Despite the injuries, the Nuggets are very much alive in the West

Dec 3, 2021, 6:33 AM | Updated: 8:13 am
MIAMI, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 29: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets dribbles the ball up the court...
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

When it was announced that Michael Porter Jr. would undergo his third back surgery earlier this week, it was the latest in what seems like a lifetime of disappointments for Nuggets fans. Losing Porter along with P.J. Dozier for the season took the wind out of the fanbase’s sails and the championship-contending hopes of most fans were dashed.

If a championship this season is nothing more than a pipe dream at this point, what should we expect from the Nuggets the rest of this injury-riddled season?

Teams in every sport suffer injuries every year, and every year the initial reaction is that Team X can’t or won’t recover from a catastrophic loss. And more often than not, the initial reactions prove to be wrong.

Let’s take a look at the NBA standings where every team has played 20 or more games or about one-quarter of their season. The Warriors haven’t had Klay Thompson at all this season, and are still vastly outpacing the oddsmakers preseason win total prediction of 48.5 with an 18-3 start. Golden State could go 31-30 the rest of the season and still eclipse their projected win total. Similarly, Brooklyn has played without Kyrie Irving all year and is still on track to top their projected NBA-best 56.5 wins on the season.

Golden State and Phoenix have already created some distance from the field in the West, along with Utah sitting comfortably ahead of the rest of the pack early at 14-7. But the next seven teams in the standings all sit within two games of .500 more than a quarter of the way through the season.

So what does all of this mean for the Nuggets?

It means despite their deflating injuries and very disappointing 10-11 start, they’re still very much in the mix of where most experts projected them to be this season. Denver’s preseason over/under win total was 47.5, the sixth-highest in the West. Utah, the Lakers, Phoenix, Dallas, and Golden State were all expected to finish ahead of the Nuggets in the regular season.

After the current top three, Denver still has a good chance to finish with the fourth or fifth seed for the playoffs. Of course, they’ll have to play much better than they’ve shown so far, and certainly better than they did in a disappointing loss in Orlando on Wednesday. With Nikola Jokic, Aaron Gordon and Will Barton healthy, they’ve got a better roster than any of the other six playoff contenders, and are certainly capable of playing much better than any of those teams.

Denver has already dominated Dallas in one win and lost to them when Will Barton didn’t play. Despite Luka Doncic’s greatness, the rest of the Mavericks roster is lacking.

Ja Morant carried Memphis to two wins over the Nuggets in three days in Memphis, but he’s also injured after carrying a heavy load for a young team with a long way to go to earn a playoff spot.

The Lakers are an outright disaster who can’t play defense and have been exposed when LeBron James isn’t on the court. L.A. is a threat as a brand-name only.

The Clippers are the better of the two Los Angeles teams, but Paul George has to will that team to victory every night until Kawhi Leonard returns – if he returns at all after ACL surgery in July.

Portland has dealt with a slow start and injury to Damian Lillard early, but even when healthy hasn’t shown any indication that they’re going to be any different for Chauncey Billups than they have been in recent years under Terry Stotts.

Minnesota is an exciting young team that will battle for a playoff spot until the end of the season but hasn’t shown any consistency to make a big move up the standings.

So what does all of this mean for the Nuggets? It means if they can keep Jokic, Gordon and Barton healthy together (knock on wood), they’ve got as good of a chance as any of these teams to finish in the top five in the Western Conference. Especially if Jamal Murray makes a successful return after the All-Star break.

With the reigning MVP playing even better than he did a year ago, that group is certainly capable of winning 35 of their remaining 61 games, especially against the aforementioned competition. None of those other teams have the core or the centerpiece that has shown or even indicates that they are capable of doing the same.

Despite the injuries and the slow start, I’m willing to bet the Nuggets will be right where they were expected to be all along at the end of the regular season.


Nikola Jokic...
Jerry Schemmel

The NBA schedule makers aren’t doing the Nuggets any favors

With three games in four nights, including another back-to-back to end the stretch, a loss to the Jazz was predictable if not inevitable
1 day ago
Nikola Jokic...
Chad Andrus

The Nuggets and Jazz appear to be on a collision course in the playoffs

On paper, Utah has dominated Denver this season, but a showdown in the first round of the playoffs could have a very different look for the Nuggets
2 days ago
DENVER, COLORADO - OCTOBER 25: Head coach Michael Malone of the Denver Nuggets reacts to a call whi...
Jerry Schemmel

The Nuggets responded in a big way to their head coach calling them out

After a brutal loss in Los Angeles, when they squandered a 25-point lead, Michael Malone ripped into his team, a move that seems to have worked
6 days ago
DENVER, CO - JUNE 13: Michael Porter Jr. (1) of the Denver Nuggets walks to the locker room after t...
Rachel Vigil

The Fan’s Nuggets Fast Break: Will MPJ make a return this season?'s Rachel Vigil and James Merilatt discuss a possible return for young Nuggets start Michael Porter Jr. this season and more
7 days ago
Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets and Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets celebrate their w...
Jerry Schemmel

The Nuggets have the key ingredient to make a championship run

Throughout NBA history, there has been one constant about championship teams, an element that the Nuggets should have for years to come
8 days ago
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 08: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets reacts against the New...
Jerry Schemmel

Nikola Jokic is on pace to shatter three all-time Nuggets records

The Joker is on pace to supplant Alex English and Dan Issel atop some impressive lists, but there are too marks that might be beyond his reach
13 days ago
Despite the injuries, the Nuggets are very much alive in the West