We’ll take a look at all 30 teams in the next 30 days as they prepare for the 2017-2018 regular season, which is when the real fireworks begin! Today's team: The Denver Nuggets.
A year ago the Denver Nuggets came oh-so-close to snapping a four-year playoff drought, finishing one game (40-42) behind Portland (41-41) for the eighth and final playoff spot out West.
They bring back the core group from last season while adding Paul Millsap, a difference-making All-Star big man who can stretch the floor, score around the rim and defend at the highest levels.
Back in the playoffs right?
Maybe, but it’ll be tough going when you consider the Northwest Division should arguably be the toughest in the NBA when trying to get past a foursome of Utah, Oklahoma City, Minnesota and Portland.
The Northwest Division is the only one in the NBA that consists of all five teams fielding rosters with legit playoff potential.
For Denver, what’s going to help them stand out from the rest is their frontcourt 1-2 punch of Millsap and big man Nikola Jokic, who has blossomed into one of the brightest young bigs in the NBA.
Last season, Jokic, 22, averaged 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists which included the 6-foot-10 center racking up six triple-doubles.
For the Nuggets to build upon last season and take that next step which is getting to the playoffs, they’ll need better guard play this season.
Figuring out where Emmanuel Mudiay plays would help. The 6-5 guard is very much a tweener with great size and power but doesn’t seem to set up teammates for easy scores, which is what you want in a lead guard. Short of that, you want a guy who can score, which is part of Mudiay’s game but far from his greatest strength at this point.
In his two NBA seasons, the one thing Mudiay has shown is a desire to attack the rim and finish. He shot 50.5 percent from the field last season when his shots were within three feet of the rim. From 3-10 feet, that number dipped to 29.0 percent from the field. And from 10-16 and 16-plus but less than a 3-pointer, Mudiay was 26.2 percent and 32.7 percent.
Denver is also hoping for Gary Harris to continue growing as a solid two-way player, as well as second-year guard Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley.
Veterans Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried will also factor in how far the Nuggets will go this season. Denver is clearly a better team than last season but that still may not be enough to get over the hump and back into the postseason for the first time since 2013.
Key free agent/draft/trade additions: Paul Millsap (Atlanta); Trey Lyles (Utah).
Key losses: Danilo Gallinari (Los Angeles Clippers).
Rookies of note: Tyler Lydon.
Expectations: 46-36 (Fourth in the Northwest Division, seventh in the West).
CLEVELAND – For the Celtics, the preseason went about as well as expected.
No serious, long-term injuries.
They won every preseason game, even one in which the team’s second unit played the role of starters.
And the chemistry concerns with so many new players, while very real, didn’t seem to be that big an issue.
Still, as good as the Celtics may feel about where they stand, they know it means absolutely nothing unless they get it done against elite, NBA-caliber competition.
The Cleveland Cavaliers.
It doesn’t get much more challenging than that.
And for the Celtics, win or lose, this is going to be a game for them to build upon going forward this season.
“I’m just ready to get going,” said Gordon Hayward. “A lot of things have happened this summer, a lot of buildup. I’m ready to get to the game. It’s going to be a fun matchup, for sure.”
Among the summer happenings was Boston and Cleveland pulling off one of the biggest blockbuster deals of the offseason with the Cavs trading Kyrie Irving to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic while also conveying Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick and Miami’s 2020 second-round pick to complete the deal.
Having spent his first six seasons with the Cavaliers, there’s a certain amount of corporate knowledge that the 25-year-old Irving brings to tonight’s matchup.
“I know a lot about them, they know a lot about me,” Irving said. “There’s plenty of film on all of us, but specifically going back and understanding the way we played last year when I played with them and now how they’re playing with the new guys, understanding how to implement themselves into their new system plus me implementing myself into this system...There’s definitely some benefits on our end, there are some benefits on their end. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Part of the challenge for the Celtics will be developing the kind of on-court cohesion to be successful, which is easier said than done when you’re talking about getting nearly a dozen players on the same page in just a few weeks.
“We have good chemistry as a group,” said Al Horford. “We still have a ways to go as far as keep getting comfortable with each other and keep figuring out our spots. But we feel good with what we have. Our young guys, it’s been remarkable how quickly they’ve been able to come along and be up to date with everything. And our new guys as well. They’re up to date, they know what we need to do. They understand the game plan. It’s been good.”
Players aren’t the only ones eager to get to tonight’s game.
“To have to go into Cleveland with that level of intensity, with that level of attention, distraction, etc. is great,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “It’s great to experience that in game one, a tremendous learning experience for our group, so we’re preparing to play as well as we can. And we know that they’re really, really good. But this is..I’m looking forward to it because I want to find out where we are.”
Isaiah Thomas told Sports Illustrated last week that he "might never talk to Danny [Ainge] again." And he sounded pretty bitter about his trade from the Celtics to the Cavs.
Now, on the "Road Trippin" podcast with new teammate Channing Frye and ex-Cav Richard Jefferson, Thomas, who is out until at least January with a hip injury, said those comments were misunderstood.
“People took it the wrong way,” Thomas said. “I understand the business, I understand that we’re in position to get traded and sent to other teams and things like that. It’s just how it went down that I didn’t respect. As a man, I feel like if you respected me as much as you say you did, you would have at least informed me about what was going on before it happened. And that’s all I was talking about.
“I’m not tripping off the trade like I got traded to the Cavs and we’re going to win a championship. And at the end of the day, I’m going to be fine with that,” Thomas said. “[Ainge] sent me to an even better situation with a bigger platform. I’m blessed to be in the position, I’m grateful and I’m excited.”
The Cavs host the Celtics tonight in the season opener.
Jae Crowder, who came to Cleveland from Boston, was also on the podcast and when Frye talked with him about players deserving communication from the front office, Thomas could be heard in the background, saying, “That’s what I’m talking about.”
“I already said what I’m doing," Thomas told Crowder about what he'll do should he run into Ainge. "I’m going to keep it pushing like he kept pushing when he traded me, I’m not going to disrespect him. He’s a man and I’m a man, too. Like, I’m going to go my way. I play for the Cavaliers and that’s what it is.”