With highly entertaining victories over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors, and the Charlotte Hornets, it appears as if the Denver Nuggets have seemed to have found their groove. If they have turned a corner, it would be perfect timing being that they currently sit at 29-25 and have made a surprising push into the sixth seed in the Western Conference. There’s plenty to be high about regarding this team, but there are also things to take a deeper look at. So without further ado, I give you the good, the bad, the ugly.
The Good — No place like home
Denver is back to its winning ways at the Pepsi Center. The team started the year off with great homecourt play, but went through a small rough patch and finally got back to beating teams at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets are riding a three-game winning streak at the Pepsi Center and have won five of the last six times they’ve played in their home arena. They’re 22-7 at home this year, which is good for fourth-best home record in the NBA. Also, their 22 wins matched all of last season as far as total wins and Denver has not even reached the All-Star break quite yet.
Their numbers at home are remarkable. They’ve been putting up 110.2 points while also dishing out 26.5 assists per game. The mile-high run and gun style of basketball has looked to have returned and fans are starting to catch on. Just ask the record-setting Pepsi Center crowd of 20,103 fans that were screaming at the top of their lungs as the Nuggets defeated the Warriors this past week.
The Bad – Tough Schedule, More Road Games
Saying that Denver has been a completely different team on the road than they are at home is an understatement. They sit at 22-7 at home, but their abysmal road record of 7-18 is concerning. The Nuggets just cannot find ways to play with the same type of energy, edge, or competitiveness as they do at home.
Their numbers at home have been significantly better than those on the road, as they drop from their 110.5 offensive rating at home all the way down to 103.2 while on the road. They aren’t making as many field goals, collect fewer rebounds, fail to force turnovers at the same clip and do not defend at the same level as when they are in the friendly confines of the Pepsi Center.
Finding some type of consistency — as well as getting up for these games — has been a problem all year for Denver and their play will have to improve soon. They are in the middle of their toughest stretch of the season, but they just endured a tough few games at home and are about to go up against the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and Milwaukee Bucks before the All-Star break. Once the All-Star break ends, Denver continues with another very tough stretch of games immediately after.
Playing with the same intensity regardless of location is something this team will have to work on and, with talented playoff quality teams upcoming on the schedule, taking this positive momentum they presently have and translating that into wins — even on the road — is important and the difference from being a team that’s on the outside looking in or being a team that can surprise everyone and upset a team in the first round of the playoffs.
The Ugly – forced to make a move?
It is an ugly time in the NBA as the league is well within the final 24-hour window of the trade deadline. As things are slowly ramping up for other teams, the Nuggets haven’t made a single move yet.
One thing that’s been mentioned plenty of times is that Denver wants to land a backup point guard behind Jamal Murray which would allow Will Barton to return back to the sixth man role where he’s most comfortable. According to multiple NBA insiders, Denver has been linked to players such as Marcus Smart, Darren Collison, Tyreke Evans, Rodney Hood and Cory Joseph — among others — but no real deal has been reported as in the works. There’s also been a need at the small forward position with the illness and inconsistencies on the offensive end from Chandler.
Another issue they need to address is that of Torrey Craig. T.J. McBride wrote a piece worth looking at regarding Coach Malone’s stance on Craig and his enthusiasm on having him on the team for the rest of the year, even stating,
“Who knows with the trade deadline coming up,” Malone said at shoot around prior to the Nuggets taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder. “Can you create a roster spot somehow? Can we sign Torrey Craig for the rest of the year? For me — as a coach — that would be ideal.”
While Craig’s confusing 45 days with Denver as a two-way contract player is coming to the end, he is filling a void that the team desperately needs. There’s only one true small forward on the team in Wilson Chandler and no other options. Richard Jefferson has barely played and Juancho Hernangomez went through his early-season struggles with illness.
Due to a few injuries, the 27-year old was moved up from excelling in the G-League and surprisingly started for a few games for the Nuggets before becoming the rotation player we’ve seen as of late. At 6’6 and 215 pounds, his defensive presence and potent athleticism has made him a player that Malone could trust to guard Kevin Durant one night and Russel Westbrook the next and he’s done it fairly well. To retain Craig, Denver will have to create an open roster spot by trading away a player or release a player.
We’re closer to finding out what’ll happen to Craig and we’ll see if the Nuggets newfound two-way treasure will be with the team, back in the G league or ready to impress elsewhere. Denver has moves to make.