- Chris Palmer, ESPN the Magazine
Editor's note: This is the latest installment in a 12-part series this summer that will profile six Eastern Conference teams and six Western Conference teams that could knock off the Miami Heat. Today we profile the Denver Nuggets
A familiar refrain about the Denver Nuggets: "They're going to be scary in the playoffs."
That's what people always say. Every year around playoff time, the Denver Nuggets seem to fall into the category of the Team Nobody Wants To Play. The reasoning behind the label being, of course, that the upset-minded Nuggets are talented, athletic and overlooked enough to knock off a contender looking ahead to the second round.
It's a nice compliment for an upstart squad, a role Denver has played admirably. But as the team sets its sights on bigger things, it's time to grow out of the role of pretender.
As currently constructed, Denver's talent will keep the Nuggets in games. But this is the NBA, and a tantalizingly talented roster will only get you so far -- as displayed by the team's first-round playoff exit last season. However, last season that talent was good enough to make them a tough draw each night even if they had the occasional bout with inconsistency.
The Nuggets were one of just two playoff teams with a losing record in their own division yet finished with the third best road record in the West. Their 38-28 overall record was good enough to earn the sixth seed in the playoffs, which matched them with the Lakers, whom they ran ragged before ultimately losing in seven games.
In the end, their inability to stop teams was their own undoing. Getting back on defense and poor handling of the pick-and-roll proved to be chronic problems. But if you're looking for an intriguing squad that could potentially shake up the balance of power in the West -- or at least offer up a serious monkey wrench -- well, you've found it.
This season, thanks to the arrival of small forward Andre Iguodala and the expected development of key young stars, the Nuggets are poised to take a step (maybe even two) forward in their chase for a title. How big those steps are will likely be determined by their progression on the defensive side of the ball, an area it won't be too hard to improve upon considering they gave up 101.2 points per game last season, which ranked 29th in the league.
We know they can be scary. But can they actually contend?
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