The Denver Nuggets have returned to the postseason for the first time in six years. Unfortunately, coach Michael Malone’s squad fell short in the series opener against the San Antonio Spurs on April 13. While the 101-96 defeat stings, fans shouldn’t panic. However, Denver’s 42 percent field goal percentage in Game 1 is certainly alarming. Furthermore, the Nuggets struggled mightily from downtown as they converted only six of their 28 shots from long range. Boasting the league’s best home record at 34-7, the Nuggets missed a golden opportunity to make an early statement against Gregg Popovich and company. The victory marked Pop’s 1,413th, making him the all-time winningest coach in NBA history when regular and postseason victories are combined. At 70, Popovich is still a force to be reckoned with. The Nuggets may be young and inexperienced, but with better execution in Game 2, they have a chance of evening the series.
When the Nuggets clinched the 2nd seed in the West with a 99-95 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves to conclude their regular season, it appeared that they were ready to make some noise. However, the team sputtered down the stretch. They went 5-5 to close out the season and the struggles were apparent. While their fight and never-say-die attitude this season is admirable, the Nuggets need to play with the toughness and grit that propelled them to 54 wins. Their 54 wins are their best mark since the 2012-2013 season when they racked up 57. Similar to this season, the Nuggets were dominant in the regular season, but fell apart in the playoffs. In 2019, guard Gary Harris and the Nuggets will look to go on a deep postseason run.
Game 1 clearly did not go the Denver Nuggets’ way. However, there were some positive performances on both sides of the ball. While not a dominant force inside, center Nikola Jokic dished out 14 assists, hauled in 14 rebounds, but managed only 10 points. The triple-double performance was undoubtedly lost in what was otherwise a disappointing night offensively. For a player who averaged 20.1 points per game in the regular season, Jokic left much to be desired in his postseason debut. In order for Jokic and the Nuggets to avenge their Game 1 defeat, their shot selection will need to improve. There were too many instances where the Nuggets grew content with expanding their range and settled for threes. A 21.4 percent mark from beyond the arc is likely to result in more losses than wins. While both teams struggled to score, the Nuggets’ woes became magnified due to their porous performance from downtown. In Game 2, it would be wise of Denver to look to convert from inside the paint more frequently. The Nuggets are more than capable of evening the series and execution in all facets will be key.
The Denver Nuggets may be down against the Spurs, but they are certainly not out. There is plenty of basketball left to play in 2019. The Nuggets need to come together and realize how they made the playoffs in the first place. In playing fundamental defense and working the ball inside, the Nuggets have flourished. When the wheels have fallen off, performances similar to Game 1 were often the reason. In four games against the Spurs during the regular season, the Nuggets split the season series 2-2. Therefore, they have had some success against Popovich’s squad, but the playoffs are an entirely different animal. If the Nuggets can bounce back on April 16, the series will be far from over. If not, Malone and his troops will be hard-pressed to avoid a first round exit in 2019. As the series currently stands, the Nuggets should take a game-by-game approach. If they do so, there is an opportunity for them to dispatch the Spurs in five games. The Nuggets’ future in the playoffs may look bleak, but in fact, it’s brighter than it’s ever been.