Now that most Game 4s of the NBA playoffs’ first round are over, it’s time to do the full review of the Nuggets season. This is to honor the Nuggets’ past decade of making the playoffs but then proceeding to get eliminated by about Game 4.
Well that, and I also needed some time to fully process a year filled with firsts, ups, downs and injuries. It’s hard to sum up a season in a few words, but for the 2013-14 Denver Nuggets the injury epidemic dominated the headlines, and was the primary reason they finished 36-46. Let’s take a look at the best and worse from this crazy season, and get an understanding of just what happened to end the playoff streak.
The Nuggets’ season was never dull. Even at the end of the season when they only had nine players healthy enough to play the team managed to compete and stay in most of their games. At the healthiest point (when only Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee were out) the team looked like they belonged in the playoffs. Starting in late November they won 10 of 12, including good victories over playoff teams like Dallas, Chicago, Brooklyn and Toronto.
Even when the injuries got bad, the team was able to snag some memorable wins in the first regular season without George Karl since before Facebook existed. Led by an emerging, and fun to watch, Kenneth Faried and Ty Lawson (highlights themselves as they had career numbers) the team won on the road against Miami 111-107 and at home against the Clippers 110-100 in mid-March.
The effort that came in those games in the March and April games was awesome. The team knew they were out of the playoffs and they were limited due to injures but they FOUGHT hard for first-year coach Brian Shaw throughout the season. Shaw’s first season, despite the Andre Miller incident, was also a great sign for Nuggets fans.
Coach Shaw proved he can command a locker room when the team played with great effort late. It led to a great 100-99 win in Oakland against Golden State on April 10. He lived up to his name as a player developer too. A ton of Nuggets had a better season statistically this year compared to last. GM Tim Connelly said it best when telling ESPNDenver the team should make the playoffs next year, “I know we have the right coach.”
Connelly himself showed some promise in a good Andre Miller trade, and a good Aaron Brooks trade. Still need to see how the rookie GM performs in his first full offseason, but Nuggets fans should be happy with the job he did this year.
The last thing that went right was New York Knicks missing the playoffs. Nuggets nation was watching Knicks’ scores all season since the Carmelo Anthony trade brought us their 2014 first round pick, and even though it only means a slightly better chance at a top three pick (or picking 11th instead of 12th) it’s awesome to see the Melo trade continue to pay off.
I’ve said it over and over and over again, but in the ultra-competitive Western Conference the Nuggets didn’t have a chance to make the playoffs after losing Gallinari, McGee, Nate Robinson, and J.J. Hickson to season-ending injuries. The epidemic spread as Lawson and Wilson Chandler had to miss 20 games each, and only Timofey Mozgov was healthy for every game. Not having half your starting lineup would be tough for any team to overcome, and it stinks the Nuggets season will be defined by that.
Another concern for the team is that they tended to play to the level of their competition. I mentioned they beat true contenders like the Heat and Clippers, but they also lost twice to Western Conference’s worst team in the Utah Jazz. The bad losses got ugly, and led to WAY too much locker room strife and the ugly Andre Miller saga.
The public spat between Miller and Shaw set a precedent. Shaw frequently criticized the team in the media after bad losses for lack of effort, and the fans had to cringe through quotes like, “I felt like tonight we had some guys that just decided they weren’t going to play tonight, they weren’t going to put forth any effort to try to get the job done. It’s unfortunate.” The criticism tapered off by the end of the season, but I think the team needs to avoid the public scolding next season.
It’s going to feel strange all offseason not watching at least two games of playoff basketball at the Pepsi Center. I don’t like the feeling, and I hope I never get used to missing the playoffs after feeling it again this year. Here’s to hoping the Nuggets start their next decade long playoff streak next season.
The 2013-14 Denver Nuggets did show they were good enough to expect the playoffs next year, despite the injuries. If Shaw can get a healthy roster playing with the effort they showed at the end of the season, the Nuggets should make the playoffs. If that happens, Kenneth Faried and Ty Lawson will be in the All-Star conversation, and the Nuggets will have similar highlights to this season just with a better record and a playoff schedule.
This season was crazy. New GM, new coach, injuries, public fights, winning streaks showing the team can make the playoffs and losing streaks that said they should be getting top lottery odds. So, get healthy dear Denver Nuggets, and let’s come back next season with a roster ready to fight for a playoff spot.