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Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with a team that is now making its sixth consecutive postseason appearance: the Denver Nuggets.
The Denver Nuggets are one of the few teams that throws out a point guard who is completely capable of controlling, managing and taking over a basketball game. Chauncey Billups has a Finals MVP award to his credit and brings the experience, confidence and talent that makes the Nuggets a team that now believes they can win. Basketball is a mental game just as much as it is a physical, sheer talent game. Chauncey Billups brings confidence to a team that hasn't made it out of the first round since 1994. Billups can take over basketball games and can really shine since he is the team's second option behind Carmelo Anthony. Behind Carmelo and Chauncey, the Nuggets field one of the better offenses in the league. They move the ball around a lot, they get open shots and they're very effecient at knocking them down. Carmelo Anthony has matured immensely this year and has developed a really nice inside-outside game that makes it difficult to guard him. And since Billups is now in town, Carmelo doesn't have all of the pressure to take the big shots. He can coast out there and pick his spots.
The Nuggets have a really strong bench and that gives them lots of options offensively. J.R. Smith, Linas Kleiza, Renaldo Balkman and Chris Andersen all have specific roles and all of those players are capable of doing so night in and night out. Furthermore, they all perform their roles on a consistent basis and don't force Nuggets fans to hope one of them shows up. They're a pretty reliable bunch.
The team, although they have masked their lack of size all season, has a huge drop off in terms of talent and production when you move from the backcourt to the frontcourt. Nene has done a more than serviceable job this season at the center position and is having the best season of his career. However he's not necessarily a true center, and he's basically the only player on the Nuggets (beside Carmelo and Chauncey when they take smaller defenders to the paint) that has any kind of a back to the basket game. Kenyon Martin puts up good numbers, but his jump shot is unreliable and a frontcourt of he and Nene really brings caution to Denver when they'll be matched up with taller, more physical teams. Because of the fact that Nene is the only player who consistently plays hard down in the paint, the team is really a collection of jump shooters. And teams that have an overreliance on the jumper have moments when they can go cold. In a seven game series, you're not allowed many chances to make up for lost games.
Also the Nuggets, although they try harder than they did last season, still go through lapses where they look attrocious on defense. It's well documented that last season's squad's effort on the defensive end was laughable and George Karl and Chauncey Billups have done a fine job improving the effort, but they may struggle when it comes to spots where they have to hold position and force stops on the defensive end. It's an area of concern for Denver.
Why They Will Win It
The Nuggets are a confident bunch that knows their strengths and plays to it. They're very good at home, one of the better road teams in the league and have proven that they can win any given game at anytime, anywhere. They have two fantastic players who you can go to in the clutch in Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony. J.R. Smith spearheads a bench that can provide instant energy and offense as well. They're a squad with plenty of options and George Karl has done a great job of including everyone this season. They're a unit that plays together and that gives better effort every night more consistently than they have in previous seasons.
Why They Won't Win It
The Nuggets lack of frontcourt and lack of skill on defense can give them problems in the playoffs. They're capable of playing physical basketball, they just don't prefer it. If any of the big men get into foul trouble in the postseason, their lack of depth and lack of true size will prove fatal against a team that can throw two or three big men out at you. An overreliance on jump shots also makes it easier for teams to attack on defense, knowing where to target certain players and how to shut them down. Those jump shots won't always fall, and when they don't the Nuggets have no second options.
This Nuggets team plays hard, they play together and they can win on the road. However, history tells us that teams that shoot too many jump shots, teams that struggle on defense and teams that are scarce on size aren't qualified to win championships. Let's not forget, the Nuggets haven't been out of the first round in a 15 years and although this team has a different squad and swagger from the teams that have made it the previous five years, it's still a lingering issue for the Nuggets and their style of ball. Also, even though J.R. Smith is fantastic off of the bench, he's shown in the postseason that he can single handedly shoot this team out of the game, and you have to worry if George Karl has the discipline to keep Carmelo and Chauncey from jacking up jump shots all game as well. Overall, depending on who they match up with the Nuggets can get out of the first round, but they lack the physicality to sustain a certain excellence of play that is required to win four consecutive seven game series.
Coming up next: the San Antonio Spurs.