The Denver Nuggets were a dangerous team this season.
Will that carry over into the playoffs?
The Nuggets hope so as they kick off the Western Conference quarterfinals Saturday versus the Golden State Warriors at the Pepsi Center.
Denver captured the third seed in the West and is in the playoffs for a 10th consecutive season. They gave the Oklahoma City a scare for both the Northwest Division title and second spot in the conference and sizzled down the stretch, winning 23 of the final 26 games of the campaign.
The Nuggets, who led the league in scoring with 106.1 ppg, were 38-3 at the Pepsi Center and have won the previous 23 games there. Coach George Karl understands how important playing well at home is.
"First of all, I would like to thank our fans," Karl said. "I think we have some of the best fans this year, and we stole some games here at home because their intensity matches our players' intensity."
Karl's squad, which won a franchise-best 57 games, was bounced in seven games by the Los Angeles Lakers in last year's conference quarterfinals. The Nuggets wish they were 100 percent healthy for this series because guard Ty Lawson, even though he returned at the end of the season, still has a foot issue and forward Kenneth Faried could miss Saturday's game with a left ankle problem.
Faried said he has improved a lot and owes it to the training staff, especially the good tape jobs. He said he's not making promises if he will play in Game 1, but is keeping a positive mindset. If Faried can't go, he will provide energy from the bench.
"Hopefully, I can bounce back," Faried said. "When I do come back and play I'll be 100 percent, hopefully. I want to be 100 percent because we plan on taking a far push in these playoffs."
Players like Faried, Lawson, Andre Iguodala and Wilson Chandler have given the city of Denver confidence for this upcoming postseason. The bench will also provide support and was second in the NBA with 41.2 ppg.
Denver's high-tempo offense erased the fact that it can struggle on defense. The Nuggets allowed 101.1 ppg this season and are playing against a Golden State team that scored 101.2 ppg. The Warriors, though, allowed 100.3 ppg, so this should be an entertaining series.
Golden State earned the sixth seed in the West and is in the postseason for the first time since 2006-07. Give credit to guard Steph Curry and All-Star forward David Lee for keeping the Warriors in contention all season.
Curry was seventh in the NBA with 22.9 ppg and set the single season 3-point mark by burying 272 of his 600 attempts (45.3 percent) from downtown. The Nuggets will be keying on Curry, but they will have to deal with Lee, too. Lee led the NBA with 56 double-doubles in the regular season, averaging 18.5 points and 11.2 rebounds.
What the Warriors lack in playoff experience is countered by their confidence and executing coach Mark Jackson's X's and O's. Jackson talked about his rotation after practice.
"I feel extremely comfortable and confident in everybody on this team, so opportunity is going to present itself, and guys as usual will stay ready," Jackson said.
Jackson was asked what he told his inexperienced players about ending the franchise's playoff drought on the road.
"I've been fortunate enough to play in a lot of playoff games and with some very good basketball teams. At the end of the day, what you don't want to do is think that it's any different," Jackson said. "It's still five-on-five and it's still round basketball. At the end of the day, what has brought us to this point is going to be the very same thing that allows us to continue to play. The lights are brighter (in the playoffs), but we are who we are."
Golden State, which won 12 of 18 games at season's end, is preparing for the high altitude of Denver, but Jackson said what's more important is that the team executes, follows the game plan and remains disciplined. The Warriors lost three of four meetings with the Nuggets this season, and has dropped three straight and 16 of 18 trips to the Rockies.
The Warriors and Nuggets have never met in the playoffs.