At the time of writing, the Denver Nuggets are currently 2.5 games up on the Portland Trail Blazers for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Nuggets are a young and inexperienced team that have shown flashes of potential greatness throughout the season. This season has seen numerous disappointments as well as some awe-inspiring games that show what the future could hold for this team. If the Nuggets were to hold on to their slim lead for the 8th and final playoff spot, they would match up with either the Golden State Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. Let’s take a look at which team would be a better matchup for the Nuggets.
Golden State Warriors:
The Warriors have struggled recently, going 5-5 in their last 10, after the loss of Kevin Durant due to injury. Durant’s time table to return has him returning right around the start of playoff time, but any setback would put his availability in doubt for the first round of the playoffs. The Warriors are obviously still more than formidable without Durant, but the Nuggets are one of few teams in the NBA with fairly recent success against the Warriors considering how good they’ve been (5-9 in their last 14 games), which should help their confidence going into the series. I’m sure the Nuggets veterans remember the 2013 first round series where the 6th seeded Warriors beat the 3rd seeded Nuggets in 6 games – as Kenneth Faried referred to on TNT last night during an interview.
The Nuggets personnel could give the Warriors some problems in a first round series. Nikola Jokic has proven to be a matchup problem for any team with his skill around the basket, ability to shoot the 3, and his great passing skills. Jamal Murray‘s play has picked up even more recently, and he has become a more consistent contributor off the bench. The Nuggets have numerous wing defenders they can throw at the Warriors, with Wilson Chandler, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Danilo Gallinari, and Juancho Hernangomez all bringing something different to the table. The Warriors aren’t going to be able to tire out the Nuggets going up and down the floor, as the Nuggets are one of the deepest teams in basketball.
No, the Nuggets won’t likely tie an NBA record for 3 pointers made each game, but they are more than capable of sticking around each game and giving the Warriors a tough round 1 matchup even if Kevin Durant is able to play.
San Antonio Spurs:
The Spurs are a very different beast. They have arguably only one superstar, Kawhi Leonard, but they are just as formidable. The Spurs have their own question mark on the injury/health front as well, as LaMarcus Aldridge is out indefinitely with a minor heart arrhythmia. This is a big blow for the Spurs no doubt, but Gregg Popovich and his staff have shown time and time again they are up for any challenge that presents itself. The Spurs are a more well-rounded team than the Warriors, in my opinion, as they have a greater supporting cast and can withstand an injury without as much of a drop in play. Bringing in Pau Gasol in the offseason has definitely helped, but the Spurs bench as a whole is full of a mix of veteran players and young contributors that all seem to accept their role on the team.
The Nuggets haven’t had as much recent success against the Spurs (1-13 in their last 14 games), and if Aldridge is healthy by the time the playoffs start, the Jokic advantage is decreased to some extent. The Spurs discipline and ability to defend at an overall higher level than the Warriors (the Spurs give up 7 points less a game on average) could cause the Nuggets up-tempo offense to slow down and their turnover propensity to re-emerge.
To be competitive in this series the Nuggets would have to have an out of this world performance from their young stars and hope San Antonio struggles to hit the 3.
Nuggets fans would be happy making the playoffs either way, but if they want to see their team make a little bit of noise in the playoffs they should hope for a matchup with the Warriors. It’s not likely the Nuggets will win the series, but the Nuggets would present more of a problem for Golden State than they would San Antonio.