While the Denver Nuggets have been a part of the NBA since 1976, the franchise originated in the ABA, first as the Denver Rockets in 1967 and then as the Nuggets in 1974. Although the team has had some periods of success, winning ten division titles in the NBA and a pair in the ABA, the Nuggets have yet to taste a conference title or NBA Championship.
This season the Nuggets not only had the best record in the Western Conference during the regular season, but Nikola Jokic once again put-up MVP-worthy numbers and the team has been among the favorites to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of June.
Squaring off against the troubled Minnesota Timberwolves, who survived the Play-In Tournament, first falling to the LA Lakers and then defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder to grab the eighth seed, Denver finished off their opening round series with the gentlemen’s sweep 4-1.
Now in the midst of a battle with the Phoenix Suns, in what many feel is a battle of the two top teams in the Western Conference, the Nuggets need their best players to deliver.
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While many would figure that Jokic would be the obvious candidate for the Nuggets’ best player in the Minnesota series, the play of point guard Jamal Murray led the team to advance to the next round.
After having to sit out the previous two playoff runs due to injury, Murray showed that his performance in the “NBA Bubble” wasn’t just a one-off as he paced the Nuggets with a team-best 27 points-per-game over the course of the five-game series, including a 40 point and 34 point effort.
What made Murray’s performance so entertaining was that his scoring attack came in various forms, be it from downtown, mid-range pull-ups, or electrifying drives to the rim, all done with a smile on his face.
— Overtime (@overtime) April 30, 2023
While it has been great to see Murray bounce back to All-Star form, the Nuggets will only go as far as their two-time MVP can carry them. Posting typical Jokie numbers, the Nuggets’ do it all big man closed out the first round with a triple-double in Game Three, a forty-three-point night in Game Four, and another triple-double to close out the series in the fifth and final game.
Jokic continued doing typical Joker things in the first two games against the Suns, a team that clearly had no answer for the five-time All-Star from Serbia, as he dismantled Phoenix’s defense at will.
Whereas Jokic’s stat line averages of 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists might seem astounding, his scoring is slightly better than his regular season average while his work on the glass and dimes are on par.
Jokic will likely equal or surpass Chauncey Billips, one of the best NBA players from Colorado, and also a legend for the Nuggets.
Nikola Jokic’s daughter points to her ring finger in the stands and Jokic returns the gesture 👀💍pic.twitter.com/qFX2bvEQzj
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) May 2, 2023
One player who continues to feed off of Jokic’s stellar play is Aaron Gordon, who, despite averaging fewer points and assists than he did in the regular season, has continued to play well alongside the versatile big man. Sure he is good for a couple of two-handed throw-downs a night off of broken plays or rebounds or dishes from Murray or Jokic, but the swiss-army knife forward who is in his ninth year but seems to have around forever been more than a SportsCenter highlight.
Averaging just thirteen points on 50% shooting (including 33% from downtown) and seven rebounds in the Minnesota series, it was his energy and defense that stood out against the Timberwolves.
Proving that he is capable of more than being a blue-collar option, Gordon’s 23 points on 9-13 shooting, including 3-4 three-pointers and six rebounds gives Coach Mike Malone and the Nuggets a third option on any given night during their playoff run.
Aaron Gordon’s dunk on the Suns earlier this season was WILD 😮
Now they play each other in the conference semifinals 🍿 pic.twitter.com/IvHkr4S4pm
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 29, 2023
Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Jr. just capped off a career-best regular season in his fourth year in the league. No, it wasn’t his highest scoring or his best rebounding, or best season for assists and it wasn’t his best shooting percentage season either. It was simply the fact that he played a career-high 62 regular season games. At the age of twenty-four, MPJ has undergone more back surgeries than any person at that age should have, especially a pro athlete.
Hitting double digits in four of the five games against the Timberwolves including a team-high 25 points in Game Three, Porter has the ability to take over a game, just as much as he does disappear in one.
Whereas he provided a presence in the first four games of the Minnesota series, he was nearly irrelevant in the final game and the first two games of the Phoenix Suns series.
Michael Porter Jr. DRILLS the stepback three 🎯 pic.twitter.com/JMzEIibV5U
— Nuggets Nation (@NuggetsNationCP) April 30, 2023
He’s affectionately known as “Uncle Jeff” and as the ninth oldest active player in the NBA this season, Jeff Gordon is clearly in the twilight of his fourteen-year NBA career. However, don’t tell Green this as his energy on both ends of the floor not only helps to elevate his teammates, but it also brings the fans at Ball Arena to their feet, often with a rim-rattling dunk or swatting away of an opposing shot attempt.
MVPs and All-Stars are a necessity in order to advance through the playoffs, but so too are role players who can come in for anywhere between 15-22 minutes a night and impact the game with the attributes that Green brings.
JEFF GREEN JUST TOOK FLIGHT😱 pic.twitter.com/0uEBxp7l5B
— Backcourt Alerts (@BackcourtAlerts) May 2, 2023