There could be something more to the sixth-seeded Denver Nuggets playing the No. 3 seed Golden State Warriors than just another first-round playoff series.
It might depend on if you believe in The Basketball Gods or not. Go back in time nearly 10 years ago and you had the No. 3 seed Nuggets hosting the No. 6 seed Warriors in the first round of the 2012-13 playoffs.
That season the improbable Nuggets post-Carmelo Anthony won a franchise-record 57 games after acquiring Andre Iguodala.
The hodgepodge Nuggets led by George Karl had eight different players who all averaged over nine points per game on a roster that featured Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee, Andre Miller, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Evan Fournier and Corey Brewer.
It was a solid group of guys but what they didn’t have was a star. They didn’t have steak to so go with all those potatoes and the NBA playoffs are about superstars.
The Warriors that season won 47 games led by all-star David Lee. However, Lee got hurt in the playoffs and what seemed like the end for Golden State turned into maybe the greatest accident in NBA history.
They were forced to lean on Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson who were good young shooters at the time, but they weren’t the Splash Brothers just yet. Golden State was then forced to play rookie Draymond Green who would go on to become one of the greatest playmakers/tough-guys/third-wheels/heels ever. And the rest is history.
Golden State beat the Nuggets in six games that season and would eventually lose to perennial Western Conference power San Antonio, but the Warriors changed forever in that series against the Nuggets and would become the next great NBA dynasty.
But they didn’t do it with several No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks. They didn’t do it by tanking. And they didn’t do it by “trusting the process.”
Curry was the No. 7 overall pick in 2009. Thompson was the No. 11 overall pick in 2011. And Draymond was the 35thoverall pick in 2012.
It’s reminiscent of No. 7 overall pick Jamal Murray, No. 14 overall pick Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic being taken 41st overall in 2014.
“Deserve” is not really a term we use in sports but if you believe in The Sports Gods, then perhaps the Nuggets might be smiled upon because they have done it the right way.
After Carmelo they didn’t tank and wait for the next Melo. They instead traded for Gallo-Chandler-and Raymond Felton, and eventually Iguodala, and tried to compete. Then after their 57-win season Coach of the Year George Karl was fired and replaced by Brian Shaw.
After Shaw didn’t work out, they went to Michael Malone in 2015 but instead of tanking they kept a core of Faried-Gallinari-Will Barton together to compete that season all while gambling on and developing Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris and Emmanuel Mudiay. And while Mudiay didn’t work out, he was replaced by Jamal Murray. The Nuggets, while not always getting it right, never succumbed to tanking like the 76ers and refused to become bottom feeders.
Their reward from The Sports Gods: Perhaps a Serbian Basketball God. And a legitimate chance over the next three-to-four years to become the next Warriors.
The Nuggets will likely be without Murray and Porter Jr. for these playoffs but they are not outclassed by Golden State, even if Curry is healthy. And while injuries will likely stop the Nuggets short at some point these playoffs if they can slay the dragon that is the Warriors, that could be the first step to an eventual Nuggets championship.