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True or false: The Denver Nuggets really are the second-best team in the West?
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Steve Aschburner: Second-best? Uh, have you looked at the standings lately? As I write this, the Nuggets are tied with Golden State atop the West (but the Warriors own the tiebreaker there). They’ve won seven of their last eight. They batter opponents on the boards, thanks to first-among-equals Nikola Jokic and other committee members. And no team has better chemistry than this group, which has taken a big step since losing its “play-in” game vs. Minnesota last April. Of course, for the postseason, it would be nice to have that one wing or perimeter guy who can create or get to the foul line. And it’d be nice if we could hold off on this answer until next week, by which time the Nuggets will have played road games at Houston, Oklahoma City and Golden State. In the meantime, mark me down as a qualified yes.
Shaun Powell: False. With all due respect to coach Mike Malone's crew, the Nuggets have proven to be a very good regular season team and one that hasn't ventured into the playoff fire. Therefore, the team most qualified to get beat by the Golden State Warriors in the conference finals is the Houston Rockets, who bring a flammable James Harden, a healthy Chris Paul and enough necessary pieces to make a return trip to late May. Besides, Denver and Houston are only separated by a few wins, shocking considering how the Rockets started 11-14.
John Schuhmann: True. It's right there in the standings and in the numbers. The Nuggets are the only Western Conference team that ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They have the second-best record (12-9, worse than only Oklahoma City's 14-10) in games played between the West's playoff teams, with wins over each of the other seven. They have a player -- Nikola Jokic -- who deserves a spot on the Kia MVP ballot and have solid depth behind him. Now, that doesn't mean that the Nuggets will definitely reach the conference finals. The playoffs are different than the regular season and five or six teams in the West have the ability to win two series.
Sekou Smith: True. I believe the Nuggets have worked their way into that position behind the Golden State Warriors this season. And who knows, they could very well grab that No. 1 seed in the Western Conference between now and the end of the season. But even if they are the second-best team in the West on April 10, I think the team that poses the greatest threat to the Warriors once the playoffs start is the Houston Rockets. Now, I realize I'm technically answering a question that wasn't asked. But the Rockets just feel like a more dangerous team in a playoff setting. The star power and big-play potential on their roster feels more dynamic to me than what the Nuggets bring. Granted, we don't know how this Nuggets bunch reacts in the postseason, since they missed out on that opportunity on the final night of last season. But I'm taking a see-it-to-believe-it attitude with this Nuggets team in the playoffs.