Nuggets no longer flying under radar in Western Conference

Young talent, Andre Iguodala addition place Denver high in preseason power rankings
by Aaron Lopez

As always, the Nuggets will try to outrun the opposition at every opportunity in 2012-13. Unlike in seasons past, they will not be sneaking up on anyone.

After a rousing first-round playoff series against the third-seeded Los Angeles Lakers and the offseason acquisition of All-Star and Olympian Andre Iguodala, the Nuggets are no longer flying under the radar.

As opening night in the NBA approaches, Denver is a popular choice to challenge for a top-three seed in the Western Conference – with one national publication picking the Nuggets to win the West outright.

“As a coach, I’m always nervous about all the hype,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “I never thought we’d get this much hype. We haven’t proven anything. We’re a team that played good in the first round and lost. It doesn’t seem we should be getting as much love as we are.”

ESPN is the biggest believer in Denver’s ability to contend in the West. ESPN NBA insider John Hollinger, who bases his projections on in-depth statistical analysis, predicted the Nuggets would win 59 games and finish second in the West.

ESPN the Magazine writer Tom Haberstroh went a step farther, selecting the Nuggets to finish first in the conference.

“It’s a different psychology to your motivation and focus,” Karl said. “Sometimes it’s easier to be the underdog. When everybody’s kissing you and loving you, you have to take the necessary steps to get to where they’re saying you’re going to be.”

Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson is accustomed to dealing with high expectations. Entering his junior season at the University of North Carolina, the Tar Heels were ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls; they went on to capture the 2009 NCAA championship.

“Every year is an expectation to win a championship or do well,” Lawson said. “If somebody says we’re going to go 0-82, I’m not going to believe them. My motivation is to win a championship. That’s what I want to do every year.”

Nuggets forward Corey Brewer won two NCAA titles (2006, 2007) at the University of Florida and added an NBA title with the Dallas Mavericks in 2010-11.

“My sophomore year at Florida, we didn’t have expectations,” Brewer said. “We were ranked 75th in the country and we won it all. You have to come with the same mentality that you can be the best.”

While ESPN’s Hollinger and Haberstroh ranked Denver higher than anyone else in preseason projections, the Sporting News and placed the Nuggets fifth in their NBA power rankings.

Sport Illustrated put Denver at No. 7 overall, while CBS Sports NBA blogger Matt Moore predicted 51 wins for the Nuggets and run at the No. 3 seed in the West.

“I hear we’re supposed to be good,” Brewer said. “We just have to go out there and put it together and play the right way."