The time has finally arrived.
After a long, 82-game season, the Denver Nuggets are in the playoffs.
Their best-of-seven first-round series against the Golden State Warriors tips off at 6:30 p.m. (MT) Saturday at Chase Center in San Francisco. ABC (KMGH-7 in Denver) will carry the live telecast.
The rest of the series is scheduled as follows (* if necessary):
- Game 2: at Golden State, 8 p.m., Monday (TNT)
- Game 3: at Denver, 8 p.m., Thursday (TNT)
- Game 4: at Denver, 1:30 p.m., April 24 (ABC)
- Game 5: at Golden State, TBA, April 27*
- Game 6: at Denver, TBA, April 29*
- Game 7: at Golden State, TBA, May 1*
Right off the bat, the Nuggets will be trying to steal home-court advantage.
Colorado’s online sportsbooks are ready.
And so are the state’s NBA playoffs bettors.
Let’s dive in.
Previous matchups this season mean little
The Nuggets went 3-1 against the Warriors in their four games this season.
But it’s hard to place much stock in the regular season matchups.
In the first game, the Warriors’ Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were out. So were the Nuggets’ Monte Morris and Aaron Gordon.
That’s in addition to Denver’s Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. They each missed all four games against Golden State and virtually the entire season.
In the second game, just Green was missing in action.
However, in the third meeting, Thompson, Green and Stephen Curry were out in addition to the Nuggets’ Will Barton.
Lastly, in the fourth contest, Green and Barton both missed the matchup.
Because of all of the missing core members for each team, Game 1 of the playoff series will be played without much previous understanding of how each team has played this season.
That opens the door for a fair bit of chaos.
Just keep an eye on the injury reports. Key absences on either side will affect prop bets across the board.
Who will — and will not — be able to play in Game 1?
This is the most important question heading into Saturday’s opener.
Of Murray, Porter and Curry, who could return to play in Game 1?
As far as the Nuggets are concerned, Curry will be playing.
The former league MVP has been practicing with the Warriors. On Thursday, he stepped things up by participating in a full scrimmage.
“We’ll see how everything goes with Steph,” Golden State head coach Steve Kerr told reporters recently via SI.com. “There is a chance he could be ready for Game 1, there is a chance he might not. It’s literally going to be a day-to-day thing as it unfolds this week.
“We’ll know a lot more after the next few days when he’s ramping up his work.”
Murray is in a similar position as Curry with one key difference. Murray partially practiced with the Nuggets on Wednesday, and is ramping up toward a return.
Head coach Michael Malone called his return for the first round “doubtful” on Wednesday. But Murray is on the cusp of resuming game action.
Porter is another story.
He is further behind Murray and has not ramped up as quickly.
It seems very unlikely MPJ returns this postseason despite not being ruled out thus far.
Can Denver’s defense step up?
If the Warriors win this series quickly, it likely will be because the Nuggets were unable to contain the Warriors’ backcourt.
And that’s with or without Curry playing.
Thompson, Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins can all dismantle Denver from the perimeter.
Morris and Barton have struggled defensively as the season has progressed. And the Nuggets’ perimeter defense quickly became a cause for concern.
The issues do not get better off the bench.
Both Bones Hyland, a rookie with clear defensive deficiencies, and Bryn Forbes, a notoriously bad defender, add very little in terms of perimeter containment.
Denver will rely heavily on Gordon against one of the Warriors’ perimeter players — most likely Thompson or Wiggins. Austin Rivers also be counted on off the bench.
But Denver will need everyone to step up.
Bigs who are at the level of the screen need to contain. Guards will need to fight over screens, off-ball help needs to be there to slow actions and everyone will need to be connected.
Denver is not built to overcome the Warriors’ perimeter-heavy attack.
And it will take extreme focus on a high-level of execution to overcome a possibly dominant offense when healthy.
Will Jokic receive enough help?
Containing Nikola Jokic will be the focus of Golden State’s defensive game plan.
No matter the circumstance, the Warriors will live with anyone other than Jokic beating them.
They will throw waves of defenders at the likely back-to-back league MVP.
And Golden State surely will utilize all sorts of unpredictable double-teams and scram switches to throw off any timing on passes and paths to the hoop.
Of course, Jokic will find ways to score.
But if his teammates do not step up with so much attention being paid to the big man, it will be a quick exit for the Nuggets.
Morris has to be aggressive getting to his midrange jumper and taking open catch-and-shoot 3-pointers.
Gordon has to obliterate mismatches in the post and push the pace in transition.
Meanwhile, Barton has to get downhill — with or without a screen to breakdown the Warriors defense while spacing the floor.
And Hyland has to stay composed. He must limit his mistakes in his first playoff series and hit open 3-pointers.
Most importantly, the Nuggets must find a way to not collapse entirely as soon as Jokic leaves the floor for a rest on the bench.
It won’t be easy.
And it might take multiple adjustments to find a group of players to keep the Nuggets afloat.
But it will be paramount to their success.
Series prediction: Warriors win in 6 games
Yes, the Nuggets have the best player in the series.
But if Curry plays as expected, this Warriors team is nearly impossible for the Nuggets to defend.
Even if they do manage to find a way to limit Golden State’s 3-point onslaught, they will only be able to counter-punch with Jokic’s post-ups worth just two points.
That’s a math problem the Nuggets are on the wrong side of.
Betting the Warriors to win in exactly six games as of Thursday, was priced at +400 at BetMGM Colorado Sportsbook.
And if Denver cannot defend Golden State with consistency and fail to generate its own 3-pointers, this series could be over after four or five games.
But having Jokic, arguably the greatest player on the planet, gives Denver some benefit of the doubt.
Even if it is not a hyper-competitive series, Jokic alone is worth a win or two.