Being a Nuggets fan has always come with the acceptance of ‘NuggLyfe’; the inescapable feeling of despair, fear of bad bounces, lousy calls, unfortunate inbounds plays and untimely injuries derailing what could be an incredible season.
It is just a way of life.
It certainly felt as if ‘NuggLyfe’ had struck on the 23rd of August.
After a shaky start to the bubble in terms of available personnel, the Nuggets’ much-anticipated season was on the verge of coming to an early end after dropping a critical Game 4 to the Utah Jazz. Once the Nuggets found themselves down 3-1 in the first round, the narrative began. People were claiming the season was a misfire. All the talking heads were validated in their critiques of this young Nuggets team. Better luck next time and try again next year.
You know what happened next.
The feeling crept back on the 9th of September, yet again down 3-1, but this time to a team that many considered to be title favorites. This time, no one expected the Nuggets to win. “Ah, it can’t happen twice,” the consensus said. “Especially not to this team, and not to Kawhi Leonard.”
Again, the Nuggets prevailed.
It was as if the Denver Nuggets had spat in the face of NuggLyfe. The Rodney Hood game in Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs last season, the play-in game loss in Minnesota two years ago on the final day of the 2018-19 season, and the “have a nice summer” game against Jusuf Nurkic and the Trail Blazers were all items of the past and fuel for the moment. Something was different about this iteration of the Nuggets.
This is a team that beat the Utah Jazz with a bench only consisting of Vlatko Čančar and P.J. Dozier bring their active player total to just seven guys. Denver then also managed to beat the best team in the NBA in the Milwaukee Bucks also on the second night of a back-to-back as well despite arriving in Milwaukee over three hours after midnight.
This is also the same team that had only half of their roster — one guard and seven big men — by the time scrimmages commenced in the bubble. Denver was so depleted that Bol Bol started at small forward. To make matters worse, Denver was also missing one of their most important locker room leaders for the entirety of the bubble in Will Barton III. To make matters even more worrisome, their resident veteran Paul Millsap appeared as if he aged 5 years overnight and their starting shooting guard and arguably best defender in Gary Harris was not healthy in time for the playoffs.
Despite all the possible excuses and the NuggLyfe that did strike, the Nuggets just laughed and marched all the to the Western Conference Finals.
“That we fight,” Jokic told the media after their Game 5 loss to the Lakers. “That’s something. Even today they were up 16 I think. We didn’t quit. We didn’t throw the game away. That’s something that’s going to be our mentality and our purpose in the next years.”
The spirit of relentlessness is something that has allowed the Nuggets to break a series of seemingly insurmountable boundaries. Malone, for all the critiques about his game management, is largely responsible for the attitude, refusal to die, and willingness to fight for a cause that the Denver Nuggets have embodied during these last 82 days.
This culture isn’t changing anytime soon.
This team is all in on being unbreakable. Even now as the season has ended for them, they believe that they have what it takes to win at the absolute highest level. They are right.
The Denver Nuggets are now contenders.
Will the national media recognize this? Will the Nuggets end up near the top all of the power rankings heading into next season? Maybe, but do not bet on it.
But that doesn’t matter. The Nuggets have proved themselves to everyone that matters. In this case, it is themselves. As Rocky Balboa said, “…it ain’t about how hard ya hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done”.
If the criteria for winning is taking hits and moving forward, the Nuggets are experts. They have the most sturdy chin in the league and that is indisputable. The Nuggets are preparing their next counterpunch and, if the status-quo continues, they will catch the league by surprise once again.
Jamal Murray is 23-years-old. He is now a universally-recognized star. Paired with the 25-year-old Nikola Jokic, Denver’s superstar duo matched up with two consensus top-five players in LeBron James and Anthony Davis virtually stride for stride. This foundation is what championships are built from.
What an incredible postseason from Jamal Murray 👏
∙ Averaged 26.5 PPG and 6.6 APG
∙ Eight clutch-time 3-pointers, 2nd most in a single postseason over the past 20 years
∙ Led two 3-1 series comebacks
∙ Two 50-point games pic.twitter.com/lfnFymSWX0
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 27, 2020
Nuggets fans (and probably their own front office) had wondered when Murray would take this leap. Now he is here.
To continue on the encouraging aspect of Denver’s postseason run, they might have found their third star in Michael Porter Jr. and for him to reach that level, the Nuggets simply need to spend the valuable currency of patience; something they are very familiar with. Porter — as much of a rollercoaster as his play can be — is an undeniable talent. He is incredibly gifted and the Nuggets have ever been able to sign players of his ilk in free agency. He has the skillset to turn Denver into an unstoppable offensive force playing off of the already dynamic pairing of Jokic and Murray.
The Nuggets enter this off-season with complimentary players, a draft pick, and a proven, competent, and patient president of basketball operations in Tim Connelly running the front office.
The Nuggets are here to stay. The pieces might shift, but this team is not going anywhere. When they are down, they are not out.
They will be back.