The NBA season is upon us… or at least it would be if this lockout had not lasted so long. The NBA season is a mere month away, and there will be a flurry of moves to make up for our lost offseason. So, with that in mind, it is time to begin opening the book on the 2011-12 season and to take a look at what the season might have in store — especially when it comes to the Magic. Be sure to look out for more of these team capsules and to check out all the blogs taking part in this year’s NBA Blog Preview (don’t worry, I will be linking to all of them in the next few weeks).
The Previews: Nate Timmons/Denver Stiffs
If one team shows the promise that the Magic might have in the immediate post-Dwight Howard era (if that happens), it might be the Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets saw Carmelo Anthony quietly push his way out while not outwardly demanding anything to the media. Anthony was clearly done with the Nuggets and yearned for a bigger stage. He successfully forced his way to Denver. Many suspect Dwight Howard is doing the same.
But something happened when the Nuggets began looking to trade Anthony. They found a desperate partner in the Knicks — the Knicks are always desperate to be a headline team — and netted a bunch of good, young talent. Even without their superstar, the Nuggets remained hot. The desire to prove everyone wrong outweighed everything for this bunch and it caught fire.
Ty Lawson turned in a fantastic final two months of the season. He increased his scoring average to 15.4 points per game from 10.3 points per game after being handed the starting job in the final 21 games (after the Anthony trade). His assist numbers went up to 7.0 per game. Obviously more playing time helped, but it should also be noted that his assist rate jumped up to above 30 percent, increasing after he got more playing time.
When everyone believed the Nuggets would fall out of the Playoff race, they remained deeply entrenched in it. Ultimately, they finished as the fifth seed and gave the Thunder all they could handle in the first round.
Ultimately though, everyone knew this Denver team was not quite up to snuff to handle the postseason. It was an incredibly young roster that played well together, but lacked the creator to truly transcend in the postseason. It was a team meant to be used in a trade because of all the assets the Knicks gave to them in the Carmelo Anthony deal.
Denver still lacks that go-to star and has some serious questions elsewhere on the roster with J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin (both free agents) and Chandler (a restricted free agent) all going to China to play during the lockout. They will not be released from their contracts overseas until March when the CBA season ends.
The Nuggets are going to begin planning their future this year, but it is going to come at a price. The proposed 85 percent rule is going to force the Nuggets to spend at least $25-30 million this season to reach the salary cap. I do not believe the Nuggets are enamored enough with any of the free agents available this year to pull the tirgger on a max deal. So the Nuggets have their work cut out for them to stay patient while still meeting the salary floor.
That seems to point to another hodge-podge group of players stitched together with the desire to prove everyone wrong.
That certainly worked in the short-term for the Nuggets. But it does not appear to be something that can work in the long term for this franchise. The Nuggets are entering a rebuilding mode. They know that. But after the way last season ended, they may not expect a big drop off.
A 66-game schedule is not a 25-game schedule. The young Nuggets post-Melo thrived on getting on a roll and barnstorming through the last half of their schedule. The shortened season will not feature the ups and downs that come with a full 82-game schedule, but it will feature more ups… and more downs.
It is always tough to lose a superstar. But the Nuggets are going to learn that lesson this year as they reset themselves.
How the Nuggets Will Beat the Magic: The easiest way for a team like the Nuggets to defeat the Magic is to play hard and hope for a bad night. With Denver having so much room under the cap and a lot of work the team needs to do to reach the salary floor, we do not know what this team will look like quite yet. So, just keep things simple when it comes to trying to win this game, or any game. Denver has to play hard and make shots. The Nuggets have to be committed to defense and taking advantage of any breaking opportunities that come up. Opportunistic is how I would describe the team that ended last season. And it certainly could be that again. They just won’t sustain it for 66 games.
How the Magic Will Beat the Nuggets: This should be relatively simple. Orlando has to do what it always does — play strong defense, have a healthy diet of Dwight Howard and make shots when Howard passes the ball out. The Nugets are going to play every game with a lot of effort. The Magic, no matter what the Nuggets’ record might be, has to match that effort. It has to be a typical, focused Magic effort to win this game. Of course, the Nuggets’ future is very much in flux. It could change very quickly.