DENVER NUGGETS (43-22), third place, Western Conference
Where are they now: The Nuggets might be 7 games behind the first-place Los Angeles Lakers in the standings, but they are just 1.5 games behind the second-place Los Angeles Clippers and might be able to use the eight-game restart to gain ground. A matchup worth watching will take place Aug. 12 when the Nuggets and Clippers meet at ESPN Wide World of Sports Arena in the next-to-last regular-season game for each team.
The Nuggets, though, are expected to focus more on their fitness than worry about seeding.
“The comforting thing to know is that we’re not in a position where we feel that we have to go 8-0,” head coach Michael Malone said. “That said, we want to find our rhythm and go into the playoffs playing our best version of basketball possible after a four-month layoff.”
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Denver Nuggets First Half Highlights
Hampered by nagging injuries, the Nuggets still found ways to win behind the dynamic duo of big man Nikola Jokic (20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds) and guard Jamal Murray (18.8 points, 4.8 assists). Now, with a healthy support group around them, the Nuggets could be ready to show off the chemistry their star duo has developed.
“We’ve probably got the best chemistry out of all of the teams in the league, just because we play so free, so open,” Murray told reporters during the break. “We look for each other (on the court) and we’re not selfish.”
Denver Nuggets NBA Bubble Roster Rundown
The Nuggets were hit hard by the coronavirus as both Jokic and Malone were diagnosed with the ailment. Malone actually contracted COVID-19 way back in March, and while he suspected he had it, he was not able to confirm it until taking an antibody test in late May. Jokic’s diagnosis was reported June 23 while he waited out the stoppage of play in his native Serbia. He was reported to be asymptomatic.
Jokic’s positive coronavirus diagnosis might not have been the biggest stir he created during the NBA’s time away. The 7-footer lost a significant amount of weight over the past few months and it remains to be seen his sleek new physique benefits him on the court.
“He sent me a picture. No shirt on. He’s got abs,” Nuggets president Tim Connelly said at the time, according to cbssports.com. “I’ve never seen him have abs before.”
Jokic was finally cleared from quarantine at the NBA bubble in central Florida on Tuesday and practiced with his teammates Wednesday. A highlight video of the initial practice, which was making the rounds on social media, showed Murray and Jokic working on their chemistry with a give-and-go from the top of the key all the way down low to the basket.
Denver Nuggets NBA Bubble Playoff Outlook
The Nuggets are in the playoff field, with just seeding left to decide. While in the No. 3 spot, they are just four games ahead of the No. 7 Dallas Mavericks.
Denver will get a chance to work into the remaining eight games on its schedule. The Nuggets open with games against the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers. The end of the schedule will provide its challenges with games against the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers and the regular-season finale against the NBA champion Toronto Raptors.
While Murray has admitted he is not yet in prime game shape, he definitely believes in his team.
“We don’t think there’s a team that can beat us in a seven-game series when we’re playing at our best,” Murray said. “When me and Joker are on, I don’t think there’s anyone who can stop us.”
Denver Nuggets NBA Bubble Best Bets:
According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Nuggets are +2500 to win the championship, even odds with the Boston Celtics. There are just five teams with shorter odds: Milwaukee Bucks (+240), Lakers (+260), Clippers (+320), Houston Rockets (+1300) and Raptors (+2000).
The Nuggets are the fourth choice at FanDuel to win the Western Conference at +1000.