Posted Apr 19, 2013 8:44 AM
Fine, Nuggets. We get it. Enough already.
You're hurting and people should doubt the chances of a long playoff run despite the successful regular season. We probably should strike a thick line through your name in the second round. Maybe even the first. No Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried hoping to make it back for the first game of the playoffs on Saturday, Ty Lawson just back from his injury. Denver obviously has no chance.
Denver has a chance. The Nuggets ignored it when people discounted them two seasons ago after trading Carmelo Anthony and moving into the supposed rebuilding effort. The Nuggets ignored it when people dismissed their chances against the Lakers in the 2013 playoffs.
So they no doubt will ignore the skepticism this time around.
1. Will Andrew Bogut be ready for the opener? Every indication is that he will. Bogut returned from a sprained left ankle -- the same ankle that required micorofracture surgery last summer -- to play 17 minutes in the regular-season finale. Unless a problem develops from that, he should be set for Saturday.
2. Will Kenneth Faried be ready for the opener? That's not as clear. The Nuggets are listing him as day-to-day with his own ankle problem. He may not so much as practice until the weekend. His availability is in doubt.
3. If Denver is such a nice place, why do opposing teams hate going there? The Nuggets are 38-3 at the Pepsi Center this season, that's why. But the weather truly can be lovely in the playoffs.
4. What changed for the Nuggets? They had a very rough start, partly because they had to learn to play with a target on their back for the first time but mostly because of a brutal early travel load. Once the schedule turned in their favor at midseason, the wins came much quicker.
5. What changed the Warriors? A very impressive first half became a reality check after the All-Star break as they struggled to maintain the early intensity. That was especially true on defense, leading to moments that raised serious questions about whether they are mentally ready for the next step of the playoffs.
The Nuggets will push the pace, but using a transition game does not mean that they finished among the league leaders in scoring by being volume shooters. Denver was also one of the best in field-goal percentage, helped obviously by getting easy opportunities with defenses constantly backpedaling. Denver gets to the rim, too. The Nuggets are the top-scoring team in the league in the paint.
Golden State will try to slow the Denver break by taking care of the ball, to make sure the Nuggets don't take too many of their passes the other way. Controlling the boards will be critical as well -- if the Warriors continue to excel on defensive rebounding, they will limit Denver's scoring opportunities.
See above. Golden State will put up big numbers as well and look to push the pace, though without the same speedy point guard and emphasis on the break as its opponent. The Warriors will be much more dangerous from the perimeter out to the 3-point line, with Stephen Curry arguably the best shooter in the NBA. And maybe not so arguably anymore.
Denver will try to crowd Curry and could even throw bigger defenders at him, Corey Brewer and Andre Igoudala, for different looks even though Lawson is the natural point-guard matchup for Curry.
While the Warriors have several veterans in prominent roles, the Nuggets have a big advantage in playoff experience that could prove beneficial. Denver was initially unprepared for the shock of playoff basketball a year ago against the Lakers before adjusting. Denver also could get hurt at the line in a close game. The inability to hit free throws has been a problem all season and is compounded with the absence of Gallinari, one of the few dependable Nuggets there.
Bogut's health and conditioning after missing 2 ½ games with the latest ankle problem is a huge factor for the Warriors. He is a defensive presence inside and a good passer who will also score. The difference between being able to go 25 minutes and 35 minutes could be critical.
Denver should open with great confidence. It is at home, which is reason enough to feel good. But the Nuggets also have the benefit of playoff experience and know Golden State will have to go through the same learning curve that the Nuggets did in 2012. Denver will look to come out strong at Pepsi Center and put the Warriors on their heels.
This could not only be one of the best matchups of the first round, it could be one of the most fun. Both teams will score, the atmosphere in both arenas will be electric, and the guard play should be very strong. It could also be a long series, before the Nuggets win in six.
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