The Golden State Warriors were victors in 11 playoff series over the past three seasons. Our Denver Nuggets have been triumphant in two playoff series since 1994.
Excuse me if I struggle to embrace extreme belief in the Nuggets' future. Why the doubt? Easy answer: I’ve been watching the Nuggets for a long, long time.
Yes, hope has returned to our state’s NBA franchise. Agony has been the norm for Nuggets fans, who have never seen their favorite team battle in the NBA Finals.
But tomorrow is looking bright. OK, let’s be realistic. Tomorrow is looking somewhat bright.
Nikola Jokic could become one of the NBA’s top 15 players, and Jamal Murray could crack the top 25. Paul Millsap, The $90 Million Man, will bring an old basketball man’s wisdom along with fierce defending seldom seen in downtown Denver.
The Nuggets should win 45 games and slip into the playoffs next season. They might even bolt over the 50-win mark. That’s progress for a team that won 30 games in 2014-15.
But the fun only truly starts when the Nuggets win a playoff series. The Carmelo Anthony/George Karl era was full of rides to the playoffs, but those rides almost always ended in crashes. Those endless crashes cast a shadow over each season. Those crashes chased Karl out of Colorado.
The Nuggets took 10 straight trips to the playoffs from 2003-2013, but lost in the first round nine times. In this century, the Nuggets have stumbled to a 16-37 playoff record. Remember, this is a century when Anthony, Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby played for the Nuggets.
The temptation is to go wild and foresee unspeakable glory for the Nuggets and their young nucleus. It’s always tempting to see wonders in the future, partially because no one knows what’s out there. Arguments about the present carry weight. Arguments about tomorrow are weightless, which only adds to the fun.
Maybe the Nuggets will rule the NBA during the Jokic era. And maybe peace will rule the earth, too.
I’ve been watching the Nuggets since before they were the Nuggets. In 1971, I started going to basketball games in downtown Denver. This was when the Nuggets were known as the Rockets and played with a red, white and blue ball and launched shots from behind a new innovation known as the 3-point line.
In the late 1970s, I believed – deeply believed – David Thompson would lift the Nuggets to an NBA title. He was a matchless, high-flying showman, a superlative defender. He was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan.
Cocaine brought the sky-walking Thompson crashing to earth, and the Nuggets were never again quite so promising. This was, I realize, a long time ago.
Today, an earthbound 22-year-old named Nikola leads the Nuggets into a fresh era of possibility. One of the NBA’s most downtrodden franchises is on the rise. If you know Nuggets history, you know this is not the normal state of the team. Hope is precious for anyone, but especially for a Nuggets fan.
Is a journey to the NBA Finals, or even an NBA title, on the horizon?
Let’s not go there. Such lofty hopes soar beyond the scope of my imagination.
I’ll settle for the ultra-rare experience of savoring victory in the first round of the playoffs.