Allen Moll is an avid NBA and College Basketball fan who watches and studies games religiously and coaches youth basketball in his native Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania. Allen is a regular columnist for thehoopdoctors.com, Bleacherreport.com, and his own blog, Hoops Haven.
The ’08-’09 Denver Nuggets had arguably their best season in franchise history, finishing with a 54-28 record, before losing to the eventual NBA Champion, LA Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. They even had the Lakers a little nervous after winning Game 4 by 19 points and tieing the series 2-2, before being dismantled in the final two games in Los Angeles, losing the series 4-2. Just how did they finish better than the Annual powerhouses out West like San Antonio, Portland, and Dallas? By standing pat and returning essentially the same roster, can they again be a factor in the Western Conference?
The Denver Nuggets over the years have been good but not great in their 32 year NBA existence. Before last season, the Nuggets had made it to the Western Finals only two other times, lastly in ’85 during the Doug Moe run-and-gun era, led by Hall Of Famer Alex English, Calvin Natt, and a young Fat Lever. The ’08-’09 version of the Nuggets took a page out of their older counterparts playbook by being very good offensively(6th) while mediocre at best defensively(18th). They were led by Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, and a young and talented, JR Smith.
Denver’s final roster last season was quite different from what they finished with after the ’07-’08 season. After getting swept in the 1st round of the playoffs by the LA Lakers, Nuggets management decided to retool their lineup by sending leading scorer Allen Iverson to the Pistons in return for 4 time All-Star and NBA Champion Chauncey Billups, and trading leading rebounder and shot blocker Marcus Camby to the Clippers for their 2010 draft pick. Despite criticism, the moves worked quite well since they had one of their best seasons ever.
This upcoming season has also been met with some criticism since the Nuggets took the approach of “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it“, when it comes to their roster. They have only made a few minor changes to a team which won the Northwest Division in ’09. They brought in the speedy point guard, Ty Lawson from the National Champion UNC Tarheels, role players Malik Allen and Aaron Afflalo, and lost Linas Kleiza to Olypiacos in Greece. While Anthony was his All-Star caliber self, Billups did wonders by leading in both the locker room and on the floor at the point guard position. The Nuggets got some unexpected contributions by Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Dahntey Jones, both of which played for the league minimum. Anderson was given a back-laden, 5 year deal to keep him in “Mile High” through 2014. Denver chose to be financially responsible while other teams out West spent at will like the Spurs with Richard Jefferson and the Lakers with Ron Artest.
It is true that Carmelo Anthony may finally be coming of age, since he stepped up his game during the postseason, Billups provides a proven winner’s mentality and stong defense at the point. Also true is that JR Smith could be one of the rising offensive players in the league and Nene is established as one of the leagues best big men, and like him or not, George Karl is one of the winningest active coaches on the bench.
Allot will depend on “Melo” and Smith’s maturity not only as players but as adults. Both of whom cannot seem to stay out of trouble with the police and David Stern’s behavior policies. They face probably their toughest competition from within their own division from the Portland Trailblazers, who also have title aspirations after signing free agent point guard Andre Miller. Can the Nuggets find lightning in a bottle and once again challenge by staying the same in a tough Western Conference, or will their competitor’s offseason improvements be too much for Denver to improve on last season?
Here are the Nuggets Top 10 Plays during the ’09 Playoffs: