The Miami Heat have played the best basketball since the All-Star break in the Eastern Conference, in which many have penciled-in the Heat as champs.
The Western Conference, however, seems to be less top-heavy. The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are certainly two favorites to win the West’s Finals spot, but an upset somehow seems eminent this season.
If the Heat’s post-All-Star-break play is indicative of their postseason chances, the Denver Nuggets seem to me the current favorite in the West.
Their playoff road ahead may not be as friendly as the one the Heat are sure to see, with the potential of series’ against both the Thunder and the Spurs, but the Nuggets have proven capable of excellent road play of late.
Before the All-Star break, the Nuggets’ road record was an unimpressive 11-18. Since the break, the road record has improved to 18-21, or 7-3 since Feb. 19th, including wins at Oklahoma City, Chicago, and recently Utah.
They beat the Thunder on their home court as well, which is no surprise, considering the Nuggets own the league’s best home record at 33-3 (the Heat with only 32-4). Clearly, the Nuggets are the team no one wants to face right now.
What makes them so formidable, ironically, stems back to around the Carmelo Anthony trade in 2011. Piece by piece, the Nuggets have rebuilt the entire franchise. It’s no longer Melo, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, and Chauncey Billups, with the team living or dying on Anthony’s 25-30 shots, but now a completely balanced team playing as a unit all season long.
Whatever happens, George Karl deserves the “Coach of the Year” award for the production he is getting from this squad. Four of five starters have started 70+ of 75 total games, (Ty Lawson starting 68).
Six players are currently averaging double-digit points per game. The team is so evenly balanced that the top 10 of 15 players on the roster are within 5 points as far as player efficiency rating.
The highest PER (Player Efficiency Rating) belongs to, should-be, “6th Man of the Year” Javale McGee at 20.9.
Their point guard play is excellent. There is not another player in the league faster with the basketball than Lawson. That kid can fly. He also has the fortunate option of assisting McGee, veterans Gallinari and Andre Iguodala, or rising star Kenneth Faried.
Faried is no joke. He can jump out of the gym and goes 100% every game. With a bit of work in the off-season on his shooting and post game offense, Faried looks to be a force for the Nuggets for a few years yet.
Even a run into the late rounds of the Western Conference playoffs would prove a glimpse of future successes and possibly Denver’s first Championship team.
Don’t count them out.