The Denver Nuggets have officially clinched a playoff berth for the first time since the 2012-2013 season.
After falling short by one game in each of the last two seasons, Denver started the 2018-2019 season strong and hasn’t looked back, owning a 47-22 record as the final 14 games of the season approach.
As a result of Denver’s win over the Boston Celtics on Monday night, the Nuggets became the second team in the Western Conference to secure a playoff berth, following the footsteps of the Golden State Warriors.
If the playoffs were to begin today, the Nuggets, seeded No. 2 in the Western Conference, would face the Utah Jazz in the first round. The Jazz lead the season series 2-1 against Denver, with the final matchup between the two teams taking place on April 9th. In the most recent game between the two teams, Utah snapped Denver’s nine-game home winning streak, defeating the Nuggets 111-104 on Feb. 28th.
Denver shooting guard Gary Harris, the team’s longest-tenured player, understands the importance of making the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, but he knows that the process continues beyond just clinching a spot.
"We're just taking it one game at a time,” said Harris, who was acquired by the Nuggets on Draft Night back in 2014. “We're just trying to stay the course. It's been one of our goals over the past few years. We've come a long way."
Denver head coach Michael Malone agreed with that sentiment.
"Going into the season the goal was just to make the playoffs,” Malone said. “But now it's 'let's fight for the No. 1 seed, let's fight for homecourt advantage.' I love the mindset of our players right now.”
As Malone pointed out, the goal for the Nuggets heading into the season was simply to make the playoffs. Expectations were high, but most of the media expected a Denver team that would return to the playoffs as a lower seed in the Western Conference. The general consensus before the season began was that Denver would win between 47-50 games and finish anywhere from the 5-7 seed in the conference.
"After you miss the playoffs two years in a row by one game, we were motivated,” Malone said. “The guys have bought in and have been great this whole year."
Despite the team achieving one of its major goals, the Nuggets are continuing to target bigger goals.
"The top seed is what we're fighting for,” Harris said. “We've still got a good shot at it, so why not go for it? It's still an attainable goal."
Malone added: “No one is satisfied with just being a playoff team, and we're going to hold ourselves to the highest standard possible.”
Only three current Nuggets (Paul Millsap, Will Barton and Isaiah Thomas) were in the league during the 2012-2013 season, highlighting how young Denver’s roster is and the amount of organizational changes that have taken place since the team’s last playoff appearance.
With Nikola Jokić developing into an All-Star this season and supporting players such as Monte Morris and Malik Beasley becoming consistent contributors, Denver’s future certainly looks bright. As has been the case all season, the Nuggets are focused on much more than simply clinching a playoff spot.
"Being a playoff team has been one of our goals since I came here, but we are above that now."