The Denver Nuggets are in position to still land the eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference. I am not writing this piece to be negative, discredit Denver’s chances of getting in, or to take away anything that has been accomplished by the team this season. With that said, it is my opinion that the Nuggets will fall short of the playoffs this year to the Portland Trail Blazers.
There are plenty of reasons that I will get into that factored into my opinion; however, the main reason is the difference between Denver and Portland’s remaining schedule.
The Nuggets have a total of 11 games left in the regular season and only three of the games will be played at Pepsi Center. Four of Denver’s games remaining are against teams with winning records. Meanwhile, Portland has 12 games remaining with nine of those coming at home. Portland also has four games left against teams with a winning record.
Denver has proven they can win any game on any given night, just ask the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. Portland seems to be the team that will get in instead of the Nuggets. The Blazers have the tiebreaker, even if Denver wins in Portland. The extra six home games on the schedule also makes Portland a logical choice to make the playoffs.
The unfortunate thing about this is that the Nuggets are playing their best basketball of the season. The team has won more than they have lost since the All-Star break, and seem to be competitive in virtually every game. Fans should not be upset if Denver is beat out of the eighth playoff spot based on losing their current spot during the final few weeks. Fans need to look at all the other factors that led to Denver missing the postseason for the fourth consecutive season.
Many point to the lineup changes early in the season and blame head coach Michael Malone for the team getting out to a poor start. It was reasonable for fans to believe a Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic starting lineup would work. Well, it was a disaster, and Jokic volunteered to come off the bench for the better of the team. Needless to say, that move did not better the team and Denver struggled until Jokic was again put in the starting lineup on Dec. 15.
Recently, with back-to-back last second losses to the Houston Rockets, fans are pointing to the Nuggets not having a closer. The ball seemed to be in many different hands during crunch time throughout the season. One of the reasons for this, in my opinion, are the never ending injuries Denver suffered during the season.
Gary Harris was out of the lineup the better part of the first six weeks of the season. Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler have missed time on a few occasions this season. Kenneth Faried missed a few weeks. Jokic has missed time because of injury. And, Darrel Arthur’s knee has kept him limited at best most of the season. Perhaps Gallinari or Chandler would have been the closer Denver very much needed lately, if they were healthy.
The Portland trade is perhaps another reason Denver will fall short. Acquiring Mason Plumlee from Portland will without a doubt benefit the Nuggets in the future, and the team had to move Nurkic. Unfortunately, Portland has benefited from this trade at least in the short-term, which has sparked the late season run the Blazers are on.
These are all valid reasons to look to when trying to figure out why Denver fell short, if in fact they do. In my opinion, the two biggest reasons the Nuggets will fall short of making the playoffs is the lack of progression from Emmanuel Mudiay and blowing solid fourth quarter leads.
After drafting Mudiay seventh overall in 2015, the Nuggets thought they had their point guard of the future. I even remember Jason Kidd saying in Mudiay’s rookie season that he would be better than he was. Mudiay has fallen off the map, to say the least. After beginning the season as the starting point guard, Mudiay has fallen out of the rotation only seeing playing time in garbage time lately. It is a serious step back for any team when they have to go to a different option at point guard in the middle of the season.
Perhaps the biggest reason I think the Nuggets will fall short of the postseason is the team blowing fourth quarter leads. By my count, there are at least eight games Denver held a commanding fourth quarter lead and somehow let it slip away. This is not just on the team, but also on the referees for blown calls in critical times. If the Nuggets win half of these games the conversation right now would be whether or not Denver can get into a first round series in which they do not play the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs.
Again, my opinion is that the Nuggets will fall short of the postseason. They absolutely still can find their way in. But, if I am correct and Denver falls short of the playoffs please look at this team as trending upward. Given everything the Nuggets have dealt with this season, I believe it has been a pretty solid season, postseason or not. Many other NBA teams would crumble if they had to deal with the obstacles Denver has faced this season. The Nuggets did not quit and they did not fold. To me that means a hell of a lot more than making the postseason this year anyway.