Nuggets Power Rankings Review: Denver rises after bounce-back week

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Following their win over the LA Clippers on Sunday, the Denver Nuggets sit in second place in the Western Conference with a 27-12 record. Despite suffering a disappointing home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver went 3-1 over the past week, loggings wins against the Clippers and Mavericks, two playoff contenders.

Once again, the Nuggets’ offense has been fueling their recent success. Denver posted a 116.7 offensive rating over the past four games, while its defensive rating of 112.7 was good for just 20th in the league over this stretch.

Nikola Jokić highlighted the past week of games with his impressive scoring, which included a career-high 47-point performance against the Atlanta Hawks. The Serbian big man then followed that up with a 33-point performance against the Mavericks in which he knocked down the go-ahead shot with under eight seconds remaining.

With that being said, let’s take a look at where Denver ranks across the league in this week’s power rankings.

ESPN: No. 8

What they said: A perplexing loss followed by a convincing win over the Clippers. That's a very Nuggets thing to do. Focus and consistency have been an issue at times, but when it comes down to it, the Nuggets play with most anybody. The Nuggets love to use their depth, and what coach Mike Malone is probably trying to figure out is who he can trust in a 10- or 11-man rotation. For example: Is Michael Porter Jr. going to be equipped and ready for playoff minutes? He has looked the part of a possible X factor the past few weeks, but January minutes are a lot different from May ones.

Bleacher Report: No. 4

What they said: Denver's defense executed a gorgeous late-game sequence to force the ball out of Luka Doncic's hands with a trap, then it scrambled to cover up shooters, ultimately forcing a turnover before the Mavs could attempt a game-winner in Wednesday's 107-106 victory.

Nikola Jokic, who scored a career-high 47 points just two days prior against Atlanta, put the Nuggets up by one with an aggressive post-up against the undersized Dorian Finney-Smith on the preceding play and also pumped in 26 of his 33 points after halftime.

Locked-in defense and an increasingly aggressive Jokic? What more could the Nugs want?

Denver's constant failure to take care of business against theoretical pushovers resulted in a 3-1 week, but Sunday's victory over the Clippers proved the issues don't extend to more dangerous opponents.

Sports Illustrated: No. 4

What they said: Nikola Jokic ripped off one of the more impressive two-game stints of the season last week. The Serbian center poured in 47 points against the Hawks on Jan. 6, then punished the Mavericks for 33 points in a win in Dallas on Jan. 8. Jokic has found his groove after a slow start and so have the Nuggets. The top of the West should be a dogfight through April.

The Athletic: No. 7

What they said: They weren’t playing all that well in the first part of the season and they still racked up wins. Now? I still feel this way a little bit, but the offense has corrected itself in a way that’s encouraging for them clicking in the postseason. I still have some worries about how much their defense has fallen off during the last few weeks. But the offense looks like the destructive machine we expected to see this season.

Denver has fallen out of the top 10 in defense (12th), but they’ve risen up to seventh in offensive rating. Nikola Jokic’s reemergence as an MVP level player was a big part of fixing this. The implementation of Michael Porter Jr could yield some positive results with the offensive end of the floor. As of right now, Jokic is leading this team and they’re shredding a lot of opposing defenses.

NBA.com: No. 6

What they said: In the month of January, the Nuggets have losses to the Wizards and Cavs, having shot 15-for-52 (including 1-for-19 from 3-point range) in the first quarter against the two worst defenses in the league and having been unable to get the stops they needed down the stretch. The first part might be more alarming considering the competition, but the second is more indicative of how the Nuggets have been playing of late. They rank 29th defensively since Christmas and had a stretch where five of six opponents shot better than 50%.

The Nuggets are still in second place in the West, with wins over the Pacers, Mavs and Clippers this month. With his game-winner in Dallas, Nikola Jokic has made nine of his last 12 shots (all of them 2-point attempts) to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime (going back to December of 2018).

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