Feb 21, 2023 - Sports

The Denver Nuggets are really good and could finally end their NBA title drought

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokić in a game against the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 2, 2023, at the Ball Arena in Denver. Photo: Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

This could finally be the year for the Denver Nuggets.

Driving the news: The second half of the NBA season starts Thursday and the Nuggets currently have the best record in the West at 41-18, and are on a three-game winning streak.

  • This is the first time in franchise history the team had 40 wins before the break, according to ESPN.
  • No team has a better home record than the Nuggets, who are 27-4 at Ball Arena.
  • Only two teams in the NBA have a better overall record — the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks.

Yes, but: While the Mile High magic is dazzling right now, the Nuggets have, historically, run out of party tricks when they hit the playoffs.

  • They are one of six teams without an NBA Finals appearance despite making it to the Western Conference Finals four times.
  • The team has a combined 1-8 record over their last two playoff series. Last year, they lost in the first round to the eventual champion Warriors and in the 2020-21 season, they were swept by the Suns in the second round.

Reason for hope: The pieces are in place for a deep playoff run. It starts and ends with the triple-double machine and reigning league MVP Nikola Jokić.

  • Jamal Murray — who earlier this month posted a season-high 41 points — is having a phenomenal season after missing all of last year while recovering from ACL surgery.
  • The team also traded for solid perimeter defender and shooter Kentavious Caldwell-Pope last summer. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone labeled him as "the missing piece" for the team.

Threat level: The Golden State Warriors. They are 9th in the West and are at risk of missing the playoffs entirely, but they're still the defending champs.

  • The Phoenix Suns' recent acquisition of superstar Kevin Durant makes the Nuggets' path to winning the Western Conference tougher, writes local sports analyst Jake Shapiro.
  • Others see things differently: "I'm not going to disrespect Denver, I think they're still the favorite [in the West]," NBA commentator Charles Barkley said earlier this month when reacting to the trade.

Between the lines: Some observers say Jokić has a shot at a rare individual three-peat.

  • If Jokić wins MVP again — and it's a Joel Embiid-sized if — he would join Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell as the only players to get the award three consecutive times.
  • The last time that happened, Bird was hitting jumpers in short shorts.

What they're saying: "I think Denver needs to use this as fuel — make people realize Jokić is a deserving MVP once again, and then get to the Western Conference Finals and make a run at a title," 9News Weekend Sports Anchor Jacob Tobey said last week over suggestions Jokić shouldn't win MVP again.

Of note: Guard Reggie Jackson, who played hoops at Palmer High School in Colorado Springs, joined the team last week to add some depth to the team's backcourt.

  • Jackson, the Denver Post points out, took a jersey number previously worn by another homegrown talent he called his favorite Nuggets player: Chauncey Billups, who now coaches the Portland Trail Blazers.

What's next: The Nuggets are back in action on Thursday at the Cleveland Cavaliers. Tip-off is at 5 pm.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Denver stories


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more