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Winners of ten out of eleven games since the All-Star Game, the defending champions, the Denver Nuggets, are revving up as the play-offs approach. What if, more than Boston, the Colorado team is the one to beat this spring?

Everyone’s always trying to figure out which is the best team in the NBA. But a clear-cut answer was given in June. The team that played best, Denver, won the title, which isn’t always the case in the league of individual stars. But there’s nothing to say the Nuggets aren’t still the best today.


What about the standings? To date, another team, Boston, dominates it. With a healthy lead (5 wins up, 6 losses down) over the second-placed Nuggets, the Celtics should be the team to beat this spring. But the regular season has its truth, which the play-offs regularly ignore. Denver finished “only” fourth last year – but first in the West, which is once again the case – behind the Bucks, Celtics and Sixers, but none of these three Eastern powers went on to reach the Finals.

What remains is the impression given by this patient rhythm (27th in possessions played), some significant figures (Denver is in the top 5 in shooting percentage, assists, loose balls, etc.) and the dynamic. The Nuggets are on the rise, as noted by several US media outlets, such as CBS and NBC, who have recently propelled the outgoing champion to the top of their power rankings.


They have the best record since the All-Star Game break, with just one loss (to Phoenix, 107-117 a.p.) in eleven games. Admittedly, there was weak competition in there (home wins over Toronto, Utah and Washington), but not all.

Last week, Denver beat Boston (115-109), confirming the success achieved at the Garden on January 20 (102-100). This was the Celtics’ first loss at home this season after twenty victories. On Friday, the C’s had arrived at Ball Arena in full strength. They left with their heads held low, like Jayson Tatum (15 points, his lowest total in 21 games), who missed a wide-open shot to go ahead with 45 seconds remaining. On the next play, Nikola Jokic sealed his 20th triple double of the season (32 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists) and his team’s victory by sending Aaron Gordon to the alley oop for his seventh dunk of the game.

The very physical Jokic-Gordon duo, a good Jamal Murray (19 points, 8 assists), a polished offensive game (27 assists for 7 loose balls), effective defense (9 points less for the Celtics than their average), composure (95% on free throws)… The weapons that enabled Denver to sweep Boston were already at coach Michael Malone’s disposal last season. This was to be expected with an unchanged starting five. What remained to be seen was what the bench would be worth, reduced on paper without Bruce Brown, who left to take a big check from the Pacers ($45m over 2 years) and is now playing for a Toronto team in dire straits.

The bench, meanwhile, has been reshaped, giving youngsters (Christian Braun, Peyton Watson, Zeke Nnaji, Julian Strawther) a chance, which is unusual for a favorite. On Wednesday, Denver won in Miami (100-9) – the 12th victory in the last 13 matches against the defending finalist – thanks to the substitutes. Reggie Jackson, Justin Holiday, Braun and Watson scored 17 of the 23 points that lifted Denver from +1 (71-72, 37th) to +10 (84-94, 45th). ” We have to win games even when Nikola doesn’t score 40 points. OK, that doesn’t happen often, but that’s when we have to respond,” Braun laughed to the Denver Post.

“I see in the media that people are talking about me and Jamal as a team, but I think we have a great collective that’s very well put together,” says Nikola Jokic. ” The main lesson my father (former NBA coach Brendan Malone, who died in October) taught me was that, as a coach, the main gift you could give a player was to give him confidence. Personally, I consider myself to have 18 sons and two daughters,” summed up Michael Malone, doting father of Bridget and Caitlin and no less happy coach of the Nuggets.