Denver Nuggets' future bright-ish after valiant effort against Lakers
Early in the fourth quarter of game seven against the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday night, your Denver Nuggets held a four point lead over a team with two Hall of Famers on it. That moment showed the peak of the Nuggets' season and potential. The Lakers went on to win the game and thus, the series. The first-round playoff loss was almost exactly what most expected from the Nuggets season, yet the team provided reason for tempered excitement about the future.
Before the season we talked about how the bevy of young, fast legs on the Nuggets and the extremely condensed schedule could set the team up for a great regular season. The Nuggets actually fell victim to the schedule rather than capitalizing on it. Only Andre Miller played all 66 games this season. Two starters, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov, played 43 and 44 games, respectively. Many other contributors missed time and just when Wilson Chandler returned from China and signed a long-term deal with the team, he was lost for the season after playing only eight games.
The altitude didn't work in the Nuggets favor the way many thought it would, as Denver posted a 20-13 record a mile above sea level, worst of any Western Conference playoff team. The Nuggets also pulled off a deadline trade that no one expected by sending Nene to Washington for JaVale McGee. While McGee shows plenty of promise and entertainment value, the trade was one for future seasons that made the Nuggets slightly weaker this year.
With all the injuries, trades and an evolving roster, head coach George Karl used just under 521,000 different starting lineups during the regular season. The Nuggets gave a valiant effort against the Lakers, twice fending off elimination, but as it usually does in the NBA, talent won out.
In game seven, the Lakers' twin towers, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, planted themselves in the post and shot down every effort by the Nuggets like two snipers in a tower. Gasol, in particular, had an otherworldly performance with 23 points, 17 rebounds, 6 assists and four blocks, more than making up for his complete no-show in Game 6.
The Nuggets made their third-quarter run by playing small, forcing turnovers and getting out in transition, which is not a recipe for sustained success in the playoffs. And that brings us to the future of the Nuggets.
Saturday's game against the Lakers was a microcosm of the dilemma the Nuggets face. They had a small burst of success when forcing turnovers, running the fast break and not relying on any one star. Karl loves this in theory, and it can be tremendously fun -- but the Lakers sealed the game when their uber-talented stars took over. Kobe Bryant's defense slowed Ty Lawson, while Gasol and Bynum controlled the boards at both ends and made key buckets.
There is little to no history of running teams that play mediocre D -- Denver ranked 19th in the league in defensive efficiency -- winning NBA titles. And in a game with only five players on the court at a time, elite talent matters more than in any other sport.
The Nuggets have a deep cache of talent and serviceable rotation players but are very shallow on game-changing talent -- one or two players who would have taken control of Saturday's game with five minutes left. While the Nuggets have a young roster with few players who have reached their ceiling, how high are the ceilings of any of the Nuggets?
Page down to keep reading our look at the future of the Denver Nuggets.