After three months off, the perception has not changed about what team will come out of the West has not changed as the NBA gears up to go to Orlando and play out the season.
It’s the Lakers, the Clippers, and a huge gap to anyone else. Look at the current betting odds at Ceasers Palace, where the Lakers are 2-1, the Clippers are 9-4, and then it jumps to the Rockets at 15-1 and the Nuggets at 22-1.
“We know we can go win the title,” the Nuggets’ guard said in a Zoom call with Denver reporters. “Me and Joker [Nikola Jokic] have been in Denver this whole time, working out.”
“Why not?” Murray later replied when asked about winning it all. “We have proven to be one the best teams year in and year out since we have been building. We have beaten good teams consistently. We shouldn’t have lost to Portland [last year in the conference semifinals]. That was more on us, our inexperience and they are a good team. But we don’t think that there is a team that can beat us in a seven-game series when we are playing at our best.”
This is exactly what Murray should say, what the Nuggets should believe. This is a quality team that should be thinking about taking the next step.
They just have to prove that to the world, because when play stopped they did not look like a contender.
Denver heads to Orlando for the “seeding games” as the third seed in the West at 43-22, just 1.5 games behind the Clippers for the two seed but 1.5 games up on Utah for the four seed. For the season they had a +3.1 net rating (meaning they had been a little lucky, that’s more of a 36-26 pace) with the ninth-ranked offense and the 12th ranked defense in the league. In their 10 games after the All-Star break before play was halted, the Nuggets were 5-5 with the 19th ranked defense in the league. That’s not the numbers of a contender.
Jokic is in the best shape of his career, according to Murray and president of basketball ops Tim Connelly, which is a good sign. This is also a team that has had excellent continuity over the past couple of seasons, which should help them hit the ground running in Orlando.
Is that enough? Denver has work to prove they are ready for the next level. At least the team is starting with the belief they can do it.