NUGGETS

Don’t you dare complain about this year’s Denver Nuggets

Feb 16, 2023, 6:44 AM

Complaining about anything regarding the Denver Nuggets right now is like complaining about snow on Christmas. It’s like whining about the longest day of the year being too sunny. It’s equal to crying about getting too much money back on a tax return.

The Nuggets have just finished a phenomenal pre-All-Star Break run. The platitudes that can be heaped upon this deep and talented squad are preposterous. As a team, they have won 41 games which trails only Boston in the NBA for total wins. At 27-4, they have the NBA’s best home record. They have a commanding five-game lead in the Western Conference over second-place Memphis and have a death grip eight game lead over third-place Sacramento. At 119.03, the Nuggets had the best Offensive Rating in the league coming into Wednesday’s 118-109 win against Dallas. Defensively, they are 12th overall, which is a vast improvement from where they started the season.

As a team, the Nuggets aren’t just good, they are truly great.

Individually, two-time MVP Nikola Jokic is currently cruising to become the MV3. Jokic didn’t even want to shoot on Wednesday night in a smooth and easy win against the Mavericks and still collected a triple-double (14 points, 13 boards and 10 helpers on just nine shots and three free throws.) The Nuggets have won 25 straight games when Jokic goes for a triple-double which passes Magic Johnson’s previous NBA record.

It’s so common for Jokic to be uncommon, head coach Michael Malone wasn’t even asked about Jokic after the game. Stunningly, that’s not the first time. In fact, on more than one occasion, Malone has had to bring up Jokic on his own to the assembled media. Why? Because everyone is assuming Jokic will be incredible every night—which he is.

Speaking of Malone, he will be coaching—reluctantly—at the All-Star Game in Utah this weekend.

“I wish KCP (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) was going to Salt Lake. I wish AG (Aaron Gordon) was going to Salt Lake. I wish Jamal (Murray) was going to Salt Lake and I wish I wasn’t going to Salt Lake,” deadpanned Malone as a parting shot on his way out the door after the relatively easy win against Dallas.

“We always talk about it and doing it is a different thing,” Malone, voice raspy, reflected on a spectacular first part of the year.” But guys in and out of the lineup, trading for guys, signing guys, for us finding different ways to win speaks to our chemistry, our depth and we have a really good team in there.”

Malone can be critical when he needs to be, but more times than not, he has showered praise on his team, and they have responded.

Despite, the absurd lack of recognition by the league about the Nuggets team in regards to the All-Star weekend, they are far from a one man show. Murray has been out of the lineup for a few games of late, but the hope is he will be back after the break to continue his remarkable season. He got his first career triple-double. He went for more than 40 points recently which he hasn’t done since just before his devastating knee injury. And then he went four-straight games with more than 30 points. He easily could’ve been an All-Star.

Gordon is having a career year highlighted by the poster dunk of the decade in a dramatic, fan drunkfest, overtime Christmas Day win over the dreaded rival Phoenix Suns.

Caldwell-Pope is third in the league in three-point percentage and he’s not apparently good enough to be in the Three Point shooting contest on All-Star Saturday night. Let’s ignore that obvious slight and focus on the fact he’s not even on the team for offense. He’s with the Nuggets to be a defensive nightmare. Denver awards a fun treat at the end of every win. It’s a chain that says DPOG. (Defensive player of the game). Malone said that although different guys get it, in reality, Kenny Pope probably deserves it every night. In fact, Malone joked it should be called the KCPDPOG.

Michael Porter Jr. is an absolute stud. He is going through some heavy stuff right now and powering through like a champ. His brother was involved in a deadly car accident which took the life of the driver of a car he hit. In addition, he was saddened to see one of his best friends Bones Hyland get traded to the Clippers. But in the absence of Murray and Gordon in the last five games, MPJ has risen to the heights of his lofty jump shot. Against Dallas he connected on five of his 10 threes, contributing to 22 points. But his willingness to be more aggressive to the rim and much stouter defensively has made the biggest impact. Malone described it as night and day from when he came into the league. MPJ is healthy and playing like the superstar he was always projected to be.

But the highlights from this club doesn’t end with the starters. Vlatko Cancar is taking flight night after night. Rookie Christian Braun has never done anything in life but win at basketball and he’s continuing that tradition that includes three high school state championships and a national championship at Kansas. Bruce Brown wears a cowboy hat with style, digs country music and plays far beyond his height and expectations. Even D’Andre Jordan has had flashes of brilliance in a limited on-the-court role, but an irreplaceable role as a guide and mentor to the younger players. Along with Jeff Green, who went for a season-high 24 points against the Mavs, and Ish Smith, they form a triumvirate of wisemen that give balance to the Nuggets’ quest.

Moving on from Hyland wasn’t as difficult as you might think. In fact, it’s barely a blip on the radar days after the trade. Sadly, Bones just didn’t fit the same way on a loaded team as he did on a desperate team from last year. It’s not a knock on Bones, but the situation simply changed, and nobody can slow down to ease his development. The key to this current equation is chemistry. Essentially, Hyland and Davon Reed, plus a second-round pick were traded for big man Thomas Bryant and Colorado Springs hoops hero Reggie Jackson. Jackson is thrilled to be back home with a tremendous chance at a title. Bryant, who was acquired from the Lakers, spoke of how he could feel the bond between the players.

“I’m very happy to be here, to say the least. The team comradery I’m getting so quickly with each player out there,” the big man explained. “The coaches accepted me. I cherish my time I had in LA, but I’m happy to be here. This team is unselfish, that’s no diss to anything in LA. I enjoyed the opportunity they gave me, but here, it’s just a different vibe. You can tell the guys here really care about each other. It’s not just a team basketball thing, it’s like a brothership over here.”

These words are from a guy who has barely been in the Mile High City and played his first home game as a Nugget on Wednesday night.

The win against the Mavericks was frankly—easy. The result was never in doubt and in a lickety-split two hours and three minutes, the Nuggets put a stamp on a sensational first half of the season.

Last year at this point, the team was burned to a crisp. Jokic had to carry the team night in and night out. He did a spectacular job, but it was physically and emotionally draining. This year couldn’t be more different. More players share the load, and the blowout wins are piling up. So, while Jokic and Malone head off—reluctantly—to Utah, the rest of the crew can bask in the glow of a job well done to this point. When they return, they will have ten more home games and thirteen roadies to polish off. There will be a brutal five-game east coaster that will test them, but there’s no doubt they are up for the challenge.

While the end goal is nowhere near completed, you can only play the games in front of you one at a time and nobody in the Western Conference has done it better. If you have an issue with this team, look in the mirror because clearly, it’s a YOU problem, not a Nuggets problem.

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