The only shot that really mattered during the Nuggets preseason was a nasty shove Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook delivered to the chest of Denver center Nikola Jokic, who hit the floor and rolled like a 250-pound tumbleweed.
The referees called foul, hitting Crazy Russ with a flagrant one. “I flopped,” said Jokic, suggesting the joke was on Westbrook.
Here’s the serious question: There’s no doubt the Nuggets have the talent to make the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2013. But is Denver tough enough to stop getting pushed around by the bullies in the Western Conference?
“We don’t have the Bad Boys,” said Denver coach Michael Malone, whose father served as an assistant in Detroit from 1988-95, when Bill Laimbeer and the Pistons could transform a game into a steel-cage match faster than Dennis Rodman would worm his way under the skin of foes.
The mild-mannered Nuggets live in a tough neighborhood. The West is turf controlled by the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets and Thunder. Sometimes, it seems as if Denver would prefer to be invisible, quietly mind its own business, trying to sneak away with a postseason berth without anybody noticing.
It’s not that the Nuggets are soft. But nobody mistakes them for intimidating. Why did Denver barely miss the playoffs in the spring? Well, when push came to shove, the Nuggets backed down, losing 10 of 15 games decided by three points or less.
During the final seven days of the season, when a postseason berth slid from Denver’s grasp, the team was pushed aside in painful losses by Houston guard James Harden and Westbrook, during a heartbreaking 106-105 loss to Oklahoma City. Inferior talent was the No. 1 reason the Nuggets fell short. But lack of grit was also a factor.
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Source:: The Denver Post – Sports