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President of basketball operations evaluates Denver Nuggets before the playoffs

The Denver Nuggets came within a victory in the regular-season finale of making the playoffs last season. Instead, they lost a heartbreaker in overtime to the Minnesota Timberwolves, giving Tom Thibodeau’s wayward team the chance to get stomped by the Houston Rockets in a five-game first-round series. Nearly a full year later, the Nuggets are still fighting for playoff positioning, but its for a place at the top of Western Conference field rather than the bottom.

In a chat with team beat writer Chris Dempsey on Thursday, Denver president of basketball operations Tim Connelly explained that while he’s “cautiously optimistic” about his team’s chances in the playoffs, he still doesn’t know how the young Nuggets will react “when the lights go on.”

“I’m excited. I’m cautiously optimistic,” Connelly said. “I think we have some guys who are ready for the playoffs, that, their games are made for playoff basketball. Certainly, Paul [Millsap], Isaiah Thomas, and Mason [Plumlee] are the only guys that have real playoff experience. But when I look at Nikola [Jokic’s] ability to close games right now; when I look at the success we’ve had in close games; Jamal [Murray] and Nikola’s two-man game; when I look at our fourth-quarter defense; those are things that kind of get you excited. Those are what the playoffs are about – fourth-quarter defense, the ability to close games, a closer, versatile, a team with shot makers, depth, these are all things that generally play well in the playoffs. But I don’t know what is going to happen when the lights go on. The West is so talented. Any team we play can beat us, and vice versa.”

In the link provided above, Connelly also referred to tailgating — yes, tailgating — at Nuggets games. Denverites are excited about their team.

Denver is currently tied for first in the West at 48-22 with the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, who played late Thursday versus Indiana. Each of the four teams in the bottom half of the West playoff standings, meanwhile, have a 42-30 record.

As Connelly stressed, the West is so talented, and any team can beat any other. If the Nuggets play like they did throughout one of the best regular seasons in franchise history, don’t be surprised if they’re still fighting for a Larry O’Brien Trophy deep into May.