-athletic, for more-compatible Mason Plumlee, Connelly and Co. have declared a definitive direction. And that’s a good thing.

To some extent, the Nuggets have been paralyzed by potential. They’ve got a lot of “nice” young players, but up until Jokic recently stepped up as the cornerstone of the franchise (which he clearly is at this point), the Nuggets were stuck wondering which of their young pieces would – or should – become the team’s core. Was anyone untouchable? Or, were they all untouchable, simply because the team didn’t want to give up on any one player who “might” be great one day? Which veterans meshed best with those young guys who could be fantastic in 2019 and beyond? Those questions were essentially the Nuggets’ challenge.

By crossing Nurkic off the list, that’s one less key decision to make. Besides, Denver is not necessarily married to Plumlee, who will be a restricted free agent this July. In theory, Plumlee should be a great fit; his skill set is much more in line with the skillset of Jokic. If that’s the case, the Nuggets have plenty of money to keep him. If it’s not, they let him go. He’s a rental with an option to buy. Either way, the Nuggets belong to Jokic going forward.

The Nuggets may not be done either. Plenty of rumors surrounding Danilo Gallinari are out there. Trading Gallinari would also be a step in the right direction. It’s not that Gallinari is a bad player – he’s not – it’s just that the Nuggets have always wanted him to be just a bit more than he is. And because of that, he’s a player that’s sort of “in the way.” We’ve seen Gallo’s upside, and it isn’t quite enough to take the Nuggets places they’ve never been. Whether losing Gallinari frees up minutes for young players, or whether it creates an opportunity to bring in a super star, it’s basically addition by subtraction.

You know, Kevin Durant becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2018-19. Why not Denver? That might sound silly, but is it really? It’s quite possible that the Nuggets have more money than most to throw at Durant (they’ve made trades this year simply to get up to the NBA salary cap floor). A return to Oklahoma City, ala LeBron James, seems unlikely after Saturday night’s icy reception. In two years, what if the Nuggets young roster looks like it’s one piece short of a title run? Durant should know that his legacy won’t really be complete if his titles only come by joining a “Dream Team.” Seriously, why not Denver?

Perhaps tonight is that first audition. Perhaps tonight is a chance for Denver to show the world that not only are the Nuggets finally settling on a direction, but that “building” has shifted to “winning.” It’s a chance to show that the fizz can, and will, return to The Can.

The Nuggets not only wants to be in the NBA’s postseason this spring, they will be. They’re not going to beat Golden State in a seven game series – Denver isn’t quite ready for that – but a win tonight would be a great statement, nonetheless.