When taking a 10,000-foot view, the Denver Nuggets have been doing quite well.
They are 25-14 since the start of the New Year. That includes a stretch in which they won 10 of 12 games.
Their starters have struggled at times recently. But overall they have played extremely well together while the bench has taken dramatic steps forward on both ends of the floor.
That combination, when paired with Nikola Jokic playing like someone who could win a second consecutive MVP award, has the Nuggets winning with regularity.
Online sportsbooks in Colorado have taken notice.
Still, the standings are razor thin.
Play-in tournament a possibility for Nuggets
Denver is 42-30 and sitting seventh in the Western Conference. They entered Monday tied in the standings with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Denver had hoped to catch the Dallas Mavericks and get closer to homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Instead, Dallas has continued to stack wins seemingly every night.
Everyone in the top eight of the Western Conference seems capable of securing yet another victory on any given night. It has made it impossible for anyone to get any separation.
It’s an intriguing situation for Colorado NBA bettors.
With the Nuggets and the Timberwolves now neck-and-neck in the standings, Denver is at risk of falling into the play-in tournament. There, they where they would have to win one of two possible games to get into the postseason.
That’s the worst-case scenario assuming no one else goes down with a serious injury.
Denver does not own the tiebreaker over Minnesota.
The Timberwolves have won two of the three head-to-head games played so far. And they will finish with the better division record.
The Northwest Division rivals meet a final time in Denver on April 1.
Denver has only 10 games remaining
The Nuggets have 10 games left after getting throttled at home Sunday night by the Boston Celtics. The final count was 124-104 at Ball Arena.
Of those 10 remaining games, seven will be played at Ball Arena.
Additionally, only two of their 10 games will be against opponents currently among the top six seeds of their respective conferences. Those will be Thursday at home against the Phoenix Suns and April 7 at home against the Memphis Grizzlies.
In short, Denver has an advantageous schedule the rest of the regular season.
If the Nuggets take care of business — as they should against lesser competition at home — they should not have big issues avoiding the play-in tournament.
Denver has the requisite talent, chemistry and a manageable itinerary to secure a spot among the top six seeds in the West.
Still, if the Nuggets play with the effort they had on Sunday when the Celtics embarrassed them on their home floor, they could fall as far as the eighth seed.
Denver, though, at least has secured the eighth position in the Western Conference as of Sunday.
With 10 games to go and a 42-30 record, Denver can have no more than 40 losses on the season.
That means they already have secured one of the top two seeds of the play-in tournament, if nothing else. Denver’s worst-case scenario is having two attempts to make the playoffs through the play-in tournament.
Nuggets have homestretch edge over Timberwolves
The Nuggets have a much easier remaining schedule than Minnesota.
Minnesota has to play five of its next six games against teams currently owning top-six seeds.
And the only outlier in that stretch is a contest against the East’s seventh-seeded Toronto Raptors — a team who no one wants to play right now in a meaningful game.
To make matters worse, the T-wolves’ final stretch also features five road games, including a four-game trip.
Minnesota will have to earn its spot in the playoffs with wins against playoff-caliber opponents if it hopes to make the postseason without navigating the play-in tournament.
Still, somehow, the Timberwolves are statistically looking like one of the more dangerous teams in the pool of possible playoff teams.
They are top 11 in both offensive (sixth in the league with at 113.4 rating) and defensive rating (10th at 109.8).
Minnesota has won 10 of its last 11 games and shows no signs of slowing down.
Keeping the Timberwolves from passing them is not going to be an easy task for the Nuggets.
That makes their April 1 game arguably the biggest of the season.
That matchup — similar to the Nuggets’ loss in Game 82 of the 2017-18 season which gave the Timberwolves their most-recent postseason appearance — could decide the playoff fates of both organizations.
Having to fight in the play-in tournament is most likely going to be an exhausting task. And even then, the winner earns a series battle with one of the West’s top two seeds.
No team wants to take that particular path to the conference finals.
On the other hand, avoiding the play-in tourney means another week-or-so of rest to prepare for the playoffs — mentally and physically.
For that matchup, Denver will have to find the passion and desire it severely lacked against the Celtics.
The matchup with Karl Anthony-Towns on April Fool’s Day is the Nuggets’ opportunity to control their own playoff fate.
All that’s left is to see if the Nuggets can find it within themselves to show up and take back control of their season.