The Nuggets overtime win last night in Northern California against the Golden State Warriors marks the midway point of the season for Denver. The Nuggets are 27-14, putting them on pace for a 54-win season. This would match last season’s total—a number that earned them the second seed in the western conference playoffs.
Currently, Denver sits five games behind the western conference-leading Lakers, so barring excessive sun exposure for Kobe and his boys, the Nuggets most realistic hope is to out-battle Dallas and Portland (among others) for home court advantage in the first two playoff rounds and get a leg up in the running for the right to make the trip to Staples. With the second half of the season starting tonight at Pepsi Center against the Clippers, consider 54 wins a minimum number the Nuggets can obtain and reasonably expect the number two seed to be a possibility.
Will the Nuggets get to 54? Aside from the topic of personnel moves (which has been largely speculated upon), there are two factors that look to play a large part in determining the Nuggets fate: 1) their ability to beat the teams they “should” and 2) how they fare when playing on the second of back-to-back days.
With regard to beating “lesser” opponents, one of the Nuggets “thorns” in the first half of the season has been their subpar performance against teams that are themselves subpar. Eight of their fourteen losses have come against sub-.500 teams. Denver has ten games in the second half against teams who currently have a losing record. With the remaining 31 against more legitimate squads, the Nuggets can ill-afford slip-ups against the bottom-feeders.
As far as taking to the hardwood on consecutive days is concerned, in the first half of the season Denver played back-to-back games on ten different occasions. They went 4-6 in second games of these back-to-back scenarios—four of these losses came against sub-.500 teams. In the second half, the Nuggets are scheduled to play 11 back-to-backs (four of them against sub-.500 teams). Given first half results in such contests, having as many (plus one) such games on the back end of the schedule doesn’t necessarily bode well for the Nuggets.
Both putting forth a complete effort against less talented teams, as well as showing up to play on consecutive days seem to be nearly as much mental issues as physical ones. With a veteran leader like Chauncey Billups on the squad, Nugget fans would like to think that motivation and mental preparation shouldn’t be an issue when Denver needs to win games down the stretch. If not, a number two seed and return to (at least) the western conference finals doesn’t seem likely.