Winning a championship at any level isn’t easy, especially not
in the NBA.
Believe me when I tell you: it’s hard.
But you want to know what’s harder?
Trying to take the leap from being a “very good” team to being
the squad that walks away with the chip. Once you make it to the
Western Conference Finals, there’s only one place to go from there,
That’s exactly where the Denver Nuggets find themselves.
Denver has managed to win eight games in a row since they traded
for Aaron Gordon, but that’s the thing about the NBA – the better
you are, the more people expect of you. An eight-game winning
streak is cool and everything, but the reality is that when you’re
a team coming off a run to the Western Conference Finals, anything
less than that won’t be satisfying. For the Nuggets, the
unfortunate thing for them is that nothing they do in the regular
season will matter if they don’t prove themselves in the
I’m willing to bet that everyone on the team recognizes that,
and now, to make things even more interesting, Aaron Gordon has
been added to the mix.
He was drafted by Orlando fourth overall in 2014 and spent six
years there. He got paid big money and was hoped to be the guy who
could lead that team, but for whatever reason, he wasn’t able to
get things going over there. Now, he’s heading to the Western
Conference. He’s playing on a great team that will certainly give
him a shot to compete, but it’s a straight-up dogfight to even get
out of the first round.
In Orlando, just making it to the playoffs was considered
acceptable, but now, all of a sudden, Gordon is on a team that
expects him to help deliver a championship. Going from being the
featured player who gets as many shots as he wants to being the
third option (at best) is going to be a new experience. He’s gonna
have to play off of Joker and Jamal Murray and wait patiently for
his opportunities, and his mindset is going to make all the
So far, things have worked out, but it’s still early, so I’m
gonna keep watching.
Aside from getting less touches on the offensive side of the
ball, Gordon is gonna have to bring it defensively every single
night. He's basically filling the Jerami Grant role and the Nuggets
are hoping he can be the missing piece of the puzzle, so he'll need
to lock in and make sacrifices (which can be a lot to ask of a
25-year-old who might still want to prove himself).
Will he be content with playing his role? Or will he want more
of the freedom he had in Orlando?
Will he thrive under the pressure that the Nuggets will face as
they try to build on last season’s success? Or will he get upset
that he isn’t given more opportunity when the team faces some
Once the playoffs begin, the entire franchise is going to feel
the pressure to improve on what they did last season, and if they
have a tough playoff bracket and some unfavorable matchups, things
could get testy. At the end of the day, that’s what makes the West
so fun to watch. No matter how dominant a team looks in the regular
season, it always comes down to their playoff matchup, and aside
from Gordon, that’s another reason why all eyes are on the Nuggets
after the trade deadline.
The playoffs are right around the corner, and especially on a
winning streak, Denver probably feels like they’re one of the true
contenders out there.
Nikola Jokic is having an MVP-type season and after coming back
from 3-1 against the Jazz and Clippers in the bubble, they probably
feel like they can do anything. With Gordon in the fold, it makes
them all the more impressive on paper. But the game isn’t played on
Over the last 20 games of the season, I guarantee you that Mike
Malone and his coaching staff are gonna be looking at the standings
and thinking about matchups. As much as everyone tries to pretend
that they don’t watch the standings, I’ll tell you the truth: teams
definitely want to give themselves the best chance of advancing.
With about 10 games left in the regular season, teams jockey for
position and try to give themselves a favorable route if they can
control it. Keep that in mind.
If the playoffs began today, Denver would be the fourth seed and
would have to play the Lakers in the first round. That’s probably
something they want to avoid. Fair or not, if they got knocked out
in the first round (which is possible when you play LeBron James),
most people would look at their season as a failure and would
probably say the same about trading for Gordon. It would be hard to
argue otherwise because a championship is the measuring stick.
On the other hand, if Denver managed to catch the Clippers for
No. 3 (again, based on the standings today), they would play the
Blazers in the first round and would be lined up to see the Suns in
the second round. It would be tough either way, but if I’m them,
I’d rather take my chances with Portland and Phoenix than the
Lakers and Jazz.
So yeah… believe it or not, the Nuggets are facing a lot of
pressure. So is Aaron Gordon. Their success in the bubble has led
to some high expectations, and when you add another All-Star
caliber player to what was already a deep roster, it's championship
Can Denver build on the success they had last season? Can Gordon
prove to be the final piece of the puzzle? Are Jokic and Murray the
guys that can lead the Nuggets to their first-ever
We’ll find out come playoff time. But with only 20 games left in
season, at least we won’t have to wait too much longer to get those