The Denver Nuggets were playing their best basketball of the season before suffering a three-game losing streak heading into the All-Star break.
They were sitting in the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference and were only two games behind the Clippers for No. 3. Then the losing streak hit and the Nuggets dropped to No. 5 behind the Memphis Grizzlies. Dropping to No. 5 leaves Denver without home-court advantage, which is key since the Nuggets were 22-3 at the Pepsi Center heading into Tuesday’s game against Boston. The third seed seems out of reach with Chris Paul returning and the Clippers playing at a high level again.
That No. 4 seed is a must for the Nuggets to advance out of first round for only the second time since 2003. That is nine straight years of making the playoffs, but only one time advancing. The Nuggets were the No. 2 seed that season and had home-court until the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six.
The Grizzlies hold a 1.5-game lead over the Nuggets heading into the second half. The Nuggets have beaten the Grizzlies twice already, with one meeting left on March 15, so Denver already holds the tiebreaker should they finish even with Memphis in the final standings.
A key to achieving the No. 4 seed is not rocking the boat with the current roster at the trade deadline on Thursday. This is the first full season this group has been together and before the losing streak it was forming some chemistry. Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari were turning into stars for the team and were getting better in the clutch. Injuries to Gallinari and Andre Igoudala hurt during the losing streak but both should be back for Tuesday’s rematch with Boston.
The Nuggets have a even schedule in the second half with 15 games at home and 13 games on the road. Their play on the road has to improve–they have only won 11 games. Included down the stretch are trips to Washington, Charlotte, Sacramento and Phoenix–teams the Nuggets need to and should beat without a problem.
This cast can win on the road. They have showed that they can. Denver has beaten the Indiana Pacers, Lakers, Golden State Warriors and Memphis on the road.
There is no need to trade for the Atlanta Hawks’ Josh Smith or the Celtics’ Kevin Garnett, who had no desire to waive his no-trade clause. Smith is on the trading block and some has classified him as a superstar, but the Nuggets would probably have to give up Kenneth Faried and/or JaVale McGee to even start talks with Atlanta. That is not worth it for the Nuggets.
Both of the big men bring energy and rebounding to the team. Even though head coach George Karl may not trust the two players on the defensive end late in games, both are part of the Nuggets’ future. Smith, who is in the last year of his contract, may not see Denver as a big enough market to re-sign anyway. He would be a rental player.
Another rumor that the Nuggets have been connected to is the Orlando Magic’s J.J. Redick. He is a great 3-point shooter, which is a huge weakness for the Nuggets. The Nuggets have a player to fill that role in Jordan Hamilton. He could come off the bench and hit treys if he was given the chance to play more. Redick would be another rental player for Denver. He would not crack the starting lineup for the Nuggets and could become frustrated with playing time. Hamilton, Gallinari and Lawson have all improved from behind the arc. Redick is not needed in Denver.
Rental players are for teams that are bound for the NBA Finals. The Nuggets, even with the No. 4 seed, are not contenders for the NBA title. After this season, Denver needs to re-sign Igoudala and keep this team together. Getting out of the first round will be a huge success for this Nuggets team. It will give them something to build on.
Keep the gang together and the Nuggets could be championship contenders next season.
Follow Chris Schmaedeke on Twitter: @ChrisSchmaedeke
Thanks for visiting HoopsHabit.com! We’d love to hear your opinion in the comments section below!
Need great NBA seats at the best prices? Check out HoopsHabit’s NBA Tickets!
HoopsHabit’s Regular Column Schedule: