What does a heartbreaking moment look or feel like? Reasonable people might disagree on specific details, but broadly viewed, a heartbreaking moment involves an expectation of victory, only for that moment to be denied.
The Nuggets haven't had a lot of those moments in their history; normally, they haven't been good enough to warrant that kind of emotional devastation… but there were a few occasions when Denver had reason to think it could do something special, only to slip on the banana peel and go fishing earlier than it hoped.
Let's look at the five most heartbreaking moments in Nuggets history:
5. 1978 Western Conference Finals
The 1978 NBA regular season was dominated in the first 60 games by the defending champion Portland Trail Blazers, who were 50-10 and roaring toward a repeat title. Bill Walton, however, was playing through pain, and on Feb. 28, 1978, he took himself out of a game against the Philadelphia 76ers, whom the Blazers had beaten in the 1977 NBA Finals.
Walton did not play again that season. He never played another game for the Blazers. This opened up the West for everyone else. The Nuggets were part of that group, so when they faced the Seattle SuperSonics in the West Finals, it was a 50-50 series. That might still be the Nuggets' best missed chance to make the NBA Finals. They're still waiting for their first appearance.
4. 2019 Western Conference Semifinals
The current Nuggets are young and optimistic. Losing a playoff series with a very young and inexperienced team is not the worst possible setback. Losing with an accomplished veteran team is far worse. Nevertheless, Denver's seven-game loss to Portland still stings.
Denver averaged over 120 points per game in its three wins in that series, and under 99 points in its three non-overtime losses. (Game 3 was a four-overtime loss.) The inconsistency of the Nuggets will annoy them for years.
What will also annoy the Nuggets for years is that in Game 7 in Denver, Portland hit just 4 of 26 3-pointers, with Damian Lillard hitting just 2 of 9 threes and finishing with only 13 points. Remember that Portland played that whole series without leading big man Jusuf Nurkic. Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets were supposed to own the paint against Portland's defensive turnstile, Enes Kanter, but that did not happen in Game 7.
Portland won, 100-96, as Denver hit just 2 of 19 threes and hit just 37 percent of all field goal attempts. The Nuggets did not get a chance to face the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.
3. 2010 West First Round
The Nuggets had lost the West Finals one year earlier, so their 2010 playoff season needed to show — to themselves more than outsiders — that they could bounce back and prove their toughness.
The Nuggets imploded in an ugly six-game series loss to the Utah Jazz. This series affirmed the modern Nuggets' identity as playoff weaklings under George Karl and Carmelo Anthony. It represented the typical playoff outcome for both the coach and the superstar player in their snake-bitten careers.
2. 2009 Western Conference Finals
Before 2010, the Nuggets endured a more painful failure in 2009. They split the first two games of the 2009 West Finals and had stolen home-court advantage from the Los Angeles Lakers. They played a brutal Game 3 at home, however, to cede that advantage.
In Game 4, the Nuggets tied the series at 2-2 with a victory, but a memorable moment became a haunting moment for Denver fans.
J.R. Smith celebrated the Game 4 victory (on the court, with the clock winding down) with the fervor normally reserved for a series win, not a single-game win. The Lakers took note of that and fought back to win Games 5 and 6.
It was impossible to forget Smith's misplaced display of glee. The Lakers made sure Smith and the Nuggets learned a lesson. Unfortunately, as the 2010 playoffs showed, Denver didn't truly learn. It repeated its failures.
1. 2013 West First Round
The 2013 Nuggets might not have beaten the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the NBA Playoffs, but they were viewed as a team which had a good chance to do just that.
The Spurs and Nuggets were separated by one win (58/57) in the regular season. In 2013, Denver won the most regular-season games (57) in its history as an NBA franchise; the 1975 Nuggets won 65 games as a member of the ABA, and the 1976 team 60 in the ABA's last season.
When the 2013 Nuggets lost to the Golden State Warriors, it marked the end of George Karl's last best chance to make the NBA Finals in Denver. A member of the Nuggets — you might have heard of him — named Andre Iguodala joined the Warriors and some guys named Curry, Green, and Thompson the following offseason.
The history of the NBA was forever altered… and the Nuggets were again left empty-handed.