NBA playoffs: Denver Nuggets vs. Golden State Warriors preview
It's been a remarkable season for the Nuggets, a team with low expectations in October that surged to one of the NBA's best records behind an up-tempo attack spearheaded by a group of 20-somethings being molded by veteran coach George Karl along the way. The Bay Area, too, was home to a developing team, with Golden State leaning heavily on a pair of young, dynamic guards (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson) an All-Star power forward (David Lee) and an inexperienced coach (Mark Jackson) evolving into a more skilled tactician by the day.
Denver enters the playoffs a M.A.S.H unit, with Danilo Gallinari (knee) done for the season and Kenneth Faried, Ty Lawson and Timofey Mozgov battling various twists, bumps and bruises. Still, the Nuggets can run with anyone, and are adept at taking advantage of the mile-high altitude to create easy buckets in the open floor. Unlike Memphis or the Lakers, Golden State isn't looking to slow the game down. Denver's front line (Faried, JaVale McGee) is more athletic than Golden State's (Lee, Andrew Bogut), which the Nuggets will take advantage of in transition. There are lingering questions about Denver's ability to create offense in the halfcourt, but the combination of Lawson, Andre Miller, Wilson Chandler and Andre Iguodala generate enough to complement the NBA's best running game.
Three-point shooting, and lots of it. Golden State was the most efficient three-point shooting team in the league during the regular season, with three players (Curry, Thompson and Sixth Man candidate Jarrett Jack) shooting better than 40 percent. The Nuggets have a middling three-point defense, which means the Warriors will get plenty of opportunities. Meanwhile, the presence of Bogut -- who averaged 8.3 rebounds in 25 minutes per game in the second half of the season -- will keep Denver from scoring at will in the paint.
Kenneth Faried. The Nuggets' rugged rebounder went down with a nasty looking left ankle injury on April 14 and missed the final two games of the regular season. Faried is Denver's motor, a high-energy player who often occupies multiple defenders because of his ability to crash the offensive glass. With him, Denver is high energy, also, and able to manufacture offense off second and third shot opportunities. Without him, the Nuggets are far more easily defended.
Warriors in 7. Chalk this upset up to injuries. The loss of Gallinari -- who had the second best on court/off court rating on the team, according to 82games.com -- is a body blow to a team that needs as many halfcourt options as it can get. The future is bright in Denver, but they will have to wait until next year to take that next step.